George Clinton Comes to Jersey Boys

George Clinton came to Jersey Boys a couple of weeks ago.  GEORGE FUCKING CLINTON…Parliament Funkadelic…The Motor Booty Affair…Maggots Ate My Brain…the Godfather Of Funk.  I hadn’t seen him since I sang on R&B Skeletons in the Closet—one of his solo albums— in the 80’s.  I think actually I saw him once after that, but I had to leave hanging out with him at the Gramercy Park Hotel because, well, basically… …I don’t smoke crack. The new (and improved?) George Clinton is now sober (from crack, not alcohol, as witnessed by my pre-show dinner with him), and travels with his lawyer/girlfriend (she says they will be married soon), and on this night, his great granddaughter.  He was also accompanied by his bodyguard/driver whose name escapes me, but by the time I finish writing this, I hope will come back to me.  Believe me, it was a good name. Perfect, in fact. I bought them all house seats to Jersey Boys because George wanted to see it.  He said he grew up with Frankie Valli, and all of them in Jersey. I couldn’t make him pay, not after all the Buddha-like wisdom he imparted to me 30 years ago.

In the 80’s, on tour with Thomas Dolby, we played Radio City Music Hall.

I was the girl who sang the  HYPERACTIVE! duet with Thomas, as well as playing keyboards, and dressing in a wig, glasses and lab coat to be his coquettish assistant for SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE.  At Radio Music Hall, backstage, was George Clinton.

Here’s how is how we looked then:

8) Thomas and me live

He said hello to me and I nodded to him, and we went on our way.  In those days I was always onstage carrying a white fake poodle decked out in a fake bejeweled collar.  Don’t ask me why because that is another blog.

A month after we came off tour in Europe I looked like this:

It was the summer of 1984. I was in a magazine/candy store on 75th and Columbus and I picked up a copy of SPIN magazine with Keith Richards on the front of it.  I saw that there was an interview with George Clinton in it, so I started reading it while I was standing online to buy my Drum tobacco.  First question:

SPIN: “Why are you into such a heavy Thomas Dolby trip these days?”

The answer jumped out at me as my face turned the same color as my hair.  I wish I had the magazine with me, but believe me, as much as I am paraphrasing here, the important parts I remember like it was yesterday.

GEORGE CLINTON: “…….and there’s this girl on tour with him…. she comes out and sings “Hyperactive”…she’s a white girl too…she’s like a white Patti LaBelle…the crowd went nuts…she got them all lathered up… and then she didn’t come out again.  You gotta know what to do with an audience, man… if you get their dicks hard, you better make them cum.”

GULP.

When I got back to L.A., I tried to find out who George Clinton’s manager was. I got him on the phone and said, “um…my name is Debra Barsha, and I was on tour with Thomas Dolby at Radio City Music Hall, and George was there, and um…he said really nice things about me in SPIN, and um..I just wanted you to tell him thank you, and that the girl who got his dick hard’s name is Debra Barsha.”  He asked for my number, and within minutes I got a phone call.  “Hey girl.  I’m doin’ my album now, and we’re in the studio…why don’t you come down and sing on a couple of tracks.”

That’s it.  I promptly got on the phone and called my friend Vanessa Williams who had just been de-throned as Miss America for having her naked pictures show up in Penthouse Magazine.

Me and Vanessa Williams.

Me and Vanessa Williams.

“Vanessa, George Clinton just told me to come to the studio and sing on his album.  Do you want to go with me?” Vanessa LOVED Parliament Funkadelic.  You must understand. No one wanted to hire Vanessa at this time.

So, if you happen to download a song called HEY GOOD LOOKIN’ on R&B Skeletons in the closet, you will hear me and Vanessa Williams singing background vocals.  We each were given a solo line to say at the beginning of the song, along with Bootsy Collins and George.

Mine was: “PLEASE DON’T FRET IF I FREAK, THE SIGHT OF YOU GOT ME GEEKED.”

George and Me

George and Me

But my favorite line of all time that I had to sing on that album is in the song DO FRIES GO WITH THAT SHAKE . Vanessa and I sang it together:

“HE CALLED ME LEGS MCMUFFIN AND HE ORDERED A KISS

HE SAID, ‘I’LL TAKE A FILET OF THIS

PLEASE DON’T FRY IT’”

After the album was done, he gave me a great Peter Max scarf to thank me for all the work I’d done, and I’ve kept that scarf for years.  When I met him before the show, I brought the scarf with me to tell him how I carry it on stage with me all the time to keep the Funk with me. I wore it as a headband at Coachella this year when I performed with Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

 

Wearing the scarf at Coachella.

Wearing the scarf at Coachella.

And I showed it to him at Thalia before we left the restaurant.

In subsequent albums that I sang on of his, I was usually the only white Jewish girl in a room full of the funkiest singers I had ever heard. But he always knew I was a theater person, and on MIXMASTER SUITE on that album, asked me to arrange the song, with the instruction, “I want BROADWAY meets FUNK”.

 

I arranged the song under the pseudonym LUCY AND SCHROEDER with my friend Ed Johnson.

 

Broadway, not surprisingly, is in George’s blood. I learned the secret to how he gets his party sound on the records. He had me double tracking vocals, and each time I went back in, he said, “now sing it like Carol Channing”, “now sing it like Cher.”

 

Afterwards, when I was marveling at how he wanted to include Broadway in a Funk song, he gave me the greatest definition of Funk:

 

“Funk is anything it needs to be when it needs to be that thing.”

 

George Clinton came to fucking Jersey Boys on fucking Broadway.

Here’s George Clinton with the cast of Jersey Boys, 2013.

Here’s George Clinton with the cast of Jersey Boys, 2013.

And hung with me and my wife afterwards.

Kim, George and Me.

Kim, George and Me.

 

BACKSTAGE AT JERSEY BOYS

For the last few months at Jersey Boys, we have had the pleasure of having John Lloyd Young back to play Frankie Valli. For those of you who may be reading this and have no idea why this is special, it’s because he WON THE FUCKING TONY for playing Frankie. How often does someone come back to reprise a role they won a Tony for 7 years prior? But more importantly, how often does a Tony winner come back and teach the entire hair and wardrobe department MADARIN CHINESE? I have the honor of having my make-up mirror chair in the hair room. Since most musicians are in the pit and not onstage, they have no individual make-up chair to get themselves ready in. But because I am running up and downstairs 4 times a show to go onstage in full costume and wig, that makes me a “character” and I get a mirror and chair in the hair room, and get to hear John Lloyd Young teach everyone a choice word or phrase in MADARIN CHINESE.

JLY usually writes these words on a yellow post-it and affixes them on a random mirror in the hair room in the bowels of the August Wilson Theatre. He also says the MANDARIN word and makes you repeat it so you get the exact inflection of the word. He often explains to us that if you get one inflection wrong, you could be saying a completely different word or phrase.

But today was a little bit different. As I finished putting the final touches of eye make-up on, I go to take my pre-show pee in the tiny bathroom of the hair room, and there I find a yellow post-it on the outside of the bathroom door.

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As you can see, he also puts the MANDARIN CHINESE characters for the word on the post-it. So, I ask him if he would mind if I would take a picture of this and blog about it. He says he doesn’t mind at all, so I do.

Now, on the other side of the SUH SUE-OH door, is another sort of lesson. It is the lesson that teaches us that all of us at Jersey Boys are united by one fact: everyone’s shit stinks. No matter if you are a Tony-award-winning actor, or a musician in a pit or a stagehand in for a work call, you are subject to this law. In a hair room with a tiny bathroom, someone is bound to complain when people have overstepped toilet etiquette. So, let’s look at what is on the other side of the SUH SUE-OH door.

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What I love more than anything about this note is the misspelling of COURTESY. It is half way between the word that means “a female version of bowing” and the word that means, “extending a polite gesture”. For the last 2 years, I have wanted to switch around that S and that E. It kills me.

What I also love about this notice is the phrase “lovely lobby bathrooms.” Like in the middle of the show we can leave, run into the lovely lobby bathrooms, take a shit and

think we can be back before the next musical cue.

I go upstairs and find my final note of the day stuck to the wall in my dressing room. Well, it’s not a dressing room per se… since it is actually a tiny unused toilet and shower room that functions as an extra wardrobe room, and my changing room. I look above my BARSHA laundry bag (which I throw my stockings from act 1and my knee-highs from act 2 in) and see a tiny note that says PRESS HERE.

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No, this is not a request to iron what’s in the bag, nor is it a button that I am asking someone to push it. It is a label that was removed from above a button on Keyboard 4, the keyboard that I stand behind at the end of the show that rolls onstage on a platform with me singing and playing and makes me feel like an 80’s rock star again.

This little label is too hard to explain. Its meaning on Keyboard 1 down in the pit, does not mean what it means on Keyboard 4, and my sub was correct in removing it. Suffice it to say that if you did indeed PRESS HERE on keyboard 4, you would not be able to change from a string sound to a rock piano sound, because PRESS HERE locks the keyboard into the sound you are playing.

But as it is with protocol in a Broadway show, it was a beautiful gesture by my sub. Putting it where I’d see it to ask me if it was okay that she removed it.

And right before the finale of the Jersey Boys on Broadway, I get to experience a little touch of “COURTSEY”, in a place where the SUH SUE-OH is only for those who pee.

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DOMA AND 08/08/08

I have to post something about the fact that my wife Kim and I can now file our taxes jointly. First of all CONFUCKINGGRATULATIONS TO US!!!! Never in this lifetime did I believe I’d see this headline on the front of the New York Times.

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Edith Windsor, the 80-something year old woman is like the Rosa Parks of the Gay movement. She finally had enough and refused to sit in the back of the bus. Now, my people of color friends might say, “How can you compare Rosa Parks to Edith Windsor? Rosa went to jail, Edith is smiling on the front of the New York Times.”

But I stick to my analogy. Edith’s face on the front of the New York Times says it all. She represents the years of the LGBT community saying “ENOUGH ALREADY. YOU ARE THE ONES TALKING ABOUT OUR SEX LIVES AS A POLITICAL PLATFORM. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT LOVE.” It reminds me of all those years I marched in the Gay Pride Parade or even more fun than that, the Dyke March (I LOVE the word “dyke”… it’s hot).

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We would march by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and invariably there would be opposers to the Gay movement standing there with signs THAT THEY HAD STAYED UP ALL NIGHT DRAWING of men “sodomizing” other men with a big red circle and a line through it. Like, “This is a NO SODOMIZING zone”. But like I said, they DREW IT. So they had to IMAGINE IT. It was quite funny to me every time I saw it.

My friend Dina sent me a link to this amazing Huffington Post series of pictures. They tell it all. They redefine “photo op”:

Kim and I got married in Toronto on 8/8/08. She bought the tie 15 minutes before the ceremony.

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One day in July of 2008, I turned to Kim and said, “8 is a magical number…it represents so many things, including infinity…there will only be one 8/8/08 in our lifetime. We have to get married on that day!” I’m a Pisces. I operate from my gut. It’s the best and worst Piscean trait. As a Pisces, you will either turn out to be an impulsive, drug addicted maniac, or a psychic phenomenon. In my case, I’m both. But Bill W. fixed one of them.

You only need 2 witnesses to get married in Ontario. I am lucky enough to have a gay sister, Janice.

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She and her soon-to-be-wife Lael flew to Toronto and were our witnesses. Lael is an amazing photographer and took pictures. My other sister Amy came and brought her husband, our wonderful brother-in-law, Mike, and our two adorable nieces Mikayla and Morgan. Mikayla was the flower girl.
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We showed up at City Hall in Toronto and realized that, yes, 8 is a magical number, for me and HUNDREDS OF ASIANS. Two dykes and HUNDREDS OF ASIAN COUPLES DRESSED IN RED, in line to get married.

It was a great day.

In this picture, we were listening to the City Hall official read the marriage vows that we had given him to recite. You will see the big smile on my face and then look at the look on Kim’s face. Whenever we see this picture, we laugh our asses off because that man marrying us had THE WORST BREATH YOU HAVE EVER SMELLED IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. I was smiling despite the breath, but Kim just couldn’t. So our memory of this perfect day was tainted with shit breath from a well-meaning justice of the peace.

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But when he said, “I now pronounce you spouse and spouse”, all was well in the world and the brides kissed.

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GETTING SPUN

Father’s Day just passed. This coming September 10th, It will be 4 years that I’ve been without my Dad.  Anyone who loses a parent they’re close to will tell you that you never really get over it.  I keep a picture of my father dressed as Santa about to read T’was The Night Before Christmas to my sister Cynthia and me.  “Dressed as Santa” meant that my mother gave him a red pajama bag that he put on his head, and glued cotton balls to his chin.  But he was the best Jewish Santa a kid could ever hope for.

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At the age of 31, my father was the handsomest man alive.  A moment captured on film of him lovingly holding me in his arms attests to that fact.   Anyone can see it.  I was only two and a half years old in that black and white photo, and completely oblivious to his dark, thick eyebrows and chiseled jaw, but as I grew up, I became extremely aware of his good looks.  At the age of five, I equated aftershave with handsomeness.  When I would hear him in the kitchen at 4:15 a.m. trying to quietly eat his Cheerios, bananas and skim milk before sunrise, I could smell the Aqua Velva from my bedroom.  I would follow that smell and creep quietly down the stairs rubbing my sleep-filled eyes as they met the harsh overhead kitchen light.  And there he was.  All dressed up in his suit and tie ready to round up the news for the day.  Aqua Velva equals handsome.  That’s all my five-year- old mind could conclude at the time.  I would sit on the bottom step staring at him until the last rushed clink of the spoon on the bowl was through.  He would always look up, startled at seeing me there, and say the same thing in a dramatic stage whisper.

“What are you doing up?  Go back to bed, sweetheart.”

“Ok, bye Daddy.”

I would obediently turn around and head upstairs, but I knew he loved that I came down there and said goodbye to him before work.  Being the eldest of three girls (there would eventually be four), it was the only time I didn’t have to vie for attention.  I was alone with Daddy.

At 6:00 p.m. every night I thought I could smell that sweet, fresh, handsome morning smell as I watched my dad deliver the news on television.

“Jerry Barsha, T.V. 3, Total News,” he would say seriously to the camera and Aqua Velva would float from the TV set.  I have one picture of him at that time, but it’s when he was on the radio.

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In those days, the anchorman, did everything…TV, radio and sometimes even weather and commercials.

My favorite thing was when my mother would take me to the TV station.   We’d show up as my father was leaving for lunch, and I would excitedly jump up and down.

“Daddy, will you spin me?  Please?”

“Alright, Debbie, but be careful,” he’d warn me.

The TV station had this incredibly long sidewalk outside it that started up at the road and sloped consistently downward spilling into the outdoor parking lot.   I’d run as fast as my Kindergarten legs would take me all the way up to the beginning of the sidewalk and turn around.  The feeling just before I’d start my gallop towards my father was amazing.  I had done this many times before, but each time it felt like a mixture of extreme fear and extreme pleasure. Little did I know that feeling would send me many years later into places I’d regret ever setting foot in, but that’s another story.  I set my eyes firmly on the figure with outstretched arms waiting patiently at the bottom of the hill, and charged at him with all my might.  Windy days were the best.  Sometimes his hat would blow off while he was crouching, and he wouldn’t chase it.  My little legs carried me to him but not before feeling like they were going to buckle underneath me from the speed and momentum that I picked up along the way.  Then came the ultimate moment.  I jumped into his arms and he spun me around.  Two, three, sometimes even four times around.   I was in Aqua Velva heaven with the wind messing up my ponytails.   As my handsome father took a break from being in front of the camera, I was making news behind the scenes.

Local Syracuse Man Catches Daughter and Spins.  Details at 11.

DO WATERBUGS SCREAM?

One of the great things about living on the Upper West Side, a half block from Central Park West, is being able to let the dogs off leash before 9:00.  It does mean you have to wake up insanely early to get out there by 8:00 a.m.  but it’s worth it, even when you’ve had a 2-show day the day before. When you make the effort to do so, you don’t have insane pent-up energy dogs in your 400 square foot apartment.  I learned a lot from Cesar Milan.  People dis the Dog Whisperer, but to me, he’s the shit.

We moved back to the Upper West Side after 4 years of living in Westchester.  I don’t even know if I want to go there.  I could, but suffice it to say, Kim’s family lives up there, and I wanted to honor my wife.  It wasn’t all bad, actually.  Ok, I’ll go there for a sec.  The 2 places we lived, Somers and Katonah were extremely different.  We actually moved to a fucking retirement community in Somers when we left Brooklyn.  Heritage Hills. Everyone kept saying, “Oh, no, it USED TO BE a retirement community but they forgot to file the paperwork one year, and their status lapsed.  Now they let anyone under 55 in.”

The truth is, at orientation, they give you LIFE LINE PACKETS.  There are 5 outdoor pools and you can use any of them, until you realize that they are all heated to a comfortable bathwater temperature of 88 degrees.  You hear ambulances in the middle of the night.  No one goes outside in the Winter.

2 years later we moved to Katonah. I tried to convince myself that it would be an easier commute because the Metro North was right behind our house.  That’s just it…THE METRO NORTH WAS RIGHT BEHIND OUR HOUSE.  Train whistles every fucking half hour.  But I have to say, we rented a fantastic apartment on the second floor of a CASTLE, I mean it.  It looked like a castle.

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The rent was astronomical,  but we thought it was worth it, especially since we later found out that it was in the movie VALLEY OF THE DOLLS!!!  It’s seems that in the movie, while they portrayed Anne Wells visiting her hometown of Lawrenceville, Massachusetts, it was actually KATONAH , NEW FUCKING YORK. I wish you could see the video of me trying to control my wife Kim to get the best footage, but you’ll have to make do with a picture.

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One of the two gay men who live in the town and own the only decent restaurant in the village, told us about it.  So of course we rented the movie and took a picture of the frames our house was in.

The charm stops there.  One day there was a fucking bat in the apartment.  Then I got pneumonia from running myself ragged going back and forth to NY every day.  The power went out in the whole town every time there was even a medium-sized storm.

We moved back to Manhattan.  And we actually REDUCED OUR RENT by 700 fucking dollars. We figured we’d live in a tiny one-bedroom because we’d go to our house in the Catskills more often. Miraculously, they accepted our 2 dogs and 1 cat, too.

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My friend for 35 years, Beth, got us the apartment in her building.  Beth is one of the most interesting people I know.  She got a Masters from Yale as a classical guitarist, worked to pay off her student loans by stripping in seedy New Jersey strip clubs, and now is a top Executive Management Consultant for CEOs that run REALLY LARGE AND IMPORTANT corporations.  She’s got an amazing studio apartment with a garden twice the size of her apartment.  She is definitely the smartest person I know.  She does the NY Times Crossword in minutes (any of the days, even Friday and Saturday…I can only do up to Thursday), can talk intelligently about any subject you might bring up, and regularly gets her next door neighbor (world renowned Economist Jeffrey Sachs) to speak at our Buddhist functions.  For these last 4 years, when we were living in Westchester, I would have no place to go between shows at Jersey Boys.  Beth gave me keys to her apartment and I would nap on her couch while she worked at her computer, probably creating the next big strategic marketing plan for KPMG or AMERICAN AIRLINES.

Today I was going downstairs to chant with her.  We’re both Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists, which means we chant the phrase Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.  I’m not going into it right now, but just know that it’s a religion where you don’t have to die to find out if it has worked.

When I get downstairs to the ground floor from our 4th floor walk-up, she is somewhat distraught.  She has the altar ready, and her beads and book are out, ready to chant.

“Do waterbugs scream?”, she asks me.

Now, for a person as brilliantly intelligent as Beth is, there are very strange places her brain doesn’t work in.

“Why?” I ask, stifling my laughter.

“The cats kept me up all night with something that they were torturing and I didn’t know what it was and I was afraid to look.”

“So you thought it might be a cockroach with vocal chords?”

I have to leave for the matinee now, but I’m glad I live in Manhattan again.  I’d rather live someplace where waterbugs scream than any other place in the world.

SAINT ANTHONY AND THE JEWISH BUDDHIST LESBIAN MUSICIAN

I lost my fucking sunglasses.

Normally I wouldn’t give a shit.  But these were my SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA sunglasses.

The one souvenir I took back with me from by 4 performances conducting KAREN O’s psycho opera STOP THE VIRGENS last year at The Sydney Opera House.

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I’m not counting the 20 koala bear hair clips that I brought back for everyone else, or the stupid AUSTRALIA towel that the cashier at the Cosmic Diner made me promise I’d get her.

These were pink, beautiful special Sunglasses that deserved that capital S.  Everytime I put them on, I could see the quality of the light in Sydney before me.  It was like a sense memory for my eyes.

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They’re gone now, so I have to move on.

Let them go. As a Jewish Buddhist lesbian musician, I pray to Saint Anthony regularly. “Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around, something’s lost and can’t be found. They’re my Sunglasses.”  I always add that part at the end, just in case Saint Anthony doesn’t quite know what exactly it is that I’ve lost. I just want to be sure he understands what I’m talking about.  I will tell you this: he has never failed me. I have ultimate faith in Saint Anthony. But this time, my faith is wavering.  Let’s see if typing to him works too.

I thought I had taken the Sunglasses out with me to meet my new Social Media Strategist buddy Alea.  She was waiting for me at Machiavelli on the Upper West Side. Machiavelli is a place that prides itself in the fact that all the chairs and tables  are handmade.  They even have the names and pictures of the artists who made them in the menu.  It’s slightly disconcerting when you want to order food and have to go through 4 pages of resumes before you get to the entrees.  But it’s a great place for a meeting and there is even a pianist who plays there every night with an honest to goodness tip jar on the piano. That was the last time I thought I had the Sunglasses with me, and since we sat down briefly and left, I called Machiavelli from my cab on my way downtown and asked them if I’d left them.  Of course, I hadn’t, and now I only had and hour before I’d have to conduct Jersey Boys.

Being the Associate Conductor of Jersey Boys on Broadway is a fucking fantastic gig. This week the Conductor is out of town on vacation so I am conducting 7 shows.

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I would have conducted all 8 shows this week, but once a month I take off for my monthly Buddhist meeting, and it happened to fall on Wednesday night of this week.

The Cosmic Diner is hosted by a spitfire Greek woman named Mel, and she was in rare form today. Alea and I sit down at a booth.  We inform Mel that she is going to be one of my first guests on the Podcast that I’m going to be doing soon.  I tell her she is going to be talking about men, probably.

“What the hell do you want me to talk about men for?”, she asks, pointing her fake nails at me.

“I want you to talk about women too”, I say…”like how you identify prostitutes the minute they walk into the diner.”

“I was right, wasn’t I?” She grins triumphantly.

Who the hell knows if she was right, but I never care. Her character analyses are so unbelievably entertaining to me, that I could care less if she is right or wrong.  The Cosmic Diner is part of my routine before conducting the show.

You know when your MAC battery gets so hot that you are afraid to use your laptop because you think it’s going to spontaneously combust on your lap? That’s what’s happening now, so I’m going to finish.

This is what happens:

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I give Alea a tour backstage and she goes on her way.

I conduct the show.

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And Saint Anthony fails me for the first time in my life.

Maybe. (They’re my Sunglasses.)

YEAH YEAH YEAHS on LATER With Jools Holland

YEAH YEAH YEAHS on LATER With Jools Holland

I conducted the Capital Voices in the UK on my arrangement of SACRILEGE off the YEAH YEAH YEAHS new album SACRILEGE!  We were on LATER with Jools Holland!  I will blog later about the whirlwind 3 days I spent in the UK with the amazing Karen O, Brian Chase, Nick Zinner and David Pajo!!!

Check it out!

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