Dear Space Lady, I hope your landing in England, and subsequent launch into Belgium, has been fruitful. Thank you so much for your performance in Bristol on Monday. It was magical and strangely familiar, in quite a literal sense you made the space warm and known and gentle. Thank you for agreeing to answer some of my questions. I have so many, but I’ll try keep it concise, and feel free to ignore some if there are too many.
You mentioned that, as a busker in the 80’s and 90’s, you could never have imagined playing in the concert halls previously filled with the greats. So, how does it feel to have relaunched as one of the greats into the music scene of the 21st Century with your aesthetic fully intact?
I feel so honored and privileged to have been granted this opportunity to perform all around the world by my loving fans. After every show I get to meet some of these wonderfully appreciative and supportive people, and I have to say it is elating as well as humbling. It’s also fairly astounding to know my music has touched and moved people of younger generations, and that so many of these younger people find it relevant even to this day.
On the note of relaunching in a different century, what impact do you think the internet has had on outsider artists, yourself included? Are there really outsider artists anymore when everyone has a shared platform and community to gain exposure?
As I understand it, it was record producer Irwin Chusid who coined the term “outsider music,” the definition being music created by very earnest and naive, but relatively incompetent musicians. He also calls it “incorrect music.” And yes, we still exist!
I think for the most part, the internet has been a tremendous boon for those of us who live and work outside the mainstream, playing differently from the more formulaic, accepted trends in music. The internet seems to have provided an artistic democracy, where even those of us with relatively small cult followings can survive — as opposed to artists with massive audiences attending concerts in huge stadiums, with big budgets for large scale advertising, or record companies which do that for them. Now we too have a chance to be heard, as well as booked in the kinds of venues and on the kinds of tours I’m enjoying.
How did it feel to know that, whilst you retreated from the public music scene to become a nurse, your music was growing out of your site? Does the art we create have a life of its own?
I love that expression, “a life of its own” and use it often myself regarding my music. I’m convinced that even those artists who create and are never recognized are making a contribution to the planet, and in fact, the Universe. Just the process of creating alone is what we humans were born to do, and the joy we generate with our creativity can’t help but radiate outward to infinity.
While I was working as a nurse I was using my empathy to generate love and happiness as best I could. But working within the very restrictive framework of the medical industry was nearly impossible for me to adapt to. Had I known sooner that there was a real opportunity to return to music I would have quit nursing much sooner, or more likely never attempted it in the first place.
I read on your Spotify page that you busked to earn money for your family while evading the U.S. military. I have a few questions regarding this. Firstly, it’s easy for us to have romantic ideas of the artist in the run, free to create, but what was it like and how did it affect your music?
For Joel and me, hiding from the Federal Government was like being refugees in our own country, without any resources besides charity, whether from passers-by on the street, or religious organizations, most notably the Catholic Church - and to their credit, the priests I begged food vouchers from never proselytized us. That was a good thing, because we didn’t consider ourselves Christian, other than respecting what we knew to be the 2000 year-old peace loving teachings of a Jew named Jesus.
I guess the biggest effect our anti-establishment political stance had on our music was keeping it very low key and subterranean. Had Joel not been hiding he might have organized a rock band and tried to burst on the scene in a flamboyant way, and I never would have attempted anything. As it was, he was afraid to perform in public at all (save for a brief stint in our 4-piece ambient electronic band we called “Blind Juggler”). That fear of being discovered led to my panhandling and selling collages and sketches on the streets of Boston for seven years, before I finally picked up a beat-up old accordion and tried my luck at busking, 6 months after our first child was born, in early 1980.
Secondly, did being alienated from your government influence your aesthetic as a space arrival?
Now that you mention it, it certainly did make me feel like an alien, although even as a teen I had felt like an outcast, struggling hard to fit in. Then with Joel, our status as fugitives from the law led to an implicit political message in my music from the very beginning, simply by being such a persistent die-hard at living the marginal life of a busker. Now my political message is quite explicit in the lyrics I write and the words I speak from the stage.
Your music is fable-like and folkloric, magical and narrative, and like fables each contains its moral. How did creating O, Brave New World help you handle the dark storms coming our way with the Trumps and Putins of the world? Does creativity act as resistance?
Yes, indeed! Your question could be considered its own answer. After months of crippling depression following the election, writing that song gave me an instant uplift, as if I had finally done something that mattered, that healed, that somehow transformed a dark reality into a much brighter one. Then when I realized it wasn’t transferable to my keyboard I felt rather daunted, because I had a tour coming up right away, and yet I didn’t want to practice anything but my new guitar song over and over again — even though I knew I needed to rehearse my standard set. But I was absolutely compelled, and I just kept saturating myself in my new creation, almost addictively, in the process of perfecting and memorizing it. Ultimately I decided I absolutely had to perform it in public, even though I was struggling to relearn how to play guitar after several decades. And to my shock and delight, it has turned out to be my piece d’resistance!
I often quip that I play “music with special effects,” as I twirl the knobs on my delay pedal, distorting my voice. Now I add that I play “music with a message,” and I echo that phrase ad infinitum.
Similarly, The Ballad of Captain Jack, and your love song to our planet, Do the next right thing, hold strong political messages. What do you think we can learn today from Native communities, like the Modoc Tribe, especially when trying to adjust our treatment of the environment?
We need to learn how to function as a big family, a loving tribe, a true community, letting no member “fall between the cracks.” More importantly, we need to appreciate (and adopt) how indigenous people understand that the universe and everything in it are conscious. They treat everything they interact with with great respect and reverence — even the animals they kill for food. In our mechanized culture we slaughter anything and everything we think we need on an industrial scale, murder by assembly line, as it were, including entire forests, huge schools of fish, and even mammals so closely akin to ourselves — and by the billions every day, without any regard for their lives and the agony we cause them, nor their important place in the precious and intricate web of life. In first world countries, at least, this is all for gluttony, because nowadays there are sustainable, cruelty-free alternatives readily available to us.
Your family seem to have been important in your career, from the inspiration they provided while you were young, to the indelible influence of Joel in your aesthetic and lyrics and in supporting and pushing for your recent resurgence. What is it about your family, and support networks in general, that encourage creativity and exploration? I introduced your music to my mother and she is a huge fan, by the way.
Thanks to both you and your Mom!
Yes, my parents certainly set me on track to become a musician, although I don’t think they ever expected or wanted me to play professionally. My mother was a music teacher, although she certainly had the capability to be a concert pianist if she hadn’t chosen instead to become a mother. I think in a way it was a tragic compromise for her, since she was fairly miserable as a teacher. But both my parents were dogged in their efforts to make sure their children had musical training. I can’t begin to say how much I appreciate that in retrospect, although I was a poor and unenthusiastic student. And those dreaded public recitals made my blood run cold!
I discovered folk music at around age 10, and found it a huge relief from our constant diet of classical music, and in the late 60s I began to dream of following in Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Judi Collins’ footsteps. But I lacked any self-confidence whatsoever and had to settle for wannabe status until I was well into adulthood.
As it turned out, in my early 30s my musical background literally became a lifeline, a means of survival in times of sheer desperation, as well as a steady source of joy and self-respect as I slowly began to hone my craft. Still, I didn’t consider myself a legitimate musician, just a street musician — which in the United States is barely one rung up the ladder above begging. Thankfully, the internet has thoroughly changed that perception.
When I moved from accordion to electronic keyboard, Joel suddenly became inspired and supported my transition by writing songs for me (most notably Synthesize Me), giving me his guitar effects pedals, building my lighted tip box, and finally crowning me with his prized winged helmet. But after about 7 years of constant struggle, and as our 3 kids were growing up under his care while I was out busking, he stopped supporting me artistically. At that point I returned to the simpler, more acceptable, and more lucrative format of playing accordion and singing.
It was my second husband, Eric, who encouraged me to relaunch The Space Lady in 2013, 23 years after I had given her up for dead. In fact, it wasn’t until 3 years into our marriage that he became curious about the emails I was constantly receiving from around the world, and he asked me to play a TSL song for him. I had to scrounge around on eBay to replace my equipment, and Ghost Riders was the only song I could remember by that time. But Eric was absolutely blown away when he heard it, and insisted I sit right down and email all my fans telling them The Space Lady’s back! I sent that email out with great trepidation, but it led to an onslaught of inquiries, including 3 record labels reaching out to sign me. After some careful consideration we chose NightSchool Records out of London, which released TSL’s Greatest Hits and set me up with my first US, British & European tours. And even after Eric’s sudden death in 2016, I am still on the trajectory he set in motion with his loving and skillful support.
Now my grandson Skyler has expertly filled Eric’s shoes as “Spacemanager,” and I have been able to continue touring without a glitch. So yes, family has been quintessential to my musical career from the beginning to the present.
We live in an ageist and sexist world. Have you experienced this as an artist?
I must be living in a protective bubble because I don’t know that I’ve experienced it personally, at least not as a musician. I think when I was performing on the street it was hard for people to contextualize or define me as a this or a that. I once overheard a couple of businessmen say as they approached, “Let’s see what this wingnut is up to!” Then their jaws dropped when they got close enough to see I was a woman, and they sped on by without stopping to see what that “wingnut” was up to after all. At least I think that’s what happened. Female street musicians were rather rare, let alone helmeted ones. Most people didn’t have a frame of reference for me and what I represented as an artist, and they ended up just being neutral toward me — although that wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for.
On the other hand, life at home with Joel was another story. He was very dominating and controlling, paranoid and jealous, so I really suffered a lot living with him, as much as I benefited, which was also a lot. He could be extremely loving, affectionate, and nurturing; but at the drop of a pin he could fly into a violent rage, and I was the de facto recipient of it all. I’ve been grappling with this aspect of our relationship, and seeing it with heightened awareness thanks to the #metoo movement. The worst part was Joel’s demand that I cut off all connections to my family and friends, a demand he enforced with both emotional and physical abuse. So I lived without any feedback or perspective regarding our relationship, or my own self-worth, for that matter. I was also isolated from the women’s liberation movement, which Joel saw as a serious threat, of course.
Eric was the opposite of that, although like Joel, he was very assertive and dynamic. But Eric never stifled me, wasn’t jealous, and always insisted on full, open, honest communication in our relationship. He was absolutely fearless with his own self-expression, encouraging me to be so myself at every turn, especially with my music, and throughout the 8 years of our marriage.
Thankfully, today I live free of the isolation and abuse I experienced with Joel, and I’m surrounded by loving friends and family. But I certainly observe prejudices such as ageism and sexism happening all around me, as well as other cruel prejudices, not the least of which is speciesism. It’s all too predictable that we are doomed to treat each other only as well as we treat members of other species, who are equally alive and sensitive.
What do you enjoy or find important about being vegan?
I enjoy knowing I’m eating even healthier than I did on my previous vegetarian diet, but especially that I’m eating and living cruelty-free. As a vegetarian I had been turning a blind eye to the suffering of dairy cows and their calves, as well as egg-laying hens, and the poor little male chicks who are thrown alive into grinders as soon as they hatch — although few people realize it. Aside from all that, on a plant-based diet I can enjoy shopping with far fewer confusing choices. I just head for the produce department where I find the great majority of the things I need.
If you could take a single object from this century back to space with you, what would it be?
My cell phone — hahaha — so I could keep in touch with my family, friends, and fans! >(;^D
Thank you once again, your generosity is remarkable. I look forward to hearing from you and I hope I haven’t asked too much of you.