First Person Singular: Podiatrist and children's folk singer Arnold Levin
I've always been a ham. My grandmother used to say, "No talent but a lot of guts." In high school, I was in a band. We were called the Newports, and we were paid to play easy listening at dinner parties. I never thought about doing it professionally, but through college and podiatry school, the guitar kept me sane. You have a bad day, you play some hard, fast songs to get it out of your system. You have a good day, you play some nice songs to keep the mood going. When I started having kids, I wrote songs for them and started playing at their schools -- silly, goofy kids' songs, the "Hokey Pokey" that kind of stuff -- for free. I'd schedule my appointments around the visit. I'd take a break from looking at people's feet and go play for these rooms full of kids who'd sing along and treat me like a star. I'd leave there feeling like I was Peter, Paul and Mary.
One time, this teacher came up to me a couple weeks later and says: "I just want to thank you. The kids are still singing your song every time they see me." See, I'd written the song about her. I saw her a month later, and she says, "You know, I really appreciate you taking time out of your day, but I am sick of this song!" A year later, no joke, I run into her, and she says, "They just won't stop!"
When my kids got to middle school, I had to find somewhere else to play. A dentist friend and I began performing as Paradox. Get it? A "pair of docs." We'd wear white lab coats and play at Marine dinners, ice cream socials, parties. People would see our name, see our coats and just smile. That's all you gotta do to get people to stop and pay some attention: make 'em smile.
My wife wanted me to record all the kids' songs before I croaked, so she bought me some studio time. We weren't looking to sell the thing; we just wanted to have something to hold on to. Years later, a rap music studio moved in next to my office in Dale City. I go over and meet the engineer, Scion. He's got the dreadlocks, the pants hanging down, the whole look. I say, "I gotta ask: Can you do little white guy Jewish music?" Scion had all kinds of ideas, and we made the CD. One day, he introduces me to one of his rappers: "This is my artist, Doctor Levin." I couldn't believe it -- me, an artist. I'm sure he was just being nice, but so what.
--Interviews by Amanda Long