Sunday, October 24, 2010
SLIT interview: The Fabulous...MAGGIE GOLSTON!!
MG: I was always obsessed with music. My father actually still had a reel-to-reel, and a hi-fi store client connect. When I was two, three, four there was a nightly ritual of Dad as DJ. He gave me his LP collection when I was a poor college student, and I am ashamed to say I sold Mesa's Eastside Records a good bit, but I held onto all the staples (lots of 50s-60s jazz, folk, and rock, 50 Monk LPs, all kinds of Beatles, Dylan, The Band etc.).
I always loved to sing, whether or not I was any good at it. I am very lucky to have been raised by a father with excellent taste and a mother who didn't pimp me into any of that overtrained children's singing. I took piano for a few years and am terrible, though at 9 I could play the "Love Boat" theme.
So my parents split (there was a hideous book and record-splitting negotiation to which I was privy that was so Woody Allen), and when I was able to join the school marching band in 6th grade, I asked my dad, kind of pathetically, to choose my instrument. He told me in no uncertain terms that I would learn to play the soprano sax. But when I got to band class and said that I wanted a soprano sax like John Coltrane's, he smirked. He was a smirker. "We don't have a soprano saxophone section."
According to him, the closest instrument to a soprano was a flute. I could smell bullshit while these boys clinked their braces with their alto reeds, but I was new and scared.
So I play the flute. I kept with it until I was 15 or so, and while I could never be classically proficient, I can eke out a nice "Girl from Ipanema." My dad hates the flute.
Sorry, I'm rambling. Big surprise when my record had 6 songs and was 36 minutes. You can hack the hell out of this if you want to.
The Jewish thing came with a bonus for me. Believe it or not, it was the cantor of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue who recognized that I could sing. The crazy Yiddishe crone representing the temple sisterhood, who told every 13-year-old's career fortune (usually doctor) reached Edith Bunker levels of Brooklynese as she said "I think we found our next cayanntahhh!"
So no fancy private lessons-- or a few, but just for a month or two-- but lots of classical singing. I refused to do any kind of show choir, opting instead to grab to brass ring of the alto solo in the Weber mass. Yeah, I was so goth. Bach Cantatas with creepy recitatives.
Guitar is all self-taught, with a few exceptions: this awesome hippie dude gave me one lesson and said "You have to pick a first song you won't regret." Best advice; we decided on "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Then a creeper offered a free lesson to try to get into my skirts. Naim Amor always shows me cool stuff, most of which I promptly forget.
I play a late 70s Guild D40 and a newish Gretsch Rancher replica. I have two Trace Elliot amps, but they are full of troubling quirks, and with my stage anxiety, it's easier to just go in direct.
SLIT: Do you play any other instruments? Have you considered playing drums?
MG: Oops. Got most of that. I love playing percussion, and I love playing a drum or two, but the kit confounds me. I did a lot of background singing early on in Tucson, and that often involved random percussive duty.
I worship drummers, actually. I mean, Tasha? She is just too right on. And we just lost a great drummer, Aharon Lund (Cadillac Steakhouse), to NYC. They took Amare, and now this--
SLIT: What was the first song you wrote? What was it about?
MG: Okay, I swear that my mother remembers a toddler favorite called "Busy Bee Was on the Ledge," but the first song I actually wrote and finished all of myself was a song about my friend and mentor, Doug Hopkins (Psalms/Algebra Ranch/Gin Blossoms), and the Guadalupe Graveyard-- it was a country song, but there is always goth. And my song about the graveyard was finished before his, even if his sold a kagillion copies and mine was both precious and maudlin.
SLIT: What was your first gig?
MG: I sang with The Host at Club Congress. I had strep. For those who don't know, The Host was the project of Tucson's own elf, Charles Ellick, or "Odin." He had a polygamous thing going on with several young women called "Hosties." I have spent decades since convincing all and sundry that, no way, no how was I Family. He did, however, make me wear all white that night and called me his "Valkyrie." He actually wanted my stage name to be Medea.
So speaking of drummers, One of my favorites, Dennis 'Spyder' Rhodes, was the only normal human up ins. It didn't last. But I will absolutely defend the decision to sing with them. If you could get past the whole Spahn Ranch vibe, you would hear some really interesting stuff happening. He put the freak in folk a long time before Devendra Banhart.
SLIT: How did you first get started with the music scene in Tucson? What's your opinion of it today?
MG: So after The Host, Two Slit hall-of-famers heard me sing The Coventry Carol to harp accompaniment (so that happened--) at a holiday show at Dodajk (now Solar Culture), David Slutes and Gene Ruley. David ended up having me sing on a solo single and then on a Sidewinders record, and taught me a ton about production. Ruley would see me around and say ridiculously kind things to me about my singing (I thought he was our Peter Buck, our Johnny Marr), and we played together a couple of years later briefly, but never publicly, in a proto- version of The Drakes. On the strength of the faith of those two and Doug, I began to try to play guitar and write songs.
I should say, too, that Al Perry was such a good friend and role model, and singing with him has been always a pleasure indeed, even when I have to learn 4 Carpenters songs in a day and a half and, completely terrified (I have developed significantly more stage fright in the last 10 years or so, and am considering a Jandek exile), but never a girl to avoid an obvious punchline, I introduced myself as "The self-image of Karen Carpenter. It's meta y'all."
I always have love for the current scene. I love the breadth here in terms of genres and sub-genres, and of generations; I love that a real folk band like the Missing Parts play in the underpass, that Amy Rude went electric, that Chris Black and Gabriel Sullivan are concocting hybrids with Salvador that are alchemical. And Howe Gelb, whom I very much admire, but don't know that well, though long. And there's this new band full of young freaky geniuses called God of the Sea screaming away-- I just heard a rough mix of their CD.
And yeah, it's hard for girls, and it's worse for women. Two tears in a bucket. Motherfuck it.
SLIT: Where did you get your interest in writing? Would you enjoy carrying on a rhyming conversation? Would you ever sing a lecture to your writing students?
MG: I don't know. My mom taught me to read before I could really walk. I was creepy. I always always wrote as a kid. I'm not sure how to answer this question.
I love all rhyming. Rhyming is beautiful. So of course we can rock the iambic abab cdcd efef gg in the halls at Pima. And my students would not bat an eye if I sang to them; the only way I have found to teach the drudgery of rhetorical analysis is playing the Catskills up in there. 3 sets a night, folks!
SLIT: Does music save souls? How about books?
MG: Yes, music saves people, and books. Kind of obvious. So which of each have saved mine, maybe? Like, for real? Poets John Berryman and Frank O'Hara. Jerzy Kosinki's "A Painted Bird" Salinger's "Nine Stories." Maugham's "The Razor's Edge." McCullers' "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." And Lorca. My Pandora station, which I prune like topiary, is called "Duende Radio."
Music is tougher. It's no joke; even in a terrible situation, I would still probably turn some really tragic shit. I know that REM and The Smiths and Dylan and Joy Division got me through high school. Richard Thompson both saved and changed my life. Leonard Cohen all along. And seeing Emmylou live in a small club in Utah in '99 when I was really miserable was a liferaft. Rough gig, grad school in Utah. And Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia, Magnolia Electric Company) saved me in North Carolina. Kristen Hersh (Throwing Muses) was really important to me, still is, as an example of how to be real.
Really, being able to play music, even alone, has saved me plenty.
SLIT: Fave Movies? Any other faves?
MG: Movies: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Lebowski, Paris, Texas, Coal Miner's Daughter, Days of Heaven. Number: 8. Letter: O. Flowers: Dahlias (currently obsessed). Slushie: Cherry.
SLIT: What shitty music do you like? What great music do you really not prefer? Is it importantt that people know this?
MG: Like, okay. You know I wanted to be a straight shooter, Howard, and now we're one toke over the line, one exit too far on the pretentiousness turnpike.
Let's say that post-John Waters or post-generic music interview glut or post-Idol or post-whatever you like, there is really no such thing as a "guilty pleasure." I really think it is the most self-conscious moment in the interviews I read, both because it's ubiquitous, and in that it requires one to change subject position, to speculate about what will please. I imagine them briefly considering what would be truly shameful, but most frequently, they default to a hipster inside joke or something really good and not at all odd or bad, like 70s country or Rihanna.
I am too old for the SOBIG [so bad it's good] joke. Mister Waters said it best: "I have no time for irony. I can't afford it."
So I am thinking that what you don't like or understand is more revealing is, of course, if only in its novelty, the converse gesture: the 'shameful displeasure.' There is inevitably great music, really seminal shit, that you don't like. Instead of thinking about what will please, you think about what will, by definition, not please most music people. Your displeasure is normally private; you nod along when your bandmates and internet friends discuss these records you find useless, or at best, historic but for you unlistenable, like it's biological.
I have been asking friends to think about this lately; some prefer the term 'blind spots.' Necessarily, they are generally accepted as part of the great rock canon; or even more shamefully, they can be jazz legends or country greats. So here, without justification or distracting snark, are some of mine:
Guided By Voices
SLIT: Would you rather perform onstage? Or in the center of a crowd?
MG: I would rather hide, usually. But once I get over the fright, I'm fine wherever. I like to sing at my friend Kristen's pool. That's fun.
SLIT: What inspires you?
MG: My friends. This place. Hoping to fall in love. Desire as production. My dogs with their light bulb heads. My family, especially niece Zoe who is 4 and will freestyle with me. And too, a few ghosts who might be listening.