7 QUESTIONS FOR
MILL VALLE Y
In Marin / CURRENTS
The year was 1968, and a musically minded 24-year-old special education teacher named
Rita Abrams was headed from Boston to California in her Volkswagen bus. She’d applied
for teaching jobs in towns she picked out on a map, and just as she was about to accept an
offer in Fremont, Strawberry Point School kindergarten teacher Barbara Phelps decided
to stay in Mexico — opening up the job for Abrams. Fast-forward two
years: Abrams had a job and an apartment on Miller Avenue, and
Mill Valley had its very own song penned by the teacher. Mill Valley
and 1970s Marin gave Abrams volumes of material to mine for her creative career
writing kids’ songs, humor books, greeting cards and stage musical collaborations,
including Pride and Prejudice; New Wrinkles and Just My Type. And on September 17,
Abrams and most of the original cast will celebrate the 20-year anniversary of For Whom
the Bridge Tolls at 142 Throckmorton. The satirical musical revue about Marin County life,
co-written with Stan Sinberg, played to rave reviews for more than 10 years, often being
called the “thinking person’s Beach Blanket Babylon.” MIMI TOWLE
1How did a kindergarten teacher get a record deal? When I lived in Boston I met Judy Collins, who thought producer Erik
Jacobsen would like my songs. Later on, out here, I met Erik at
a party, and then when I saw him at La Ginestra, I nervily asked
him to come to my apartment to listen to the tape I’d made of
“Mill Valley” with teacher’s aide Tommy Heath (later leader of
the band Tommy Tutone). He liked it and took it with him to Los
Angeles. I recently learned that when Erik took both “Mill Valley”
and “Spirit in the Sky” to the Warner Bros. sales meeting, our
little song was the one that got the standing ovation.
2Then what? They put a rush release on it, and it was play- ing worldwide in 10 days. DJs from all over were calling
the school and asking, “Is there really a Miss Abrams and a
Strawberry Point School?” When a reporter asked one of the
third graders how she liked Mill Valley, she said, “It’s OK, but
I hardly ever go there.” She didn’t realize Strawberry was Mill
Valley. I was embarrassed.
3Francis Ford Coppola directed the song video. How was he to work with? We were just singing it at the Mill Valley
Fourth of July party. I had no idea who directed it until a few
years ago. He was just somebody Warner Bros. hired, and I was
too blissed out to notice.
4You won an Emmy for scoring the NBC Documentary about Marin called I Want It All Now. Did you come up
with the title? Back in 1979 a slick NBC producer came to
Marin to “document” its decadent lifestyle, seducing some
earnest and unsuspecting women to express desires like, “I
want to be a wife, I want to be mother, I want to be a singer …
I want it all now!” Who doesn’t? So no, I can’t
claim that dubious distinction, and had no
idea what the slant of the show would be when
I composed for it. It was like designing the deck
chairs on the Titanic.
5You seem to enjoy satire. Is Marin still a viable subject? Absolutely. And Marinites love to laugh at
themselves. While the current targets are not so obvious
as the old hot tubs and peacock feathers, the sense of
abundance and entitlement is alive and well.
6Aging seems to be one of your favorite topics to satirize. How is 70? Hard to hide, thanks to Wikipedia.
But though I’m trying to be a good role model for my daughter
by not being ashamed of my age, I don’t have one friend who
isn’t shocked at turning 70. We are all perpetual teenagers.
When people say I look young, I tell them stress agrees with
me. But really it’s a lot of work staying — or rather trying to
stay — fit. On the other hand, aging is so much easier when you
happen to stumble into a great relationship — with someone
who’s even older than you are.
7You’ve been in the news for having to sell your house in Mill Valley — is it time to leave? It’s been an odd experience having to sell after all these years of being a Mill Valley
homeowner. As one long-ago Canadian disc jockey said,
“Everyone has a Mill Valley in his heart.” (Just not in his or her
wallet.) But seriously — I have such dear friends here and I
know I’ll always keep coming back. Mill Valley has given me a
basically enchanted life. M