Aimee Mann and Billy Collins first met at the White House.
She, the tall, blond singer of literary proportion and often tragic tone, still laughs at the thought: "We met at the White House, which is a sentence I may never utter again."
He, the poet of everyday life and the wondrous world around us, would like a revision: "I'd like to say we met at White Castle having a burger one night, but we actually met at the White House, which sounds like a big residential name-drop."
Hosted by President Barack Obama in 2011, the salon tribute to American poetry landed all over the map: Steve Martin was there with his banjo, Common with his street rhymes and Alison Knowles with her Fluxus performance art.
But somehow the two to really hit it off were the 53-year-old L.A. singer and the 73-year-old East Coast poet.
Apropos for the setting, Mann sang "Save Me," one of the songs she's most famous for, along with "Voices Carry," the 1980s hit from 'Til Tuesday, the band in which she sang.
Collins, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, made the Obamas laugh with "Lanyard," a deceptively simple poem about much more than braiding plastic strands at summer camp.
As performers are wont to do, they talked about performing together one day. But, unlike most performers, they actually meant it.
A few phone calls later and now they're embarking on an unlikely three-date mini-tour up the coast from Malibu to Santa Barbara to Santa Rosa.
Before they share a stage at the Wells Fargo Center tonight, we asked each one to talk about the other.
<b>Billy Collins on Aimee Mann: 'Edgy and casual'</b>
<i>Q: What was your first impression of Aimee Mann?</i>
Billy Collins: Well, she's very pretty. I'm afraid that's my first male impression. But brushing that aside, I like how she fits her music. Her music feels both edgy and casual. I like the work she does with minimal instrumentation, where her voice is in the foreground. It's a very winning voice, very seductive and intense. And at the same time, it's very relaxed.
<i>I like that she sang "Save Me" at the White House that day.</i>
Save us all. Save me and everybody else.
<i>Do you go all the way back to the 1980s 'Til Tuesday music in her catalog?</i>
No. I learned about her within the last four or five years. I would listen to her on music feeds like Pandora.
<i>How did this tour come to be?</i>
We came up with this idea of collaborating and it seemed like a good excuse to spend some time with her, in a selfish way. And it also seemed like a jumping into the unknown.
<i>Will the two of you perform together on stage?</i>
Well, we're not sure yet. It's clear that I'll do what I do best, which is reading poems, and she'll do what she does best, which is singing. But I think there will be some back and forth. She has a song, "Voices Carry," and I have a poem called "Carry," which is a love poem, which uses the same metaphor about voices carrying over water. The poem starts, "I want to carry you and for you to carry me the way voices are said to carry over water." So I think in these three performances we'll make discoveries along the way that fit together.