DJ Lanphier On Friday night, Kristin Hersh quietly took the stage at 92Y Tribeca…
- Posted on Apr 28th 2011 1:00PM by DJ Lanphier
Graeme Flegenheimer, Getty Images
At its heart, the book is much more than a retelling of a year in Hersh's life and her struggles and triumphs. It's also a fascinating rumination on life, and while that might sound overly heavy, it's not. Hersh asks some very profound questions about what it means to be an artist, a young woman and a struggling musician while being endearingly self-effacing, curious, and very funny. It's a journey of self discovery that is at times whimsical and at other times startlingly brutal in its honesty.
"Life was very harsh," Hersh tells Spinner, recalling the time when her band Throwing Muses was in its nascent stage. "The world that we created wasn't just a musical one, it was a place to escape to. It had a lot of humor in it. I kind of bounce around it in the book, but it was a hard way to live. We were starving and we lived in squalor."
The antidote was a simple one: humor. "It was very important to us. In fact, I only hired bandmates by sense of humor because if you're funny then you're self-deprecating enough to not be an ass. And yet, you're honest enough to take risks. The funny person is almost always the best with music. Plus, they're easy to live with!"
At the center of the book is the idea that when we create something, we are merely vessels of that creation. What is created is something beyond us, something higher, more perfect and undeniably real, in the most profound sense of the word. Or as Hersh states twice in the book, first upon writing a song, and then upon the birth of her first child: "I did not invent this."
"I don't know how to invent a fingernail. Yet, I invented 40 of them," Hersh says with a hearty laugh, referring to her four boys. The concept applies to her songwriting as well. "A real song is something very difficult, it's difficult to harness and it has nothing to do with your brain," she says. "In fact, if your brain has anything to do with it, it will wreck it. It's not easy for humans to let go of their brain."
As the following excerpt (the italicized text) from 'Rat Girl'/'Paradoxical Undressing' shows, letting the music speak and getting her brain to just let it flow has been Hersh's approach since the beginning. She essentially taught herself how to duplicate the music in her head, pushing away and interpreting the noise of her as-yet-undiagnosed bipolar disorder, as she sat in her old beat up car, affectionately called "The Bullet," working out a song on her guitar:
Play colors, I think to myself, as the swishing voices conspire against me. This song doesn't sound like colors, it sounds like... machines. That nurse was right. I do hear machines.
There are notes in there though. I find them and play them, reduce the industrial orchestra I hear to a pathetic plunking. That melody needs a bed and chords come only through trial and error. So when a sound the guitar makes matches the sound that's filling the Bullet, I keep that chord and move on to the next one. It gets easier each time, as one chord will set up the next, words in a sentence, then sentences in a paragraph.
Voices playing counter to the guitar parts then form themselves into a kind of phonetic melody. These syllables pile themselves up into words and say things that are hard to grasp, hard to control, and I plug my ears to their meaning. I know I've lived the stories they tell, but I never wanted to tell them; the songs do. I'm just playing along.
Writing a narrative book, even a personal and lyrically flowing one, was a new experience for Hersh, and it required a bit of relearning how to let go and clear her mind. "I had to work really hard for four years to take out anything clever, to take out anything premeditated, any conclusions even. My brain would just always get in the way," she explains. "Because I'm used to listening to music, I know I have to be empty, I know how to be empty. But, with the book, artifice would just creep in because I didn't know how to listen to that voice. It took me probably three years to get to that voice. And, then the last year I was sort of under its spell, and it was telling me what to do. It was hard!"
Eventually, it all fell into place. "What helped me finish the book, instead of just throwing it away, was to just treat it musically," Hersh says. "Everything had to be musical, had to be rhythmically and melodically sound."
Of course, looking back at your 18-year-old self after 25 years required a new approach as well. "It's funny. The temptation was great to make it a better book by using more of my adult sensibilities," she says. "But I don't think it would have been a better book, because the voice was what it was. If I pretended that my 18-year-old self knew what my 40-year-old self knows, then the book would have been less than. It would have been fake."
On top of the memoir, Hersh recently finished audio mixing of a new album with Throwing Muses and is preparing for the release of a new album with her power-punk trio 50 Foot Wave. She released her most recent solo album, 'Crooked' as a CD and an art book, and recently presented the American debut of 'Rat Girl Live,' a spoken-word and solo acoustic performance of excerpts and songs from her memoir, at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Her output is prodigious by anyone's standards and the unifying element is that it's all an exercise in discovery, finding what is meaningful, resonant and real.
And Hersh may just be getting started in the literary world. "I miss getting up in the night and time tripping. I like going to visit those people that I miss. I like being able to recall conversations and recall what they smelled like and what the weather felt like. I've become addicted to that time tripping that I was doing. When the book was done, I missed it. I started the next one. I don't know whether it's for publication or just for me, but I get up at 3 or 4AM with the dog and we time trip together!"
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