Apparently they all fit on one CD. I haven’t been doing CDs with 50 Foot Wave; I’ve been doing vinyl and downloads. But this is going to be released as a book the way Crooked was, my last solo record. And there will be a CD in it, and apparently we can fit it all on a CD without any reduction in sound quality. That doesn’t mean anyone’s going to want to listen to it! Oh, I think there are plenty of people who want to listen to it.
Your book, Rat Girl, came out a while ago now, but I loved it so I want to talk about it. Now that you have a little distance, I’m curious how you feel about the reaction and having one year of your life, or at least your creative life, documented in that way.
I felt pretty distanced from it the whole time because it was so long ago, and I felt the story was what I was writing. I wasn’t really expressing myself. It didn’t even feel like I was even writing about myself. But people would compliment me, saying, ‘You really captured the voice of an 18-year-old girl.’ And then they’d talk to me for a while and go ‘Wait—no, you didn’t! You never grew up at all.’
I thought that distance would be clear to people, but it was not. People would actually call me “rat girl” as if I was some lame superhero. [Laughs] And I did believe there was a sort of subspecies of person, rat people, and I knew a few. It was based on a sort of wretchedness and turning the wretchedness into something universal so that you’re free. But I didn’t really cover [that] in the book because that would have been dishonest; it wasn’t in the diary, and yet I thought the subtext would be clear, but [it wasn’t]. I got more embarrassed as the year went on, and I talked to more people and did more signings and did more Paradoxical Undressing shows, which is the theatrical presentation of the book.
There’s just an expression people make after reading the book, a sort of combination of “Are you OK?” and “I’m going to stand a few feet away.” I found that reaction sort of uncomfortable. But it’s an embarrassing story to write, and I just forgot to think about that until other people started reading it.
I guess it’s semantics, but I would think that people recognized their 18-year-old voice in it, that it’s projection, so it was successful. They didn’t know you at 18, so they don’t know if you really captured yourself at 18. Especially since the book is so much about the creative process, too. I grew up with night terrors, and I related to it that way.
I wrote it with the hope it would help anyone going through something similar, and I honestly assumed that would mean many, many people. I didn’t think it would specifically mean bipolar musicians.
I thought any time you write a memoir, even if it’s just about a small period of time like this, that what your doing is encapsulating an idiosyncratic, universal experience. So then really anybody should be able to relate to it. Everyone is creative in their sphere, and everyone is idiosyncratic in their life. It could be that people are not used to relating to something be something that sounds extreme like that, but any work is going to be a more cartoonish version of your day-to-day life. In the book, for example, there’s no repetition—things that happened every day or hundreds of times, but they only happen once, because it’s a book.
A lot of bipolar musicians were like, thank you! But I was hoping the sphere was wider than that. I’m not bipolar, and I identified with it.
I think people connected to it because it’s extreme. There aren’t many books that express that volatile, almost violent creativity. Books about 18-year-old girls used to have messages like “If you’re wild, you’re going to get in trouble.”
Yeah. And the wildness was my secret, and I worked to seem normal. I still work to seem normal, and that’s why the book seems to promote the stigmatization of mental illness. I still sort of believe it because I get tired of talking to people who say things like, ‘I was so depressed that I couldn’t get out of bed for a year.’ I think, really what you’re saying is you didn’t have to. I want to talk to a people who can’t get out of bed and do it anyway because they have children or they’re waitresses or they’re doctors. I think we should be working to not have broken brains, not be wearing our diagnoses on our sleeves.
At the same time, I wish I didn’t have to be so embarrassed about it. I don’t like to meet people and know that they know this about me and [think] that maybe I’m an unreliable individual psychologically, and that hurts my feelings. So it’s not like I really want to stigmatize mental illness. It’s just that there’s a line you have to run where you worship health, and forgive those who aren’t.
Tues., July 31, 8pm. $16. With James Maddock. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400. worldcafelive.com