The Living Jarboe.
Let me introduce my friend Jarboe to you.
To most of you, her work over the years will be well known. She was a
dynamic influence on the growth of the Swans and has engaged in a host
of various projects perhaps most explicitly culminating in a series of
deeply personal works, such as the Anhedoniac release. Her art and indeed
her life has been well documented. I would urge you to check out her lovingly
I am not sure if I can remember how I first got to speak to Jarboe. I
think I wrote to the Swans and she wrote back. Gradually, we began to
communicate more. I have the dubious honour of twice, due to personal
circumstances, turning down the offer to tour as support to the Swans.
Decisions I obviously deeply regret! As time progressed, the Swans ended
and when I was on tour with Pigface, Jarboe flew up from Atlanta to meet
me in Philadelphia. Later, we met up in Atlanta when I was there with
the Pink Dots. In between, I contributed some sounds that Jarboe incorporated
into her Anhedoniac release. She interviewed me for her website and I
often thought about reciprocating.
I’m doing this because I have been moved by Jarboe’s words
over the years. She is eloquent, articulate and in keeping with her music,
rigorously honest. We conducted this interview via a series of e-mails.
What follows is an unedited transcript. I have done this deliberately,
because I believe that it is important to concentrate on her words, her
thoughts and her ideas.
Many thanks are extended to Jarboe for her time, patience and support.
1. How has the subject of mortality or more specifically,
the fragility of life been represented in your work?
I write about the fragility. I portray it with my voice. It is at the
core of what I do. It has always been at the core whether in the context
of Swans or World of Skin, Beautiful People Ltd, Blackmouth, or my various
solo albums or even the album I just finished as lyricist / singer with
the band, Neurosis. I was a lonely little girl who escaped through books
and day dreaming. I would stare out my window as a child and create my
own world in my imagination. I have always lived with an ever present
sense of FEAR. And even as a child, teachers noticed I was “unhappy.”
They wrote this to my parents on my report cards. I was a good student
and at the top of my class in reading and English, yet I was alone and
an outsider. My brother died when I was only 20 and that also changed
me for the rest of my life. I was with him when he had the rope climbing
accident and it is burned in my memory. Then after I had a major car crash
a year later, and then an incident in Israel where I was in the midst
of a racial riot/brawl, and then a fractured skull accident of 2001 which
resulted in seizures and a complete change of consciousness.......I learned
even more about fragility.
2. I’m curious to know if you feel the issue of fragility
(or vulnerability) has been dealt with adequately by other artists, and
if so, whose work influenced your journey?
Yes and that is probably a good reason why I became a singer. Music got
me through an intense period of “awakening” in my adolescence
and formative years through college. I was lonely as a child and songs
and books were my only world. As for people whose work penetrated me ,
a few names : Janis Joplin, Marianne Faithfull, Maria Callas, Sarah Vaughan,
Peter Gabriel, Muddy Waters, Glenn Gould performing anything Bach - especially
the Goldberg Variations, even the passion and pomp of Led Zeppelin and
Spooky Tooth (blues based psychedelic rock)..... Also with regard to the
state of FRAGILE:
I have had my heart shattered . It is shattered as I speak to you now.
I wonder these days quite seriously if you can die from a broken heart.
Because if it is possible, this one will surely kill me. It is that severe
and that relentless. My last lover was my best friend. When you lose your
best friend, it feels like death. When his ears are deaf to all you feel
and speak, life itself becomes unreal. In addition to doing as much physical
exercise as I can endure - such as 5 mile runs and weight lifting, I have
started meditation again , as well as joined a Community Outreach program
volunteering in hospitals. I recently visited a little boy who was going
to have major surgery and was frightened. He began to relax and smile
as I sang songs to him and showed him Bartholomew. I am going to try to
build a supportive network of people . I am trying to save my life. To
save my sanity. To be a SOLDIER once again in my life. Once again . Once
again. I bring all of this to my work. My opening song these days says
: “I’m with you to forget my loneliness.” This is what
I am saying to MUSIC and this is also what I am saying to the AUDIENCE
who has come to hear me sing.
3. Do you feel compelled to reveal
yourself to others? Is this such an intrinsic factor to your art that
you are unafraid of suffering as a consequence?
Yes, I do feel driven to be vulnerable and “real” to anyone
who cares to experience my work. It is not an agenda, per se. It is that
I have no reason to do music or wrote songs or perform them if it is a
lie. This is why I feel outside of the “Music Business” and
am more inclined to aspects of the art world. I do not think that has
always been the case. It is just that in today’s climate, music
is for the most part sterile and I cannot find comfort or enlightenment
4. On stage, you appear intensely
focussed. I wonder to what extent you feel in control of yourself, of
your actions and do you feel as if you have ever gone further than you
would have liked?
Yes. And It is not only a focus. It is a complete transporting to some
place else. I remain in control of the “character” or “face
of Eve “ at all times. NO, I don’t ever feel that I have gone
further than I would have liked. It is a discipline . I will add that
the only time I have lost control and gone a LOT further than I would
have liked has been in my failed personal life. I bring my intensity as
well as my innocence as well as my at times theatrical and highly expressive
communication skills to my personal elationships. I am very passionate
and giving and I hold nothing back when I love. I am 100 % generous. Lately,
in studying Buddhism, I have realized that my problem results when I place
any expectations upon the person I love. To even be loved back is an expectation.
And I cannot EXPECT anything at all from another person. Also I cannot
be the woman needed to do the work that I do and then be a mouse / moth
in my real life. It just doesn’t work that way.
5. Perfomers by definition, perform.
I am fascinated by your account of the process of performing. You also
clearly feel comfortable in talking about yourself. It is as though you
describe two Jarboe’s, the performer and the personal you. I wonder
if your art is a bridge between various polarities, such as:
I have never analyzed it as a bridge, but
i do see that as true. Somewhere in the midst of the performer and the
daily “me” is Jarboe, the person. You cannot have one without
the other. And as much as I do not sleep in a rusty chastity belt with
hooks, it is a metaphor. And to know me, you need to understand my work
and not see it as something I put on a shelf.
6. It is hard to not reflect on your work without referencing
Swans and in particular, the dynamic between Michael and yourself. I think
that you have both managed to graphically illustrate your individual and
collective vulnerabilities. It is painful to listen to “You See
Through Me,” from Michael’s solo album, Drainland. In a sense
I feel quite honoured to be exposed or allowed into an experience that
you and Michael shared. The fact that the conversation was recorded adds
to this feeling for me. The obvious question is; why do you feel the need
to share such feelings with others?
Michael looked at that song as a Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf
type vignette. I must interject that I loved the film The Hours. We took
something personal and real but we gave it new meaning by used it to create
a piece of music. “Artists” have always done that. It is a
powerful song because of that component. We both hear it now as a work
of music .
7. How is the place of your birth
and the area you lived in as a child reflected in your music?
It is reflected by the use of my numerous dialects and character portrayals.
I lived in rural Mississippi , urban New Orleans , and Atlanta as a child.
8. Do you think the musical traditions
of the deep south influenced your growth as a musician?
Well, Chris Griffin who runs a wonderful
studio here in Atlanta and is a top musician and engineer and is from
the North, told me only last week that it was a “blessing”
to have been raised in the South and exposed to such deeply emotive and
heartfelt music. I do know that the many street musicians in New Orleans
- along with the Mardi Gras parades, made a big impression upon me as
a child. The Holy Roller and snake handling revival tent experiences I
witnessed in rural Mississippi must have done something , too!
9. You have included snatches
of taped conversations with you as a child in your music. If you, as the
Jarboe of today were able to have a direct conversation with yourself
as a child, what would you like to say?
I would ask her to share with me what it
is she wanted deep inside that was a great secret. I would tell her to
not betray her own self by doing for other people over taking care of
herself. I would explain that people resent those who do too much for
them and I would explain that she will be used by predators who will hurt
her terribly if she makes herself last in the equation.
10. What motivates you to keep making music?
It is something inside me that is no different
from breathing air . It is an essential part of keeping me alive. Music
is the very reason I am alive. I considered in my late twenties what was
the purpose of me taking up space on this planet. I was without purpose
then and I could not justify being alive at all. When I began doing music,
I felt that everything made sense from my life up to that point. And I
found the sense of purpose. It is a form of “being in love “for
me. Love is THE most important thing in my opinion . I have loved very
deeply in my life . I am looking for love now and waiting for it to also
find me right now, in fact.
11. Are you able to feel detached from your music? I ask this
from an emotional perspective. For example, Anhedoniac seemed, at least
to me, as if it were a cathartic experience for you. Do you retain powerful
feelings about your music? Can you isolate yourself from the feelings
that you had at the time you made the music? Do feelings change over a
period of time? Do you still feel as if you are having a dynamic relationship
with Anhedoniac for example or are you able to distance yourself from
the experience and the feelings?
No, Anhedoniac is still alive within me. The woman who composed Anhedoniac
was in a lot of pain, yes. And even though the pain I feel right this
moment has a different color and different type of intensity, it is still
related. I am not afraid of the word “cathartic” because instead
of looking at it as if I was self indulgent , I look at it as being 100
% honest and pure and real and naked. The reaction to that c.d. has shown
me that my audience finds meaning in their OWN life from this attitude
and so if it is cathartic, it is cathartic universally and not only for
me. I used to think that people changed and feelings changed but the older
I get, the more I feel that you are the way you are and that you do not
really change. You can learn and develop TECHNIQUES to control yourself
, yes, but it is always a learned behavioral technique that gradually
becomes part of you - like a recipe.
12. Tell me about Batholomew. He seems an important part of
He has been with me since I was 8 years old. He is fragile so he does
not travel with me. Yet he sleeps in my bed every night. When I hug him
to my heart, my heart swells with joy. Bartholomew is my one true dear
one and I love hi m more than anything. He is very, very wise.