Meet Erin Riley: 40 Years of Music Influence

Erin Riley Cover
Erin Riley

Erin Riley was born in New York City and attended Trenton State College in New Jersey where she studied as little as possible.

A Dark Force 3D coverAt the tender age of 19, she escaped to Los Angeles and quite by accident fell into what would become an exciting and influential 40-year career in the music and entertainment industries, choosing hit songs for Major Market Radio stations and developing new artists, helping expose their music to the world.

She led the Philadelphia GRAMMY Chapter and dabbled in repertory theater before opening her greatest professional achievement, a children’s music school called Rock & Roll After School, which taught kids to write and perform their very own original songs. In 2014, Erin delivered a TEDx talk on her work with children.

Ms. Riley currently resides outside of Philadelphia with her French Bulldog puppy, Murphy, where she practices yoga, enjoys hiking in Valley Forge Park and is totally rocking retired life.

Visit for more information and loads of old photos of Erin with rock stars.

Erin Riley A Dark Force One Sheet

Interview transcript Erin Riley

Richard Lowe  00:01

Good evening. This is Richard Lowe, the writing King with the author talks Podcast. I’m a ghostwriter, a LinkedIn branding expert, and a writing coach. So feel free to contact me if you need any of those things. And I’m here with Erin, to talk about her books, her life, whatever comes up in the conversation. Hi, Aaron, how are you doing?

Erin Riley  00:21

I’m just great tonight. Thank you, sir, so much for giving me this opportunity to chat with you.

Richard Lowe  00:25

My pleasure. My pleasure. So tell me about yourself.

Erin Riley  00:31

Well, I am 64 years old. I was born in 1959, in Manhattan in New York City. And that had obviously a big impact on my life. My parents were both in the entertainment industry to some degree, you know, famous parents, but my mother was a runway model couture fashion model in Manhattan. My father was an actor. You know, he did mostly commercials and you know, off Broadway, nothing major. But that was the scene that I grew up in, I grew up in a scene that was very alternative. I went to a public school in Manhattan and lived on the Upper West Side. And it pretty much raised myself both of my parents were working my brother and I were kind of left to take care of stuff. So that kind of helped me develop sort of what I would consider sort of a reptilian survival brain, like a kid in the city, right, it’s almost like being raised by wolves, but you know, different environment than the, you know, the woods. But that I carried with me for a long time. In about I want to say 1971, there was a lot of dysfunction in my family will also just like add the fact that my father was alcoholic, my mother was pretty selfish, you know, narcissistic lady. And like I said, not unlike, sort of untouchable, not unlike a Joan Crawford, you know, my mother was just perfect, and the hair was perfect. And the eye losses, and the gogo boots or whatever is she’s just really didn’t look like or act like your standard mom. Sometime, I think around 1971, my father promised to quit drinking, if we could move out of the city. But that was a big temptation for him, you know, all of his acting buddies hanging the bar after the show and all the bars, you could just walk home. So if we could move out to New Jersey, he could quit drinking, and that’s what my mom wanted, of course, so we did that. And that was a huge culture shock for me, you know, I’m a little Manhattan kid. And suddenly, I’m living in central New Jersey with eight acres around me in a farm and very amusing and, and, you know, like I said, didn’t have a lot of family as a guide or a writer for me. So I got myself in every bit of trouble you can possibly imagine, you know, we’re lucky to be chatting tonight, I never thought I’d make it to 30 with the, the dangerous behavior, you know, that I was involved in. Fast forward to, you know, some terrible, you know, family accidents, my father fell down a flight of stairs, a lot of trauma in my life, a lot of big traumas. And my mom left us and abandoned my brother and I as teenagers with my alcoholic dad. And I ended up sort of running away to California, as a teenager, by myself. So I went to LA, you know, on a bus, it was a kid, and came off the bus to see the Hollywood sign and restarted my life. And it got really lucky. You know, I, I felt freer away from all of the trauma that I’d experienced, and my life didn’t really get better. So I really advocate for people to like, run away from their problems, you can do it, not permanently. But temporarily, it’s absolutely possible to run away from a problem and give yourself enough time. Right?

Richard Lowe  03:37

Yeah, sometimes a change in venue can really help.

Erin Riley  03:40

It really did. I felt like people didn’t know bad things about my past. And I felt like I could start fresh. And I was very excited and motivated to do that. And I had the great fortune to meet a radio DJ in California and started dating him. And I would go and hang out with him at the radio studio. And I got really interested in getting into radio. So I did, I did that next. Excuse me, I need a little sip of water. So I became a radio DJ in California in Los Angeles when I was 19 years old, and then moved to Santa Barbara, California, where I got a full time job. And that’s, you know, also as a radio DJ. And my next step was a very big job. I got offered a big job as music director of Wm, Mr. In Philadelphia. That was the chose all the songs that this big rock radio station in a major market played and I got to make and break big bands all over the place. And at this point, I’m really only 23 years old, but I am, you know, the fast track up the ladder of the music industry, and got really lucky so I stayed there for 10 years. It was great fun. It was the 1980s there were big budgets for all of the stars, you know, the rock stars, and so they were record companies that I would work with would take us all out limos and concerts and parties. And, you know, it was really a very fun time to be in the music industry, because there were a lot of resources available. And then came file sharing. So suddenly, now music is not a commodity that a record company can sell the free product because it’s an mp3, and people can just share them. And the money’s all gone. So I had to kind of reinvent myself. And you know, I got out of radio, I worked for the Grammys. For a while I work for the American Lung Association, or for some theaters, I started my own children’s music school. Sounds like my life just goes great, right? Sounds like wow, you know, she had a traumatic childhood and look what she’s done with it. Well, behind the scenes, I’m going to tell you that I’m still the same broken, damaged child looking for love that I didn’t get from my mom. And so my relationships are not right. My jobs are great. My marriages are terrible. My first husband was an alcoholic. After I married him, I found out he had a criminal record, he owed the IRS. And when there’s all after the marriage, I find all these things out that he didn’t. But the second husband is who I wrote my book about. The second husband, I was with her 20 years, and he turned out to be a diagnosed covert narcissist. Somebody when I say diagnosed, I mean diagnoseable. He, we did psych testing. And what came back at me was terrifying. It was terrifying, to have a clear understanding of the way that my husband thought, right, and what his intentions were, and how, how surreal all that experience was, at the very end of it, as soon as I found out this husband was hiding so many things for so long. For years, every thought we had a great marriage, or we thought we had a great life together. He ended up doing but they cause this narcissistic discard, which means he went nuts. And I’m saying screaming, threatening. You had a girlfriend on the side that he must have met online somewhere. He’s accusing me of cheating. So I’m really terrified of him. He is completely unhinged. And this is a guy who had formerly been like a mouse, like you’re just a real quiet, you know, helpful, antisocial person turned into a raging monster. I know there’s a long version of the story. But I did have a crazy life. We had built a house in Panama to retire to over a period of eight years a beautiful custom home. And he got away with stealing it moving to a different girl there everything that I had moved, all my possessions were moved on shipping, you know, she had a shipping container there, and all the retirement cash by gone and then divorced me. And I never saw him again. So this guy I lived with for 20 years, it was a stepfather to my son. And so that was obviously that just took me to the ground, you know, unbelievable to have something like that a rug pulled out from underneath your entire life, like your life is gone, you were moving to Panama with your husband of 20 years, your marriage is, you know, fine, or you think it’s decent enough, and, and then suddenly have to kind of reinvent your life in your 60s. So I had a lot to process, I started journaling a lot. And I had so much journaling so much that I wrote down, that I started asking friends, how do you write a book, you know, like, I got a lot that’s coming out of me right now from this motion of my whole life, you know, kind of this is all pent up all of this stuff. And everybody said write, you know, write an outline, and then write like a little synopsis, what the books about and it just burst into tears because I didn’t know what they meant, like I do. But I didn’t have an understanding of where the book was going and what it was for. Right. Another friend of mine I got together with who’s a writer said to me, just pretend you and I are sitting over the dinner table and having a conversation. Right? Just right, like you talk to me. And that made more sense to me was easier because I had a lot of like, stressful ruminating thoughts. Well, next thing you know, I had a book, I had a book took me four months to write this book. And I released it on Amazon. And it’s done great. I have you know sold, maybe 700 and some by myself. published author, I have over 160 Great reviews five star reviews, people are loving it. The book turned out to be a memoir and a story of my own personal experience of how I came to narcissism like except these behaviors. When on the outside I look like I have this killer career and strength and friends and all this. But it’s it really is like reads like a manual to understand narcissism. There are definitions and footnotes Send descriptive words of what is triangulation? What is blame shifting? What is projection? Who’s most vulnerable to be targeted by a narcissist. So that’s my long version of the short question you asked.

Richard Lowe  10:14

Well, thank you very much. Yes, we have somewhat of a similar background. I’ve had a lot of narcissists in my life, and, of course, didn’t recognize them until way afterwards. That’s isn’t that the way it always is.

Erin Riley  10:25

I had no idea. It was 18 years that I was with this man, not that I didn’t feel, you know, things something was off, or he wasn’t secretive, or he didn’t have arrogance. But I would use those different terms. And because he’s so dismissive, or he’s so arrogant, or why is he so secretive or depressive or filled with anxiety? Like, what did I do? And, you know, you’re walking on eggshells and making yourself small. And you’re confused by all these terms. And it wasn’t until like I said, 18 years and I got this spike report. That was terrifying. where I started, do some more research and I think learned when when you have arrogance, dismissiveness, secretiveness, this and you know all these adjectives, adjectives together, you’re dealing with narcissism. You know, I

Richard Lowe  11:12

know the feeling. Yeah, I know the feeling several bosses, my dad, my mom, narcissistic, and the dad is the is the worst one to be a narcissist, or the mom has a father figure being a role model. So it was it was tough. I understand totally.

Erin Riley  11:30

Yeah, well, that’s how I mean my book. I the reason why I took my book all the way back to when I was born, is because having gone through this experience that just flattened me, you know, in a way, it’s, I was lucky to have a pandemic, because I could just do nothing for two years. It took a long time to kind of recover from this. But in writing it, that’s when I came to the realization that my mother’s selfish, manipulative nature, I don’t know, you know, I don’t know how to call her a narcissist, but narcissistic tendencies, and not loving and mothering or warm or anything like she was just cold, or girls didn’t want to have kids and had to. So that’s when I realized it was really much more her influence over me than my father’s. I used to think because my father was my opposite sex parent. And I didn’t have a close relationship with him because he was alcoholic and depressive. That’s why I pick emotionally unavailable men. But then one day, my mom said, Yeah, but why are yours vindictive? And I’m like, Oh, I think I know now, because my mother would be more so that way more intentional and more deliberate about her behavior. My dad was just kind of a sad guy, you know, sad sack. So I just kind of repeated that over and over again. And many people do that until they work out their childhood issues and whatnot. So I wanted to write a book that would help people to understand themselves, and how they come to certain relationships, and how they can recognize you know, their own feelings and value themselves and, you know, prevent themselves from being susceptible to predatory people. And you first, the first thing you have to do is accept the fact that they exist, you know, that there are people out there that actually do not have your best interests in mind, from the minute they meet you.

Richard Lowe  13:18

You know, it took me a while to

Erin Riley  13:21

Yeah, I just, it’s a hard thing to accept if you’re an empathetic person. And when you meet another person, you’re trying to connect with them, and share with them and feel empathy for them and understand them. You think everybody is that way? And that’s not true. Not everybody is that way. So that’s very

Richard Lowe  13:37

true. That’s very true. Yeah. narcissists are very destructive. You know, whether they’re in politics, or whether they’re your husband, or wife, whether they’re your parents, they are extremely destructive. And because they’re covert. Usually, it becomes very, very difficult to even spot it. Yeah. They love you, you know that they have your best interests at heart. They’re always talking like that, oh, this is just for your best interest. But yeah, and then underlying, under that there’s the knife. The knife, they look like it’s from somebody else, that’s even worse. It

Erin Riley  14:15

creates in your mind, something they call cognitive dissonance, right, where you’re familiar with it. And then of course, that then sets up the susceptibility to be easily gaslit. You know, and then bit by bit, your, your ability to trust your own decision just becomes less and less and less, you know, you have less and less confidence in yourself because it’s being reinforced to you regularly, that perhaps you’re just not good at this. Like, I’ll take care of things and you think, Oh, that’s nice. He’s taking care of it. That makes me feel better. I always had to be in charge of everything. It was always independent and living alone and you know, taking care of all the bills and making the money and doing the grocery shopping and I did everything I shoveled my own walk and here comes along this is a wonderful man who wants to build me a kitchen and bathrooms and shovel the walk and do all the things I need. And suddenly, I feel taken care of the thing I didn’t feel as a child by my parents when I was left to take care of myself in New York City. So that’s how a person becomes susceptible is there’s a hole in you somewhere that you’re looking to fill, and you’re looking to fill in an unhealthy way until you understand, you know, really, at the end of the day, just like they say in the Wizard of Oz, the answers are in you. You know, you just have to say it’s always been you’ve always had the power, my dear. So what you do is you have to learn how to love yourself. And trust your gut, slow down, learn how to feel your feelings and go, What am I feeling here? Like? How does Richard feel about this? I feel good about this. No, Richard does not like the way this feels. So the answer now is no. Right?

Richard Lowe  15:48

Yep. Yeah, I tend to avoid a much better at spotting narcissists. Now that I’m in my 60s. And it’s, it’s interesting. I mean, I’m ruthless. Now. If somebody’s narcissistic, or other psychotic qualities, they’re out of my life. I don’t care whether they’re family, I don’t care whether they’re friends, I don’t care who they are. Because that made me sick.

Erin Riley  16:15

Physically, there I was, I have a whole chapter in my book that says the health side effects health, medical and, and mental, of being with a narcissist, and I cannot begin to tell you how your body just breaks down if you’re in a long term relationship like that. I was addicted to sleep medicine for 13 years couldn’t sleep through the night. So I’m taking Xanax and benzodiazepines that are breaking down my system. I did two inconclusive sleep studies. They’re like you’re not having trouble breathing, and you don’t have Restless Leg Syndrome. But you, you split up both upright in your bed every two hours, like you wake up, and you’re wide awake? Well, what that what I came to learn is that was cortisol, in my body, from stress, from holding on to all of the anxiety that you hold on to when you’re trying to keep it together with your survival brain while you’re being attacked from all sides. And it’s so confusing, because that attack comes in a glove, you know, but I love you, or this is in your best interests.

Richard Lowe  17:17

Yeah, or the the invalidations that narcissists always do where you just, you just start, well start suddenly, and then it gets more and more and more not subtle. Yes, more control.

Erin Riley  17:31

That’s a good point to make is that they escalate. And it does get worse over time. So anybody out there that thinks they can manage your relationship with their narcissistic partner?

Richard Lowe  17:42

You can’t, you can’t manage and they’re not saying, right, they’re not saying and that’s the, one of the first things you have to realize is narcissist. And psychotics and other group groups like that. They’re they’re not saying, and they are trying to make you insane. That’s right. They’re trying to control you and manipulate you, and you need to get them out of your life.

Erin Riley  18:01

Completely. There’s no other way. You know, what I’ve learned and learned over the years of studying and talking to people over the about this is that they have a really deep self loathing. And it’s sort of turned inside out when you see that, you know, assumed confidence, the false self, but they really have a deep self loathing. When they meet another person they think looks like a prize to them like this is going to reflect well on me, you have things I want, you’re attractive, you have money, you own a house, you have friends, or a big family or something, I want that that’s going to make this deep self loathing go away, right? So they snatch you up, however, they’re going to get you because you’re going to fix this awful thing in them. Well, as soon as they get you, you’re inevitably going to do something human. Whatever that is, you’re going to brush your teeth funny, or you’re going to forget to pick up the dry cleaning, or you’re going to ask them for something. Hey, do you mind like closing the toilet lid or you know anything? And suddenly, you go from being loved bombed and idealization, and you’re gonna fix it all to oh my god, you’re not going to fix it. You’re flawed. You asked, you criticized me, like, No, I have to hurt you. We’re gonna turn it the other way. Because now the only way I can feel good in this relationship is to overpower you to hurt you. I’m gonna project all this ugliness that is inside of me. I’m gonna put it on you. And I’m gonna say you’re the one with the problem. You’re the ugly, stupid, lazy, whatever.

Richard Lowe  19:29

And the more you try and fix it, the more they hit back. And the more you try and make it a right, right and loving and stuff, the more they hit back. And they they will hit back hard. I actually wrote a book or started a book she couldn’t finish it on because of the emotions on a woman who was sold into sexual slavery. When she was 14 by her parents for drugs and stuff, and stayed there for probably 10 years. It finally escaped. And now as Christian raised five kids It’s doing great. No narcissists near her. And but she couldn’t finish it. It was too emotional for,

Erin Riley  20:06

but I can understand because that didn’t happen to me. I like I said, I it was very emotional. But it was cathartic to get the written word out, it felt like it was now out of me that here’s what almost destroyed me. recording my own audio book, like living it again, saying it and fighting with my ex husband and my own voice. I had to hire a male actor friend of mine, like Mike, can you come in and do these parts, because when I’m having an argument with myself, who is my husband in two different voices, I can’t even handle it. I would start crying, I’d say turn off the recording would drop to the ground, I’d say I’ll be back in a week, I sometimes had to take a whole seven days off from coming in for another session. It took me five months to record it longer than it did write it. Because it was far too real. To feel it like that.

Richard Lowe  20:57

Interesting. Do you have a second book? And yeah,

Erin Riley  21:01

well, you know, I have a lot of ideas. But I’m actually writing a screenplay for this book. Because I still think that this message of covert narcissism is was not well represented in the media. I feel as though what you see represented media are physical abusers or, or overt narcissist, people. You know, like maybe Don Draper, or Tony Soprano would step on anybody or kill anybody, and they’re confident and all that. But there are people out there that are walking amongst us that just look like Walter Mitty kind of little quiet little dudes or whatever girls too. And but they have an agenda. And that agenda is not, you know, pure. They’re trying to take advantage and you know, hurt others.

Richard Lowe  21:46

The movie Gone girls comes to mind.

Erin Riley  21:48

That’s correct. So here’s some there’s one called made on Netflix. And so that’s a 10 episode series that has Angie Angie McDowell and her daughter, who’s named Margaret quali. And I think she’s a terrific little actress. She’s about 25 years old. She’s an abusive relationship, but he’s physically abusive, and he’s also an alcoholic. And they’re like in a trailer park. You know, mom lives in an RV. So you can almost look at somebody like that and say, I’m not surprised that this girl can’t get out of this dangerous situation, right? But people would look at me and think I’m on top of the world. And the truth of the matter is this can happen to anybody. Right? So I wanted to pick that other side where people think your life is great, but behind the scenes, it’s bad. More like a show like Big Little Lies, where Big Little Lies has Nicole Kidman and her husband looked perfect on the outside but he’s a real physical abuser. He’s better. Another one I put like I have my comparables of what I’m, you know, looking to be somewhat like, it’s called Dirty John was a two, two season a true story, true crime story, but about narcissistic and kind of Tinder. swin, Lurie and then the other one I is this sleeping with the enemy. So I think that’s one of the first ones and one of the most successful. And another recent one that I think fits into my story a little bit because I had all those years of rock and roll backstage he stuff is Daisy Jones and the six. So that came out recently. I didn’t love it. It’s just my personal opinion. Sorry, Reese Witherspoon if you’re looking at my book. But there are the elements of that 70s 80s Rock and roll thing and I think that’s just another kind of a fun appeal. So yeah, like Gone Girl like all those shows made? I am writing a six episodes see or limited series for it. And I want to make a movie. I’ve never done that. So I feel like okay, you wrote a book now move on. Let’s make a movie. Oh, there you go. Yes, I actually gave a book idea to a young girl yesterday. I hope she takes it. She turned 25 today and I said for your 25th birthday, I want you to start your second book. And the idea is called 365 days of Dating Yourself. Right? This is a new kind of a new thing with young people are saying like Miley Cyrus has a song out called flowers, which is I can give myself flowers, I can treat myself well, I can love myself. So there is this kind of trend with women who are having difficulties with their relationships to go take yourself out to dinner, you know, take yourself to a show or the movies thing. So I thought this girl who had been through a bad relationship could could benefit from a daily exercise of that. And I also thought at the end of the year, you might have a book that somebody else might want to follow some of the suggestions for your healing. Interesting. A lot or video series. Yeah, a lot of people want me to write a rock and roll backstage kind of book and I and people have been saying that for my whole life. And I feel as though I don’t feel comfortable doing what I would call speaking out of turn about others, meaning I witnessed some crazy stuff backstage, you know, groupies or you know, partying. And you know, everybody’s older now. And it’s sort of like not my business, I think, to talk about what people did when they were foolish and young and crazy, you know. So it’s not my business. So I’ve never done that. And I don’t know, I think that’s what people want to read. People want to read the bad stuff. They don’t want to read, you know,

Richard Lowe  25:30

unfortunately, it opened you up to slander lawsuits also.

Erin Riley  25:34

Yeah, exactly. I just I’m not doing that when I wrote my memoir. You know, my book is called the dark force. I was so careful. And I think I’ve really nailed it. I have a disclaimer that I think is very well written. I wrote it myself. But I used elements of other disclaimers that I found. I changed everybody’s name. I changed the street we live on I changed the name of the town, I changed the name of the dog. Dog has a different name. You know, so I, I joke around and I say the people who didn’t do me wrong, they got to keep their names. The people who did do me wrong, all have fake names. That’s funny. Yeah, that’s funny. There are some real names of real people that read the book, and they see themselves in it. But they didn’t hurt me.

Richard Lowe  26:19

Well, we’re coming up on 30 minutes. Debbie, anything else you want to say to your audience here?

Erin Riley  26:24

Ah, well, let’s see. You can find my book. Well, first of all, let me say one thing. I have a website, which is a dark And there are hundreds of pictures of me with classic rock artists like old rock stars, like Roger Daltrey, or Robert Plant, or Steven Tyler, or Jon Bon Jovi or whatever. So they’re fun. I’m going to hold up my book, because I’m really proud of it. I designed my own cover. Nice. Yep, I like it. Thank you. It’s a stock piece of art for this. But I thought it really depicted like a demon. With a halo like, off. And it’s hard to see, but there’s a little gold earring on his ear, because they also steal everything. They’re like pirates. Right. And then up here, the map is Panama. So that’s where, you know, he ran off to with everything. So that’s in there as well, too. But I’m very proud of it. And I get emails every single week from people saying You changed my life, thank you, you saved my life or save other people’s lives. Because once you when you’re in it, you know when you’re in it, it’s hard to feel and understand what’s happening. You’re just like what’s going wrong here. But if you can take a step back and hear another person’s personal story, with some explanation, it’s clear. So So that’s also a dark I sell autographed copies of my book there and also, hopefully voodoo dolls. Everybody needs one. And and then my book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. I do have mine in some libraries and local bookstores. And you can order it from any bookstore. I wouldn’t say it’s stocked at all bookstores, but I think I’ve been pretty well for a self published person. If you it’s a great way to go. Self publishing. It really is. I love it. But yeah, it’s nonstop. You know, every day all day, you really have to just push push, push, push, push. So

Richard Lowe  28:20

Well, thank you very much. It’s been great having you on here. As as I said, my name is Richard Lowe. I’m the writing king. And I’m a ghostwriter. So if you need a book written, come see me. I’m also writing coach, if you’re having trouble writing your book, I can help and LinkedIn branding expert if you think your LinkedIn is not getting the what you need, come see me. And this has been author talk. I do, actually three of these interviews a week. So it’s quite a few. It’s a lot of work. And I hope that you enjoyed it. And I’ll talk to you next time.

Erin Riley  28:53

Thank you, Richard.

Richard Lowe  28:54


Richard Lowe
Notify of
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Great chatting with you, Richard! Thanks!