When people ask how my upbringing influenced my taste in music and work as a performer, I’ve always turned to my dad. He raised me on the Clash, Mingus, Stereolab, Nurse With Wound, Public Enemy, and John Zorn. In other words, he taught me that it’s OK to be a little scattered, as long as you’re going in the direction of your truth.
I have habitually glossed over my mother’s influence on my musical upbringing, because to acknowledge the truth would mean unleashing a goldmine of middle-school musical-theater photos of yours truly, and musical theater hasn’t been cool for a long time.
But with Carly Rae Jepsen taking a turn on Broadway, and Hamilton being everyone’s personal obsession, I owe it to my mom to acknowledge everything musical theater has done for us, and for me. Supplementing my father’s insistence on literacy and diversity in listening, my mother taught me, through musical theater, the importance of focus, repetition, and dedication.
Even as a little kid, I always thought it was cool that my mom was an actress. She rehearsed nights and did two shows a day on Saturdays. Sometimes it was straight theater — Rumors, a freaking great show, was a favorite of mine as a kid because I got to hear her swear — but most of the time, it was musical theater. My mother is, to this day, the best singer I’ve ever heard in my life. Trust me on this. She’s awesome. So it wasn’t just that my mom was a singer, it’s that she was an unbelievable singer. I was proud, even as a little kid, because I was a smug little snot and I loved that my mom was the best.
Because of her, I started doing theater around age five. Nothing major — chorus parts, mostly, including a third-grade turn as a poodle-skirted bobby-soxer behind her Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie. By the time I was in high school, it was more or less my life.
My mom taught me how to memorize lines and helped me learn to sight-read. Against my wishes, she forced me into piano lessons every single Saturday with an insane ex-nun whose house could best be described as “Miss Havisham on opiates and ditsy florals.” Eventually she let me switch to saxophone, which lasted maybe six months. When I asked for my first guitar, at twelve, she caved easily. She pushed me to compete year after year in state music competitions and held not only high expectations but also my sweaty teenage hand when I would inevitably start dry-heaving an hour before I had to sing in front of a panel of judges.
But she was never anything remotely resembling a stage mom, and she set a good example early. At five years old, I upset my incredibly weird ballet teacher enough that he screamed at me, which led to me crying and storming out of the gymnasium where rehearsals were held. Far from being disappointed, my mom stood up for me and helped me handle the situation with dignity. To this day his name (and, may I again stress, incredibly weird hairstyle) remains a punchline in our family.
My mom came to the Perfect Pussy record release show, even though I’m sure it was about as much fun for her as ten consecutive root canals. Because, let’s face it: Outside of original cast recordings, the woman owns maybe three CDs, and the only two I can vouch for are Diana Krall and the Mariah Carey Christmas album. She doesn’t like my kind of music. Her party line for the past few years has been: “You are destroying your voice, please write a song a person can actually sing along to.” And she isn’t wrong. But she still showed up, took me out for pizza, and told everyone how proud she was.
We’ve been talking on the phone every day lately, which sometimes means I call her crying, or more often, she calls at random intervals to dispense career advice that I neither requested nor agree with. Just imagine someone who looks exactly like me, and who was crazy enough to raise me into the person I am today, then add fierce business acumen, a blistering vibrato, and a mama-bear attitude toward her daughter, then have that person call you multiple times a day. And if you don’t pick up, she’ll text, and then call back.
TL;DR: It’s my column, and this week I want to give props to my mom, who is awesome, who I don’t mention enough, and who instilled in me a love of both music and baking, even though the below recipe is one of the only things she makes that isn’t from a box.
Yes, this recipe is one from the back of the chocolate chip bag. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people make these cookies every day, but I didn’t know this until I was in my late teens. Before that, I was just like, “Ah, yeah, these are my mom’s cookies that she makes at least every other week.” They’re the only cookies I knew growing up. They are the alpha and omega from which my entire understanding of cookies was born. And they’re just the recipe on the back of the bag.
But nobody makes them like her, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my mom. I’ve never been able to make mine come out like hers. I don’t know how, but when she makes them they don’t spread out as much on the baking sheet. They stay fluffy and light in color, whereas mine, and many other peoples’, seem to turn into little cookie puddles. We’ve lived in a bunch of different houses with a bunch of different ovens, and somehow, her cookies turn out one way and everybody else’s turn out different, and not nearly as good.
As such, I will continue believing my mother, and her cookies, are magic, because she is, and they are. Also, please note that I did not swear once in this entire article. Dear Mom: “That’s French they’re speaking! But no, these children aren’t French — they’re American!”
2.25 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
.75 cup sugar
.75 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups (one bag) chocolate chips
In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, beat butter with sugars and vanilla. Add the two eggs one at a time and beat really well after each addition.
Slowly add the flour mixture until thoroughly combined, then stir in chocolate chips with a spatula.
Drop by the tablespoon onto a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (I fit 12 on a sheet by this method), and bake at 375 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes.
Eat a few while they’re piping hot. Give the rest to someone you love a lot, like maybe your mom.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 6, 2016