by Steven Pisano
He may not be a household name, but few songwriters have enjoyed the enormous success that Desmond Child has had over the last 40-plus years. Child has had a hand in writing several dozen top Billboard and Grammy award-winning hits with artists such as Bon Jovi ("You Give Love a Bad Name," "Livin' on a Prayer"), Kiss ("I Was Made for Loving You"), Joan Jett ("I Hate Myself for Loving You"), Ricky Martin ("Livin' La Vida Loca"), Cher ("We All Sleep Alone"), Aerosmith ("Dude Looks Like a Lady"), and many others, including glam rock, country, and teen pop stars. In 2008, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
But while Child has made a career as a professional songwriter and producer (he produced Barbra Streisand's latest album), he started out as a performer with a group called Rouge, playing NYC clubs like Reno Sweeney's back in the 1970s. At that time, his girlfriend was Maria Vidal, who went by the nickname Gina (after her resemblance to the famous Italian movie star). Later, he would come out to her that he was actually gay, and he went on to a 30-year relationship with his husband Curtis Shaw, but this relationship with his Gina is what later inspired the characters in "Livin' on a Prayer." (The original demo of this arena rock classic, just Child on piano, can be heard here.)
On Saturday night, Child returned to performing with a knockout show at the Appel Room as part of Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" showcase. His hair was pulled back into a pigtail, with the sides shaved close. His face was dominated by a beard and glasses, and he wore pendant earrings. He was helped out musically by an excellent band, including 21-year-old Justin Benlolo on guitar and singers Tabitha Fair and Tony award-winning Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kinky Boots), who joined Child for several duets.