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DISCOVER THE ARGYLE THEATER IN BABYLON VILLAGE

©2018 David Lefkowitz

(This article was first published in May 2018: http://lipulse.com/2018/04/23/argyle-theatre-babylon-village/)

For 92 years a movie theater stood in the middle of Babylon’s West Main Street—well, not 92 straight years. In fact in 1924, only two years after the Riley Brothers constructed the Capitol Theatre, the place went bankrupt. Running under new management just a year later, the rechristened Babylon Theater spent succeeding decades alternating between movie-palace glory and post-fire reconstructions. Recent years have been cruel to old-fashioned cinemas however, and after a screening of Guardians of the Galaxy in September 2014, the doors shut for good. A former Babylon Village Chamber of Commerce president told Newsday, “It’s another part of a vanishing Long Island. It’s a sad thing.”

But with every death comes rebirth. This spring, the period of mourning comes to an end thanks to the efforts of a clinical psychologist and his actor son. Last year, Mark Perlman and his son Dylan purchased the Babylon Theater and, using savings, recent earnings and some tax help from the local Industrial Development Agency, set about birthing The Argyle Theatre, a legitimate house for Broadway-caliber shows. On 500 high-backed seats that used to be part of the Beacon Theater, patrons can enjoy a cultural night out watching Equity actors and well-known musicians.

The creation of a new performing arts center flies in the face of the attrition that has gutted the Island theater landscape over the past decade. How then do the Perlmans think they can make it so close to, yet so far from, Broadway? “We want a convenient and affordable alternative for Long Islanders,” Dylan stressed. “We’re using union talent to try to replicate the Broadway experience, from the customer-service end to the venue itself.”

Mark elaborated that they have “a team of about twenty people experienced in Broadway and regional theater on board to handle artistic, technical, sales and marketing.” Hofstra-educated Dylan also emphasized the use of the venue for such alternative revenue sources as concerts, comedy series, film festivals, day camps, theater classes and fundraising events.

Still, creating an in-house theater company is priority one. “We’ll be casting both in Babylon and at a studio space in Manhattan,” explained Dylan, who expects to hire Broadway performers “who may be in-between shows or off a tour” alongside homegrown newcomers seeking “a launchpad for their own careers.”

The Perlmans anticipate each production will run five-to-six weeks, at six performances a week, and cost more than six-figures—a daunting prospect considering The Argyle is a for-profit venture and must rely on revenue rather than subsidies and grants. As such, the pair are targeting frequent theatergoers. “It’s increasingly difficult for the average person to see multiple Broadway shows. Tickets are $115! Even discounted tickets are pretty out-of-control,” Dylan noted.

“We’re five minutes from the Babylon train station,” Mark added. “A person can go on a Thursday night and not have to worry about expensive parking. We want to become part of the fabric of the community and be a thing to do on the Island: have dinner and walk right to a show.”

The Argyle’s inaugural Broadway season begins May 10 with the premiere of Guys and Dolls, which runs through June 17. “It’s been seeming real for a while, now it is real,” Mark said. “It is fun to stand on the stage and look out at the imaginary audience when that was only an abstraction just a year ago.”

*
NOTES AND BACKSTORY:
Hey, anybody building a theater on Long Island deserves kudos and best wishes, so I was certainly happy to write this piece, if skeptical.

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KISS ME, I’M IRISH

(c)2018 David Lefkowitz
I come from down in Donegal
My family comes from Cork
My sisters live in Sligo
Though my brother’s in New York

My background is a source of pride
I’m Celtic through and through
And that makes me superior
To you and you and you

Now, Ireland isn’t perfect
We’ve had our little wars
We may have spilled some English blood
When settling old scores

But look around Hibernia
And how can you complain?
The grass is green and gorgeous
`cause there’s so much fecking rain

Kiss me, I’m Irish
Touch me, I’m a Turk
Marry me, I’m Mexican
and don’t believe in work

It doesn’t matter where you’re from
Or what your parents think
So kiss me on the Blarney Stone
And buy me one more drink.

The home of Sean O’Casey
And heavy woolen clothes
There’s Bono and there’s Enya
Apologies for those

The fighting and starvation
They show that we are tough
And when it comes to booze and sex
We never get enough, so

Kiss me, I’m Irish
French me, I’m French
Squeeze me, please, I’m Portuguese
If you can stand the stench

It doesn’t matter where you’re from
Or if you’re straight or queer
Just kiss me on St. Patrick’s Day
And buy me one more beer.

Now, you might call me racist
For mocking what I hate
But bashing Jews and towelheads
Is kind of fucking great!

I know that I’m a drunkard
With a three-inch, flaccid penis
But I feel like a porn star
when I’m guzzling my Guinness

There’s nothing we love better
Than a bonny, red-haired girl
To bring her on a date
where we can drink until we hurl

Sure, girls from other lands are fine
But an Irish female’s finer
`Cause she has fluffy flaming fecking hair
`round her vaginer!

Kiss me, I’m Irish
Lick me, I’m a Swede
Shake my hand, I’m African
And all I do is breed

It doesn’t matter where you’re from
Or if you’re lower class
So kiss me down in Dublin town
And buy me one more glass.

(slower)
It doesn’t matter where you’re from
Or if you’re short or tall
Just kiss me, I’m Irish
And give me alkyhol.

*****
NOTES & BACKSTORY:
With yet another St. Patrick’s Day approaching—and an episode of my radio show, Dave’s Gone By, airing live on that 2018 day, I wanted to do a Saturday Segue of my homegrown Irish tunes. Since all the songs (e.g., “Drink `Til I’m Drunk,” “Cover’d with Crap,” and “Seamus, the Urine Man”) had previously aired on the program, I wanted to concoct a new tune to make the segue special.
The title came first, and I knew I wanted something both lively and offensive. The chorus got things rolling, as did the idea of making the narrator gleefully racist about other cultures. The more ballad-y bits came a day later, and the whole piece was finished on March 7 in a piano practice room at my university. After returning from a short trip to Cincinnati, I grabbed my Yamaha keyboard and recorded the tune, which can be heard here: http://davesgoneby.net/?p=11986 or on youtube: https://youtu.be/CMXWtOvUUCk.
My favorite things about the song? A couple of lines still make me laugh (even though I know they’re coming), and I’m proud of having two time signatures (3/4 and 4/4) and three very different sections of the song that somehow really fit together musically.

SONG: Off Colour

OFF COLOUR

(c)2018 David Lefkowitz

(Sung to the melody of Donovan’s “Colours”)

Yellow is the color of my grandma’s pants
When I change them, twice a day
Yes, I change them, but it’s okay
`Cause in time
`Cause in time
I’ll get what’s mine

Green is the color of my grandma’s teeth
In the evening, in a glass
When I wipe her bony ass
There’ll come a time
There’ll come a time
When I won’t mind

Blue is the color of the bruise on her arm
When I make her take her pill
When I make her sign her will
There’ll be time
There’ll be time
I’ll get what’s mine

Brown is the color of her casket lid
in the graveyard where she lies
Hey, it’s normal, everyone dies
So I’m fine
Yeah, I’m just fine
It was her time

Black is the color of the ink on her will
That the lawyer stamps and signs
That the lawyer stamps and signs
It’s all fine
On the dotted line
And now it’s mine

Green is the color of my bank account
Thank you, grandma!

********************
NOTES & BACKSTORY:

This came to me, for absolutely no reason, when I was sitting in my car at a traffic light. I’ve known the Donovan song for 40 odd years, but suddenly the idea of colors being applied to a wizened senior struck me as a can’t-miss opportunity. In fact, the first line that occurred to me—“blue is the color of my grandma’s hair”—never made it into the final song. After a couple of days’ thought, on Feb. 26, 2018, I found the song’s story (a grandson copes with tending to nana’s wretched needs by keeping his eyes on the prize), and the lyrics were finished off in about half an hour. An hour or so later, I even had the video up: http://davesgoneby.net/?p=11941.

SONG: AR-15

AR-15

©2018 David Lefkowitz

(Sung to the melody of Richard M. Sherman & Robert Sherman’s “You’re Sixteen”)
I’ll walk into the school
Feeling so cool
Everything’s gonna be fine
AR-15, you’re deadly, and you’re mine

I’m all ready to kill
Fire at will
Shoot some kids in the spine
AR-15, you’re deadly, and you’re mine

You’re my rifle
You’re my gun
I’m gonna point you at everyone
The graceful girls
The popular jocks
I wish I had some more bump stocks

I’ll walk out of the school
And into the yard
Join the other kids in a line
AR-15, you’re deadly, and you’re mine.

Get revenge with lethal force
Tell my lawyer I’m feelin’ remorse
Democrats scream
Republicans pray
God, how I love the N.R.A.

`Cause I’m Nikolas Cruz
All over the news
Sure wish I had a TEC-9
AR-15, you’re deadly, and you’re mine
AR-15, you’re deadly, and you’re mine
AR-15, you’re brutal, and you’re fine

All die, all die, all die
all die, all die, all die, all die, all die
All die, all die, all die, seventeen times.

************
NOTES & BACKSTORY:
On Valentine’s Day 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz returned to the high school from which he was expelled and, carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, shot 32 people, wounding 15 and killing 17. This was immediately followed by the usual cacophony of liberals calling for gun control and Republicans saying that would be politicizing a tragedy and that we should all pray for the victims instead. As someone who doesn’t think reasonable gun control contradicts the second amendment, and, more importantly, as someone who loves pushing the envelope with sick songs, I thought it would be fun to pen a ditty from Cruz’s perspective. As a kid, I loved Ringo Starr’s version of the Sherman Brothers’ “Your Sixteen,” and somehow, a day after the slaughter, the song popped into my mind (especially thanks to the sixteen/fifteen similarity).
It wasn’t until I started putting a homemade rendition of the song (using a karaoke backing track) on Audacity a day later that I thought of including sound bytes. Those, with interjections by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Lori Alhadeff, the mother of one of the victims, ended up turning the finished song into a more serious plea for gun control than the lyrics alone show. And if you’re keeping score, this adds to my roster of compositions whose protagonists are murdering psychos (“Killing the Candidates,” “Psycho Blues,” “Bad, Bad Man,” “Sugar, Spice, and a Very Sharp Axe,” “A Day in the Life (of a Psychopath),” etcetera, etcetera, and so forth.

To hear my rendition of “AR-15,” here’s the youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMQ9mutrCuc&feature=youtu.be

HE’S GOT THE SHITHOLE WORLD (IN HIS HANDS)

©2018 David Lefkowitz

(sung to the melody of the traditional spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World In his Hands”)

He’s got the shithole world in his hands
He’s got the shithole world in his hands
He’s got the shithole world in his hands
He’s got the whole shithole in his hands

He’s got Pakistan and Haiti in his hands
He’s got the Cuban and Kuwaiti in his hands
He’s got Ned and Warren Beatty in his hands
He’s got the whole shithole in his hands

He’s got Suriname and China in his hands
He’s got Chad and Argentina in his hands
He’s got the Faso that’s Burkina in his hands
He’s got the whole shithole in his hands

He’s got Cameroon and Cuba in his hands
He’s got murder in Aruba in his hands
He’s got boys who play the tuba in his hands
He’s got the whole shithole in his hands

He’s got Syria and Thailand in his hands
He’s got each Marshall Island in his hands
This land ain’t your land or my land, in his hands
He’s got the whole shithole in his hands

If you aren’t a Caucasian in this land
If you’re of African persuasion in this land
We’re gonna stop your invasion of this land
`Cause our shithole’s bigger than yours

So if you’re standing in the doorway of our land
Turn around and go back your way from our land
Unless you are from Norway to our land
He’s got the whole shithole in his hands

He’s got the shithole world in his hands
He’s got the shithole world in his hands
He’s got the shithole world in his hands
He’s got the whole shithole in his hands

 

*****

NOTES & BACKSTORY:
Penned Jan. 12, 2018 specifically for performance on my weekly radio show, Dave’s Gone By, this tune was a fun reaction to reports of a meeting about immigration with congressional lawmakers in which President Trump allegedly asked the assembled, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump detractors saw this as the culmination of his history of racially insensitive remarks, while defenders noted that if these countries weren’t shitholes, why were all these immigrants so desperate to jump ship? For me, the whole tempest was just an excuse to revel in the sight—and sound—of all these serious newscasters endlessly repeating the word “shithole” with a straight face (that means you, CNN’s Don Lemon!).
Oh, and speaking of keeping score, this is my second song parody of “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands.” The first was 2017’s “In his Ass.” Shitholes, indeed.

PING PONG, POP TARTS, AND PINEAPPLES: Comedian Paula Poundstone on the Rewards of Moving Forward

by David Lefkowitz

(this article was first published in November 2017)

“I have struggled to overcome loneliness, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcohol, terrible loss, and both public and private failure, but the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness from not being able to put a film up on Facebook may be insurmountable.”

That quote, from Paula Poundstone’s recently published second book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, pretty much sums up the veteran comedian’s take on the universe. If life has handed her lemons—particularly ones she grew on her own tree—she now takes a sip, acknowledges the sourness, and then adds just enough sugar for a laugh.

To be sure, few people were laughing at Poundstone in 2001, when she was arrested for being a danger to her three adopted and two foster children. Public acknowledgement of the humorist’s alcohol addiction was one hurdle—a failing not exactly unheard of for celebrities—and she did admit to driving under the influence while her kids were in the car. But the remaining three charges were explosive: performing lewd acts on a child under the age of 14. Those allegations were dropped as part of a deal wherein Poundstone pleaded no contest to one felony (for child abuse) and one misdemeanor (for child injury), while agreeing to do five years probation.

Those years were completed a decade ago, after which followed a long stretch of rebuilding her name, finding concert venues willing to take her back, offering a public mea culpa in her 2006 autobiography, There is Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say; and, most of all, finding a platform that would prove to a wide audience just how off-the-cuff funny she could still be. Actually, Poundstone was serving as a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! even before her self-destruction, but recent years have seen the program leap in popularity—in no small part owing to quips delivered by the 57-year-old comedian in her husky, ever-perplexed voice.

In town Dec. 1 for a gig at The Paramount Theater in Huntington, the Alabama-born author owns her past, jokes about her present, and promotes her book, which, as its title suggests, charts numerous attempts to immerse herself in projects that will bring her quantifiable measures of happiness (which she calls “heps”). Whether it be binging on watching movies, studying martial arts, or simply trying to de-hoard her mess of a house, the experiments tend to succeed and fail in equal measure—surely as sensible a metaphor for life as any.

Asked in our phone interview which of her endeavors proved the most fulfilling overall, Poundstone admitted it was “the stuff we were always told”: to exercise and help others. “One day I was walking down the alley carrying trashbags with 30 pounds of cat waste and kitty litter in them, and it dawned on me that I felt really good,” the comedian chuckled. “It had to be the exercising, because I’ve carried litter down the street before, and it never made me feel particularly good. Plus, I’d had a couple of really depressing, sad things happen during that experiment, so had I not been receiving the ongoing `heps’ of happiness, those things would have towed me under like a big wave.” As for the good-samaritan gambit, Poundstone noted, “I volunteer at a nursing home a couple of mornings a week. Again, it’s what we’ve been told: to make yourself feel better, make somebody else feel better.”

Though the Alabama-born comedian still enjoys taking swing classes she started during her “Get Up and Dance” phase, other health regimens have fallen a bit by the wayside. “I had been taking private taekwondo classes four times a week, and I was in pretty good shape then. But now I’m only home so many days a week, and I have all these goddamn cats to take care of. Also, it’s that weird part of the human condition. The things that make me feel best I won’t do on my own. I know vigorous exercise helped me, but when I’m by myself, I get to the point where I think, `Oh, I’m gonna vomit,’ and I stop. Whereas with a trainer, he’d just say, `Keep going.’ I know me pretty well by now, and I would not say that to myself.

“Even volunteering,” Poundstone continues. “I schedule it, I do it, but I don’t leap out of bed and say, `Ooh! Volunteering today!’”

Healthy eating, too, is a goal more appreciated than easily achieved. “My middle daughter is a vegan,” says the humorist, “and she’s influenced me—even though every vegan meal is not necessarily a low-caloric meal or even terribly healthy. But I do swing more towards vegetables and healthy foods than I ever did before in my life. For the longest time, one of the hallmarks of my act was talking about Pop Tarts. Audience members would bring them to me. The Chicago Tribune did a story about Pop Tarts history, and their timeline included a picture of me. But a couple of years ago, when I was doing the experiments, I thought, `My Pop Tart years are over.’”

“It doesn’t help,” Poundstone continued, “that I have a very sedentary life. Half of my week is flying, plus I get up at crazy hours to be driven to the airport. As soon as I’m in the hotel, I order food and fall asleep, so I come home pretty porky. I did buy a desk treadmill, but I forget to turn it on. When I do, I sometimes put on Breaking Bad because I need something compelling to bribe myself to stay on that stupid thing.”

Reminded that it takes discipline to finish a book, Poundstone countered, “This book took me seven years to write; the one before it took nine. In fact, when I went into Human Happiness, I thought, `this couldn’t possibly take as long as the last one.’ I really set a low bar for speed. But it’s the reality of being a single, working mom. As a standup, I have a notebook and a thousand little pieces of paper all over my desk. After all these years, I think I have a certain rhythm of having ideas and then putting them out there. It’s more like breathing than scheduling. I tell myself that if I sat in a room saying, `Now I’m going to think of ideas,’ I wouldn’t be able to. Maybe I would. But ehhh, this is the way I’ve done it.”

When asked if computers have made it easier to organize material and promote her work  now than when she started more than three decades ago, Poundstone railed against the evils of our wired-up age. “So many of our kids are going down the horrible rabbit hole of gaming and texting,” she said. “It’s to the degree that they can’t look one another in the eye because they don’t know how to communicate.” Granting that a friend’s son, who suffered from severe cerebral palsy, was helped by digital technology, Poundstone also admitted that one of her own children suffered from electronic addiction: “When my son was little, we couldn’t get help for him or even admit that such a thing existed—which was mind boggling to me because it so clearly fell into the category of addiction. Now there’s a lot of literature on it. No real solution, but at least identifying the problem and warning new parents: no screens in front of little kids! None, zero. I’ve seen strollers that have a hook for the iPhone so that it hangs down in front of the baby’s face. Maybe 75 percent of the women I see walk by with kids in strollers are either on the device themselves, or, worst-case scenario, the kids are on one, too. Kids can be amused by everything in the world around them; they don’t need a screen to look at! It’s a really weird world we live in.”

No stranger to addiction herself, Poundstone has been sober for a decade and a half, but you won’t find her attending any AA meetings. “Oh God no,” she laughed. “I was court-ordered to meetings for five years, but that ended ten years ago.” The comedian noted that her atheism conflicts with the modus operandi of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is very “God-based.” She added that when she was in rehab and kept complaining about AA’s religious nature, “they made a faux effort to find me a different group. My counselor showed me a flier at one point, and I said, `Great!’ So I was driven to this address on this flyer, and no one was there. Maybe it was so secretive, you had to know the special knock.”

Poundstone certainly gives AA credit for being accessible and for grouping her with other addicts who offered encouragement and helpful ideas, but she worries that the government’s reliance on AA as the go-to organization for sobriety has slowed down research into more scientific treatments of addictions. “In fact,” she added, “AA would not call what I do `sobriety.’ They’d say I’m `white knuckling’ because they consider sobriety only going to their meetings and doing their steps.

“I remember several years ago,” she continued, “when Robin Williams relapsed after not drinking for 20 years. He came out of rehab, and my manager saw him on some daytime talk show. The host asked him, `Why would you drink?’ And he said, `I thought I could.’ I don’t know why my manager told me that, but I often think to myself, `I am an admirer of Robin’s. And if he couldn’t do it, then who the fuck am I?’ He was the canary in the cage for me.”

Because children were involved in Poundstone’s darkest actions, she realizes there are corporate gigs she will never get and people who will never forgive her. “There’s nothing I can do about that,” she stated. “I get up every day and try my best to make the world a better place. I will live the rest of my life with some strong percentage of regret and guilt for the mistakes I’ve made. I deserve that. But that doesn’t move anything forward. I can’t go back over my life with a giant eraser.

“The devil drink—or any kind of addiction,” she explained, “shuts down the judgment part of your brain. The frontal lobe is where planning, decision making, understanding consequences, and self-control are. So I made decisions that were the polar opposite of the kind of person that I hope to be. The idea that I endangered my children—I writhe in hell over that. But that doesn’t help them. So I do my best to sally forth, get my act together, and be the best parent I can be. And if there are people who don’t forgive me, okay, they don’t forgive me. We’re probably not gonna be in one another’s orbits, anyway. They’re not gonna come to my ping-pong parties.”

Poundstone isn’t being facetious. She’s been hosting table-tennis get-togethers since her twenties—a social outlet for a woman who doesn’t date and has openly declared herself asexual. Having visited people in the nursing home who are “totally alone,” the comedian doesn’t completely dismiss the idea of finding a partner much later in life, but for now, “the audience is my best friend. I tell my daughter that someday I may experiment and go out with someone. I’m not a monk. I haven’t made an oath. It’s just that on the list of things to do, it’s pretty far down there. I mean, to go in my bedroom and see someone there with whom I have to have an activity? It’s just upsetting to me. Plus, I’m tired all the time, and to my knowledge, I don’t have a sex drive. So for now, I like to play ping pong.”

And to appear on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!. The comical Q&A program allows Poundstone to mock current events—almost always from a left-wing perspective—though she avoids political hard sell in her stand-up. “I do talk about politics in my act,” she said, “but I’m not an analyst, and I’m not a historian or an expert. I’m open to the possibility that I’m sometimes wrong. But politics is part of my life, and my act is largely autobiographical. People can get mad because they disagree with me, but I respond that we all have far more in common than we have differences. It’s just that it’s my turn with the microphone.”

In fact, Poundstone’s favorite Wait Wait moment to date was both political and universal. “One time we were in Berkeley,” she recalled, “and there was a sign-language interpreter onstage. [Writer and satirist] Adam Felber was on the program with me, and we were watching the signer. Peter Sagal [the host] asked a question that included a quote from Ronald Reagan about passing the budget. And he said something to the effect of doing that was like trying to crap a pineapple. Well, when he said that, both Adam and I looked over at the signer because we were both fascinated by how they were gonna sign this. We roared with laughter over the hand signals.

“Since this was radio,” continued Poundstone, “there was no way of communicating the situation to the home audience—only to the audience in the theater. So then, Adam and I started purposely saying things that would be compromising to sign—most of them having to do with crapping. I believe we culminated in Adam saying that Reagan had said, `It was as hard as crapping a live, wiggling ferret.’ We only did it so we could watch this woman sign it. Of course, all of that was cut from the final show. Still, if you contact Wait Wait, I’ll bet one of those audio nerds could still find it for ya—high-minded NPR people that we are.”

*

PAULA IN PARTICULAR

What’s currently on your bookshelf?

I’m reading The Nazi Officer’s Wife [by Edith Hahn Beer]. I’ve started reading the New York Times, but I read so goddamn slowly that I just take it with me in my carry-on bag. It’s a big stack, even after I’ve stripped it of everything but Section A.

Do you have a favorite meal?

I have peanut butter and jelly on raisin bread every day that I’m home. But one time we went to this restaurant on Christmas, and I had the most spectacular butternut squash ravioli. But they were really skimpy with the ravioli pillows—only four on the plate! Still, I dream of it every day. They hooked me. It’s like heroin: they give you a taste…

What about your music?
I listen to lots of swing-type music. When I first started volunteering at the nursing home, they had two cds: one disco, the other mandolin. It seemed like an easy fix, so I started buying big bands and stuff they grew up with. It’s so much fun! Now they have easily 100 cds. My favorite may be the best of Louis Prima. And I’ve moved a little forward timewise: The Carpenters and some Van Morrison. Whether he’s part of your era or not, he’s just so great.

Who were your biggest influences in comedy?

I loved Laugh In. I wanted to be Lily Tomlin and Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett—and I missed it all by a country mile! But I love them all still. In high school, I got turned on to Bob and Ray. My gosh, they were funny.

So if you hadn’t made it in comedy yourself, you’d be a…?

I have no idea. I used to bus tables in a restaurant, and I was damn good at it. At IHOP, I waited tables…I wasn’t good at that. I have OCD—as does everyone, actually; I was just diagnosed—but that makes me a fantastic table busser. I have a gift!

What’s your favorite place to vacation?

I go to the same spot every year: Manchester, Massachusetts to visit the family I used to live with. We go to Singing Beach and get Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream. Last year, my son was in a program in Virginia, and I took him to Lake Anna in the fall. The water temperature was perfect! It’s my dream to go back there two years from now.

Well, that should be an easy dream to make come true.

(laughs) You’d be amazed how many of my dreams don’t!

*

BYLINE:

David Lefkowitz is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com) and hosts Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.com) on UNC Radio. His comedy, Blind Date, was recently staged in Chennai, India.

IT’S A WONDER-FUL LIFE: Lynda Carter on Music, Money, and That Role

by David Lefkowitz

(Note: this article was first published in October 2017)

When Gal Gadot was born in spring 1985, the American television series Wonder Woman had already been off the air for six years. By the time the Israeli actress hit the big screen in this summer’s Wonder Woman movie, the original TV program had already settled into media history as a nostalgic wedge of 1970s cheese: silly, campy, and can’t-look-away-colorful. Another reason eyes were glued to the small screen was its gorgeous star, Lynda Carter, five foot nine niches of glamour packed into a costume that accentuated her…well, everything.

That Carter, at 66, has effortlessly held onto her iconic glamour is of more interest to fans and new WW converts than to the lady herself, who was taught early on that good looks could be helpful but had better not be the only commodity you have to offer. In our mid-summer phone conversation, Carter, at work on her fourth studio album, talked freely about her music, her early years, her attitudes and addictions, and the responsibility of being the woman behind the bare shoulders and bracelets.

LONG ISLAND WOMAN: Your last two albums mixed American standards with more contemporary songs by people like James Taylor and The Eagles. Are you planning something similar with the next one?
LINDA CARTER: I guess some are standards, though it’s hard to call them that because they come from such a wide variety of music: country, jazz, old rock and roll, Motown. I have a hard time trying to box in what I do. For example, we’re working on everything from a Chris Isaak cover of “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” to a country song I wrote called “After All These Years.” Also, “You’ve Changed,” the Billie Holiday song; “Take Me to the River,” ZZ Ward’s “Put the Gun Down,” “Lonely Boy” by The Black Keys, a couple of Everly Brothers songs, Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” and a completely re-thought version of “Stop in the Name of Love.”

LIW: How do you go about selecting the songs?
LC: They’re largely what I have chosen over the previous years to go in my live show. Throughout the year, I’m listening to the radio or Spotify, or my husband and son are always playing music. Or one day “Stop in the Name of Love” just came into my head, and I looked at the lyrics online, and I thought, “This is a great, great lyric.” But the way the original was approached, you don’t even listen to the lyrics. So I slowed it way down. You probably won’t even know what the song is until you hear the chorus.

LIW: So you have to connect to the songs in order to put them over?
LC: Everything I do is pretty much a story. A song has to mean something to me—even if it just makes me laugh. I’ll usually have the guitar player do a quick reference demo just to write down the chord charts and how I want to approach it—be it a completely new arrangement or the song itself is obscure. I’m not usually picking a Top 10 record going down the Grammy list. It’s some indie band or something I really want to sing because I love it. For example, I really pared down Eric Clapton’s “If I Could Change the World.” It’s a love song but also a message song about how I really feel about the present condition of the world. If we could just change the world, just change it.

LIW: Well, your world changed after you won the Miss World USA title. Your family had been struggling beforehand.
LC: My mom and dad divorced when I was ten or eleven, and we were scraping by. I worked in one of my uncle’s restaurants and wasn’t really good at that. But I earned enough money to buy school clothes and help my mom. I also worked weekends at a little office doing mimeographing for extra money. At 14, the summer before I went into high school, I joined a band, and that was great, because on a weekend, you could make $75—that was a fortune in 1965. At first, I couldn’t even drive myself to the venues. But at 15, if you had a learner’s permit in Arizona, you could drive, so I did.

When I look at it now, it’s absolutely ridiculous that I was that independent. But I just told my mom what I was doing, and she’d say, “Okay, that’s great.” My brother was off putting himself through college, and my sister was doing what she was doing, so my mom had her hands full. But I always got straight A’s, I never got in any trouble, I didn’t do drugs, and I didn’t date boys. Mom knew she could trust me and that I was a good girl.

LIW: Even though you were touring in a band?
LC: Eventually, I quit the road because I’d spent two and a half years with several different bands, and I knew at a young age I wasn’t going anywhere with that. The guys were men and a lot older than me. You’re living in these crappy motels, and you’re a road band, and you’re a girl singer going from one place to another, and no one’s gonna discover you. It was a dead end, and I knew that. So just quit and moved back to Arizona.

LIW: With no job prospects?
LC: (laughs) Thank God I never had to earn a real living at a real day job. I walked into a modeling agency in Scottsdale Arizona to see if I could get any modeling work, and they were putting on the Phoenix portion of the Miss Arizona pageant. My mom and my sister said, “You gotta do it! You’ll be too old if you don’t do it now.” And I did. I won Miss Phoenix, Miss Arizona, and Miss World USA in about a three-week period of time. It was really quick.

LIW: But not the game-changer you’d hoped it would be?
LC: There was no talent in this contest. It was a bogus kind of thing that wasn’t about anything, and not something I ever aspired to. You feel like a piece of meat as they’re parading you around with a crown and a banner. You’ve got a lot of people around you, and a lot of attention, but you’re opening grocery stores and cutting little ribbons in little towns. There’s no substance. They make you have a chaperone, and you’re not making any money. Whatever they’re charging these people, they’re ripping you off. If they’re making $100, they’re giving you $30 and keeping the rest of it. I mean, yes, it was a little exciting, but I wanted to move to L.A. and study acting and move on with my career.

LIW: At which point you got the role of a lifetime. Once Wonder Woman took off, did you have a level of creative control over Diana Prince?
Yes and no. I think you are restricted by what the words are on a paper. However, I fought tooth and nail for my own interpretation of how she needed to be. Thank goodness the director of the pilot episode was really in sync with me about Diana’s level of discovery in the new world. How she was very naïve and had a great sense of wonder and a fish-out-of-water feeling. Also, her goodness and sweetness. She wasn’t a jaded person; she was a feminist. It was important to me that her loving nature, as well as her fierceness defending what she believed in, was conveyed. I think I was able to do that.

LIW: Well, scheduling problems kept you from having a role in the new Wonder Woman movie. But you did see it, and . . . ?
LC: The director, Patty Jenkins, and I talked very early on, and I think she really understood who that character is. She gave these characters a sense of humor, depth, and inner life. She took the cartoon out of the character, you know? The truth is that every character off of a page is a cartoon. If I sometimes get blowback that Wonder Woman isn’t real, well, no character is real! Most of the politicians you see aren’t real. People you see in magazines—they’re not real; they’re all doctored up. Models aren’t that perfect; it’s an impossible standard to live up to. When you see people on the red carpet, you’re not seeing them in real life. It’s like Cary Grant’s famous line: “I’d like to be Cary Grant, too.”

LIW: But that’s the paradox. Beautiful people get opportunities plain people don’t, but then they complain that they’re judged mainly on their looks. Did you always find your reflection in the mirror a blessing and a curse?
LC: Hey, I appreciated it. Nobody ever feels sorry for you because you’re pretty (laughs). But we’ve all met people who take themselves too seriously because they’re rich or pretty. They’re boring, dull people who are not fun to be around. What helped me was having a very close relationship with my mother. I went through some teenage awkward years, and then I started singing and had a lot of people telling me that I was very pretty. But in my family, I have to say, I was unimpressed by that. My mother was very, very beautiful, and my father was very, very handsome. My brother’s very handsome, and my sister’s very pretty. But the emphasis in my family was about ethics, accomplishment, beauty being skin deep, exercise, education, good grades. So beauty was never something I put a lot of stock or effort into it. My thing was trying to be a creative, smart person, and to be about something.

LIW: You did have your burdens, though. Which led to an alcohol problem.
LC: I didn’t even drink until my mid-20s. My mother and father didn’t drink, but it is a genetic pre-disposition that existed on my mother’s side. So even though my mother did not have it, I got the gene. In the 80s, when I started using alcohol to avoid dealing with a bad marriage, and to escape and avoid dealing with my emotions, is when I got myself in trouble. You find it in the military and a lot of places, but alcohol is so insidious. It’s like opioid addiction running amok in the heartland now, while they’re cutting medical insurance for addiction. For years, Big Pharma made a ton of money off it, but no one’s talking about that part . . .

Anyway, as far as my own alcoholism, it took awhile. I would drink, and then I wouldn’t, and then I would. It was a slow process. But when I finally decided I really needed help, I went to rehab. Now I’m coming up on 20 years sober. I haven’t been to meetings in a long while, but I am very involved in recovery. I’m on the board of Ashley Treatment, which is a recovery center in Maryland, and it’s a very important aspect of my life. I am extremely careful about being mindful.

LIW: Speaking of mindfulness, I imagine most of our readers want to hear that you must spend twelve hours a day in the gym with trainers to keep looking the way you do.
LC: No, I just try to do a little something every day: pushups, walking, biking on the river. I try to be active watch what I eat. Just quantity, really. If I’m gaining a little—like, I think I’m probably a little bit over now—I’ll start to keep an eye on what I’m eating and go down a bit, and not let it get out of hand. Some people can just eat whatever they want…I’m not one of `em. I keep on keepin’ on, but mainly for health reasons.

LIW: Which also leads to the inevitable whispered question, “How much work do you think she’s had done?”
LC: It’s really funny. I’ll do Botox or Restylane, occasionally, if I’m gonna be doing a big photo shoot or something. I try to get rid of that middle frown line because it makes me look mad. But I don’t want to have a frozen face. I don’t want big lips. I am what I am. I’m not saying I’d never have plastic surgery, but I don’t think I will. I just don’t see myself having any cutting on my face because everyone that I’ve seen cut, they look entirely different. I’m kinda terrified. I know people who can afford the best surgeons in the entire world and still…I dunnoooooo. (laughs) Besides, my mom didn’t have any wrinkles when she died, and she was almost 90!

LIW: So much of who you are does seem to keep circling back to your mom.
LC: My mother was a remarkable woman. Even for the music I do . . . She used to play these juke-joint records. She had a collection of these old, scratchy 78s all about pain and suffering (laughs). “You done me wrong.” Sassy blues records from the South with these amazing singers. She also loved country music and rhumbas and things like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Judy Garland, and torch singers. So that is what’s inside my bones and what I lean toward in my musical taste.

LIW: You mentioned before we started that some of the information about you on the web is wrong. Such as?
LC: There’s no “Córdova” in my name. I don’t know how that ever got started. It’s my mother’s maiden name, but it’s not on my birth certificate. And I did not go to Arizona State University. I got a scholarship that I turned down to go on the road. I did change “Lynda” from an “i” to a “y” before going into high school. There were a lot of people named Linda with an “i,” so I wanted to change it.

LIW: What about nearly having a featured role in Apocalypse Now?
LC: That’s true. I was in the jungle for three weeks, and we got typhooned out. They shut down for a couple of months, and by the time they were ready, I was doing Wonder Woman, so they had to replace me. But I was there with Charlie Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Frances Ford Coppola, and I’ve got a great picture at home of all of us to prove it!

LIW: Considering the film’s iconic status, was that a big career regret?
LC: No, it was an amazing experience being there with all of them. It didn’t work out, but I don’t regret it. You just move on.

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SIDEBAR:
A LYTTLE MORE LYNDA

Favorite Songs of Your Own?
The song I wrote for my son, “Jamie’s Song (You’ll Change Just a Little),” and one I wrote for my husband, “After All These Years.”

Favorite Vacation Spot?
Maybe on a boat in the ocean, but really it’s anywhere my family is.

Favorite Website?
The Library of Congress: loc.gov. You can look up anything. It even has Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Favorite Episode of Wonder Woman?
The pilot. It was that new experience, that wondrous, amazing feeling that dreams come true.

What Have You Been Reading?
One of my favorite books was The Human Genome [by John Quackenbush]. Also, Jon Krakauer’s book about the Mormons, Under the Banner of Heaven. I like anything David McCullough writes.

What Have You Been Watching?
Bloodline with Sissy Spacek, Earth 2, and, of course, everybody loves House of Cards. Mostly, I’m wild about any and all documentaries. I love Vice, from Bill Maher’s production company. The stuff they cover is just amazingly great. And Nanking, about the Japanese invasion of China. It’s shocking and unbelievable.

Besides Wonder Woman, Which Other Roles Have Made You Most Proud?
I don’t really watch myself, but it would have to be my TV specials.

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BYLINE:
David Lefkowitz is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com) and hosts Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.com) on UNC Radio. His comedy, Blind Date, was recently staged in Chennai, India.