High Society Satire For Hire
In the strange and enchanted career of Christopher Mason, a 27-year-old wag from England who belts out designer songs on baby grands along the avenues, Park and Fifth, last week proved more eventful than most.
''Three incredible things happened,'' Mr. Mason said, looking bemused. ''I got a book deal, a promotional advertising deal and a contract to play the Algonquin for the month of May. The Algonquin!''
He beamed. ''I'm to be billed as 'a New York legend since 1988,' which is a comment on the way things work in New York.''
The legend was drinking tea at the time in the Upper East Side duplex of his 81-year-old adopted godmother, Barbara Sutro Ziegler. He has been living there for almost a year now, writing cheeky songs about socialites who pay to hear them in drawing rooms and ballrooms - from $2,000 to $3,000 a performance.
As he spoke, a portable telephone attached to his ear like a barnacle rang intermittently with requests for new songs. Would Mr. Mason consider coming down and singing about the social thoroughbreds at a party for the Kentucky Derby? He was off and running. Spoofs for the Social Register.
Socially registered names like Brooke Astor, William Paley, David Rockefeller and Pat Buckley are sprinkled through Mr. Mason's mostly gentle spoofs, which are set to music reminiscent of the 1920's and 30's. Others, like the ''Park Avenue Parvenu,'' go unnamed but not unsung: She's hell on wheels, She's hard to please, The Mortimer's girls are aghast She thinks no one knows That she's less than a rose, With a highly embarrassing past.
Mr. Mason, who has a master's degree from Cambridge University, drifted into ''social work,'' as he calls it, while doing public relations for charity parties. Because he knew how to hold a wine glass and a meaningless conversation, he was soon swept up in a round of private soirees. This led to satire for hire, he said, and the realization that ''people are terrified of being lampooned, but when they're actually being lampooned, they love it.''
Some love it more than others. In Washington, where he serenaded Barbara Bush and Pamela Harriman on different occasions, Mr. Mason found Democrats more conservative than Republicans. ''The Democrats who hired me combed every line,'' he said, rolling his eyes. ''I wanted to do a small joke about Pamela Harriman's private plane, how she's not a limousine liberal but travels like everyone else - on Pam-Am. They couldn't deal with it.'' Excursions Into Trumpery
One of his first patrons, Ivana Trump, remains his favorite, he insisted, recalling that her laugh was the loudest when he played the first of three engagements aboard the Trump Princess: Ivana, dear, we barely are acquainted But you know that I admire you such a lot Oh, do let me borrow I'll bring it back tomorrow Oh, do let me borrow your yacht.
Now, as he prepares to venture from the gilded cocoon of Park Avenue into the Algonquin cabaret and the critics' range, Mr. Mason is composing what he hopes will be sharper songs about personalities in City Hall, the White House and Bel Air, Calif.
Unable to resist writing ''yet another Trumpery,'' he does plan to take playful aim at Donald Trump's new board game. ''It's a song about an old lady who collects everything Trump. She's bought one of his condos, she gambles away in Atlantic City and now the latest thing, she says, is 'I've got a little board with Trump.' '' Turning Humor on Himself
With a song called ''Yuppie Habits,'' he will be kidding his own generation and himself. ''People like me, who watch 'Saturday Night Live,' like to distance ourselves from yuppies, feeling we have greater sensibilities. In fact, those of us who are doing well enough are inches away from buying houses and VW Rabbits. We're addicted to computers, software and fax machines. I'm getting a fax machine next week.''
But he still rides around town on an ancient red Schwinn bicycle and wears a a Boy Scout medal on the lapel of his Saville Row blazers. He still grooms his hair a la Don King. ''True,'' he acknowledged, ''and yet - dare I say it? - my yuppie dream is to own a cellular telephone.''
For now, he must make do with the portable phone. It rang again. Someone from Milton Bradley, manufacturer of the Trump board game. Would Mr. Mason come and sing its praises at a promotional party? He was dead game.