Lisa Robinson is one of the most famous and well respected music journalists ever. It’s wonderful reading this article about her life and collections. She personifies a true New Yorker, my favorite kind of person. Your apt is your storage locker. You are too busy living life to care about turning your abode into a design showroom. She lived a life of euphoria. Music can do that for you.
The Archive: Lisa Robinson in front of her very-analog interview archive. Photo: Annie Schlechter
I mean, you have to understand,” Lisa Robinson tells me. “I was on the road from the ’70s all the way through the ’90s. It’s like I wasn’t domestic. I didn’t have time; I didn’t care!”
She and her late husband, Richard, a radio host turned music producer turned magician, rented this two-bedroom on the Upper East Side in 1976, and it has stayed pretty much the same ever since. “We painted. We did the floors. We moved in, period,” she says. The couple had one of those always-on-the-go, all-access-pass New York lives together, with late nights, limos, and private jets, which is clear reading her memoir, There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll.One Great StoryThe one story you shouldn’t miss, selected by New York editors
Robinson grew up on the Upper West Side, where “we always had music in the house,” she recalls. Her “left-wing-leaning parents” weren’t interested in pop culture, but that only made her like it more. Her family’s one television in the parental bedroom, she says, “was treated like a forbidden fruit.”null
“My mother played the piano and studied sacred Hebrew music and co-founded the Hebrew Arts School for Music and Dance, but they also had a lot of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and I would listen to jazz on a transistor radio under the covers at night, and I would think, There’s a sexy world out there.”
And she made it her mission to find it. While she was still a student at Bronx Science, she’d sneak down to the Village, where she saw Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot and Anita O’Day and Stan Getz at the Village Vanguard. She saw Little Richard and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre.
The Office: The second bedroom is where the Robinsons’ record albums are stored. During COVID, it has doubled as the studio for her Sirius radio show. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Library: The round table was found in the ’90s in Woodstock, where the couple rented a house. The bookshelves came with them from their previous apartment. On the left is a portrait of Lisa’s parents; on the right, she is pictured with Jay-Z.Photo: Annie Schlechter
After graduating from Syracuse University, she worked as a substitute teacher for first-graders in Harlem. Then, in 1969, she met Richard Robinson, who worked the graveyard shift at WNEW-FM and had a syndicated music column. Lisa would work a few days a week for him after her teaching job, until he asked her to come work full time, which she did. Three months later, Lisa moved into his fifth-floor walk-up on Second Avenue and 74th Street, and they married. That was also the year she started her writing career, taking over his column in the British music weekly Disc and Music Echo. “I told him I didn’t know how to write a column,” Robinson says. “He said, ‘If you can talk, you can write.’ ”null
Her nights, when she and Richard were not out at CBGB, eventually became a round of going on tour with rock bands — Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones — and writing for publications including Creem and New Musical Express.Richard moved from his job at Buddah Records to RCA, where he helped sign David Bowie, Lou Reed, and the Kinks. In 1973, an apartment became available in her parents’ building — right across the hall. She wasn’t sure that part was a good idea, but it was just $150 a month. It became a hangout pad for rock-and-roll writers and musicians who would enjoy Chinese takeout on Richard’s expense account. Three years later, deciding they wanted a building with a doorman to accept all the packages, tickets, and albums delivered day and night, they found this Upper East Side two-bedroom. She wrote a column in the New York Post back when everyone had to read the paper or risk being uninformed, then was hired as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair in 1999. Her SiriusXM radio show, Call Me With Lisa Robinson, starts this month.
The Library: The landline telephone (left) that Lisa has had since she moved in in 1976. “I just don’t ever remember another phone,” she says. In a co… more
Her book Nobody Ever Asked Me About the Girls, which came out last year, documents Robinson’s interviews and friendships with female legends of the music industry, from Joni Mitchell to Beyoncé. Although she keeps an office across the street, this is usually where she does her writing, longhand. When asked about the stack of pink legal pads in the library, Robinson credits her obsession with Jacqueline Susann and her book Valley of the Dolls. “I heard she wrote on pink legal pads, and I just thought that sounds so glamorous. I don’t want yellow legal pads; my father was a lawyer — I saw yellow legal pads my whole life. I thought, I want something different!”
The Robinsons turned the dining room into their library. Along one of its walls are the cassette recordings of her interviews with every famous rock-and-roll musician you can think of. The room that had been Richard’s office before he passed away in 2018 is still lined with their collection of thousands of vinyl record albums.
Both of the apartment’s TVs are on all the time. One is in the kitchen, in case Robinson should cook something, and the other is in the bedroom, usually with the sound off and tuned to basketball games or “crazy forensic shows.” And movies: “I mean,” she says, “I think I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada 50 times.”null
The Couch: The sofa, which faces the fireplace, was once owned by Calvin Klein’s daughter, Marci, who gave it to a mutual friend, who then passed it on to Robinson. She sent it to the upholsterer, and there it sat, un-sat-upon, for years, until she found the right fabric, a playing-card print at Scalamandré, to match Richard’s love of magic tricks. Robinson has never found the time to hang her photography collection. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Fireplace: “Those doll heads I brought back from London in the ’70s when I saw them in a store window and I went crazy. I would collect things: I would take ashtrays from hotels; I would take matches from places. I collected menus, and, yes, I stole an ice bucket from a room at the Savoy.” Photo: Annie Schlechter
A view from entrance hall into the kitchen and the library/archive. Photo: Annie Schlechter
The Kitchen: A relic of the mid-’70s, right down to the dishwasher on wheels (not pictured), which attaches to the sink by a hose. Photo: Annie Schlechter
interesting read… interesting life
Great piece Lois. I can’t wait for her SiriusXM show. The steam pipe in her kitchen reminded me of growing up in the Bronx.