I have been a fan a Lucy Kaplansky for many years, from her early solo work, to her collaboration with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell in Cry Cry Cry, to her many guest appearances with the finest contemporary singer-songwriters. She has seems to have been an accomplished songwriter and singer for her whole career. Her albums have always been filled with fine original songs and outstanding covers, yet her most recent release, The Red Thread is clearly her most focused and satisfying work to date. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changed the way many of us view the world, and made subtle changes in the things we do. For Kaplansky and her husband Richard Litvin, who live just a few miles from the site of the World Trade Towers, the immediate effect was inescapable. Their experiences moved them to write some poignant songs about the people of post-attack New York City. They were also moved to start a family, adopting their daughter Molly, who was born in China. The title of the new album refers to a Chinese proverb that states that there is an imaginary red thread that flows from each person, connecting them to people who will be significant in their lives. This image not only illuminates the mystery and joy of adopting their daughter, but also reflects the strengths of the multiethnic city that their family calls home. For more information on this album, please click here to read a review of The Red Thread on FAME.
I was very grateful to be able to spend some time on the phone with Lucy in during this busy and joyous time of her life.
M.D. I know that for most artists, the most recent album is the favorite, but this one is really unusual.
L.K. Well, right now its my favorite! Its true that every new one is always my favorite, but I feel really proud of this one. Its very emotional, very personal. The songs are genuinely linked thematically in a way that wasnt actually intentional, but worked out well. Im thrilled with the production.
M.D. Ben Witten has worked with you before.
L.K. Yes, my last two albums.
M.D. Is it the events that you have written about that make this such a different album or did you make a conscious change of direction as a songwriter?
L.K. No, it wasnt intended to be different. Its just the way the songs came out. Obviously whats gone on in my life that has effected what the songs are about. We used a slightly different configuration of players and that made a big difference in the sound.
M.D. It seems really strange to say of someone who is a singers singer, the person that so many people ask to sing on their records, but to me you sound so much more confident on this album.
L.K. Really? No one has said that to me yet. Thats nice to hear but I dont have a clue what that is about. We recorded the whole thing live, so virtually all of those vocals were sung with the band. Maybe I feel more confident about singing live on a record, because Ive done it a few times now. I dont know what to say but thats good news! (laughs)
M.D. Another thing that I noticed is that this may be the album where you have completely lost your Chicago accent.
L.K. I dont know what to think of that! I think its still there, maybe not in these songs for some reason.
M.D. Another difference may be how you have lived inside these songs. It is such a beautiful time in your life.
L.K. Its true. The songs mean so much to me anyway, and especially because of what they are about.
M.D. I know that after 9-11 many people took a look at their lives and decided to immediately go ahead and do things that were important to them.
L.K. I think so but I dont think that it was a conscious thing. We had been wanting to start a family anyway, but there may have been some sort of resolve to do it right away after that happened. Especially living in New York, that changed the way everybody felt about everything. It was really important to me after that, I really wanted to have a family.
M.D. New York is such a character in the songs. When Im in the City I often wonder about the distances people travel to be there and how their stories mingle with each other. The red threads must get very tangled in New York City.
L.K. Thats kind of what the song Brooklyn Train is about. The subway is the place where everyone in the world finds themselves at one time or another, and everyone belongs.
M.D. I notice that you cover Cowboy Singer. Did you have a particular connection to Dave Carter?
L.K. I knew him peripherally. I met Tracy and him two or three times and I really liked them both and I liked their music, but I honestly didnt discover some of his songs until after he passed away. I heard Cowboy Singer at Falcon Ridge right after he died, by Mark Erelli in a tribute set. I was absolutely blown away by the song. I just thought that it was one of the best songs Id ever heard.
M.D. Do you imagine yourself touring extensively with Molly in tow?
L.K. At least a big chunk of my touring will be with my husband and Molly. We dont know how much of it
well have to see how it goes. My first gigs are next week and were all going together.
M.D. When did you meet Molly?
L.K. We met her on November third in Chung Cheng, China.
M.D. I know people who have adopted children from other countries and they have faced many bureaucratic problems when they traveled to meet their baby. Was it stressful for you?
L.K. No it wasnt, other than the normal stresses, like you are about to meet your daughter and you are about to become a parent! The Chinese have the whole thing down to a science. They do a wonderful job. The agency we worked with was an incredible organization and everything was well organized and taken care of with as little stress as possible. It was a pleasure.
M.D. In researching the concept of The Red Thread I noticed that it was mentioned in information about adoption of Chinese children. Is that the first place you saw that phrase?
L.K. I had never heard of it before I started the adoption process.
M.D. Is Land of the Living a literal experience?
L.K. Yeah, those events actually happenedthe Muslim taxi drivers praying and the taxi driver who told us hed been beaten up. We live in The Village, so we were close enough so that streets were shut down and the firehouses were covered with flowers and cards. There were all the posters of the missingthat was all in our neighborhood. But it didnt all happen in one day.
M.D. Putting that together with the Statue of Liberty reminds us that it is the immigrants who came to this country that make it what it is.
L.K. We had been writing that song for about a month. It started with the image of the taxi drivers prayingthat was something I saw at LaGuardia Airport. I tried for a while to do something with that image in a song. My husband and I were in Las Vegas about three weeks later and we walked by New York, New York, which has a faux Statue of Liberty. There was a memorial around the faux Statue of Liberty with cards and flowers. Rick had this idea that shes still standing, watching over Manhattan. Thats really where the song was finished.
M.D. Line in the Sand mentions the family unit as a thing of value and A hate filled heart still beats alone. Both ideas fit will with other themes in the album. Was that inadvertent?
L.K. Really truly inadvertent. In fact I got an email from a reviewer the other day who said that all the songs are really linkeddid you intend that? And I thought, They are?! Then I thought, oh, yeah, Line in the Sand, I guess it is thematically linked. Its about were all in this together and related as humans, but it never occurred to me that it was a similar theme, so it was not intentional.
M.D. What will you be singing to Molly?
L.K. I sing to her all of the time. From the moment I got her I started singing little nonsense songs. I think lots of parents do it, but it just feels so natural to me to sing little songs to her. I have sung some actual songs to her. We went swimming the first week we had her and I sang her Louden Wainwrights Swimming Song. I sing Hey Good Looking to hershe likes that. Then there are about twenty kids songs as well.
M.D. Is she talking?
L.K. No. But she for the past couple of weeks she seems to be saying Mama in a way that makes me think that she really knows what Mama means, otherwise it is just syllables. But shes saying Mama, mama! and I think that she knows Im Mama, so I think thats her first word.
M.D. Thats how it starts.
L.K. Exactly! She just kills us shes so cute. She cracks us up.
M.D. Its an indescribable feeling.
L.K. It really is. I can see that it is different with other peoples kids, but its really different when its your own, its a whole other thing.
M.D. I dont think that I was prepared in any way for what I would feel.
L.K. I dont think that I was either.
M.D. Well I dont want to take up any more of your time, I know how precious sleep time can be. Does she sleep through the night?
L.K. Shes amazing! If I told you how much she sleeps you wouldnt believe me, but Ill tell you. We put her to bed at 7:00 PM and she sleeps until 7:00 AM. She very rarely wakes up. She has the best sleep habits of any baby I ever heard of.
M.D. Thats really amazing!
L.K. It is amazing. She gives us this great gift of a great nights sleep.
M.D. How are your folks?
L.K. Theyre fine. We just flew out to California to see them and they were thrilled to pieces. She was great on the plane. We had to keep her entertained but she barely fussed.
M.D. Im thrilled for what you are going through now and the good things that are ahead for you.
L.K. Everybody says appreciate it while its happening because it doesnt last long and were trying.
M.D. It actually lasts, but it changes.
L.K. She just started crawling on Saturday. And that was so amazing!