Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Photo by Ted Barron

by Jim Testa

I became a fan of Amy Rigby back in the days when she'd play clubs like Maxwell's and Folk City in Last Roundup and The Shams. Now Rigby's become an author: Girl To City: A Memoir traces her life from her arrival in the Manhattan as a college freshman to the release of her breakout solo debut, Diary Of A Mo d Housewife.

Rigby's fans love her honesty, her sense of humor, her pathos, and the clear-eyed intelligence and perceptiveness that run through her songs. Not surprisingly, those same qualities shine in her memoir. Hoboken’s Little City Books will host Rigby to both read from her book and sing a few of those wonderful songs on Thursday, October 17.

Amy Rigby arrived in New York City from a Pittsburgh suburb in the mid-Seventies. She wanted to be an artist, so after a proper education at a Catholic grammar school and public high school, she enrolled at Parson’s, one of the city’s best art schools. And then things got crazy.

Girl To City starts with a moony teenager with bad skin and a portfolio of drawings winning tickets to see Elton John on the radio. It ends with the release of Amy Rigby’s breakout 1996 solo debut, Diary Of A Mod Housewife. And in between, Rigby brings to life the glamorous, grungy, desperate, manic, and altogether fabulous Manhattan of the late Seventies, a nearly bankrupt metropolis bursting with creativity, talent, music, and art.

Rigby’s recollections of Seventies New York – the nightlife, the zeitgeist, the people who passed through her life – come to life with a clarity that’s not just impressive but seems almost inhuman to anyone old enough to remember that era. “I’m lucky that I started writing this book ten years ago, when a lot of this was fresher in my mind,” Rigby said. “I did keep journals, and I started a sort of a blog when my first solo record came out.” But what helped most was that the young Amy Rigby never went anywhere without a camera. “I kept all those photos, boxes and boxes of them,” she said. “And that, along with a lot of help from old friends and books and magazine articles, help me put it all back together.”

Rigby’s memoir meticulously reconstructs her odyssey through Manhattan’s nightlife. The college freshman soon discovered a demi-monde of nightclubs and punk bands, all-night parties in lofts and on rooftops, fledgling artists and designers and writers. And everywhere she turned, there was music.

Rigby became a regular at the city’s legendary clubs of the era, from CBGB and Hurrah’s. She and her friends started an ad hoc DIY club called Stinky’s that morphed into Tier 3. And with all that music, of course she and her brother (who had joined her in the city) and her friends just had to start a band. The first was Last Roundup, a folk-punk group that didn’t really know how to play its instruments but always had a lot of fun onstage. By the time they recorded an album for Rounder Records in 1987, they had become accomplished musicians. Last Roundup morphed into the Shams.

“I don’t remember the first time I went to Maxwell’s, but I’m pretty sure it was a Last Roundup show,” Rigby said. But Hoboken soon became an important part of her world, and not just for gigs. She wound up marrying Will Rigby, the drummer of the dB’s, one of the premier exponents of what came to be known as “the Hoboken sound” in the early Eighties.

Will and Amy had a baby and things were okay when the dB’s had a record deal and Last Roundup always seemed one break away from breaking out into the mainstream. But the book recounts with painful honest how her marriage couldn’t survive the stress of two partners with separate indie music careers, with one or the other always off on tour and the other stuck at home working the soul-deadening jobs that paid the rent. They divorced, and Rigby found herself a single mom whose daughter Hazel either had to be foisted off on friends and relatives or dragged along on tour.

But the story has a happy ending that started when Amy met Eric Goulden, who had been part of the original British punk movement as Wreckless Eric. “I met Eric and it was like I saw my future,” Rigby said. “I first met him when I had a solo gig in Hull in the north of England. We reconnected when the Shams reunited in 2004 to play a Yo La Tengo Hannukah show that also had Wreckless Eric as a guest.”

Today, she and Goulden live in the Hudson Valley. While both still have active solo careers, they’ve also released three albums together, one a collection of favorite covers called Two Way Family Favorites and two of original material. “We have nearly enough material already recorded that could become a
second Two-Way Family Favourites but might just start fresh with a new set of covers,” she stated.

Rigby’s appearance at Little City Books will be a reunion of sorts with owner Kate Jacobs; the two were part of a collective of singer-songwriters who participated in a live music podcast called Radio Free Song Club for over a decade. “I don’t remember how I got involved with that, maybe I knew Kate or maybe it was (Jacobs’ guitarist) Dave Schramm, or maybe it was (emcee) Nicholas Hill,” she said.

Rigby bookends Girl To City with the story of dropping her daughter Hazel off at college, and the heart to heart conversation they had. Hazel wasn’t sure she needed four more years of school. “All I want to do is ride around and play music,” Hazel told her mom.

“I wouldn’t deny her that,” Rigby said. “In a way, it was much easier when I was young. You could find an apartment in New York for next to nothing and a part-time job that would actually pay enough for rent and groceries. Kids don’t have that anymore. But it’s funny, young people are resourceful. They find a way. We did. And they will too.”

Amy Rigby will read perform and read from her autobiography Girl To City: A Memoir at Little City Books (100 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken) on Thursday, October 17. Showtime is 7 p.m. Advance tickets are $20 from, which include a signed copy of the book and a music download.


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