There’s no shortage of great and kind hearted, kindred souls I’ve met through the years. Luckily, it started early on for me. If they were famous, I wasn’t intimidated because I realize that people are people and there’s always some common thread. Especially if a sense of humor, passions, or a goal can be shared.
Sometimes, their goal was more publicity. Oftentimes, my goal was to be able to write about stuff I love, and be paid for it . It was a very symbiotic world, for a while.
So when I’d meet musicians and I was in my Trixie A. Balm persona, I’d talk about anything that might be common ground: music, instruments, what they’re wearing, good places to eat, our families, places to play, whatever. And, of course, I’d get details about their projects that needed publicizing, be it a new album, a tour, a controversial incident onstage (or off).
You see, I was determined to be a friendly and well liked person. Early on in life, I thought I had a problem with making friends. I needed to change that; I was a lonely kid. I’d read self-improvement books about graphoanalysis (change your handwriting, change your personality -- I slanted my writing backward to become less “forward” in temperament!) and astrology. I read a book (Norman Vincent Peale?) that said, “Ask them about themselves! The sweetest sound in a person’s ears is their own name.” I read about Oscar Wilde, who was a wildly popular party guest because he was a “brilliant conversationalist” who just listened, and listened -- and occasionally threw out an apropos witticism. Cool.
That’s how I became a really good listener. I stopped discussing me, me, me. When people are nervous or egotistical, ill-bred or or coked up or just plain borderline psycho, they can’t stop talking about themselves. That’s kind of annoying, right?
Anyway, because of my listening skills and writing “power” (I freelanced for several music publications that were well known), I was accepted into the rock press and the musician circles. I was useful, and not too hard to be around. Although shy, I hid it and liked telling people’s stories.
How cool to be invited over to Lisa and Richard Robinson’s Upper East Side digs and rub elbows with David Johansen and Cyrinda Fox! Lisa was a famous syndicated rock writer, and she and her husband ran Rock Scene and other magazines. Richard Robinson enjoyed prestidigitation on the side (he was an amateur magician, and Lisa was a great yakker and schmoozer. She was kindhearted and very sharp. Her sister, Deena Schwartz, worked in the office and did some ghostwriting for her, I believe).
IN the mid ‘70’s, after the NY Dolls, David Johansen did a solo album or 2 and went into acting. He was very glamorous and good-looking, always in tight rockstar garb, and Cyrinda Fox (who later became the wife of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler?) was a beautiful, willowy, rock 'n' roll blonde. So sexy but cute, too. I don’t recall specific conversations, but the drinking and the laughter and the background music in smoky rooms made it a very heady environment -- I guess you’d call it garage-y ‘70’s rock, with New Wave thrown in.
I went to more than a few parties like that. Sticking to my yucky diet sodas or hot milky coffees, I never could get into drinking (not until one night at The Ritz at the age of 23 or so -- but I never overdid it). But certain kinds of smokables were helpful to fuzz the edginess for me. . . helped me to relax.
But the night I saw my writing idol, Tom Wolfe, make a cameo appearance at a party, I kind of freaked out. Even though I met and talked with many celebrities in Trixie days, the only time I was absolutely tongue-tied was when I met Tom Wolfe in person at at party on the Upper East Side, I think at Dave Hickey’s place. Wolfe walked in, resplendently white-suited and low-key. I could barely breathe or stand in the same room. Omigod my idol!! Another time I’d meet him, surely, but at that point I was very tired and unsure what I could possibly say to not sound like an idiot. Besides, I wasn’t well attired, and I could tell from his writing that he’d notice that and I might be crushed if he were to not be amused with me.
So I waited almost thirty years to meet him, at the Southampton Writer’s conference. That’s the picture you see of us, above.
Next: how Chris and Tina of Talking Heads became friends (my side of the story -- I can’t speak for them!)