Episode 1: Susan Alcorn
Magdalena visits pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn at her home in Baltimore for a conversation on her transition from country music to experimental improvisation, her experiences navigating the world of audience/performer dynamics, and her time spent practicing Deep Listening with Pauline Oliveros.
Theme Music: Moonrise by Podington Bear
Hello and welcome to the first episode of the INPUT/OUTPUT podcast. I’m your host, Magdalena Abrego, and this week’s conversation has brought me to Baltimore.
I’m on the quest for a sandwich. I decide to walk. I’ve never been to Baltimore and getting some time on the sidewalk feels like a good way to acquaint myself with the city. The first thing I notice is how tall the buildings are and I take a moment to promise myself that that is the most Bostonian thought I’ll ever have. My eyes are glued to the walking directions I’ve pulled up on my phone, and as I diligently wander in the direction of a coffee shop, I wonder just how out of place I look. When I arrive at the shop and walk up to the counter, the barista says, “Whoa, you look like an urban hiker.” I can’t help but laugh. He’s right. I have a massive backpack on filled with podcasting equipment and I silently wonder how it is that I’ve made it to this point in my life. An urban hiker traversing concrete mountains in search of…conversations on experimental music? I sit down with my coffee, and open google maps, the swiss army knife of all urban hikers. I anxiously triple check my travel plans. I’m in town for a conversation with Susan Alcorn and I am terrified. As if meeting one of the most innovative pedal steel guitarists of our time isn’t intimidating enough, I’ll also be recording the whole thing. It feels really vulnerable, which makes me uncomfortable. Vulnerability is not my thing. And podcasting? Well, this is the first episode I’ve ever recorded. It’s a lot of firsts and a lot of nervous energy. But, that’s kind of the point of this project. The In Conversation podcast is my opportunity to connect with other musicians and have the kinds of conversations that uncover the human parts of us that we don’t always talk about on stage or in the rehearsal room. And it’s the human part of me that makes my palms sweat and heart race as I knock on the door of Susan’s lilac-colored home. After greeting her husband and shaking the paws of each of her adorable cats, we start at the beginning. How did Susan end up in Baltimore?
Music: Invierno Porteno – Performed by Susan Alcorn, Written by Astor Piazzolla
S: I came here in 2007. I was living in Houston at the time and I just felt like I needed to maybe grow a little bit more and I didn’t feel like I could do it where I was living at the time. I thought about New York, Philly, and Baltimore. Mainly because those were mainly the three cities I played in whenever I would tour, cause I used to drive and it’d be like I’d drive two days before I’d get to my first gig sometimes. The distances there are pretty far apart. So, my first experience with Baltimore was in 2004. I was invited to the High Zero Festival and you know, all these great musicians were playing there. Some of them I knew who they were and I admired them, most of them I just didn’t know. So anyway, I moved to Baltimore because New York wanted a teacher that was like twenty three years old and just out of college and they could tell them what to do all the time. And Philly, you needed a Master’s degree which I didn’t have. And then in Baltimore, you needed basically two legs so you could walk and if you couldn’t do that, they’d figure out something for you. So, here I came. So Baltimore…you know there are all these signs, “Keep Austin Weird.” Well, Baltimore has always been weird, and it’s sort of delightfully weird and everybody knows it. I mean it’s like…you know, if you think of John Waters and Edgar Allen Poe, or something, you know there’s just that kind of off-kilter goofiness that is really refreshing. There’s a really active DIY kind of music scene that’s not- people do electronics and people make weird sounds and that sort of thing. And then you’ve got Peabody Conservatory here, so there’s good musicians. So, for a small town- small city, you know, maybe 500,000 people, there’s a lot going on and the audiences here are very open. So that’s been good for me, ‘cause they just want to like you, I think, in some ways.
M: Yeah. That’s amazing.
S: Yeah, you know, I’m an hour for D.C., two hours from Philly, and depending on traffic, three to twelve hours from New York. So I can play in New York. I sometimes feel that if I maybe lived a little bit closer I’d play there more, because people don’t invite you if you’re, you know, 200 miles away. And if I’m going to do a gig, it needs to pay for- you know, I can’t be losing money on it. You know, with tolls and all that.
M: Right, there are the logistics. For me it’s always refreshing to meet a musician like yourself though who doesn’t live in New York, because I think there’s this mythology of New York that I don’t know if I believe. And maybe that’s just me not living there, but…yeah.
S: I believe part of it, because there’s so much- there’s just this weird energy there.
S: And sometimes I think that maybe it kind of turns me off- there’s some aspects- but there’s…you know, just these great musicians doing really wonderfully weird things. So I think if I was around that more maybe I’d learn more. My husband’s family, they’re from Southwest Colorado and Northern New Mexico where they’ve been for the last 400 years. So, he wants to move back there, so eventually that’s what we’re going to do.
S: But, it’s hard to find gigs.
M: I have to admit, I don’t know about the scene down there. Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah, I guess I agree with you on that. I’ve kind of waited for this moment where I’m spending more time in New York than I am in Boston to make that move. People always just talk to me about making that move. They sort of expect it, I think.
S: Right, that’s like a thing right?
M: Right, I mean I go down there a lot for gigs for the exact reasons you just described, but it’s still just not quite right for me at this moment in my life, but, to be determined, in any case…
S: Well, you got a lot more life to live, you know, you change your mind and go somewhere else. Who knows.
M: Who knows. Speaking of cities, you spent a lot of your life in Houston. You know, when I read about your career and I zoom out and look at it with a bird’s eye view, I think it’s- it makes a lot of sense in a weird way. I think there are all these amazing serendipitous moments and accidental discoveries that are typical of the impossible-but-true type origin story. You know, I read one of your earliest musical recollections being playing under your mom’s piano while you play the pedals.
S: Oh, yeah doing the pedals.
M: And isn’t that beautiful now that you’re a pedal steel player?
S: Yeah, I never put that together until a couple weeks ago, like oh, pedals!
M: It’s funny and it’s amazing, but of course, it’s more complicated, right? I think just saying that you played country western music for years and years and years but then focusing on what you’re doing now doesn’t totally make sense, I would love to hear more about that time that you played country western music, because I think it provides this really fascinating context to what you’re doing now.
S: Well, when I was playing country, I was also you know listening to John Coltrane, and I don’t know if you’ve read all my things that I wrote on my website when I was in one of those moods.
M: I did.
S: So, I mean I first heard him when I was like fourteen and I heard Varese when I was like maybe thirteen, because Frank Zappa, the Mother’s of Invention, their first album, Freakout- they had a list of all the people that they admired or whatever and Frank Zappa was a huge admirer of Edgar Varese. So, I bought his album…I bought an album: Utah Symphony Orchestra playing Ameriques, which just floors me to this day. So, we lived near a lake and I had like this little kind of row boat or canoe or something. There was like these- it was in central Florida, in Orlando, outside of Orlando- so I rode the boat to this dock where- and ordered the thing from a library- I mean from a music store- a record store, because you know, there’s no internet then, I just think oh do you have it? They say, oh we can get that for you, and you know, when my parents were away, I’d dance to the music, I’d jump up and down on the couch and you know, twirl around to *sings*
M: To Varese?
S: To Varese. So all that was in me as well as blues and some other things when I started playing country music. I don’t know if you want me to just go through my whole musical whatever.
M: Oh, I mean, please.
S: That’s a long answer to a short question.
M: No, no, I mean, I think…that’s very interesting. Did you feel like your identity was divided in any way in terms of listening versus performance? Or was there always this interest in putting that music onto your instrument?
S: Yeah there always was. I wasn’t very good at it, and so I had to work at it a while before I could even play in public, but it was always there.
M: Well, I mean, it’s a daunting task. For instance, translating Varese onto pedal steel guitar. When you were experimenting with that translation, was there any sort of desire for precision or was there concern over the limitations of making that kind of music on your instrument?
S: Well, for one, with Varese Amerique, I didn’t get very far and I couldn’t find other musicians to play that with me. Music is a journey for all of us and I’ve kind of traversed the genres. When I was in high school, I was so into blues. Willy McTell, Bessie Smith, Elizabeth Cotton. And then, groups like the Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, that was popular. So, I was kind of into that. Then, when I got to college, I made this decision, “I’m never going to play electric instruments again.” Country rock came in and it just sort of seemed like a refreshing break to me. The harmonies- it was all sort of major scales, major kind of chords. You know, it just spoke to me then at that part of my life. Then, I played dobro because I heard Mike Aldridge, who was this brilliant dobro player who was from around this area. So, I was really into that, and I thought I got really good at it, although I don’t think I probably was. And then, I saw somebody playing a pedal steel guitar at a bar. I think I was 21 years old, just old enough to drink, when I was in college. The next day I thought, “I’m going to get one of these and learn how to play it.” The people who played it and made it sound the most beautiful to my ears were musicians like Lloyd Greene, Buddy Emmons, and Jimmy Day, who mostly played country music. Buddy Emmons could play anything he wanted to. He was an absolute virtuoso. But there’s just a certain deceptively simple, very direct quality to that kind of music and also the pedal steel guitar when it plays that. I just thought it was beautiful. So I got a guitar and nobody would teach me how to play it. There were other pedal steel players. I was living in DeKalb, Illinois then, going to Northern Illinois University. Out in that part of Illinois, there were some steel guitar players and they were kind of redneck, you know, kind of set in their ways. They didn’t want to share their secrets, and probably sharing with this barely out of teenage woman, you know, back then, you know. ‘Cause it was such a male dominated field. You know, with country music, if you say, “I’m with the band,” they would automatically assume you’re the singer.
M: Oh yeah.
S: Shortly before I left Houston, or shortly before I stopped playing country music, there was a country star named Johnny Lee, who was kind of a big star for a couple years when the movie Urban Cowboy came out which is what kind of really did a lot for country music. And he was sitting on this bus and somebody introduced me to him and he goes, “A woman steel guitar player! Well I’ve seen everything!” I mean, he wasn’t being mean, he was just, you know-
M: Yeah, I mean that’s the culture I guess.
S: So there was a little bit of that and when I started playing steel, before I was very good at it, some of the musicians treated me horribly, which was probably good. It made me grow up, but I kinda got a bit of chip on my shoulder, which I think has stuck with me in some ways, good and bad.
Break Music: Ellipsis by Podington Bear
To learn more about Susan Alcorn, purchase her music, or to stay updated on her live performances, visit susanalcorn.net. In this episode we feature excerpts of Susan’s album, Soledad, featuring the music of Astor Piazolla, available now from Relative Pitch Records. The next episode of the In Conversation podcast will be released in two weeks, but in the meantime, you can hear more from Susan Alcorn in a bonus episode we are releasing on our Patreon page. Subscribe now at patreon.com/inputoutputmag to access the episode when it drops next week. Plus, when you become a subscriber you automatically unlock exclusive articles from the first issue of INPUT/OUTPUT Magazine. All of this, for the price of a cup of coffee. Now, back to my conversation with Susan Alcorn.
S: Later, getting towards maybe late 80s-early 90s, you know, when I was driving to these gigs I’d be listening to like Albert Ayler or something. I’d be doing these solos and I’d be thinking I’d play it like *sings* like a march like a soldier, *sings* I’m exaggerating, cause I really love that music. It’s beautiful. And people are like “Somethin’ doesn’t sound right,” because they listen to that and only that.
M: Right, they’re like, “We can tell that someone in this band has been listening to Ayler.”
S: Yeah, of course, they couldn’t tell that it was Ayler, but it was something weird, something that wasn’t country.
M: That’s so interesting, I mean it’s the nuance, I guess, that gives it away.
S: Yeah, and then I kind of made a separation. It used to be, “Well, I’m going to modernize pedal steel in country music, because everything’s been the same for so many years.” Then I kind of disabused myself of that and thought, “Just play the tunes. Have fun with it, but don’t try to force anything.” Then, I just started enjoying it a lot more. I kind of, I’d say ‘96-‘97 is when things pretty much took a break for me. In 1990 I met Pauline Oliveros, if you…
M: Oh yes, absolutely.
S: I didn’t want to assume anything.
M: I was going to ask you about your connection with Pauline Oliveros.
S: My daughters took piano lessons from Pauline’s mom.
M: That’s so wild, so how did you two meet?
S: Pauline Oliveros had organized a retreat, her first deep listening retreat in the Sangre de Cristo mountains outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico. I kind of wanted to learn a little bit more about it, so I called her up on the phone or maybe she called me, I don’t know. Those were different days back then. Nobody had cell phones, obviously. I called Buddy Emmons on the phone once. I could hardly speak. So then, we talked and I told her I was using a just intonation, which I no longer use, but at the time I was and then she was talking about her accordion and how she had a just intonation for that. So I went to the retreat and we stayed friends. My daughters took lessons with her mom, who’s a piano teacher, and her mother was a piano teacher. Pauline’s grandmother and grandfather were founders of the symphony orchestra. This was 1900 or 1901. And how they made a living was they would busk downtown. They would roll her piano- luckily Houston is flat- downtown and his violin and then they’d play and the end of the day, they’d roll it back. So I would see Pauline whenever she came to Houston. We played together a couple of times. It very much kind of widened my perspective on music in ways that is not easy for me to explain.
M: Sure. I have so many questions…I mean…how did you get Pauline Oliveros’s phone number? How did you know that the retreat was happening?
S: There was a little ad in this- there was this magazine called Ear Magazine and it was maybe a lot of the electronics composers from back then and free jazz. This is getting on 30 years ago. Maybe it was 30 years ago. So there would be a little floppy record on the inside that you could tear out and play with different tunes and stuff. Back then, magazines like that- you could find them at a newsstand, so I don’t remember how I found that Ear Magazine, but maybe her phone number was on it, I don’t know.
M: That’s so funny. Wow. That’s amazing. And how long did that retreat last?
S: It was a week, and it was in the mountains. We weren’t supposed to bring instruments. So we would do things like- we’d be sitting around this mesa, so we would go out into the woods by ourselves and we’d just sit there for maybe an hour and a half, just sitting. And for a half hour, you’d just listen, and then after that, then you spend another half hour- you know you hear flies and squirrels and birds and the wind and the trees. Then after that, you would mimic them. And you’re just by yourself. And then, after that half hour, you would maybe respond to them, or just…in some way kind of…response is kind of too small of a word. You would maybe make sounds with them, I don’t know. So we did things like that. Interesting people. As retreats are, you’re best friends for life until you leave and then you never hear from them again. But, Pauline and I stayed in touch. And then I went to another one, 5 or 6 years later. And then, Deep Listening became…it became kind of a thing, kind of an organization and there were people who were getting Deep Listening…I hate to talk about this. There were people who were invited to be Deep Listening teachers, you know they could go out- Deep Listening license holders or whatever.
M: Sure. Yeah, it’s hard, especially- just Deep Listening is abstract in and of itself so it’s one of those impossible things to talk about.
S: Right. And so people who had university connections like that- and I wasn’t invited. Pauline was…she was absolutely magical. She’s one of the few people that I’d say, “What a genius, an absolute genius, and a thinker.” She changed music for so many people, in good ways. But the organization that grew around her kind of became somewhat of a cult and then I- I always loved Pauline, but I didn’t see her as much after that.
M: Interesting. That’s unfortunate.
S: That was a big- the things I’ve learned kind of followed me. I think it helped free me up a little bit from- I was listening to like Steve Lacy or something and I’m just like that’s so- and then, she’s like just listening to the sound around you and more subtle aspects. Like if you’re in a room, you play to the space and the people in it, because they’re part of the space. You’re part of that. So for a while when I’d play solo- and it was just all improvisation. The first time I played free improvisation, I’d had a band that was playing free jazz and the stuff that I wrote, stuff that the bass player wrote. I was invited by this art space down there called Diverse Worst and there was this thing called 12 Minutes Max. So you get up there and you do whatever you want, but only twelve minutes.
S: And I thought well we’re not gonna have time to trade 4’s! So I thought I’m just going to do this by myself, and I’d never done that before. I thought, I’m not going to think of anything, I’m just going to start playing and see what happens. It’s like being naked, you know, but in a good way and I think maybe with music, sometimes that’s necessary-
M: It’s good for you.
S: Yeah, in a certain way. So I started going on from there. And then, I used to be like, “Okay, I’m going to see what people need, what they want, maybe I can feel that.” That didn’t really work. I mean, I don’t know if it worked or not, I sort of, you know okay- I never said, “Oh, I’m not gonna do this anymore,” but it was just- I think of it now and I think that was kind of ridiculous. You think things…you know. I think now a part of it that maybe grew out of that is a feeling that…mostly when I’m playing solo. I think when I’m playing with groups, I’m thinking more about the group and making the music right. And the audience, if they like it great, if they don’t, you know. This is great music and I’m so happy to be playing with these people and I want whatever we’re doing to sound as good as possible. And of course I feel like that when I play solo, which is what most of my gigs are these days. But I feel like…not like I’m playing music and you’re listening and it’s going to be really good and you’re going to love it or blah blah blah. That’s a very harsh way of putting an attitude that’s very prevalent. I’m the performer, if I play well, people will like it or whatever, you know.
M: Sure, or playing to the audience, essentially.
S: Right and with rock bands, and even when I play with Mary Halvorson’s octet, there’s just this rush of playing for a lot of people who are just crazy about the music.
M: There’s an energy.
S: Yeah, it’s really cool. I’m not sure I’m one of the people- I think maybe in high doses maybe that’s not…musically maybe there’s some negative aspects to it. And then I used to be like, I’m not playing, it’s coming through me. And I really thought that and I felt that and maybe it was and maybe I was playing better then. But I feel like we’re sharing something. I’m playing the music, but I can’t take credit for it, my instrument’s doing the work, you know, and I’m doing this with the instrument. I always feel when I perform solo, and I think maybe it’s the case with all people who play solo, you really get a feel for your audience. If people fidget. And when it’s going well, it’s almost like a sound. It’s this thing where you can tell people are following what you’re doing. I mean they’re outside that part of themselves and they’re just in there. And then maybe in my better part, maybe to some extent, I am too and we’re sharing this. And then I feel like that’s something I can work with. I don’t know what that has to do with your question.
M: No, I mean I think- I wonder if it’s, I guess in terms of people, I wonder if it’s this idea that your attention is not divided among people. Like when you’re playing in a band there is the energy of the audience, but there’s also the energy of your band mates.
M: And that affects you.
S: That’s a big thing, yeah.
Break Music: Ellipsis by Podington Bear
After this short break, Susan and I talk about her time with Mary Halvorson’s Octet and her experiences navigating the weird world of audience/performer dynamics. That and more in just a minute.
Ad Music: Platformer by Podington Bear
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Now, back to my conversation with Susan Alcorn.
M: The first time I saw you play ever was with Mary Halvorson’s octet.
S: Oh really? Where? Which one?
M: I saw that band play Winter Jazz and I also saw that band play the Vanguard.
S: Oh, yeah. Winter Jazz was really good, Vanguard I screwed up a bunch.
M: Well, I didn’t hear anything. The night that I went to the Vanguard though, there was this audience member who was sort of heckling.
S: Oh and he fell over in his chair? You were there that night? I know that guy.
M: Really? Oh my gosh.
S: He’s a music writer. A very good one.
M: Oh, okay.
S: And his uncle was a favorite, famous jazz music- I’m not going to tell you his name, because that would be very embarrassing. But, yeah. And I met him a year after we did the Vanguard. I was touring and I was in Beacon, New York doing a gig there and it was so delightful- he was the one who invited me and wanted me to- “Oh you gotta come to Beacon.” And I told Mary and she says, “You’re not gonna believe who that is!” He was drunk.
M: Okay, yeah that makes a lot of sense. That’s really funny.
S: Then he fell over and then Ches Smith is playing drums and everybody sort of stops and Ches is looking around like, “What’s goin on?”
M: It was an entertaining evening, I have to say. The first and only time I saw you play solo which was, for many reasons, just a very different night, was at the Dorchester Art Project in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
S: Oh yeah. That was last summer.
M: Yeah, last summer.
S: It was so hot up there.
M: Yeah, it was a lot. I remember sweating quite a bit, but…that was a really cool show. It was pretty intimate, the space is pretty small, but it was certainly full. But, I have to say, you know you were talking earlier about feeling like the audience is with you, and for me and the people around me, it felt like we were with you from that first note. There was just something about the way that sound filled that space and the energy you brought with that very first piece that really was captivating. It made it all the more interesting when at the end of the very first piece that you played, before the last note was done ringing you just started talking. It was sort of like this note was still ringing and you were just like, “So in 1991…” and you launched into this story.
S: Yeah, I know, I didn’t want people to clap.
M: Yeah, I want to talk about that a little bit because I mean it’s fascinating on one level because there’s all these- I mean earlier we talked about all these unwritten rules and there are all these unwritten rules about audiences and performers and on one hand, that moment meant that the audience wasn’t able to show you how much we liked it or how much we didn’t like it and in that moment, you also sacrificed acknowledgement. And so, I just want to talk a little bit about that. What is your approach to performing in that sense?
S: Well..I don’t know. I mean, when I first started playing solo, I would just sort of close my eyes and improvise. I’d be able to to do that for an hour or so. And I don’t think I repeated myself all that much, but I would just get into it. And then, I sort of started feeling like…there were these- like the pedal steel guitar…like you don’t hear Wagner with that instrument, you know. And it’s kind of new and it’s new to me and the way it sounds on my instrument, it just kind of moves me in some way and that’s the same way with Messiaen. Going back to my country days, when I would learn things note for note, I would do that with them, not reading a score, listening- because I don’t read very well or write very well, which I’m really discovering right now, I’ll talk to you about that later if you’d like, but…so I started weaving some of those in and I would write tunes and a lot of the ones that I would write, I would sort of play in the middle of something. I would sort of do kind of the same thing every time, it sort of evolved to that. And then I found that when I started doing that…like when you play free you sort of tend to lose people. Like it’s hard to listen to an hour of improvised music. I mean, for me, who, you know I think a lot about improvisation, and I sit like, “Oh god, I can’t wait til this is over,” because it’s so taxing mentally.
M: It demands a lot.
S: And then I found that when I would tell these little stories about how I came upon this music or what was happening then or what the song was, I think that made it a little bit easier for people to- I think it just made just a smoother experience for people instead of like just hearing this, no explanation, then going into that. And I guess, like in the jazz world, which I spent some time with but never really immersed myself enough with, you know you’d be at these jazz shows and people would applaud after the solos. And they’d go wild applauding one person and then somebody else would be like…you know. And I just really didn’t like that dynamic. I think sometimes it’s important to stop and let people applaud, but I think in some ways maybe…like there’s this song Twin Beams that I wrote, I just sort of play that in the middle of other things now. And I would play that and improvise and then I’d go play the head again you know because that’s basically- I would write these 1 minute, 2 minute heads and then improvise, then I don’t know it just didn’t feel right to me so then I thought I’ll just keep on going. I’m usually in the middle of some improvisation when I stop.
M: Okay, sure.
S: I don’t stop at the end of a tune and let it ring. Yeah, so I guess that’s it.
M: Yeah and I mean it’s one thing to not have the applause, but it’s another thing to have those personal stories that you share. I think it provides an entry point for the audience in a very meaningful way. And they are really personal stories, like you told a story the night that I saw you play about finding out about your father’s death.
S: Oh yeah, “Adios Nonino.”
M: Yes, and playing that Astor Piazzolla piece. That’s an incredibly personal story, but it was- you know it did bring us in in a very meaningful way and provided a lot of context for piece when you did play it. A lot of people ask me…I guess the people I’m referring to are frustrated musicians, about how we can reach wider audiences and I think it does come down to providing entry points, because it is really hard to listen to improvised music, especially- I think it’s a different thing if it’s record versus live, and then beyond that, if it’s an experience that’s so completely far removed from your typical listening experience, it’s hard to get into, but if it’s attached to a very real human experience, like losing someone, well it just feels different for the listener, and I think that that’s important.
S: I think so. It becomes more personal. It becomes- I don’t know how to describe it…
M: I think it becomes a bit- It becomes part of you rather than just this object that you’re presenting, if that makes sense.
S: Yeah and I used to be a school teacher. I was a school teacher twenty years teaching ESL, and being a teacher- it’s like you have to entertain the crowd, you gotta have your shtick. So you develop a sort of sense of humor or something like that. I mean I would just enjoy getting up and goofing off with the kids. Talking to an audience, basically.
S: So I started feeling more comfortable talking not like uh um oh uh so well anyway thank you, my next song-
M: Well right and-
S: Opus no. 17.
M: I think that’s how a lot of musicians feel and certainly a lot of younger musicians who are just learning about that performer/audience dynamic and gigging out for the first time. And I think there’s a valuable lesson in there- I’m not sure exactly what it is but I think that it has to do with vulnerability, and being vulnerable in front of your audience, which is terrifying. I think, at least.
S: Yeah, it is. It is.
M: But it draws people in, and that’s probably true in general about vulnerability, which is something I think I’m learning at this part of my life.
S: When I look at things, now I’m looking at it from a vantage point from what a lot of people would consider old age. I’m 66 years old. And I was maybe in my late forties when I started actually going to festivals and doing things and playing this kind of music in front of people. It’s like people like want to know how you can do this, how you can get ahead, and it’s like I don’t have an answer for that, because I never chased it. I think in some ways maybe we all do a little bit, like “Oh! So and so wants me to play? Oh my god! Ooo!” But, I don’t call them and try to maneuver my way around, which is, I think…when you’re younger there’s a tendency to think that way and I think I did too. When I was- in the late 80s when I was doing that oh, yeah you know, I would try to get a gig and you know, nobody knew who you were and of course they’re not interested. So now I really don’t care and I guess if people would ask me something, I would just say, concentrate on your music and be real and when you play be real and you know, if you do it well enough and you keep at it, people find out about it. Or maybe they won’t.
Music: Invierno Porteno – Performed by Susan Alcorn, Written Astor Piazzolla
M: So I’m trying this thing where I’m going to ask every guest on the show the same question and this is a question that I cannot take credit for at all-
S: I don’t know what my favorite color is. I don’t have one. Although, I do like purple.
M: Oh yeah, the house. Is that your doing?
S: No, we’re just renting this house. It was purple when we moved in.
M: Oh, okay.
S: Some people are real purple people. I mean like, they’re always wearing purple. One of my best teacher friends was like that.
M: No kidding was it like her dominant color that she would wear all the time and things like that?
M: Wow. That’s such devotion.
S: Yeah and I’ve known a couple of other people that are like that.
M: Specifically with purple?
S: Specifically with purple, I don’t know what it is.
M: That’s really interesting. Wow, um…so, this is a question that was submitted by one of our magazine readers for another artist, but then I decided that it was too interesting to not ask every single person, so…the question is: who would you want to write the foreword to your autobiography?
S: Oh, jeez.
M: This is the hardest question ever right?
S: The foreword to my autobiography?
M: I feel like I should say, you know…fictional people on the table. Deceased on the table. Really anyone. Do you have any requests?
S: Boy that is a tough one. *Phone rings*
M: Saved by the bell!
S: Suddenly there’s music. Excuse me, I gotta get this call. What were you saying again? Never mind, we’re finished. It’s probably like- I get these calls, you probably do too. You know, these spam calls?
M: Oh gosh, robo calls.
S: It’s probably my daughter, her house is on fire or something. So my favorite color is… Let’s see, who would I want to write the foreword…I mean, if somebody’s gonna write the foreword they’d have to be somebody that was somewhat familiar with your music and maybe you as a person. It’s funny because I just downloaded on Kindle Charlie Haden- a biography of him, and there’s a bunch of forewords, you know, these people that played with him. If there’s somebody that’s alive I would say that would…you know, if people are reading that and it got back to them it would be a little bit embarrassing. Cause there’s a couple people who I sort of have…maybe an affinity with and…who would write the foreword? Janelle Lepine.
M: Janelle Lepine.
S: And she’s gonna read it, “What? What? How could she?”
M: I’m just gonna send it right to her. Yeah, it’s a really difficult question and one I’m going ponder as I ask everyone else.
S: Alright, so who’s going to write your foreword?
M: You know I’ve thought about it and…it is tough, I know you said it would have to be someone that had an intimate understanding or knowledge of your music and your life, but frankly, all of the people I’ve made music with…the most- they really don’t have an intimate understanding of me being whoever I am when I’m playing.
S: Right, same here.
M: The only person I can think of is my mother. She knows me better than anyone and in a way I think, she does know my music really well, she just knows it through me, not through the academics of it, if that makes sense.
M: So thank you again for doing this, I really appreciate it and this has been a lot of fun talking to you.
S: I’m honored. You came all the way down here from beans, er, Boston baked beans.
M: Yeah and I’m heading back to Beantown in the morning but-
S: You know, the one thing I remember about that night at the Dorchester thing was, I thought this would be so cool, I’ll play the melody from Dirty Water. I didn’t know it was a thing at the Red Sox games. I only knew it from back when it was a hit when I was little when I was a kid.
M: Oh that’s funny. Oh, that’s hilarious.
S: The Standelles.
M: That’s awesome.
S: Who weren’t even from Boston.
Theme Music: Moonrise by Podington Bear
INPUT/OUTPUT: In Conversation is written, recorded, and produced by me, Magdalena Abrego. All interviews have been edited for length and clarity. My co-producer is Eliana Grossman. Audio editing by Resonate Recordings. Music by Podington Bear. In Conversation is a production of INPUT/OUTPUT, a platform dedicated to supporting women and non-binary individuals working in creative music communities in the United States. To learn more about I/O, visit inputoutputmag.com or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at inputoutputmag. If you’re looking for ways to support I/O, consider rating and reviewing us on iTunes or suggesting our show to a friend. It really helps us spread the word and keep this show running. Thank you for listening.