Mothers who rock

Musician Amy Rigby on single parenthood, career dreams and the road.


Lori Leibovich
July 11, 1997 9:25PM (UTC)

amy Rigby has driven six hours from Los Angeles without air conditioning to
play eight songs without a backup band for a small but devoted group of
fans in San Francisco. Her makeup is streaked, her hair matted with sweat and her white
capri pants and Jayhawks T-shirt look a little dingy.

Road life isn't easy, but it sure beats temping, which is what Rigby does
back home in New York when she's not playing music or caring for her
8-year-old daughter, Hazel. Last year, Rigby released her first solo CD,
"Diary of a Mod Housewife" (Koch International), a 12-song masterpiece
about her dreary day jobs, the disintegration of her 11-year marriage to
Will Rigby (former drummer for the dB's) and the challenge of being a
hip mom -- someone (as Rigby says in her liner notes) who squeezes into
thrift-shop miniskirts even though they reveal her varicose veins.

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In the liner notes, Rigby defines a "mod housewife" this way: "You've
probably seen her at the supermarket, her kid in a grocery cart, headphones
blasting Elastica, while she debates the merits of low fat granola bars vs.
Snackwells. Maybe you've seen her pushing a toddler in a swing, with a
fading ink stamp on her hand from some club the night before."

Salon caught up with Rigby before a recent show in San Francisco to talk
about motherhood, music and how to date when you've got a kid.

How did your separation affect Hazel?

I don't want to say that the separation didn't affect her at all, because
it probably has in ways that I don't know yet. But, generally, she's pretty
well adjusted. We both see her regularly. Her dad and I live in the same
neighborhood, so she spends some nights at my house and some nights at her
dad's house. When I'm away she stays with him and when he's away she stays
with me.

In the song "Sad Tale" you say, "We raise our kid on the telephone." Is
that how it works?

We do a lot of planning over the phone. We're both musicians and we both
have very erratic schedules. Every few weeks we go over our schedules and
we try to accommodate each other. It's a very cooperative relationship.

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I think every kid whose parents separate hopes for a reconciliation.

There was a time when Hazel cut her lip and we both took her to
get the stitches. She was upset about her lip, but she was so delighted
because we were both taking care of her. I guess that will never change.

Is Hazel aware of your celebrity?

Her proudest moment was when I was written up in her school paper.

What did the article say?

Oh, you know, "One of our parents, the mother of Hazel Rigby in room
321 ..." It mentioned her, and when she is mentioned she gets really
excited. She says, "Since you've gotten more popular, so have I."

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Is she interested in music?

She has an excellent ear for melodies. But she doesn't say she wants
to do music. She says she wants to make movies.

How did Will feel about the fact that you wrote an album about the
demise of your marriage? When you were making the album, did you ever
think, "I shouldn't say this because it might hurt him?"

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I was really oblivious about it until I started playing the songs and he
started expressing dismay. Looking back, I feel like I was pretty selfish
about that. I would say, "What are you talking about? They're just songs."
I don't know how I would get around that in the future. I feel like the
emotional situations were depicted in a realistic way, but the details of
our daily life weren't -- they were created more for the songs. In the
future, maybe I'll go even further to make it seem like the people I sing
about are just characters. It's tricky.

So in the future you'll edit yourself more?

Well, here's an example. I've just written a song about trying to have a
relationship with someone of the opposite sex when you're a single parent
(laughs). And it was really hard to say what I said ... This is not just
based on my own experience. I know so many single dads and single moms who
don't know how to have a date or have a person that you are sort of
interested in come over when your kids are around. Anyway, I had to write
about that. It feels kind of embarrassing. When I started writing it, there
were a few details that were more personal, like the kind of books my
daughter reads. And so I intentionally made it two kids instead of one. So
that I'm not talking about me, it's just something I know
about.

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In "Knapsack," you write about a crush you have on a guy who works at a
bookstore.

It's more fun to have crushes when you're in your 20s. Once you've had
kids you just can't take it all that seriously. Now I know more about what
I'm willing to accept in a person. I find it easier now to say, "That's not
for me." I'm also more confident about just calling somebody up and being
rejected if necessary. If you're just looking for human connection, there's
plenty of it out there. But if you're looking for Mr. Right ... I find I do
a lot of hugging (laughs). I used to never hug anybody. Now I take my
affection where I can get it.

How do you parent when you're on the road touring? Does it make you feel
guilty to be away?

I always feel a little bit out of sorts. I love to travel. If things are
going good on the road, then I feel that it is worth the sacrifice.
If things are going bad, like three people come to my show and there's a
broom closet for a dressing room, then I think, "What the hell am I doing?"

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Do you and Hazel talk on the phone?

Yeah, about every other day, to check in. I gave her a voice mail number so
that she can feel like she has some control or connection, because it's
really impossible to reach me directly when I'm touring.

Before you recorded "Diary of a Mod Housewife," you temped in New York
to make ends meet.

I still do. Some months the expense of being away is not enough to pay the
bills at home. The month of June I temped because the month of July I'll be
touring while Hazel is at sleep-away camp.

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What kind of jobs do you do?

Usually administrative assistant kind of jobs. I usually work in the law
department at CBS because they accept my schedule and they know me.

You wrote the song "The Good Girls" about women like you who work
dead-end jobs and struggle, while your mother "never went to work, she
stayed at home and she never got paid." What kind of opportunities do you
think Hazel will have?

I feel like the nuclear family is going to be phased out of existence. Or
there is going to have to be some reorganization. I hope Hazel can pursue
a career and have a relationship but not really get involved to the point
of having children until later. I would hope that settling down with
someone would be a secondary concern for her.

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Were you this cynical when you got married?

I don't know if I'm cynical. I'm just in evaluation mode. I'm so conscious
of what you have to give up to be in a relationship vs. what you get out
of it.

Some of your songs intimate that while married life might not be
domestic bliss, it should be fun.

I guess I felt like we both would be doing our separate work. And every now
and then it would be nice to have that home base with this person that you
could talk about it all with. But having children changes all that. I mean
somebody has to be home.

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I was home for two years. When I say I was home, I mean I wasn't working a
day job. I was touring with the Shams (her former band), but I took
Hazel with me.

In a way, you have done the impossible. You've made motherhood hip.
Besides music, what other artistic arenas are there for moms who want to
remain hip and connected?

There are plenty of music moms who do it in whatever way they can. I just
think that American society in general hasn't embraced anything but the
supermoms, the lawyers and corporate career women. Moms who are pursuing
creative things don't necessarily get a high profile or a big salary. They
have to support themselves in other ways. There's a huge portion of moms
who haven't been identified by Hollywood. As I travel around, I see men and
women all over who are artists and stay at home and take care of kids.

What do you think it was about your album that hit critics so hard?

All the critics are having the same experience -- they started writing
about music for the same reason I started playing it, and they could relate.
I think you reach a certain age and you question why you do things and try
to find ways to make it still acceptable to yourself. I remember nine years
ago, when I was pregnant and riding around in a van, I said, "I'm not going
to be doing this in 10 years." I really thought I wouldn't. I thought that
when I became a parent I would get beyond that and do something different.
But it means much more than just some adolescent fantasy I'm living out,
like being a supermodel or something.

What did you think you would be doing in 10 years? Living in the
suburbs?

No. I guess I either thought I'd be more successful, or at least riding in
a super bus (laughs). Or that I would have moved on to a real career, in
something other than music.

What do you think you'll be doing 10 years from now?

I hope that I will be doing basically the same thing but that I'll be able
to afford doing it. I hope that I'm still writing songs, recording and
traveling some. I hope I have a little better life than I have right now.

Do you think you'll have more children?

I would like to have more. Someday.


Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich



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