The film is called “When Things Go Wrong – Robin Lane’s Story” and quite a story it is. It is, as Robin told me, “bittersweet, like life.” Tim Jackson, Lane’s drummer in the Chartbusters, wrote and directed the 80-minute doc plays a second time at the Regent Theatre in Arlington Friday June 6 at 8 p.m. (We saw an advance.) Lane and the Chartbusters, who had their moment in spotlight during the new wave boom of the early ‘80s, will also play, and will be joined by more than a few friends. See the following email interview we did with Robin and Tim.
JSInk: The film starts with this statement: “Robin was a pioneer for women in rock and roll, but has mostly been left out of the history of women in rock and roll. This is her story.” How do you see the arc of that story?
Tim Jackson: I think the various circumstances that kept Robin from greater success are many and the viewer can make their own judgment about that. It’s not THE Robin Lane Story, but Robin Lane’s Story so the facts are open ended and as with any documentary really, not definitive.
Johnny Angel had what I thought was a good description as Robin as a sort of pinball, musically bouncing from place to place. “She goes where gravity takes her.” (He called himself that too.) How are you with that description?
Tim: That is pretty true. Robin and I laugh that whatever song she hears next is the ‘greatest’ thing she ever heard. I was joking the other day at WAAF after she was loving every song Carmelita played that if someone ran a vacuum clear she say, ‘What’s that sound? We gotta use that.” By the way, the pinball quote IS one of Robin’s favorite in the movie.
Your national fame was like a fleeting flame. Warner Bros. jumped on the new wave train and it seems, to an extent you did too. Though I recall your Rat sets – and others recall this in the film, and video supports it – as being pretty aggressive and punky. Did you feel like that was the real you at the time? It seems you did – not a fan of the safety-pin punk cliche, but once you heard the music. And yet of course everyone wonders how this California hippie child and Cambridge folk era singer evolved into this. How do you see the transition?
Tim: She claims she was trying to ‘obliterate melody’. She also was influenced by the naive romantic style of Jonathan Richman, who was even considered kind of ‘punk’. That’s where the guitarists Asa and Leroy had been playing. No one who works with Jonathan leaves unaffected by his personality. Also, as Bill Flanagan says, ‘The definition was pretty elastic’. I was the most for-hire member and just wanted to create great tracks with lots of energy. Johnny Angel mentioned that we went at it like professionals whereas a lot of punk musicians were younger and untrained. The music was sincere, the impulse was honest, the market went askew, the management got regularly pissed off.
In assessing blame for the band’s failure, I guess it seemed a combination of too much too soon, burnout on the road, boyfriend troubles with Leroy, Warner Bros. inability to market.
Tim: Boyfriend troubles with Leroy, yes. The rest is how I constructed the story, but there are many other factors. The facts on our demise are more complicated, except for the Leroy part. I distilled the rest to create a more universal story.
I didn’t – and I’m guessing many didn’t – know Robin’s history as the daughter of Ken Lane, Dean Martin’s piano player who wrote “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.” And then comes devastating reveal: “I wanted a father to want me as a daughter, but somewhere along the way he wanted me as a girlfriend. I’m still working on it.” Whoa. I guess you’re suggesting abuse there – or attempted abuse – and your Women’s Voice project deals with women who are abused – and healing through music. So, you were, then, a victim of your father’s abuse? (I know this is way personal, but you do raise it in the film and I’m just following up. And you talk about a boyfriend, LeRoy, I’m assuming here, abusing you and you forgiving him.)
Tim: I left the father part of the film ambiguous and did not go there because as she said “I’m still trying to work it out” I didn’t want to know whether the abuse was physical because this is all she says, and its enough. I sort of doubt it was, but enough is enough.
Robin, you talk on a few occasions about craziness. Not drug induced, but just losing it and semi-joking about being in the loony bin. How do you look back on that now? A necessary process to becoming who you are today? Just part of your makeup?
Robin: The period right before the bin was terrifying, a couple months. I think I had what’s called a psychotic break. I could not get back into my body. This is really complicated and I don’t understand it fully. I had been seeing a therapist and even before this split occurred they had me on those awful drugs they gave out in those days. God I wish I could answer more here but I have to get going. Really heavy duty drugs. I think they brought about the (whatever it was that happened to me) Seriously, I could not get back in my body, couldn’t button my shirt, couldn’t eat, couldn’t read the print on a newspaper and was terrified. Felt like I was sinking into the bed…into some strange world made up by HP Lovecraft. Hellish time. Going into the bin was a relief until they gave me thorazine. Terrible stuff. Then they mess around with you. The psychiatrist was a nut case himself telling me he believed in dragons as if I did too and other things. Private hospital too. The music therapist loved me and I played songs on my guitar for all the inmates and we all sang and I felt better. I had another boyfriend at that time that was abusive too…just telling me I wasn’t very good, because my lyrics weren’t up to par with his, he being the son of a big Broadway and film director. I can joke about this all now because what else? I still try to work out what actually happened to me at that time. Look things up, talk to therapist type people, friends. I think that’s why it was so easy for me to allow Jesus to take over. You know, and I’m sad to say, that is not my belief anymore. It was great to have that father figure…love, unconditionally, not like these idiotic so called Christians running around today. Or maybe they were always around, inquisitions and crusades. no one in my family would have thought to send me to a therapist. I could talk about that with friends but it isn’t something I really wanted the whole freaking world to know, if truth be known, which it surely will be. Oh well. …
Robin talks about that date with Sal Mineo in his Rolls Royce and that he could help her with not being a virgin. It does seem sort of comical the way you play – and Tim the way you “recreate” the scene – but how do you look back on that?
Tim: Matt Thurber (of the Rings) offered his services as an ace cinematographer and so we came up with ideas for recreated biography. I was of both the humor and inappropriateness of the incident, but was attempting that balance – or dialectic, if you want to get fancy – throughout.
Robin: There’s so much more to this, Jim, and if you were really interested I could tell you lots, just for fun anyway … especially certain things like Sal Mineo. Now that it is in the film I am kind of embarrassed, but I had little regard for myself at age 16 and I was the one of all my friends who would do anything on a dare, and I did want to lose my virginity. I tried to get my daughter to hang on to hers. That little treasure that a woman has. So embarrassing that it is in the film. I gave Tim permission and so … I would talk about it with friends but it isn’t something I really wanted the whole freaking world to know, if truth be known, which it surely will be. Oh well.
Tim, were you and Robin in touch during the post-Chartbusters years? And Tim what were your hopes and dreams when the band first got noticed and signed? Did you foresee any problems ahead or did it all seem rosy at the time?
Tim: Having been in rock and roll for the decade preceding, I understood craziness was part of that world, its liability and attraction. Our getting signed was one wild ride, but for me there are more interesting things in life than a record deal and a few glamorous years. Robin, my wife Suzanne, Evangeline (Robin’s baby daughter at the time) shared a house in the mid-80’s. Robin was there when both my kids were born. She went west for a while, but since the mid-90’s, we have stayed in close touch. We are closer now than we ever were. I think Suzanne and I are a stabilizing influence on her life, and the movie is great therapy in a way. I never laugh so hard as when we hang out together. She and Asa Brebner are my best friends and two of the most interesting and complex people I know.
Robin, you gave up a child for adoption when you were young and met him much later in life. What is the relationship like now with the son you gave up for adoption?
Tim: As Evangeline touchingly says, ‘It’s amazing’. They are in touch, though not all the time. They all get along really well. He is successful in the LA music business, and has a wonderful marriage. I actually got the reunion of them meeting for the first time in a beautiful shot. We had dinner with him, his wife, and the birth father (who is actually Harold Lloyd’s grandson). His adoptive mother requested we not use the shot or reveal his identity, which I understand and respected.
Robin, you met Danny Whitten in high school in Laurel Canyon, and soon-to-be-famous musicians came up to play there like Neil Young, Tim Hardin, Steve Stills, Gram Parsons sitting around jamming. Were they magic moments when happening or more so in retrospect?
Robin: I think they were magic moments when they were happening and I was aware of that. Not of the people going on to become icons and such but the joy of camaraderie and music sharing. That was and is a highlight on any occasion. Now I look back on it that it was special because of the people involved but it was special then too. In those days we all thought we had the answers to the problems of the world. And it was peace, love and understanding.
Robin says in the movie: “I believed I was a musician but didn’t believe I could write songs like these people I was dating.” What made you gain the confidence that you could?
Robin: I do believe in something bigger than all of us, guiding us, perhaps the collected unconscious and synchronicity because I did find myself doing the very thing that would bring me to a deeper understanding of so much that occurred to me and that occurs to so many others on our planet.
Tim, I like that you include other bands from the Rat heyday era in the film. It makes it more inclusive, as you guys were part of this scene. Tell me about your decision to take the time in the film to do that.
Tim: The context of the Boston Music scene is essential to what we were doing, and it’s a history not unlike those in many other cities around the country, and the world, at that time. So it is essential as personal history and, I hope will be recognized as part of a wider phenomenon. Robin’s story in a way shows how we are all inevitably affected by our own cultural moment, especially artists.
There’s certainly some weird and/or difficult stuff. Robin, you say when you were just barely not a virgin (after your tryst with Sal Mineo) you were forced to turn a trick for this guy with your friend Nettie (but she didn’t remember) at gunpoint. That’s sort of a shocker, but it’s just kind of left there.
Robin: I really hate to call that a trick. We were freaking raped at gunpoint with a silencer in a seedy motel. That she didn’t remember it is something about her. She later was a junkie and did become a prostitute, now she is off drugs and a happy person but she still did not remember something so awful in my mind that of course it colored me forever.
Robin, there seems sometimes a flatness in your tone and delivery when you’re talking. I couldn’t tell sometimes whether these interviews/this film was something you really wanted to do or if it was painful and drudge-like rummaging through your memories.
Robin: Yes I think flat tone would describe what is painful to talk about. I was excited to do the film with Tim but when you are revisiting these awful things you are directly feeling those feelings again, the ones you had at the time. No amount of therapy will heal all that. You can live a great life but every time I talk to someone in one of my programs, when it comes to them revealing the trauma, they either become, flat, cry, hysterical, something. If you’ve done enough therapy then flat is a good tone. You just can’t believe that this took place in your life. At least I am like that. Sure I can make light of them sometimes but if you’re feeling them then the flatness affect comes out because it was just so awful, I am not one of those that have kept these as secrets or in a dark place. It’s just with a camera on you…you know.
Your goals? Were your goals with the film the same? Or how did they differ?
Robin: I’m not sure that I had a goal, maybe to have more of the programs in it. And I would have loved the reuniting with my son but his mother was really against that being exposed and he’s a good boy.
Andy Summers comes in. An early marriage for you Robin. you say you smitten. “I was cute and young and wrote these songs, got married, it was a good way for him to stay in country, I don’t know why we ever broke up.” It’s kind of left hanging there.
Robin: What can I say to this. I came back east and decided to stay, he took up with Robin Batteau’s wife Kate and they moved back to London … Didn’t really think things through. We remained friends, sort of.
You mention the Born Again Christian phase, Robin, which you moved out of when? But you do identify as a Christian right?
Robin: No I do not ID as a Christian anymore at all. I would not want to be in heaven with many of these so called Christians. I do have some great friends that are Christian and they are not like those that we can not stand (you know who I’m talking about) but I don’t believe God or the Universe, or this great energy that were all a part of, is an exclusive club that only a few get to be part of if they believe only in Jesus. Jesus was wonderful for me because of the LOVE. I am sad, as I said, that I lost my faith in him.
Your memories of coming here in ‘76, hanging with Andy Pratt, Tony Gilroy, Peter Johnson. Which comes off as a great, but coked-up scene, you you managed to stay away from the blow.
Robin: Yes that coke stuff did nothing for me except make me even nuttier.
Writer Bill Flanagan does a good job in getting you, I think. That you were punky for a while, but really a California girl, and with “When Things Go Wrong,” a melodic ringing guitar thing, natural to Asa and Leroy, and the band had that chiming guitar thing going.
Robin: Bill and I were best friends for a while. I told him everything. He was my go to guy. I Identified with the punk scene because of what they were saying and it was so vital and true and not the stupid songs that were being played on radio before that but I was really never a punk. I was heavily into Jesus at the time and I thought the place Jesus would head right to would be the Rat or CBGB’s.
For a time, post-fame, you lived in projects, using food stamps – grateful that “if even somebody was nice to me in the checkout line I’d say thank you!” My former colleague Steve Morse – who is hosting the Regent show Friday – says you were worried you’d become “trashbag lady and your daughter trashbag girl.” I’m not sure what pulled you up out of that. Was that where the A Woman’s Voice thing comes in?
Robin: Some things happened right around this time, some inheritance, making the Cat Bird Seat CD, other things helped me out of that but it’s always in the back of my mind like The Hounds Of Heaven, or is it Hell? Once you’ve been on the bottom you just don’t forget it. Kinda like the trauma stuff. Being poor is traumatic. Projects? When I grew up in Encino? Did not compute. From Rock Princess of Boston to Desolation Row? That’s what someone said at that time. On the other hand…I really started liking poor people a lot. Found little artifice there. Probably set the tone for where I was going and starting a non-profit Songbird Sings, where I could use songwriting as a way to help women and teens who had experienced bad bad things. My first program A Woman’s Voice, was about 8 years after desolation row. Would I have created these programs had I not been with people who were disenfranchised, hurt, bleeding – probably not. All roads lead to…hmmmmmm… the journey of your life. Wow…sorry I’m a little dramatic.
As far as starting A Woman’s Voice, a program of Songbird Sings, I had no clue how it would affect me and my own healing and no clue how it would affect so many women and then these sexually exploited young women. There is such a connection for me because I was betrayed, raped, sold my own body/soul out to a movie star…(no money Jim, I was never a prostie.) So I do believe in something bigger than all of us, guiding us, perhaps the collected unconscious and synchronicity because I did find myself doing the very thing that would bring me to a deeper understanding of so much that occurred to me and that occurs to so many others on our planet. It’s provided a way to really make a difference, in a real hands on way, bigger than just a song. It’s astounding really how people I’m working with are finding joy out of these workshops and a key to their own healing. I could give you quotes from people that have done these programs and where their lives had been and where they are now and from science people who know how the music works on the brain, releasing trauma that gets trapped, because perhaps you were a child when it happened and couldn’t process or you as an adult were just too beat up emotionally and full of fear to beak the silence you were living behind. The Trauma Center, Institute of Music and Neurological Function in NY. have corroborated what the songwriting is doing for participants. We know from the Shoah project how important it is to tell our stories in a community of others who have gone through the same or similar experiences. Then add music to those stories…It’s huge Jim.
Robin: You say “You looked at movers and shakers and it used to rankle [that you weren’t one] But everybody’s got a path.” And then ask, “I’m not smiling enough?” Close. It’s somewhat bittersweet, those final words, and I suppose the film itself.
Robin: True, it is bittersweet, life is bittersweet. I think it will feel very intense, the whole evening. I will want to say hello and chat with everyone, how do you do that?
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