Not so ordinary folk
Eliza Gilkyson returns to Santa Paula for one rare night
By Kit Stolz 10/23/2008
In 2007, when Eliza Gilkyson wrote her latest album, the Dow Jones index was above 14000, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and Kobe Bryant was contemplating leaving the Lakers.
The numbers said that times were pretty good, but Gilkyson found herself in the middle of a different reality. She was hosting open meetings with a minister and a professor at different venues around her adopted city of Austin, Texas, on topics including art, the environment, politics and spirituality. In an interview, Gilkyson described the inspiration for these meetings as a feeling of “pre-collapse.” She said she heard a lot of similar talk about “things falling apart” on her recent tour of the British Isles, even though at that time the financial panic had not yet hit the UK.
“I think a lot of people sense a big transition coming,” she said. “In Austin at that time, we wanted to find a place to discuss, grieve and mull over our future without having a need for an immediate solution other than the comfort of each other’s presence.”
When Beautiful World was released this May, it sparked rave reviews in the UK. This century, Gilkyson’s reputation as a songwriter has been growing steadily. She’s won numerous awards, has toured steadily, and Joan Baez used not one but two of Gilkyson’s recent songs on her first collection in years. But on her own new record, Gilkyson outdoes herself with the specificity of her descriptions of our emotional lives today:
“The party’s over; we had a blast/We’ll bring in the lawyers to cover our ass,” she croons. “Leave a note to the children, to clean up the mess/The party’s over; it was a big success!”
Edgy humor is a Gilkyson specialty. Although she’s a gritty singer determined to “put the issues on the table,” she’s too funny to be preachy for long. She mocks herself at the slightest opportunity, in songs such as “Twisted” and in shows marked by countless wry asides and her rich, throaty laugh. She likes to see her shows as a “revival tent for spiritual progressives, a place for laughing and crying and a cathartic experience.”
“In our meetings at that time, we heard so many theories,” she said. “Conspiracy theories, religious theories, scientific theories, but I think so much of the story of where we are is as a result of having isolated ourselves. Because of our work, our computers, our hyper-individualist lives, we don’t gather, don’t work together, and maybe that’s why we cannot get a consensus, and we are incapable of stopping this horrendous greedy global capitalist monster that is privatizing everything.”
The timing of the record seems to have worked out, somewhat to her surprise. “When we elected the neo-cons, I think we all expected that they would be able to keep the balls in the air a little longer than they have,” she said. “I thought the timing of this record would be all wrong, and they would be able to maintain a semblance of normalcy at least until the election.”
She pauses, thinks over what she said and returns again to the idea that it is the sharing of the experience that matters, more than the challenge faced.
“I’m really doing these shows because I don’t want to have to go through this stuff all by myself,” she said “I take comfort in having warm bodies around.”
Gilkyson has been on the road in the UK for weeks. She likes returning to Ventura County, not far from her childhood home, and a place rich in memories. She came to summer school in Ojai when she was in seventh grade, for failing a class, With her brother guitarist Tony Gilkyson, who played with X, and her father, who had major success in the folk boom of the early 60s, she lived there in the funky rental cottages that can be found behind Bart’s Books. She recalls sailing out to Santa Barbara Island and seeing land as untouched as California must have been hundreds of years ago.
“I have very fond memories of Ventura County,” she said. “It’s almost painful to me because some things are so beautiful there.”
Eliza Gilkyson will perform at the Santa Paula Theater Center, Thursday, Oct. 23, 8 p.m. Call 525-4645 for tickets or information.