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In the Nude: A Trip to a Clothing-Optional Resort Inspired Robin Spielberg's "Naked on the Bench"

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In her new self-published memoir, Naked on the Bench: My Adventures in Pianoland, pianist Robin Spielberg writes about her career and explains how the Atlantic Theater Company, which she co-founded with playwright/director David Mamet and her close friends, actress Felicity Huffman and actor William H. Macy, helped launch her musical career. Spielberg, who plays classical, jazz and pop, participates in a book signing at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Mac's Backs and then performs later that night at Nighttown. She called us from her home in rural Pennsylvania.

Talk about the title of your memoir and the decision to include a chapter on your various wardrobe malfunctions.

I always looked at the piano itself not so much as an inanimate object as a place I go to. When I had a gig, I would always say, "I'm off to Pianoland." You know, it's like the dreamy place where you go and lose yourself. The "naked on the bench" part comes from having seen so many concerts and having been in the music business for a long time. I know there is a wonderful connection that happens when the artist can remain open and vulnerable. When you are naked before them, you feel that real connection. There's something magical about being in that room collectively with complete strangers. That's where that comes from, but of course, there's a play to it and I do mention in the book that I had one interesting gig at a clothing optional resort. I couldn't resist using that title. It was after that gig that I knew I had to have a book. I thought no one would ever believe it. It was too crazy to make up. It was a culmination of playing 28 cities in 30 days with a Steinway in tow. The whole experience was so much fun and odd to be playing out of my element in ranches and places where they never had concerts. I brought one into the nudist resort and it was pretty hilarious.

You were able to leave your clothing on.?

Yes. I had the choice and considered it. If there was ever a time to do that, that was it. I decided not to. At the end of it, I realized I was the only one who was naked. Do you know what I mean? I didn't need to take off my clothes. That was the big moral of the story. I did play ping-pong with this naked guy who was an ophthalmologist. The whole thing was silly.

And you have a chapter called "I Am a Great Penis."

I'm a bona fide piano star in Korea. When I go there, I hear a lot of, "You are a wonderful penis." I try to get them to say the word properly but it doesn't work. I just say thank you, and it's a good thing there's no American there to witness the hilarity.  I just go along with it and say, "I am a great penis. Thank you so much." That's how that came to be.

You write about how much you loved to shop for souvenirs when you were a kid. Have you hung onto any of them?

I still have the rocks that I bought back then. You didn't have to weigh your luggage. It didn't have wheels so if you could carry it, you could put it on the plane. At the end of the trip, my father was like, "What do you have in that bag, rocks?" I did. I even had this rock polisher at home. My sister thought I was so lame. She was buying earrings and she couldn't believe I was collecting rocks. She thought I was an idiot.  

How did your work in theater with David Mamet translate to the piano?

It defined it. There was a certain work ethic. I think it's very unique. Every single person has to distinguish themselves in some sort of way. When you are in college, you are at an impressionable age. When you're with someone who's instilling in you the idea that you should create your own work and not wait for validation, that's marvelous. We started writing plays and empowering ourselves and the Atlantic Theater Company became something that everyone was looking at. That translated to music really well. I was submitting things to record labels waiting for them to say they liked my work but I just created it for myself and didn't need their validation.  

Whatever happened to Len, the drunkard who was going to make you millions?

I haven't heard from him. I did have a ball recording the audiobook because I could imitate his slurred speech. When my husband finally met him, he was like, "This is who you're talking about?" I said, "He slurs his speech but you get used to it." When my mother-in-law read it, she couldn't believe I got into a car with that guy.

You're a fan of singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet. What other pop artists do you like?

I always adored him. I like a lot of pop music. I'm from New Jersey, so I'm a huge Springsteen fan. I love Sheryl Crow. I have a 15-year-old in the house, so she's always like, "Mom, listen to this. It's Imagine Dragons." That helps keep it fresh. Growing up, my music is a blend of a lot of things and the product of loving Broadway and loving a tune. All my friends back then were into '70s rock. I loved Broadway musicals. I played at piano bars, so you had to learn what was on the radio, everything from "Moon River" to Billy Joel.

I liked your husband Larry until I read that he's the guy we have to blame for covering up your cleavage on the cover to Unchained Melodies.

Yes. We were in this back room at Steinway in Manhattan. The label had flown in a photographer from L.A. She took all these photos. I didn't see any of them. The label said, "You're leaning over the piano and we don't know about this." Larry just made me a bit smaller. The whole trend for a while was to have classical violinists completely naked but holding a violin over themselves so I don't know what the big deal was. It's very funny though.

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