I had a wonderful time giving a concert last weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Million Mom March. We had a spirited crowd of moms (and dads and kids), and before long we were all rockin'.
Here are some clips:
My new song, "Glasses to Beep," which became a little ... loopy.
I sang "If I Knew" to commemorated victims of gun violence. This was the hardest song to sing but it touched the deepest.
"Mom Is Not My Real Name" -- well, that needs no explanation!
We shared stories of the Million Mom March's journey over the past ten years and rang a bell in honor of lost loved ones. I hope my music helped renew the energy behind this valiant cause.
I was deep in a Pop writing session at a drafty studio on 39th Street and 9th Avenue. Everybody was soooooo hip. We were trying to write something we could pitch to J-LO and I cried out, “Let’s write a song called everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time!” They almost threw me out of the room. I didn’t push the idea.
But uptown I was raising two little boys. They would be “tweens” soon, and they were already getting pressure about perfect idealized bodies, from all sides of pop culture.
When I was a girl, we had to measure up (or down) to Twiggy and Penelope Tree. But the guys we grew up with had Bob Dylan and John Lennon as their role models (no “six-packs” there).
Now the whole thing is out of control. Children are used as ideal sex objects to sell products to children their age on TV, movies, online, buses, billboards — everywhere!
I wanted to tell my kids to chill. And, by the way, not put people on pedestals (something I still do … but to Bill Evans, Billie Holiday, James Taylor…)
I wrote the song in 1999, and finally recorded it in 2004 with some of the funkiest, and, I think, funniest, horn and backgroud vocal arrangements ever. But by that time, my kids were teens, and were embrrassed by it. “It’s soooo corny, Mom!”
Amazing what a few years will do. Fast-forward to 2010 (and a few more wrinkles and pounds). My boys, who are now halfway down the other side of “adolescence mountain,” have changed. They like the goofy horn parts, and they love Everett and Elaine Caswell’s background answer lines; “Pants … oooh oooh Pants on … “ Now, at the Café Carlyle, they marvel at the way Ev and Jerome can sound like a much bigger band: Jerome doing a tight Police-ish ska riff, and Everett doing, well, everything else.
Maybe the song is getting better with … age. Or maybe my embarrassment threshold has lowered. You’ll notice me doing a little dance on the way to verse two (hey, that’s what vamps are for). And in a song about the perils of modernity, I have to improvise my way through getting Everett’s BlackBerry off the piano bench — where he left it … when? But motherhood makes you as flexible as the greatest jazz improvisers. So Everett’s BlackBerry ends up in the song, for posterity. (Actually, Everett is so talented that frankly I’m not sure he puts his pants on one leg at a time.)
For the original track, replete with the coolest horns, and John Pattitucci laying down the bass riff, go to:
And don’t be afraid to sing this chorus to your kid, the next time he or she comes home wishing he she were a Jonas Brother, or Miley Cyrus. And sing it to yourself the next time you wish you were Twiggy … or John Lennon.
I never think packing for gigs is going to be that complicated. I mean, it was only a few hours away.
It fit! You know, big cars do have their uses.
We figured the drive would be five hours, and my husband Peter was determined to get there by 6:00 PM. But the muse strikes in the weirdest places, like the gas station at exit 56 off the Merritt Parkway.
I brought my own fruit salad into Burger King. No $1 buck double for me, thanks, I read my Michael Pollan. They didn't kick me out, fortunately. I don't think anyone in the place had ever heard of a fruit salad (or Michael Pollan).
On the way back up 91, my determined husband Peter called our hosts and promised we'd be there "when the clock strikes six." What was he thinking? We broke a few speed laws, scared a few moose, and ... voila! Here I am with our hosts, Rick and Jody Simpson, and their dog, Pearl. Check out that church tower clock!
We had a festive dinner that night with Rick, Jody, and their friend, Katherine. But the next day was all work. Here are The Junior Mints, ready to enter the church, which is also the theater. Jody is herding them along from behind.
Mom came up from Cambridge to check out the show (she taught Jody conducting at NEC, and she taught me everything I know). Her sister, my Aunt Betsy, surprised all of us, Mom included, by driving up from Concord, Mass. Can you tell we're all related?
Megan Henderson played a brilliant performance of Poulenc's Babar, and Jody's Junior Mints gave a rousing musical show based on four Fairy Tales. And then it was my turn. People say you should never share the stage with small animals and children, and these kids were so energetic and talented and well-taught, I was quaking in my boots. But I had nothing to fear. The audience was wonderful as I performed a program of my own songs and some children's favorites. And finally, I just had to include these accomplished kids into the act. So I taught them some Ellington. On the spot.
What's my favorite part: traveling to a lost-in-time village in the Monadnock Region of Southern New Hampshire; visiting dear old friends; working with the incomparable Jody Simpson; sharing my songs with a brand new audience; or teaching a group of young children one of the great songs from the American Songbook, and schooling them in their doowahdoowahdoowahs? All of it is my favorite. A life in music.
When we were cutting this song for my first CD, If Mama Ain’t Happy, I decided on the spur of the moment that it would be tremendously cool if my family sang backups. I was recording the tune at a little tenement studio on the Lower East Side. I called my husband Peter to see if he could pile the kids into our ’79 Chevy Impala (this was in 1996 so it was still a relatively new car by our standards … ) and drive down. We were going to take them to the Philharmonic in the Park later, this would just end their summer day activities a bit earlier than planned.
Nick was 9 and Joe was 6.
Peter quit work early, sent the sitter home, packed a supper, and went out to crank the Impala’s engine. At the studio, I took care of all those time-worn bachelor-pad recording-studio artifacts — Penthouse pinups, posters of joint-smoking rockstars, printed epithets of all kinds. Gone, baby.
The boys and Pete arrived, and we all squeezed around the mic, joyously singing the backups. With the exception of Joe, who was six and determined to throw in a few unrehearsed “quacks,” they did perfect takes. We all blended so well! What a moment! About 45 minutes into the session, I looked over at my producer. I noticed his T-shirt. It had a cow on it.
Underneath the cow, the caption read, in splashy letters: “COOL AS F***”
I didn’t say anything. At the end of the session, we climbed into the Impala, drove back uptown, miraculously found a parking space, and went to the Park to listen to the Philharmonic play Sibelius Symphony #5, which Joe enthusiastically conducted from our blanket as the stars came out.
I don’t know if they noticed my producer’s shirt; I never asked. They never mentioned it. But I remember that glorious summer afternoon — complete with quacks and wardrobe glitches — whenever I sing this song. Which, by the way, was conceived in the rocking chair, when Joe was about 13 months old, back in 1992.
If you listen to it carefully on my CD, you can hear the quack.
Wait. It IS, though. Isn’t it? I mean, who was María Picasso y López —Pablo’s mother! Pauline Einstein? Maria Magdalena Keverich Beethoven? Amalié Freud? Aside from “the mom of,” they were nobody! Right?
This conundrum was staring me full-face when my kids were seven and ten and I felt: they’re completely using me up. What do you say when your kid comes down with head lice? “Take a seat, schatzie, I’m writing the 9th Symphony”? Nope. For all intents and purposes the bouncing ball stops at you, Mom.
So there I was, struggling to find Tina amid the cries of “Mom Mom Mom!” ... and, by the way, “wife wife wife” and “daughter daughter daughter” and “daughter-in-law daughter-in-law daughter-in-law” …
I was losing my mind.
Somewhere in the middle of some night, or while riding a bus, or jogging around the reservoir, I scratched out a lyric, my own cris de coeur: “There’s somebody else I used to be, with the name my mama gave to me.”
It stayed a scratch, a fragment, for three years, until it turned into this song in 2000. It kicked off my second Motherhood CD.
I love this recording of it — me playing on Bobby Short’s piano, and Everett Bradley, singer/songwriter extraordinaire, giving me his best Chaka Kahn vocals on “I used to be...” “Cleaning out lunchboxes” never sounded so sexy. Even the sous-chef cutting the special Mother’s Day filet mignon is boogeying in his tall white toque.
Although Bobby Short could have never, ever, sat at that piano and wailed out: “Mom Is NOT My Real Name!,” I’ll bet he would have dug how hard we were swinging it.
Come to think of it, Picasso’s mom — I mean, Maria — would have dug it too.
And let’s be real — I’ll give you one guess how I (proudly) sign my emails to my kids these days.
I am running down Broadway trying to catch a bus and coughing.
I am running down Broadway trying to catch a bus and coughing and peeing in my pants.
Gaaaaahh. I stop.
It didn’t used to be this way. Not till I had natural childbirth with two healthy boys!
See what you did to me!
A few years ago, I gave in. I had The Surgery. The bladder sling. My husband used to ask “Wasn’t that a movie with Billy Bob Thorton?” (Get it? Sling Bladder? What a wit.) Now I don’t pee when I cough or laugh or sneeze any more. I still don’t sleep through the night, though.
But I can run for the bus without fear.
This song is NOT about bladder functions. And yet, when I sing about the body I used to have, the line about incontinece always stops the show. The women lose it. The men are, by and large, clueless. After “Gravity,” I’m always faced with the problem: What song do I do next? Halfway through a poignant ballad, someone bursts out giggling, still thinking about the previous song — and their own “oops” moments in their lives!
So after “Gravity,” I usually follow with a nice uplifting number. Like “Mom Is NOT My Real Name!” I’ve learned my lesson. Never share the stage with children, animals, or bodily functions!
Put a Lock on the Bedroom Door (or Sex, Tamoxifen, and My “Rockin’ Roll”)
I was desperate when I wrote this song — sleep-deprived and husband-deprived (though still happily married). I was enjoying my five- and two-year-old sons, Nick and Joe. But other parts of my life — they simply weren’t there to enjoy.
As soon as you start to want sex again, the kids start walking into your bedroom at odd hours. Even if you’re organized (and rested) enough to try once in a blue moon, that’s the blue moon during which somebody comes in, trailing a blankie, asking for a glass of water. We were batting .000 in the sexfield. I bought the lock as a kind of jump-starter.
The first performance of this song was a revelation: it brought the house down. I knew I was not alone. Afterward an audience member said, of the early days of her second marriage, “We put a lock on the bedroom door because we were newlyweds and couldn’t get enough of each other — but we had seven kids in the house, ages 2 to 17!” I was jealous of even their memory of that newlywed ardor — but I had the lock and I had hope.
Fast-forward sixteen years, to this video. After two successful motherhood CDs, I’m finally making my debut at the Café Carlyle, one of the pinnacles of the cabaret world — with these motherhood songs, on Mother’s Day! The band is rocking, I am getting warm laughs, and my piano chops are right up there.
But now as I watch this video, all I notice is this:
My muffin top.
It’s jiggling — more like an undercooked pudding. Not even a muscular muffin top!
I was never chubby (unless you count being pregnant, a much sexier bulge) till four years ago, one year after I started taking an anti-cancer drug. I blame it on the Tamoxifen.
In Spring 2004, when I started the five-year course of Tamoxifen, they told me I was lucky. I had caught this breast cancer at such an early stage, and my cells “responded” to the drug.
But I felt unlucky. The annoying side effects barreled in on me: insomnia, anxiety, hot flashes, and that mother of all side effects: weight gain.
Twenty-five pounds heavier and four years later — this month! — I am going OFF Tamoxifen.
Tamoxifen gave me many things, but it took away something very important: songs. Creative flow. Was it the constant exhaustion? Lessened hormonal drive? Do we write because certain chemicals are coursing through our bloodstreams? How else do you explain the fact that now, as I am getting back my energy and my figure, melodies and lyrics flow into my brain day and night. As does the drive to turn them into songs.
So I watch myself jiggling there at Bobby Short’s famous perch, suddenly I stop hating my muffin top. I see it as a kind of emblem.
It signifies: I made it through. I’m still here, cancer-free. The medicine that gave me a raw pudding belly, large thighs, a double chin, sleepless nights and no songs, also gave me now — these days ahead. Days to write more songs and enjoy my family.
In the video, my nearly grown sons are laughing at the sexy irony, enjoying my rhythm “pocket” with two sublime musicians, Everett Bradley on percussion and Jerome Harris on bass. My boys do NOT notice (or care about) the muffin top. And next to them is husband Pete, who will say, when I moan about my weight gain, “There’s just more of you to love.”
Better a bigger me than no me. Thank you Tamoxifen. Thank you sons, Nick and Joe.
And the Lock? It got quite a bit of use over the years.
A graduate of Princeton University, Tina deVaron honed her jazz-piano skills playing Cole Porter’s piano at the Waldorf. While raising her two sons, she has enjoyed chart-topping success as a songwriter and is developing a Broadway musical based on her music, with the help of Tony-award-winning actresses. Her first CD, “If Mama Ain’t Happy” was called “brilliant, funny, and wise,” by best-selling author, Anne Lamott, who has quoted Tina in her writings. Tina’s new release, “Water Over Stones,” about raising teenagers, has been hailed by New York Times columnist Lisa Belkin as “the soundtrack of my life!”