Lida Husik on gentrification, the political landscape, and books

When I discovered Lida Husik, she’d already made nine albums; Fly Stereophonic was number seven.  I was drawn in by its beat-driven melodies and lyrics like “I’ll take your blues and I’ll lose the rest / the city’s offering its awful best” (‘Fade Sister Cool’), which soon leads into the chorus: “When you fade, you take me with you.”  It made me think that yet another reason for someone to not fade away was simply not to be selfish.

Checking out Lida’s site cemented a positive impression.  She can say a lot with a few words, and do so with humor and an uncommon pulse (I’m not quite as pro-hippie as she is, but to each their own).  A while back, she was good enough to let Robert Pinero and I use the lyrics of her MP3 Single “Nuclear Soul” for a comic of ours, and, more presently, she was good enough to do this interview.


For introduction’s sake, just how many instruments do you play?

How many instruments do I play? The only instrument I was taught in school was violin, from grades 3 to 7, and that’s the only instrument that I can play that I have never played on record.  Guitar, keyboards, bass are all self-taught. I think any person with musical chops can play many instruments; it’s all the same principle.  I never tried wind instruments because I thought they would make me dizzy.  Some of the other kids in the school orchestra on wind would get so red in the face and look like they were gonna pass out, so I stuck to strings.  Guitar is pretty easy; it must be or not every moron in the world would play one. Bass is super easy to me, cuz I have rhythm and the strings are huge.  It’s like holding the fat black pencil in school.  I did drum in my first band, but we sucked, probably my fault. I can keep a good beat, but the fills are another story.

If you were starting out in the music industry today, where do you see yourself?

If I were to start out in the music industry today, I would probably stay away from pop and instead study the musical forms that I listen to, classical and old jazz of the 20’s and 30’s.  Not only do they sound better, but they aren’t as laden with the bullshit trappings of popular culture.  I’m a hider, and I believe in the magic of isolation and avoidance.  I would have loved to have holed up in musical academia, writing concertos and symphonies that no one would ever play, and studying my musical idols.  Either that or I would have loved to have been in a punk band that was successful in the 70’s and 80’s; that was such a fun time, such great music.

What prompted you to write “Survivor”?

The American travesty that hurts me the most is the Black Experience.  I’m not a do-gooder, or politically active, besides voting, and being vegan. I don’t protest things or write my congressperson.  But I was six years old when Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered. I remember that day and how it felt like a wound piercing my heart.  So this was what the grown-ups got up to.   The heart of a child never gets used to constant disappointment in adults. I grew up in Washington, DC, in the white sector, although later in jr. high and high school black kids were bussed in from other parts of the city, so I was exposed to that other culture thoroughly—and in the seventies as well, a different world.  You couldn’t see the math problem on the board through the sea of afros.  The black kids were loud, angry, and funny; they sang and danced in the halls and popped gum.  There was Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Parliament.  The hits were sung with gusto.  We little white kids tapped our Lawrence Welk toes hopefully along to the beat.  The black kids had a different way of speaking, mellifluous and abbreviated, full of mysterious code words that cracked them up.  We were meek and pale and tongue-tied, and turned even whiter next to them.  Most of our teachers were black, too.  They were warm and funny and had life experience in their faces.  The white teachers seemed shriveled and boring and nasal.

Art by Robert Pinero. Words by Lida Husik.

Flash forward to the eighties and nineties and this godforsaken decade.  I am enraged by ‘gentrification’, the very word is so offensive, as if a bunch of ‘gents’ in ascots gallantly swoop in, take off their top hats, and say, “Sorry old chaps, we must have use of your neighborhood, but look, there’s a perfectly good crime-ridden suburb for you to move to, and we’ll just turn your old mammy church into a hipster wine bar”; and this has happened everywhere.  The old black grandmas can’t afford the property taxes; if there are government programs that could help they aren’t told about them, etc etc.  Now, I’m not saying that blacks are good and whites are bad; that would be stupid.  The black community has disappointed me too.  I don’t like the anti-gay bias.  I wish there was more of the old-time values instead of the hopelessness and violence, but that’s also just economics.  Mainly though, I’m so sick of how ignorant and selfish some white Americans are.  Just how ignorant of history do you have to be not to appreciate the great moment Obama’s nomination was?  How could you look at one second of footage of the sixties German Shepherd attacks and fire hoses, wielded by government employees, and not grasp that incredibly emotional opportunity for justice?  How could you not vote for Obama and call yourself a Christian?  Well, the hypocrisy never ceases to amaze.

I like that you openly speak to your disappointment with the black community.  I also think economics is certainly a part of what’s made for such an insular, stagnant community, but as to the other parts, we could go on and on.  I do think that I should speak to the ‘old-time values,’ as they were formed during some of the most unbridled forms of oppression.  When that oppression became less bridled, there really weren’t too many venues for the best of black people, as people, to thrive . . . and so here we are . . . 

Yes we could definitely, and should definitely as a society, think more about history as it relates to the present.  Ultimately, though, what more could we have expected from a country born of slaughter and slavery?  It’s surprising that we have any humane impulses left, what with all the bigotry, capitalistic greed and ignorance our country seems to run on.  Harumph …

The truth is that there is so much glory and loveliness and goodness in the good ol’ USA that THAT is what’s so distressing, because we shouldn’t let some crazy fringe people take it over just because all they know how to do is scream and get attention within accepted political systems.  We have to beat them at their own game, and sadly that means doing the boring political stuff.  I think liberals are liberal with their pursuits and busy living their good lives and don’t want to be bothered sometimes.  Just remember Nader, and what happened when the left stuck to their pure principals and forgot reality, and we almost lost the entire known Universe.

So there’s an inkling of why you like avoidance so much.  It’s a nice option, if you can manage it in good surroundings.  Maybe that’s why avoidance is so hard in some places.  When I think about it, some of my favorite music probably springs from people who shut themselves off after dealing with all the hypocrisy and emptiness — and then they put some of their reactions in an album.  I guess . . . I don’t believe music can do the ‘Bill and Ted’ (or punk) thing and save the world (I’m not sure that any creative endeavor can), but for you, where did/do toe tapping and storytelling intersect? 

No, Bill and Ted cannot save the world.  At this point I don’t think anything can, especially when someone who disdains science isn’t famous for being a freak, but for running for President.  It’s kind of hilarious in a mind-bendingly horrifying kind of way … the scariest thing I can imagine is to be ruled by one of these morons and their Twinkie-fed fans.  It can happen, if people don’t vote.  Although I think if you took a real count you’d find that there are lots more stupid assholes in this country than smart, good people, so maybe it’s inevitable.  But we must fight!  That leads me to answer your question about isolation and music, because I do feel a sense of responsibility to say something relevant in songs.  I usually do put political stuff in there somewhere, which is easy to do in my songs because very few of them are about one thing, different subjects sort of flow in and out of the songs.  So I can’t say that there is any storytelling involved, but definitely toe tapping, and hopefully some of the isolation is balanced by awareness of the outside world story, and there’s an attempt at interaction there.  I’ve finished about half of my next album, and the songs are pretty personal so far but for the second half I’m going to address what’s happening in the world, because it’s important to do, and because it feels really good to let off some steam.

What’s some of your favorite music that’s come out in the last decade?

Well I’m just gonna list a few bands that are on my computer that I really enjoy.  There’s so much good music out there that it’s hard to make a short list, and most of what I listen to is older than this by far, but I do enjoy listening to Elliot Smith, Radiohead, Jesu, Aphex Twin, Interpol, Queens of the Stone Age, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power, New Pornographers, Helms Alee, Mogwai, Air, Amon Tobin.  Most of these have been at it for more than ten years.  I don’t really keep up with the newest latest thing. 

Favorite books?

I read tons of biographies, always have.  I think it’s because it’s like reading two things in one, a history, and a life story.  Right now I’m reading a bio of George Gershwin, and also David Cross’ book ‘I Drink for a Reason’ which, as one of his weirdo characters would say, is “chalk-full of chuckles!”

Some of my fave bios ever have been:
Katherine Mansfield, Somerset Maugham, James Thurber, Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Queen Victoria, Louise Brooks, Max Beerbohm, Dawn Powell, etc etc etc.

I could list hundreds!  I really like dead smart people, especially English ones.  I think I like bios so much also because I want to find out how different people did this terrible task of living, how they got through it.

Lida Husik resources:

  • Also, her music may be on something called “itunes.”

One response to “Lida Husik on gentrification, the political landscape, and books

  1. Pingback: Just In Case You Haven’t Noticed By Now, I’m No Walter Kronkite | Building Windmills

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