'I Was Singing For My Life': Amy Rigby On Mixing Music And Motherhood

Jan 28, 2020
Originally published on January 31, 2020 11:29 am

Amy Rigby was a sheltered Catholic teen from the Pittsburgh suburbs when she moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design and fell in love with the '70s punk scene.

"Downtown seemed to be where I felt comfortable," she says. "It was grungy. It was dirty. It was dark. Everyone was smoking. It smelled of beer. And it felt like it was always really, really hot or really, really cold in New York back then."

Rigby spent years hanging out in the punk clubs before she found her calling as a singer-songwriter, playing first with Last Roundup and later The Shams.

When she got married and became a mother, she expected to step away from the music scene. "I thought getting pregnant and having a child would mean that I would put all this foolishness away and that I would find something real to do with my life," Rigby says.

But it didn't work out that way. Instead, Rigby drew on her own experiences as a wife and mother to create her 1996 album, Diary of Mod Housewife.

"By the time I was making Diary of a Mod Housewife, I was singing for my life," she says. "I decided I was not going to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the bathroom floor unless I could get up on stage and sing about it."

Rigby reflects on how she invented and reinvented herself as a performer and songwriter in the memoir, Girl to City, which Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker called the best rock memoir of 2019.


Interview Highlights

On going from music fan to becoming a musician herself

I learned in public, pretty much. It was a really interesting time in New York City. There were all these little galleries and spaces where people were putting on variety shows, and my band, Last Roundup, we got together. There were four girls, two guys — one of them was my brother — and we just started playing our version of country music with one guitar, a fiddle that had maybe two strings, a lot of harmonies — or what we thought were harmonies. It was very kind of crude and primitive, but it had a charm to it. I started writing songs for that band and we kept working and getting better, bit by bit.

On bringing her young daughter on tour

That was pretty wacky, because I was with [my second band] The Shams and there were three of us girls, and then we'd bring a friend along to kind of keep an eye on my daughter while we were actually onstage. But we were in an un-air-conditioned van. We had baby food jars floating in a beer cooler of melted ice. And just trying to get my daughter to go to sleep at night after a gig was really hard. She would be just so easy while it was all going on, but then she'd kind of react when all the excitement died down and we were all trying to go to sleep.

But as things went on and she started going to preschool and stuff, it was hard. I couldn't really take her with me. I mean, I loved to go out and play, but I felt like I would miss stuff at home and that she needed me, and I was trying to balance it as best I could.

On writing about humble details of life in her music

It was a revelation to me to read [humorist] Erma Bombeck and to see that someone could be in a magazine talking about cleaning the kitchen sink. That really struck me and stayed with me. And again, in the '80s, reading Joyce Maynard [who] had her column "Domestic Affairs." I think it was the '80s — or late '80s/early '90s — and Mary Cantwell wrote in Vogue about cooking, her kitchen, and I thought, "Wow. It's in this national magazine, but you're allowed to talk about these humble, homey things that maybe in the past I would have thought that it doesn't have that much value as things like that men go out and do." So I consciously wanted to talk about that stuff and in songs, in the same way that I read it in those writers' stuff. I thought it would resonate with somebody, and that somebody needed to do it and say that it was OK.

On meeting her second husband, Eric Goulden (the musician Wreckless Eric)

It was in the late '90s, there were some reissues of his records. And I started listening to him again and I started playing "Whole Wide World" in my own set, and it's just such an anthem. It's such a mystical, magical song. I found that any time I was kind of struggling, alone, playing in a club that maybe there are some people that weren't so attentive in there, I'd just pull out that song and it would focus me [and the audience] ... Eventually that led to me meeting Eric in this town in England called Hull. A promoter there knew that I covered Eric's song, and he put Eric on as a DJ for my gig in this room, up above a pub. I met him that night and I played "Whole Wide World." I asked him to come up on stage with me and play it with me. And he said, "This song has two chords and both of yours are wrong."

Amy Salit and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Cyrena Touros adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. After years of being a devoted music fan and a regular at New York punk clubs in the late '70s, my guest Amy Rigby found her calling - writing songs and singing them herself. She's great at writing prose, too. Her memoir "Girl To City" was described by our rock critic Ken Tucker as the best rock memoir he read in all of 2019. It explains how a Catholic schoolgirl from Pittsburgh became part of New York's punk scene and invented and reinvented herself as a performer and songwriter.

It took a while before Rigby had the courage and confidence to stand on stage alone. She first performed in a band with her younger brother Michael called Last Roundup, which combined a punk and country sensibility and was described by some critics as cowpunk. From there, she sang with the all-women trio The Shams. By the time she made her first solo album, "Diary Of A Mod Housewife," she was 37, but it wasn't too late to be noticed. In 1996, that album was voted No. 8 in the Village Voice's annual music critics' poll. The housewife part of the album title refers to how she was already married and a mother when she made the album. And as she said, she decided she wasn't going to scrub the bathroom floor unless she could write a song about it.

Let's start with a song that's a tribute to songs she loves. It's called "Dancing With Joey Ramone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCING WITH JOEY RAMONE")

AMY RIGBY: (Singing) He walked into the party looking just like he had in the past. He came up to me, and he didn't even have to ask. I tried to say something. He said, girl, shut your mouth. They're playing "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." Last night, I was dancing with Joey Ramone. He was cool in his leather jacket and his little dark shades. He started dancing around. I tried to copy every move he made. When I reached for his hand, he kind of brushed me off. Then they played "Hanging On The Telephone" last night when I was dancing with Joey Ramone. They played "The Worst That Could Happen" by the Brooklyn Bridge, "He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss," "Glad All Over," "Needles And Pins," "Be My Baby" again and again, "Gloria" by The Shadows of Knight, "He's So Fine" and "I Feel Alright," "Charlie Brown," "Can't Sit Down." We were dancing around and around.

GROSS: Amy Rigby, welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your memoir. I love that song "Dancing With Joey Ramone." You pay tribute to so many lyrics (laughter) in that song. It's so much fun. It's got such great energy. You came to New York from Pittsburgh, where you grew up. You came to New York to go to Parsons School of Design, and you planned on being a visual artist. But this was the era - it was the era of punk. It was the era of CBGB's. Describe what the punk scene was like then in New York and what the clubs were like.

RIGBY: There basically felt like there was two clubs, CBGB's and Max's. And downtown seemed to be where I felt comfortable, and that's where CBGB's was. And, you know, it was grungy. It was dirty. It was dark. Everyone was smoking. It smelled of beer. And it felt like it was always either really, really hot or really, really cold in New York back then.

GROSS: One of the first friends that you made in New York who was very important to you and also became a boyfriend was named Bob, or at least you call him Bob in the book and in a song. And you write that he seemed exotic to you when you met him. I mean, you went to Catholic school. He was Jewish. He chain-smoked. He took Valium and loved Lou Reed, even when he didn't.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What was the importance to you of having somebody who was from New York - he was from Long Island. He already knew the clubs when you got there, and he was like a mentor and a friend to you.

RIGBY: He was. I think a big thing about it that I just - it was hard for me to understand. How did he know what was great and what was kind of crappy? How could he tell? Like, he'd say, go to - don't go to that deli; go to this one, or, you know, their coffee's bad; go to this place. Don't read The Daily News. Read the New York Post. He just - and that seemed like such a New York thing to me, that ability to make these judgments. And they seemed kind of arbitrary but were made with such conviction. And so he was like that with music, too. So I wanted to be able to form an opinion and be critical and also be super enthusiastic about things, too. So, you know, I did kind of become a little bit of a pupil of his.

GROSS: So Bob was your friend. He became your boyfriend and then reverted to being a friend again. You wrote a song for him that I want to play called "Bob," and you wrote this, I think, years after you split up. And in the song, you thank him. And you talk about how the last time you saw him you were performing, and he seemed so happy for you. Tell us more about what inspired this song, what he was doing, what you were doing.

RIGBY: Well, he had moved out west to Seattle. And to me, Bob was New York. I never expected that he'd leave the tri-state area and go somewhere else. And so I was playing at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, and it was really my first big festival after my first solo album came out, and so it was a big deal for me. And then he came to the show, and he just was standing on the side of the stage when I got up there and played. And I think I did a pretty good job. I rocked at some point in this set. And I looked over and just kind of saw him, and he was right there with me. And I just - it felt like such a sweet moment. And actually, that was a beautiful thing about writing about my life. It somehow made the song deeper when I play the song. It has even more meaning somehow. Like, I got to, like, fall in love with that time and with him and what he taught me all over again.

GROSS: So let's hear Amy Rigby performing her song "Bob," and this is from her 2018 album "The Old Guys."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOB")

RIGBY: (Singing) The last time I saw Bob, he was standing at the side of the stage with a big smile on his face, and he gave me a wave. He had a Marlboro in his hand and a crazy look in his eye, and he seemed so excited for me that I wanted to cry. How can I tell how it was, show you what it all means to me? He taught me about Lou Reed and the key of E. He knew what it is not to fit, but he didn't let it get him down. Sometimes, when I drink an egg cream, I think I see him around. Oh, Bob, I've been wanting to thank you for so long. And, Bob, I keep thinking about you when I hear this kind of song - happy, sad, happy, sad, happy, sad.

GROSS: That was Amy Rigby from her 2018 album "The Old Guys," her song "Bob." So are you and Bob still in touch?

RIGBY: Occasionally. I talked to him after I put out the record in 2018, and I sent him the record. And I wanted to know what he thought of the song. And we talked on the phone, and we launched into talking about music and kind of random things just like we always had. And at the end of the conversation, I said, so what did you think of the song? And he said, well, that's for another time. We'll talk about it later. And that was kind of...

GROSS: Oh.

RIGBY: That was it. So I'm still waiting to hear.

GROSS: Oh, OK. So we've been talking about how your boyfriends early on when you moved to New York and you were into the punk scene were kind of like openings into the world - deeper into the world of music and bands and art. And then you went to England to study art, and you weren't - in England, you really - you wanted to be on your own. You weren't looking for a boyfriend, and you were kind of valuing the independence and getting a sense of who you were. Then you returned to New York and started playing music. How did you learn to play?

RIGBY: I learned in public, pretty much. It was a really interesting time in New York City. There were all these little galleries and spaces where people were putting on variety shows. And my band Last Roundup, we got together. There were four girls, two guys. One of them was my brother. And we just started playing our version of country music with one guitar, a fiddle that had maybe two strings, a lot of harmonies or what we thought were harmonies. (Laughter) It was very kind of crude and primitive, but it had a charm to it. So anyways, I started writing songs for that band, and we just kind of kept working and getting better bit by bit.

GROSS: So let's hear a little bit of a song from that period, and this is, like, your really early days as a songwriter and your very early days as a singer. So should we hear "At The Well"? And this is - you describe this as the first time you were comfortable singing harmony with the person who was the lead singer of the band.

RIGBY: Yeah. Last Roundup sort of splintered a bit, and we ended up with just my brother and bass player Garth Powell and then a wonderful singer named Angel Dean, who was genuinely from the South. She was from Tennessee, and she had a really powerful, great voice, and I learned a lot from her. "At The Well" is a song that I wrote that felt sort of like a breakthrough for me just as far as the imagery. And the general feel of the lyrics felt like I wasn't copying someone else. I kind of - it was coming from inside. And so this was the first one that I felt like I could sing along with Angel. We sang in harmony.

GROSS: So let's hear "At The Well" from an album from Amy Rigby's very early days, when she was with the band Last Roundup. And this is from their album "Twister!"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AT THE WELL")

RIGBY: (Singing) Lately, I've been spending most all of my days at the well, staring into the deep, deep water like I'm under some kind of spell - can't see my reflection 'cause the light down there is a little dim. (Unintelligible) Awake me if I should decide to climb on in. Sometimes, my feet feel good on the ground, and sometimes, my head spins around and around. And lately, I've been spending most all of my days at the well. Sometimes, my feet feel good on the ground.

GROSS: That was a song written by Amy Rigby. You heard her singing harmony on it. That's from the album "Twister!" when she was with the band Last Roundup. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Rigby, songwriter, singer and now author of a new memoir called "Girl To City." We're going to take a short break. Then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMY RIGBY SONG, "FROM PHILIP ROTH TO R ZIMMERMAN")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Rigby. She's a songwriter, singer and now the author of a new memoir called "Girl To City."

You write in your book that there are feelings you couldn't really articulate in real life, but they came out really easily in songs. And once you started writing songs, you realized, wow; you actually did have something that you loved and that you were good at. Did it give you more confidence as a performer because you were singing your songs? You had a reason to be there, something you knew you did well.

RIGBY: That took a little while. After Last Roundup, I had The Shams - a band called The Shams, and we were three women singing in harmony. And again, I think I felt most comfortable singing with other voices. I loved arranging harmonies, and I just didn't feel comfortable with the focus all on me. So it just seemed more possible to get up on stage that way.

GROSS: So you got married to a musician, Will Rigby, who was the drummer in The dB's. And I think soon after you got married, you got pregnant, and you were on the road. You were touring while you were pregnant. Where were you musically at the time?

RIGBY: Last Roundup was - had put out an album on Rounder. It had taken years to get to that point. But like many bands, that first record took so long, by the time it came out, we were sort of on the verge of splitting up. And so that was the point where I thought, wouldn't it - maybe I should have a baby. And just strangely enough, like, just thinking about it seemed to make it happen. It came true. The next thing I knew, I was pregnant. And I think I thought getting pregnant and having a child would mean that I would, like, put all this foolishness away, you know, and that I would find something real to do with my life and that music was kind of, like, going to, you know, just be this childish thing that I stopped doing. But it actually - it didn't work out that way.

GROSS: No, which is good. I mean, I'm glad you remained in music. So you were on the road performing while you were pregnant. And then after your daughter was born, at some point, you went back on the road occasionally. And, you know, you write that when your husband was on the road and met, like - well, he was out, like, earning money. But when you were out on the road, you felt, like, really bad about it.

RIGBY: Well, I felt - well, at first, I just took her with me. And that was pretty wacky because, like, you know, I was with The Shams. And there were three of us girls, and then we'd bring a friend along to kind of keep an eye on my daughter while we were actually onstage. But we were in an un-air-conditioned (ph) van. We had baby food jars floating in a beer cooler of, you know, just, like, melted ice. And just trying to get my daughter to go to sleep at night after a gig was really hard. She would be just so easy while it was all going on, but then she'd kind of react when all the excitement died down and we were all trying to go to sleep. But as things went on and, you know, she started going to preschool and stuff, it was hard. I couldn't really take her with me. I mean, I'd love to go out and play, but I felt like I would miss stuff at home and that she needed me. And I just tried to - was trying to balance it as best I could.

GROSS: After - I don't know how long. After a few years, your marriage was ending. And you wrote a song I really like about a relationship that is kind of looking like it's going to end, a relationship that's deteriorating. And nobody wants to be around you because they can all see the conflict and the trouble (laughter). And the song...

RIGBY: It's crazy. Sorry.

GROSS: Yeah. The song is called "When A Piece Of The Sky Falls," and I'd like you to talk about writing this song.

RIGBY: It's a song that I completely forgot about until a few months ago. I was putting together a disc of demos that I recorded over the '80s and '90s, when I was just learning to write songs and then eventually writing songs that would eventually turn into "Diary Of A Mod Housewife." But I completely forgot this song, and so I don't even really remember writing it. I just know that at the time, I was thinking, well, if I can't have an artist's career, maybe I could write songs for other artists in Nashville to record. And I kind of feel pretty sure that this was one of those that I thought, maybe I could find somebody. I was starting to send cassettes of songs down to publishers in Nashville and hoping, well, maybe Reba McEntire or the Judds - you know, maybe this could work for somebody like that.

So that's what the song was about. But hearing it all these years later, I thought, wow. It feels so real and raw and my own experience. I can kind of imagine that somebody probably wouldn't have wanted to record it.

GROSS: Well, this song has an interesting angle because it's in part about people not wanting to be around this couple because their relationship has become so toxic.

RIGBY: Yes. I think it almost makes you feel a little bit, like - ooh - uncomfortable.

GROSS: Yes, which is what makes it so good. So let's hear "When A Piece Of The Sky Falls," and this is from the companion CD that Amy Rigby has released as a companion to her memoir "Girl To City."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN A PIECE OF THE SKY FALLS")

RIGBY: (Singing) Good times are wagging. Our hearts are dragging. Everybody knows we're all washed up. We've been so distant, so inconsistent. We made a mess of this love. People who see us all want to flee us. They don't want to get too close. Dissatisfaction, it could be catching. Nobody wants a dose. When a piece of the sky falls, everybody, run for cover.

GROSS: We'll hear more of my interview with Amy Rigby and hear more of her music after a break, and Justin Chang will review the new film drama "The Assistant" about a young woman working for a movie mogul. It's inspired by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMY RIGBY SONG, "LESLIE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with singer and songwriter Amy Rigby. Her new memoir "Girl To City" is about how she went from Catholic schoolgirl to devoted music fan in New York punk clubs in the '70s and then found her real place in the music world writing songs and singing them herself. Her breakthrough was her 1996 album "Diary Of A Mod Housewife." When we left off, we heard her song "When A Piece Of The Sky Falls," which she wrote when she knew her first marriage was in trouble.

So I love that song because it's about a deteriorating relationship. But you wrote another song called "We're Stronger Than That" that's about a relationship that's kind of teetering, but, you know, the singer has faith that this relationship can stay together because, baby, we're stronger than that. It's such a nice contrast. How far apart did you write these two songs?

RIGBY: Probably within a year or even half a year of each other. And I think, you know, how I was just saying - "When A Piece Of The Sky Falls," I felt sure it wasn't going to work for another artist because it had that discomfort, I think I purposely wrote "We're Stronger Than That" because I thought I should be more positive. And maybe if the song says that the people stay together, maybe it will work for me, too, I think not just as a songwriter, but maybe you could pep talk yourself into keeping things together.

GROSS: Did it work?

RIGBY: It didn't work. It didn't feel false. It felt - you know, 'cause like you said and we've talked about, I grew up Catholic, and it really felt like marriage meant forever.

GROSS: So why don't we hear "We're Stronger Than That." And this is from your solo album, your first solo album "Diary Of A Mod Housewife." That's mod - M-O-D.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE'RE STRONGER THAN THAT")

RIGBY: (Singing) When we made our vows to have and hold, we never thought about how love grows old. Well, even healthy trees run out of sap. Baby, we're stronger than that. And when I look at you, I see too much. I try to walk away when things get rough. But every time I do, I come right back 'cause, baby, we're stronger than that. We're stronger than the fairytales, diaper pails, lack of heat, urge to cheat, shattered hopes, tired jokes, doctor bills, urge to kill. And when we have another argument, you wonder where your feelings for me went. Well, even sugar peas run out of snap. Baby, we're stronger than that.

GROSS: That was Amy Rigby, a song she wrote and recorded on her first solo album, "Diary Of A Mod Housewife" in 1996.

So when your first solo album "Diary Of A Mad Housewife" was released in 1996, you wrote a manifesto, a kind of manifesto to accompany it, and you reprinted it in your new memoir. I'd like you to read it for us.

RIGBY: In the memoir, I left out the second half of it. But this is the gist of it.

(Reading) I've been a mod housewife since 1993, when I decided I was not going to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the bathroom floor unless I could get up on stage and sing about it. I didn't want to fight about sex and laundry with my husband unless I could turn it into a song. Somehow going to work at a crappy job made more sense if I could look at it as research. Oh, I'd played music for years, but that was with friends, for fun. This is different. This is about sanity.

GROSS: What do you mean by, this is about sanity?

RIGBY: I think by the time I was making "Diary Of A Mod Housewife," I was kind of just singing for my life. I just was so mixed up and wanted to do right by my daughter. I didn't want to end my marriage, but I just didn't know any way out that didn't involve, like, splitting up. So I guess I was, in a way, working it out through writing.

GROSS: Did you feel like you were not only writing songs about but trying to say that you can write songs about the kind of things that rock songs didn't exactly celebrate in the past, like songs about housework or songs with a diaper pail in the lyrics or even songs about, like, not having sex?

(LAUGHTER)

RIGBY: Yeah. I mean, it was - even as a child or a young person, it was a revelation to me to read Erma Bombeck and to see that that someone could be in a magazine talking about cleaning the kitchen sink. That really struck me and stayed with me. And again, in the '80s, Joyce Maynard had her column "Domestic Affairs," and Mary Cantwell wrote in Vogue about cooking, her kitchen. And I thought, it's in, like, this national magazine, but you're allowed to talk about these humble, homey things that, you know, maybe in the past I would have thought, well, it doesn't have that much value as things, like, that men go out and do.

So I really consciously wanted to talk about that stuff in songs and in the same way that I read it in those writers' stuff. I wanted - I thought it would resonate with somebody and that somebody needed to do it and say that it was OK.

GROSS: I want to play a song that you wrote called "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?"

(LAUGHTER)

RIGBY: This comes later. This comes - you recorded this in 2003. But it's a really funny song that I think a lot of people will probably relate to, and it's an example of something that could be very uncomfortable in real life. It makes for a very funny song. Tell us about writing it.

RIGBY: Well, the idea came from a friend in Nashville, Sherry Rich. And she, at that point, was married with a young child, younger than my daughter was at the time. And so she had the idea - the line, are we ever going to have sex again? And, you know, she kind of handed it off to me. I got some lines flowing, and we wrote this song. And it always seems to strike a nerve with people.

GROSS: So this is Amy Rigby from her 2003 album "Til The Wheels Fall Off," and the song is "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE WE EVER GONNA HAVE SEX AGAIN?")

RIGBY: (Singing) Life's become a great big list of things to do and buy and fix. At night, we pass out before 10. Are we ever going to have sex again? I looked for your id today - seemed that it had gone away. It ain't been used since who knows when. Are we ever going to have sex again? We used to be XXX rated. Look at us now - so domesticated. Don't you hate it? What happened to babe and stud? Too much KFC and Bud. I shout it out into the wind. Are we ever going to have sex again?

GROSS: That's Amy Rigby from her 2003 album "Til The Wheels Fall Off." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is songwriter-singer Amy Rigby, who now has a new memoir called "Girl To City." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMY RIGBY SONG, "PLAYING PITTSBURGH")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is songwriter and singer Amy Rigby, who's the author of a new memoir called "Girl To City."

So I want to talk with you a little bit about your life now. So you're married now to Eric Goulden, aka Wreckless Eric, who is probably best-known, especially in the U.S., for his hit "Whole Wide World." Why don't we pause here and listen to it?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHOLE WIDE WORLD")

WRECKLESS ERIC: (Singing) When I was a young boy, my mama said to me, there's only one girl in the world for you, and she probably lives in Tahiti. I'd go the whole wide world. I'd go the whole wide world just to find her. Or maybe she's in the Bahamas, where the Caribbean Sea is blue, weeping in a tropical moonlit night because nobody's told about you. I'd go the whole wide world. I'd go the whole wide world just to find her. I'd go the whole wide world. I'd go the whole wide world to find out where they hide her.

GROSS: That's Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World," recorded in 1977. He's married to my guest Amy Rigby.

You have a musical relationship as well as a marital relationship. You've collaborated on albums together. How did you meet? Did you meet through music?

RIGBY: Yes, we did. I remembered hearing Eric back in the '70s back in the dorm room and loved "Whole Wide World," "Semaphore Signals." But it was - in the late '90s, there were some reissues of his records, and I started listening to him again. And I started playing "Whole Wide World" in my own set. And it's just such a - it's such an anthem. It's such a mystical, magical song. I found that any time I was maybe kind of struggling alone, playing in a club that maybe wasn't some - there were some people that weren't so attentive in there, I'd just pull out that song. And it would focus - maybe it would focus me, but it would - someone who hadn't been paying attention would just snap to and start listening.

And eventually, that led to me meeting Eric in this town in England called Hull. A promoter there knew that I covered Eric's song, and he put Eric on as a DJ for my gig in this room up above a pub. I met him that night, and I played "Whole Wide World." I asked him to come up on stage with me and play it with me. And he said, this song has two chords, and both of yours are wrong.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RIGBY: And it turned out that that room was the first place he'd ever played the song. So, you know, we kind of...

GROSS: I have to stop you. Were you offended when he said, and both chords were wrong? Did he mean that in a funny way, or was he insulting you?

RIGBY: Well, he said it in a funny way, as he is a very funny person and has a way of saying these things that - you just have to laugh. And (laughter) it was charming. It was very charming. And so we kind of kept in touch sort of a little bit over the next couple years. I would hear that he was going to come see me when I'd be playing somewhere in England, and he never showed up. But it took a while, but eventually, we did - we got together.

GROSS: Your relationship has completed a couple of circles. You know, you used to perform his song "Whole Wide World," and then you performed it with him, and now you're married. And then also, when you were young, you loved Elton John. And you actually - to give yourself a sense of identity you when you were going to Catholic school, living in Pittsburgh, you thought of yourself as Elton Girl. And you used to, like, draw things related to Elton John and had all of his records. And Elton John, in his recent memoir, in his bestselling memoir, mentions your husband in it and says that in the early days, when Elton John was just starting to perform, he had a crush on Eric.

RIGBY: Isn't it incredible?

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah, it is.

RIGBY: I mean, I'm not surprised that he had a crush on Eric back then. But it was incredible to be on tour a couple of months ago, when Elton John's book came out, and I was listening to it - the audiobook - as I was driving along. And I'm driving down I-95, and I hear the actor who's doing the reading say, you know, I offered my services as a keyboard player to Stiff Records as expressly because I had a crush on Wreckless Eric. And, you know, I had to pull over to a rest area and just kind of sit with that for a minute (laughter).

But, I mean, Eric had told me this amazing story of Elton coming onstage with him and coming along to a gig and playing with him back in the '70s, and it had meant a huge amount to Eric. And it just was a wonderful story. And so with Elton's book and that mention, that meant a lot because he thought, wow. He - Elton remembered this. And so Eric wrote this beautiful blog about it, and, well, Elton read it. And so, you know, a few days after I heard the story in the book, Eric called and said, I'm waiting for a call from Elton John. And they talked on the phone. And I just think it has all come full circle. It's wonderful.

GROSS: I want to end with a song that you collaborated on with your husband Eric Goulden, and it's called "Do You Remember That." And this is from a 2012 album you did together called "A Working Museum." So what's each of your roles on this? Obviously, you're singing on it.

RIGBY: I wrote the song, words and music. And the beat - I found this rhythm on a crappy keyboard, and it was called the British rock beat.

(LAUGHTER)

RIGBY: And that is the sound you hear on the recording. And I thought, well, you know, Eric is a British rock legend. That kind of inspired this song - was that kind of pumping rock beat. And it's - I just wanted to tell our story in song. And then eventually, Eric has produced and engineered the records we made together and my solo album from 2018 and - so yeah. So we played it, and he produced it, and we're both singing on there.

GROSS: And it's about your relationship. OK, so the song is "Do You Remember That" from the Amy Rigby-Wreckless Eric 2012 album "A Working Museum," and Amy Rigby's new memoir is called "Girl To City." Amy Rigby, thank you so much. It's just been a pleasure.

RIGBY: Thank you so much, Terry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU REMEMBER THAT")

RIGBY: (Singing) It was a cold December night. I was sorting out my life. You were headed for a mess, but you didn't know it yet. As I pushed in through the crowd, you were turning your amp up loud. Then our eyes met. Do you remember that? Then 11 months go past. I'm stuck in Cleveland pumping gas. When you called me on the phone, said you were back to living on your own. I celebrated in my head, laughing at everything you said. Then the battery went flat. Do you remember that? Do you remember Glasgow and that pub we went to? Everyone said that I should stay away from you, but I didn't listen. You took me out for steak, and we heard PP Arnold. You drove your car the wrong way down a one-way street. Then we were kissing. OK, I made that last part up. It wasn't till we next met up. You had me over for some tea, and we played guitar, sang "Me And Bobby McGee," danced to Crazy Elephant, wondering where the bad times went. You changed my life in seconds flat. Do you remember that?

GROSS: That's Amy Rigby from her album with Wreckless Eric called "Working Museum." Her new memoir is called "Girl To City." After we take a short break, Justin Chang will review the new film drama inspired by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. It's called "The Assistant," and it's about a young woman working for a movie mogul. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBBEN FORD AND BILL EVANS' "PIXIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.