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.
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.”
“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.
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.’ ”
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.
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.”
*A version of this article appears in the February 15, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!