Christine Lavin, seriously speaking [an error occurred while processing this directive]
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 23, 2002) – Christine Lavin is known almost as much for her sense of humor as for her songwriting. The wit in her topical songs that skewer social trends, like “Sensitive New-Age Guy” and “Wind Chimes,” almost edges out the more serious, introspective aspect of her work.

But Lavin says that she was never thought of herself as particularly funny, and her wry take on contemporary social mores came about accidentally.

“I was valedictorian of my kindergarten class, the bookworm of bookworms throughout my early education,” said Lavin, who performs at the Guthrie Center (528-1955) on Saturday night at 8.

“And when I got to college, I changed my major seven times.

“ I have eight brothers and sisters, and the others are all funnier. My mom is a natural optimist, and everyone got a certain amount of that.”

Lavin’s optimism serves her well, tempering as it does some of her more forlorn portraits of contemporary life and romance on her more than a dozen solo albums, including “Attainable Love,” “The Bellevue Years,” “Please Don’t Make Me Too Happy” and “Getting in Touch with My Inner Bitch.”

Of the title track to her new album, “I Was in Love with a Difficult Man” (Redwing), Lavin -- who speaks in wry one-liners she seems to be trying out on an interviewer to see if they should go into her stage act -- said, “I figure women will look at that and go, ‘Been there, done that,’ and guys will be flattered.”

In addition to her own albums, Lavin is the founder of the group Four Bitchin’ Babes, and the producer of eight compilation recordings showcasing the work of dozens of singer-songwriters, including “On a Winter’s Night: Winter Love Songs” and “Big Times in a Small Town,” the latter featuring highlights from a singer-songwriters retreat she ran on Martha’s Vineyard for several years.

Lavin has also published several songbooks, written articles for music magazines, and produced a DVD called “Girl Interrupted.”

“I Was in Love with a Difficult Man” is her first collection of new songs in five years. In addition to the Cajun-flavored title track, it includes “Jack and Wanda,” a tender portrait of senior lovebirds she observed on a flight between Melbourne and Atlanta.

“To have a song about this very sweet older couple married late in life, wandering down the carpeted hallway in the Atlanta airport -- how sweet and simple,” she said. “It’s what we all ultimately strive for.

“It’s nice at the end of your life to be happy. We go through so many ups and downs in our lives that it’s nice to know that it’s never too late, it can happen.”

Whenever Lavin performs the song “Strangers Talk to Me,” a road song about the annoying tendency of strangers to engage Lavin in conversation, she tailors it to the town where she is performing. “I am here in Philadelphia, on a Tuesday night,” she’ll sing in Philadelphia.

On the recorded version, Great Barrington makes an appearance. “I am here in Great Barrington, on a Sunday night,” she sings.

Why honor this off-the-beaten path town in such a way?

“I decided to pick cities that work well rhythmically for the recorded version,” she said. “That venue there [the Guthrie Center], and the fact that it’s Arlo Guthrie and his family -- I always have such warm feelings about that place, so this is a tribute to them.”

Over the years, Lavin has become more experimental in her songwriting and performance, particularly in her use of technology.

“For the last few years, I’ve created vocal loops and harmonies on the sly,” she said. “I just write for other voices, since I can have them live.”

Lavin, who first learned to play guitar at age 13 by watching an instructional program on PBS, says she still can’t read music, but she took jazz guitar lessons a few years ago. “You can hear some of the jazz stuff in some of the new songs, even if I don’t know the names of the chords,” she said. Indeed, “Sunday Breakfast with Christine” on the new album features a very jazzy, swinging guitar part.

What pleases her most, however, is when people respond to her more serious material.

“My favorite compliment is people think the shows are going to be funny, but when they leave it’s the serious songs that stay with them,” she said. “That makes me feel great.

“Life is a series of ups ands downs and shows should reflect all that, not just one funny side of that.

“I was just in Alberta and this man came up to me and said, ‘I had no idea you were capable of a serious thought, much less a serious song.”

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 23, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

To send a message to Seth Rogovoy
content management programming and web design