Folding napkins and singing: Christine Lavin comes to Montclair
By GWEN OREL
There’s more than one way to fold a napkin.
Singer-songwriter Christine Lavin offers napkin-folding workshops at her concert intermissions.
“Come for the napkin folding! Stay for the music!” she says. People do come and teach her new folds: “There are a lot of secret napkin-folders out there.”
Lavin performs at Outpost in the Burbs on Friday, April 21.
The artist, who was the keynote speaker in November at the annual North East Regional Folk Alliance Conference, watched a video of a woman with a soft voice folding napkins to try to cure insomnia. It didn’t work, but she did learn a skill.
Now the singer travels to concerts with 20 napkins.
It’s not only Lavin’s songs that make you smile. Her easy way of connecting is relaxed and lovable. Her style is part folkie, part stand-up comic.
Some of her songs are serious, of course, such as “Under the Table,” a song about grandfather Isaac and his unfulfilled love for a family friend, but many are just flat hilarious: “The Tacobell Canon,” with its refrain “guacamole,” and the counterpoint “taco salad, taco salad, taco salad.”
Lavin’s 1988 song “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind,” about a woman who goes to the opera, skis, and eats sushi, though she hates them all, but goes along because “I love him,” is a classic in the folk world.
She’ll play some oldies and some new songs at Outpost. “RSVP NYC” is about discovering she was on the B-list at a friend’s birthday party — the guests invited to the bar, but not to the dinner.
She had bought the friend a Starbucks gift card for his birthday. She decided to keep it.
Songs often arise from real life, but “songwriting to me is a very mysterious process. I’ve sometimes written funny songs when I’m trying to write something serious. It’s a weird mental state. I feel like I’m plugged into the ether somehow, and songs are floating around, and I happen to channel them.
‘Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind’ started in Aspen, Colorado. I couldn’t cross the street. I live in New York City! Look at me, I don’t like skiing. He likes skiing.
“Oh. That could be a song there.”
Lavin has written songs about science too, including “Amoeba Hop,” which became a children’s book illustrated by Betsy Franco Feeney and was honored by the American Association for The Advancement of Science.
And Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book “The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet” includes the lyrics to Lavin’s song “Planet X.”
In fact, deGrasse Tyson invited her to perform it at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, in front of 1,200 people.
“I got a D in astronomy,” Lavin said with a laugh. She gave the lyrics to a woman in the front row, in case she got lost.
“I figured these were all A students in astronomy. He [deGrasse Tyson] called me at 2 in the afternoon and asked me to do it at 8 that night. It’s an eight-minute song about the history of Pluto.”
Lavin didn’t get lost. She knew she wouldn’t if someone had the lyrics, she said: “It’s a psychic trick.”
Or it’s that connection with the crowd.
Friday, April 21, 8 p.m.
First Congregational Church, 40 South Fullerton Ave.
Opening act: Honor Finnegan