(JTA) — In a 30-plus-year career in advertising, Nathan Chavin wrote everything from signs on construction site scaffolding to classified ads to campaigns for several Trump properties, including Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.
But he was perhaps best known for the raunchy country music songs he wrote and recorded for a novelty album, “Country Porn,” released in 1976 by the nascent Penthouse Records label.
The album sold more than 100,000 copies, and included a minor hit, “Asshole from El Paso,” a parody of Merle Haggard’s 1969 song “Okie from Muskogee.” It was covered by Willie Nelson and Richard “Kinky” Friedman — Chavin’s old friend from the University of Texas — and Friedman’s band, The Texas Jewboys.
In the days before digital downloads and the internet, “Country Porn” was sold through the mail. The songs on the record had sexually explicit lyrics and, even 40 years before #MeToo, the record was criticized as puerile and misogynistic.
But for a brief moment it made Chavin a member of a tiny fraternity of popular Jewish country-and-western musicians, including Steve Goodman, Ray Benson and Friedman, his actual fraternity brother at UT.
“Chinga went way over the line, [saying things] that people didn’t think he should be saying,” Friedman said last week, using Chavin’s nickname. “Anything that was not suitable was perfect for Chinga.”
Chavin, also known as “Nick,” died in Boca Raton, Florida on March 15. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Brandi Chavin, who said the cause of death was uncertain but that many of his organs were failing. He was 78.
Chavin’s advertising career brought him into contact with some of New York City’s major real estate moguls. He became very close friends with Robert Durst, when he was still better known as the scion of the Durst real estate family rather than a convicted murderer. Durst hung around Chavin’s band when Chavin first came to New York, said Michael Bart, a bandmate who also worked with Chavin in the advertising industry. Bart attended the bris for Chavin’s son, at which Durst jokingly brandished a butcher’s knife.
“Durst thought that was hysterically funny,” recalled Bart.
Chavin and Durst started running around New York together in the early 1980s and, according to Rolling Stone, partied at the Plato’s Retreat sex club and the Mudd Club, the seminal punk rock venue. In a deposition given a year before Durst’s murder trial in 2020, Chavin told the court that Durst had confessed to killing their mutual friend, Susan Berman, the crime for which Durst would be convicted. And Chavin said that before she died, Berman told him that Durst had admitted killing his wife.
Chavin was born in Chicago on July 3, 1944. His parents, Muriel and Irving Chavin, moved to El Paso when Chavin was in the eighth grade.
Chavin took the nickname Chinga because he liked the alliteration and, no doubt, because it was Spanish slang for the act of sexual intercourse.
As an undergraduate at the University of Texas, Chavin was thrown out of Tau Delta Phi, one of four Jewish fraternities at the university at the time, according to Friedman. Friedman proudly recalled that during their time as members the fraternity they tried to admit African-American students, an effort that was ultimately thwarted. Chavin and Friedman graduated in 1966.
Chavin moved to California where he earned a graduate degree in creative writing at San Francisco State College. He lived in the Haight Ashbury district during the Summer of Love in 1967.
“Every other word out of his mouth was, ‘Far out man,’” recalled Ken “Snakebite” Jacobs, another Tau Delta Phi fraternity brother who ended up playing in Chavin’s “Country Porn” band.
Bart, who said he worked for Chavin for “eight or nine years,” remembers that Chavin had a flair for one-liners.
“He just had this ability to come up with great stuff on the spot,” said Bart. “He came up with a lot of it in crosstown cab rides and told our clients it took six months to create.”
His daughter Brandi said Chavin was quite proud of a slogan he thought up for a new shopping center on Sixth Avenue, now known as the Manhattan Mall: “Something’s Coming Between Macy’s and Gimbels.” The mall is located between Macy’s at Herald Square and the building that once housed Gimbels department store.
And he could write poetry.
“He wrote pretty good poetry in college,” said Friedman, reached at his ranch in Texas. “Might have been some of his best work.”
But for many of his friends, Chavin’s finest hour was that parody, “Asshole From El Paso,” which he co-wrote with Jacobs when they were living in Marin County, north of San Francisco. Haggard’s hit criticized the counterculture and anti-Vietnam War protests; Chavin’s version mocked its reactionary narrator.
“We wrote the song in the car coming back from a recording session,” Jacobs recalled. “We were in hysterics.”
Larry “Ratso” Sloman, a friend of both Chavin and Friedman, said, “Chinga was always dying to get up on stage. That was his first love. He was never able to parlay it into a [performance] career, though.”
But Chavin often did have a ball sitting in with Friedman and his band when they came to New York and played the old Lone Star Café in Greenwich Village or B.B. King’s in Times Square.
Friedman said of his Jewish frat brother: “He’s a guy who had a lot to offer. He really walked his own road.”
Chavin is survived by his wife Teresa Weldon, his sons Maxfield and Drew, his daughter Brandi and his first wife, Marsha Parker.