Posts Tagged ‘music’

PARALLEL LIVES: The Return of Linda Perhacs

March 7, 2014

Endorsed by Daft Punk and championed by Devandra Banhart, Californian singer-songwriter Linda Perhacs is about to release her second album- 44 years after her first.


A haunting fusion of psych-folk, electronic ambience and hypnotic rhythms, The Soul of All Natural Things comes out on Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label later this month. The LP features contributions from Julia Holter- on the choral epic, ‘Prisms of Glass’- and Ramona Gonzalez, AKA Nite Jewel.  It’s an astonishing record by any standards; but Linda Perhacs’ 1970 debut, the cult classic Parallelograms, set a higher standard than most.

“Music surprised me,” Linda says, down the phone from her LA office. “I didn’t plan on it; it started to show at age five at a very high development stage. Nobody paid me attention and being a child I didn’t think about it. But I was disturbing the classrooms with my desire to do whole shows. I would put on the choreography, lyrics, the musical composition; pretty expansive and pretty developed for a five-year-old or a six-year-old! And they told me to quit because it was interfering with the school curriculum and I was bringing friends into the project and disturbing the teacher’s plans for the day.”

Perhacs studied medicine at the University of Southern California, and by the late 1960s was working as a Hollywood dental hygienist whose patients included Jane Fonda and Cary Grant. But evenings and weekends with her sculptor husband were spent visiting artist and musician friends involved in the thriving California counter-culture.

“When I would go into my hippy friends’ homes in Topanga Canyon, I was hopping from a starched Beverley Hills clinical world, where everything was very proper, into a whole different atmosphere,” Linda says now. “I would jump between those two worlds daily. And in those days you didn’t talk about the hippy people. You could lose your job. So you would go there privately and silently.”

One of Linda’s regular patients was the academy award-winning film composer Leonard Rosenman, who was increasingly receiving commissions for scores that would reflect the contemporary singer-songwriter or psychedelic vibe of the day. Then in his mid-forties, Rosenman knew he didn’t have a natural affinity for these sounds. So when he learnt that his 25-year-old dentist also wrote songs, he asked her to send him a tape.

“He just said, Linda, I can’t believe this is all you do,” Perhacs remembers. “I said no, I have a very creative life. My husband is a designer and we have skin divers and ornithologists and bird painters and all manner of artists in and out of the house all the time. And we go in the wilderness, and while the guys are doing very masculine things that I don’t feel like I want to do, like get out there with sharks, I take solitary walks on beaches- the sea of Cortez, Alaska, Canada, the Pacific North-West, the California coastline- and I write songs. And he said you live in Topanga Canyon, you’re in your middle twenties; you’re surrounded by hippies out there. He said, my wife and I get assignments for that flavour of music, and we’re about twenty years too old to really have a feel for it. Maybe you could write a song with us and give us some help on some of those assignments. Let me hear the music.”

Rosenman was bowled over by what he heard, but was still thinking in terms of Linda ghost-writing or collaborating on film projects, rather than developing an album of her own. That all changed when Linda approached him with the idea that would become Parallelograms’ avant-garde title track.

“I saw this vision in the sky, these magical geometric shapes,” she says. “I pulled off the freeway, drew the picture, showed it to Leonard a week or so later. I said, I’d like to put a Celtic melody either side of this, and inside the middle I want to do a three-dimensional sound sculpture using surround sound techniques, which were new at that time, and I want the shape of the geometrics to be created by the movement of the music. And he flipped out, he said this is so creative, I can’t tell you, if I had an idea that good twice in my life I’d be happy. We must do this piece.”

Perhacs had seen similar visions before; she’d experienced synaesthesia, the condition of seeing sounds as colours and vice-versa, since childhood. “I also hear inwardly,” she reveals. “If I need guidance in life I hear inwardly that guidance, and I hear words. I hear a man’s voice, and I’m used to it. My father’s whole line of people, they’re used to this, and my father was very active in World War Two saving lives using that ability, to sense evil versus good, safe versus not safe, and he would tell his troops where to walk and where not to go. And then they would put him on the front of a jeep and drive him around and say okay, where’s the danger. They’d go through streets in Italy, or they would put him on the bow of a boat to land on an island, to determine if there was any enemy activity, and he could give them a full report before the boat anchored.”

“My father was an officer in something like the 21st Mountain Troopers, some famous unit that taught the soldiers how to survive really harsh, cold weather, and mountain climbing, things that were really dangerous in the Alps, or in Alaska. He stayed even after the war, because he loved what he was doing. But he had that sixth sense, like an American Indian might have, to know where danger was, and where nature had been disturbed for the planting of mines; that was easy for him to see. But this other was intuitive, and that entire bloodline of people, my father’s bloodline, has this ability to this day. But mine is very developed, and my father’s was very developed. I’ve used it in music, and I’ve used it in helping people with their healing. And when I saw this vision in the sky, where I see the lights I know that a high flute is a bright yellow, it’s a tight, high wavelength, and a deep bass guitar is going to be a slower, very dark blue tone and a wavelength like a slow ocean wave.”

Rosenman secured a sizeable recording budget from Universal Pictures and the album was made over nine months using some of LA’s finest session musicians. Yet when Perhacs heard the finished LP she was bitterly disappointed. The pressing and mastering was so bad she couldn’t listen to it, and she threw her own vinyl copy of the album away, preferring to listen to a private cassette dubbed off the original masters. With no promotion, reviews or radio play, the album sank without trace.


Perhacs moved away from music, continuing with dental work and also developing her gifts for spiritual healing and awareness. “I’m medically and scientifically trained, and I’m a naturalist by heart,” she says. “So a person like that, with their scientific mind and their musical attunement, what do we do? We go to the universe and look for balances; we look for things that hold together longer than a ten-year pattern, a twenty-year pattern. Especially if you didn’t have your own children and focus on that for twenty or thirty years, which I did not. It gives you a breadth of experience, looking at the bigger picture. Where’s something that you can hold on to, where is there a pole star, that can give people balance when they’re in a 9/11 situation? When the buildings are going up or a subway is suddenly in distress, or there’s an illness that you can’t figure out how to cure. People need deeper answers, and our cellphones help, all our improvements help in our lives, but when you are really cornered, you need to go straight up for some of these answers. And I’ve spent a lot of years working on the ability to do just that. I already had kind of a natural ability for that, but I’ve tried to improve it, because I’m concerned not only for my life but for other people. This is a very big part of my thoughts right now.”

Music drew Linda back however, when in 2000 she recovered from a life-threatening bout of pneumonia to discover that Parallelograms had been reissued, and was enjoying revered cult status among a younger generation of music fans and musicians. Like that of kindred spirits Vashti Bunyan and Shelagh McDonald, Linda Perhacs’ music had been granted a second life via the electronic global word-of-mouth phenomenon of the internet. Yet Linda couldn’t help noticing the differences between her generation of musicians and the younger artists who revered her work so much.

“In the music of the sixties and the seventies there’s a gut level honesty that is so appealing to people, even to this day,” she asserts. “It’s hard for them to describe why they like the music from this era. I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think I am; those people were gut level honest. And honesty and truth is attractive. They showed the weaknesses, they showed the strength, and they were willing to explore both, and it was a beautiful thing.”

Typically, Linda sees this artistic honesty and idealism as part of a much larger picture.

“Because I look at things from a universal standpoint, from a bigger view, we have to remember that when World War Two hit, it was hell for everybody bring touched by it,” she says. “And anybody in their right mind would say god help us, please send something, this is awful; this is horrible. Especially in England where you must have been pleading for help, your parents, or I mean your grandparents or whoever. When enough of mankind all over the globe is screaming into the universe for help, one of the first things that occurs is that babies appear; special babies that understand things, that understand the universe’s need for peace. And those babies are then grown up and able to express that, and I can’t believe that all that happened in the sixties was an accident. Those were special babies, and they came from the parents that were crying out for help. So it isn’t accidental that that magnificent explosion of energy and creativity, and broadening of our perspective in terms of clothing, food, meditation, exchanging concepts in spiritual ideas, amalgamating all of these things and strengthening one another by sharing all of this, it happened all over the globe. And it happened simultaneously.”

“So now the world has gone through another phase where they’ve been exploring darkness. It’s good to become acquainted with a phenomena; it’s not good to get lost in it, if it’s a negative phenomenon, and not helpful to other people or to yourself. I think we might be starting to emerge out of that; I don’t know, we’ll have to watch the pattern for a while. But preoccupation with darkness is not a good sign. The wavelengths where you can get a better meditation and more answers for your life are a higher wavelength; they are a part of light. The wavelengths where you can get into depression and ‘I can’t solve my problems’ are a slower, darker wavelength. And you don’t want to live there, because you need light. Light is what gives us energy and creativity. Darkness is not a good place to live in. So we’d experimented with that pattern in our entire media worldwide. And we’ve gone into it pretty far. I can’t represent that movement; I represent the opposite. If you want to heal, if you want your highest inspirations, you must be connected with higher wavelength energy. And that entire group from the sixties knew that.”

Back in the 21st Century, major fan Devandra Banhart convinced Perhacs to sing backing vocals on his Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon LP. Opeth covered ‘Parallelograms,’ and Daft Punk used ‘If You Were My Man’ in their film Electroma. In 2010 she sang live on stage for the first time, at a Parallelograms tribute concert organised by the LA internet radio station Dublab. This was where she first met Julia Holter and Ramona Gonzalez. And in 2012 a solar eclipse finally spurred her into writing new music.


“My songs do not come by sitting at the keyboard and fooling around, by jamming,” Linda says. “My songs come like a flood of water or rain pouring through my head, and I have to run to find a pen and paper and catch it before I forget part of the delicacy. And then I go to the keyboard to try and put it into a form that I can communicate to musicians and ask for greater help.”

Where Parallelograms was personal and impressionistic, The Soul of All Natural Things is more universal and its songs have a clearer and more urgent message, reflecting the personal spiritual journey Linda has undergone between the two records, and her mounting concern for the state of our world.

“I believe it’s pretty natural in your twenties to be concentrating on your man-woman relationships or your relationships with each other,” she says. “But as the years go by pretty soon you are concerned with other people in the world, not only what’s happening here in our little clique of musicians and things, but what’s happening all through this entire globe. You know, things aren’t that good. So my deeper look at the world, my deeper look at the universe, is because I need some answers too. For all of these years I’ve been thinking a lot about all of that. Not just lightly. I’d say my major focus has been the universe and the link with balances out there, and the comparison with the imbalances that I see here. It’s a very big subject, but it has been my entire preoccupation.”

The seventy-year-old singer is already planning her next album for Asthmatic Kitty and is keen to break more musical boundaries, hoping to collaborate with Michael Ackerfield of Opeth and also to move in a more electronic, techno-oriented direction.

I love all those rhythms, I really love them,” she says. “I was talking to Sufjan [Stevens] about the same thing over the weekend. I said Sufjan, you’re using some electronic sounds. He said, all the time. I said I’ve got some ideas… to take some pulsations, like you hear in the universe, but I don’t know if it’s something you can create organically. He said, send me what you have in mind, and we’ll start working on it. So I’m going to be a little bit more daring with pieces in the future. I guess it’s in me to do it. It’s not natural for me to hold back.”




A Last Dance among the Ruins

February 9, 2008

I was already fifteen by the time I became passionate about pop music. Before, I had liked it, but indiscriminately; it was just something to laugh at on Top of the Pops, to sing along to on the radio, to dance to at the disco. It was background sound, entertainment, be it Kim Wilde or Adam and the Ants, Madness or the Jam, ’99 Red Balloons’ or early Madonna. It was great, but it wasn’t central to my existence. It didn’t affect the way I dressed or styled my hair, and I certainly didn’t spend my pocket money on it. But then, something changed.

Maybe it was just hormones, and becoming a teenager; I wanted to be cool, and in my adolescent awkwardness, music gave me a way to reinvent myself, to create a new identity quite distinct from that foisted upon me in childhood. It was a way to be creative, to live in my imagination, and to have a social life and hopefully a sexual one as well. It was a world where being an outsider misfit meant that you actually belonged.

Me and millions of others. But part of that process of reinvention was that I started reading the music press. And isolated and poor out in the sticks, there was a sense that NME, Sounds, Melody Maker and zines like Jamming and Tongue in Cheek were just as important as the music itself in opening up a new world to me. I discovered the music through the press, which by explaining and analysing, celebrating and criticising, alternately mythologising and deconstructing, opened my eyes and ears to rock and pop’s place within a broader cultural, social and political context, and made me realise that the music, at its best, was more than just entertainment. It meant something.

The idea that music is more than just entertainment is not one that holds much currency these days. It smacks of the discredited spirit of ’76, or worse, the naive hippy idealism of the drug-addled ’60s counter-culture, and we all know how that turned out. Now, everything is available, and nothing is special. It’s all equally disposable, entirely utilitarian, IPOD fodder for a distracted, ADD generation.

The 1980s were a low and treacherous decade, filled with bad music and worse haircuts. They began with the assasination of Lennon and the suicide of Ian Curtis, and went downhill from there. Nevertheless, those of us who were young in those godforsaken times still look back on them with a certain bittersweet fondness. There were still some fine records released among the slurry, and as I grow older even the worst of them sometimes seem preferable to the dreck that passes for pop music today, indie, mainstream or otherwise.

But let’s not fall for nostalgia. It’s a drug as deadly, insidious and addictive as crack, and just as prevalent within the music business. The ’80s are gone and I, for one, wouldn’t want them back. Certainly not as some kind of hideous, ironic, re-animated po-mo zombie half-life of ZX computer fonts, Flock of Seagulls fringes and smirking Thundercats t-shirts worn by gormless goons who were barely born when the Thatcher decade ended.

No, the ’80s were a wasteland, something that even Wayne Hussey and Frankie goes to Hollywood eventually realised. But the thing about growing up in a cultural wasteland is that when you do finally stumble across something that matters, it really matters, to the extent that it can change your life. But who has the time to have their life changed by a pop song these days? Who would even want to? There are DVD box sets to watch, and Facebook applications to enjoy. Now, everything is just more stuff, and we download our music by the ton, without ever asking what it means.       

These days, every aspect of the music press is ruthlessly aimed at a specific target audience, whose preferences, likes and dislikes are systematically assessed by crack teams of market researchers, and all content and tone is determined accordingly. But there was a time when papers like the NME set out to challenge their readership, if not to alienate them completely. As a typical white, lower middle-class indie-goth NME reader in the mid-eighties, I fully expected a weekly helping of contempt, scorn and vitriol to be directed at me for my narrow, parochial, predictable taste and lifestyle, and for generally being the enfeebled, reactionary rump of a pampered and complacent ruling elite. I was treated like a dog, and the NME was right to do so. It was character building.

Nobody would buy a music paper to be abused and sneered at these days, and who can blame them? They will stay in their comfort zones, happy to be segregated and niche marketed to, buying the publication that tells them about the kind of music that they already like. Music journalism has become just a product guide, giving you a CD’s technical specifications and rating it according to how well it performs on those terms.

And why not? Why should we stop people from getting what they want? We are all rocking in the free world now after all, and we have fought long and hard for our 24-hour opening, instant gratification, all you can eat consumer society, where we are guaranteed as much choice as we can handle, if not more.

I don’t know. I sometimes wonder if music journalism is really something for a grown man to aspire to. Leave it to the kids, or the dogs, whoever gets to it first. Sure, some of the greatest pure writing of the latter half of the Twentieth Century happened to be about pop or rock, but those days are over, and does anybody really care? The NME, as is well known, is a joke, a disservice even to the sixteen-year-olds it so blatantly patronises. Q, Uncut and Mojo are just toothless marketing rags, consumer guides promoting the product and keeping the record company back catalogue steadily rotating in the public eye. Their writers, in the end, are just artful advertising men. And as for the music sections of the broadsheet newspapers- well, no-one buy the Daily Telegraph expecting to be blown away by its gonzo rock coverage. 

Nowhere anymore is there any sense of rock as a separate culture, to be treated with the savagery and passion we would expect from anyone who genuinely cared. There is practically no distinction between the articles and the adverts. Look closely at either Mojo or NME and you’ll find ‘promotional features’ that are indistinguishable, but for that discreet caption, from the supposedly serious interviews beside them.

But maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe the music doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all just processed information and noise after all, and maybe it’s some kind of neurosis of capitalist society to fall in love with the product and to care so much about its form. Much healthier and more realistic to see it for what it is, to stop pretending that it has some kind of higher significance, to swallow our soma and dream on. 

And yet… pop music, rock music, often in its dumbest, most debased form, still says more to me than almost anything else. Not when it aspires to be high art, or when it starts to take itself seriously, but when it reveals vast depths of meaning and profundity almost in spite of itself. Music is an unfinished art form- it requires that you bring something of yourself to it, your own life, your own experiences and emotions, in order to complete the circuit. It is different for everyone, but sometimes it comes close to being the same. That is why I still like to read about how other people respond to music, especially if they write well, with feeling and insight and sensitivity. And that is why, in spite of everything, I still want to write about it myself.

Someone once said, notoriously and disparagingly, that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Well… I’m asking.

Even though the once-mighty flying buttresses are now so much rubble, and the other jivers have long since left or are just going through the motions…

Let’s have one last dance among the ruins.