Pink Martini is back with sold-out shows at the Woodland Park Zoo. Band leader, Thomas Lauderdale, gave us an interview with bit of history and a big scoop of fun.
ED: How did you come up with the name Pink Martini?
TL: I was working on “Vote No on Measure 13” a political campaign at the time. There was actually an attempt on the part of the Oregon Citizens Alliance to make homosexuality illegal in the state of Oregon. So obviously, I was working on the campaign in opposition to this. I had just seen Pee-wee Herman’s Christmas Special which has every guest star you can imagine. Well the Del Rubio Triplets were on the show and they caught my eye. They used to perform covers “Walk like an Egyptian” and “Whip It” with their little guitars. I ended up hiring them and bringing them to Portland to do concerts at retirement homes, hospitals and Rotary Club meetings. They would sneak in a “Please Vote No on Measure 13” each time. At the end of the week there was a big show at Cinema 21 and I needed an opening act. So I threw on a cocktail dress and called the show Pink Martini. That was the beginning of the band. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. It just took off from there. So, it completely came out of political activism.
ED: Are you still involved in local politics in Portland?
TL: Yes, I really thought I was going to become mayor one day. That was my goal in high school and college. It never occurred to me that I would be in a band. I continue to be very interested in the city, current events and everything going on politically. I am on the boards of the Oregon Symphony and the Pioneer Courthouse Square. But if I were to run for office I would (A) have to write the tell all book so I don’t end up in Willamette Week cover story (B) I would really have to be set up financially since people in City Hall don’t make very much. So now I have a mortgage and even though the band is doing very well twenty years later, I don’t see City Hall in the near future.
ED: Your music is very broad. How do you choose what to put on an album?
TL: It is kind of what it most in front of me at the moment. For example; a couple of years ago we were playing in LA for New Year’s Eve. A friend of mine was performing with us and she knew Phyllis Diller. Well, I begged her to take me to meet Phyllis. So we ended up at Phyllis Diller’s house and Phyllis made us chili. Phyllis is actually a painter now and there were hundreds of paintings on the wall, each with a price tag. So you take the paintings you like off the wall and write a check. Phyllis signs them after you pay. So after I have a suitcase full of Phyllis Diller paintings, it occurred to me to ask her if she would record a song with us. She agreed. A month later, our engineer and I flew down to LA to record a song in her living room. So Phyllis and I recorded “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin who had been a friend of hers. So that is sort of how things unfold and become part of an album. I didn’t originally have any intention to ask Phyllis to perform on the record but it happened. It ended up being her last recording.
ED: What was it like performing with the Oregon Symphony when you were in high school?
TL: Wow that was 25 years ago. I remember I was very nervous. I was very superstitious and just had all these superstitions about what to do and/or not to do before performances. I am much less so these days (laughter).
ED: Who was your favorite person to perform with?
TL: Carol Channing was my absolute favorite. Whenever she took the stage everything else disappeared. You only saw Carol Channing. She is just larger than life. She was a last minute special guest for New Year’s Eve. It was supposed to be Kitty Carlisle Hart but she fell ill and Carol Channing took her place. The Von Trapps are amazing and they are the youngest guest stars we have ever had. Normally, I like people sort of well over 80, just because they are so interesting. I think one of the problems in our culture is that we celebrate youth and we don’t celebrate getting older. I think that is a real limitation of our culture. It means that a lot of information is not being passed down and maybe people are getting dumber.
ED: If you could pick anyone to perform with, who would it be?
TL: Doris Day! Hands down, it would be Doris Day. Vera Lynn would be great but she is 97.
ED: Do you have a message for LGBT youth?
TL: Be kind to your elders and ask a lot of questions.