I play music that grows out of the Appalachian folk tradition of my father. This music is a form of storytelling. I am young, but I was born before the internet, before Google and Wikipedia made all knowledge accessible at my fingertips. In that time, there was a thing called World Music. There were individual cultures making the music of their villages, their people, all separate, all around the world. My father played the fiddle in the American South, in an idealistic commune isolated from all the rest, and that was all I knew.
My story is a tragedy of broken ideals. The hippie commune that I lived in was infiltrated by C.I.A. disguised as Russian Orthodox monks and it was destroyed from the inside amidst rumors of pedophilia and cult behavior. I struggled to find community for the rest of my life. I got into Yale, one of America’s best schools, but found that it was rotten on the inside, an academic playground for the country’s rich and powerful. I railed against them. I protested, got gassed and shot by rubber bullets in Quebec City, clung to trees in the Northwest, and looked for death in Alaska. I struggled to communicate, and found my voice by singing. I traveled, hoping to know the world. I shook off my anger, embraced adventure, and picked up pieces of music from everywhere.
“Soul Retrieval” is my fourth full length album. It began in a Moroccan hamam in cloudy Belgium. Muslim women came in from the cold, covered from head to toe in hijab, the curtains hiding the beauty of their bodies, the veil separating man from God. I watched as they removed layer after layer, until naked they sang in the steamy room, washing one another and singing a song for a girl who was preparing her body for marriage. I was reminded of the poems of Hafiz and Rumi, poems about secret gardens and transcendent thoughts. Love poems to God, like the Songs of Solomon in the Bible. Mysterious puzzles like the Zen koans of Japan. These women were absolutely magical. Then they finished bathing, and wrapped themselves up in layers of black cloth until they were invisible to the cold world outside. Then they disappeared.
The next time I was in a room filled with women, I was drinking a special rare tea from Peru which a gentle American herbalist had collected from a female shaman and a dying religion. This was a ceremony called Soul Retrieval, gathering pieces of our soul that were lost when we betrayed our ideals. There were no extreme hallucinations, no mind-blowing insights into the world, just an introduction to myself, and a conversation getting to know that inner voice some call the conscience. After talking to myself for hours in a fascinating conversation, I drove home listening to Yma Sumac’s “Legend of the Sun Virgin.” I said to myself, “I would love this if it weren’t so damn camp and cheeseball.”
I got stranded in New York City when my Honda Civic broke down carrying five artists, two dogs, and several hundred pounds of sculpture headed for a gallery in Brooklyn. I had always hated New York, but it is the greatest place to be without a car, so I gave my broken car to a Haitian immigrant and I moved in with a queer genius hoarder and his three cats in Spanish Harlem. I sat down in a movie theater next to my hero, Lou Reed. I got married to a fire breathing, sword brandishing street performer. I committed myself to the world by giving birth to a beautiful son, and I finally recorded my new album, “Soul Retrieval,” with the help of a man named Tony Visconti, who had previously helped David Bowie and Marc Bolan realize their musical visions. Here it is.