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Copyright © 2018 Shut Up and Listen. All rights reserved.

Published in Bloomington, Indiana

THE SPACE LADY

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

When did you start playing music?

THE SPACE LADY:

I’ve been playing piano since I was about 6, but my sister and I sang duets when we were several years younger. Since our parents were both musicians, my brother & sister & I were fairly steeped in music since birth.

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Why did you switch from accordion to keyboard?

Have you played any other instruments?

THE SPACE LADY:

An out-of-control drunk smashed my accordion while I was playing in the Boston subway in 1982. Just before that happened, I had noticed another street musician playing the brand new Casiotone MT-40, and I was fascinated with it. So, after singing carols a cappella for a few weeks through the Christmas season, I garnered enough tips to buy myself one on Christmas Eve night. I have never felt the need to upgrade and play the same model to this day.

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Can you tell us about the hat that you wear during performances?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

Shortly after Joel and I met in San Francisco in 1970, we saw the winged helmet in a costume shop, and (at his insistence) we bought it for $15. At that time he had been building conceptual sculptures and making 3-D plywood paintings which he adorned with blinking mini-bulbs. The red ball on top of the helmet was an irresistible invitation to him to electrify, and the little bulb fit inside perfectly! We were living in an artist colony at the base of Telegraph Hill at the time, and Joel proudly paraded the helmet around among the other artists every day. A year or so later he began to develop a musical act as a solo guitarist, playing through an old Echo-plex and singing cover tunes, and he planned to wear the helmet during his acts, calling himself “The Cosmic Man.” But due to his fear of being busted for evading the draft, he never actually got up the courage to perform in public. Years later, after I began playing my Casio keyboard on the streets in Boston/Cambridge, he suggested I wear the helmet as a “theatrical device,” and when I reluctantly complied, the response from passers-by was overwhelmingly enthusiastic! After that, Joel began designing more hats for me – which were quite eye-catching, in fact – but the winged helmet was by far the most popular, and it eventually became my trademark.

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Who are some musicians you have been compared to?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

I’ve been compared to Enya several times, but most often I’ve been compared to Lori Anderson, which to me was a real stretch of the imagination.

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Who are some musicians you looked up to when you started playing music?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

I was enthralled by Laura Nyro before I ever dreamed of becoming a performing musician myself. I saw her performing live on PBS in 1969 (the night of the moon landing, in fact). And although she accompanied herself on piano, I most often thought of myself as a folk-singing guitarist, so I admired (and envied, to be sure) Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Joni Mitchell.

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Who are some current musicians who inspire you?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

I don’t listen to much new music now because I’m so busy playing music myself, revamping my old songs, adding some new ones, and writing some songs of my own. I will say I love the late Izzy Kamakawiwo’ole’s music, the late Eva Cassidy’s singing, and all of KT Tunstall’s songs, especially “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.”

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Has music been your primary source of income?

What other jobs have you had?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

As a teenager and young woman I babysat, cleaned houses, cleaned motel rooms, worked in a Tastee Freez ice cream shop, and in 1970 I worked in the underground vault of the Bank of America World Headquarters in San Francisco, handling municipal bonds for a year to support Joel as he struggled to become a recognized conceptual artist and sculptor. In 1972, after we “crash-landed” in Boston, I panhandled and sold our poetry books, collages, and drawings on the street. Through the 80s and 90s I played music on the street, which was our only income until we finally decided to apply for welfare in 1993 after repeated bouts of homelessness with 3 children. In 2000 I left Joel and California behind, gave up my busking career, moved to Colorado where my parents still lived, and went to a local college to get a nursing degree, thinking that would be a good way to help them deal with their declining health as they entered their nineties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Do you prefer playing in venues or on the street?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

I still play on the street occasionally when I drive the 300 miles down to Santa Fe. I love the element of surprise playing for people who have never heard of me and don’t know quite what to make of me. But it can be very frustrating, too, when people don’t seem to notice or care, not to mention trying to compete with all the traffic noise while playing through a small battery amp. Playing in venues is much more satisfying in the sense that my sound is huge and powerful, and people actually listen and cheer me on, which is absolutely thrilling! But I owe the very existence of The Space Lady to the kind and generous people who supported me on the street over the course of two decades, so I could never disparage that, as hard as it was to make a living at it.

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

Have you ever played in a band or have you always played solo?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

In the 70s Joel and I put together a 4-piece ambient music band we called “Blind Juggler.” It lasted less than a year, although we did play a show at the famous punk club in Kenmore Square called “The Rat.” Joel wore the winged helmet and the rest of us wore garish over-the-head Halloween masks, which made it so hard to see all we could do was make the best sounding noise we could manage. Thankfully, the audience was so wasted they seemed to actually like it.

Decades later, after I remarried, my singer/songwriter husband, Eric, and I played together as a duo, with me accompanying him on accordion and flute as he performed his original “Songs of Awakening” on an acoustic guitar. That lasted several years into our marriage before he discovered The Space Lady and got excited about managing TSL’s re-launch and new career as a stage performing, touring artist.

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

How has your relationship with music changed over the years?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

Over my lifetime my tastes have expanded, and I have become much more appreciative of many more types of music. I also have more compassion for other musicians’ attempts, knowing how difficult it is to develop a style of your own, and how much courage it takes to perform your music in public. On the other hand, I have become much more absorbed with creating my own music rather than listening to other people’s music, a situation I’m not that happy about but which seemed necessary as I re-launched my artistic life. But now that my grandson, Skyler, has stepped into Eric’s shoes as The Space Manager, I’m already being exposed to lots more new music.

 

SHUT UP AND LISTEN:

How do you feel that being a woman has affected your music and the way others perceive it?

 

THE SPACE LADY:

I don’t know if I can answer that question objectively. I don’t really identify with either gender strongly while I’m playing, I just start expressing myself and go into a sort of artistic trance. I’ve been told that I transform hard rock songs by giving them a softer, gentler take, specifically “Born to Be Wild” and “Radar Love.” I don’t think my music appeals more to one sex than to another, as far as I can tell. But I do know that the great majority of buskers were men throughout the two decades I was actively busking for a living, at least here in the U.S. For that reason alone I think if anything being a woman actually helped me draw attention and gain support. I always thought it was interesting that I was so idolized by gay men, but rarely approached by lesbians, although I was trying to appeal to everyone. Thinking back, I remember I was once invited to perform at a lesbian club south of Market Street and had a terrific reception. But I was never invited back, nor invited to play in any other clubs. Of course, I certainly didn’t spend any time looking for indoor gigs…I was much too afraid of playing to a standing audience before Eric came into my life and gave me the support and encouragement that had been lacking previously.

TSL performing "Synthesize Me"