20 Questions: Patty Larkin

Patty Larkin
Signature Sounds

This year marks Patty Larkin’s 25th year of recording. The master musician’s new CD, 25 (Signature Sounds, 9 March) features 25 of her most requested love songs, re-worked in acoustic format, and joined by 25 friends. Special guests of this accomplished ‘musician’s musician’ include Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jonatha Brooke, Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams, Chris Smither, Rosanne Cash and many others. Touring for the CD now, the former English major reveals how good literature is so essential to her songs, with lyrics which run from impressionistic poetry to witty wordplay.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

The problem with Art is that it reminds me too much of Reality, which is, I think, too real already. So you have a book like Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which I could not read, or The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, which I did read and it made me cry. I mean, really, I could not stop reading The Road because it was so breathtakingly written and yet so horrifically terrifying and quite possible.

I put myself in the place of the main character, and now that I have kids, I went there. How do you explain evil? Is it inherent? Or is it a matter of survival gone awry, some gene that kicks in when all moral references are drained out of us? How do you protect yourself from a group or society that has codified horror? Too scary to think about. It’s enough to make you cry.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Hmm. I’d like to be as cool as Dave Eggers in his first book , A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but that’s not fiction. I’d like to think I would put my life on hold at the age of 20-something in order to take care of my little brother. I think Jacob in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants had something to talk about.

Album: Watch the Sky

Artist: Patty Larkin

Label: Vanguard

Release Date: 2008-01-22

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/l/larkin-watchsky-cvr.jpgMost like me? Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, perhaps? Or maybe the women of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels; strong and complicated? Maybe they’re the fictional characters I’d most like to be.

3. The greatest album, ever?

There is no greatest album, only the album that had the greatest effect on me, which changes from time to time. Overall though, Bob Dylan’s , Blood on the Tracks.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Neither. I watched them both from afar, slightly disinterested. Star Trek is so bad that I’d have to choose it for the sets alone. What about the Twilight Zone? Now, that was cool.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Peanut Butter. I find myself addicted to it at 3PM.

Album: Red = Luck

Artist: Patty Larkin

Label: Vanguard

Release Date: 2003-02-11

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/l/larkin-redluck-cvr.jpg6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I’m proud of having shot the Allagash River, in Maine, while our golden retriever was ferried around the nine- mile stretch. Why? Because it was the most challenging white water I’ve ever been on in a canoe.

I’m also proud of celebrating 25 years in the music industry, not only because there is “business”.

7. You want to be remembered for..?

Well, certainly not for my song, “At the Mall”, where I channel Marlene Deitrich, Carmen Miranda and Ethel Merman, although it might be my most requested silliness.

I would like to be remembered for my dedication to the music and the creation of it, and to giving back to my community.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

The Artists who never stopped creating. Picasso, O’Keefe. My mother, who was a painter all of her life. I think that it takes someone who is focused and driven to continue to evolve and to get up in the morning and do the work. I would like to be that dedicated.

I was just in New Mexico looking at an exhibit of Georgia OKeefe’s paintings and marveling at them, at the fact that she kept painting, even though she could no longer see. It’s about getting up every day and facing the blank page.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

“Prelude No. 9” by Chopin.

10. Your hidden talents…?

I’m able to make my children laugh when I dance with underwear on my head. I can also talk like Donald Duck.

Photo (partial) by ©Jana Leon

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

My Dad’s, “Aim high.” Now, I didn’t aim for a million dollars, but I continue to strive to create beauty and to evolve as an artist.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My 1946 Martin D18 Guitar that I bought in the ’70’s — partially paid for by cleaning the seller’s trailer.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

If I bumped into Armani I would wear it, believe me. I am, however, a funky person at heart.

I do like to dress up a little for things that most Americans dress down for. Case in point: the airport. I mean, can’t we make flying through the air a little more of a special event? It’s why I like Europe: you can have a cappuccino out of a real coffee cup at a hole in the wall gas station stop.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. Or else, someone who has sailed around the world. Or maybe Bob Edwards. He’s fun to talk with.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Before industrialization. Go too far back, however, and I’d have to have been born a male or a very wealthy woman.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

I walk in the woods to relieve stress. If I can be outside for three hours or more, I’m on my way to OK. Otherwise, camping, playing guitar, singing, cooking some really good food for family and friends.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?

Essential? On a desert Island? Red wine, probably. I mean, I’m into coffee because I need to be at this point, but I like food, and red wine follows. It’s the whole: work to live, or live to work thing. It’s good to live to eat, but live to eat well, and to eat a slow meal.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I like the Pacific Northwest. I live in the country on Cape Cod. New York can be exciting, but it’s over for me in a way, except for special occasions. I would choose country.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

What’s with the jobless recovery? What’s with the banks, and the forgiveness of scoundrels? What’s with the war in Afghanistan?

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I’m launching this new record, 25, and loving the idea behind it, that my friends joined me to celebrate 25 years in the business. I’m celebrating survival, but also joy and art and friendship.

I started to tour behind the record, so that is all consuming, but I’m beginning to percolate ideas for the next project. In a way, I’m ready to begin again, because 25 is comprised of material I have been singing for years. This next one will be the new one, and so, literature will be all important, because it is The Next New One.