The damage undone
The Geraldine Fibbers' 1995 full-length debut Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home is a majestic record, epic in its musical scope and explicit in its use of language. It's the kind of record that comes along once every few years, that appears out of nowhere then slinks back into the ether. It's a punk record, but it whispers; it's country, but not of this earth; it's scary, but evokes its chills with a quixotic grin; and it's a tumultuous, bleak, literate, consuming end of rock and roll and the beginning of something else.
Where the Fibbers' first independently released singles and eponymous 1994 EP wore their country influences like an adult's Stetson on a child--the EP features George Jones' "The Grand Tour" and Bobbie Gentry's "Fancy"--Lost Somewhere enshrouds the violin and banjo and lap steel behind a cascade of shrieks and disquieting guitar. The band began as a side project, a vehicle through which a singer could get past her George Jones jones and Hank Williams fixation, and it ended up sounding like the result of a head-on collision between the touring buses of the Flying Burrito Brothers and X with few survivors.
The record plays itself out like the diaries of one woman's life--that woman being Fibbers singer Carla Bozulich, she of the gorgeously androgynous voice and a legendary past whose reputation exceeds her in alternarock circles. Her resume reads like William Burroughs fiction-fact rewritten as a 120 Minutes VJ introduction: Until seven years ago, she was a heroin addict who turned prostitute to support her habit; she once fronted an outrageous sex-disco band called Ethyl Meatplow, wearing the plastic-and-leather garb of an industrial vixen; she was a train ready to jump the trackmarks at any second.
She has, at times, fueled her myth--she once referred to herself in an interview as an ex-"junkie whore"--and turned it into the stuff of which romantic tragedy is made. Certainly, her past is the diesel fuel that propels the music on Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home, and she used the process to exorcise the old toxins and demons.
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"The record is a lot about the past, and I don't want to go there again," Bozulich says. "That's why I tried to do it well and thoroughly. I felt like it deserved telling, and I wanted to say all that stuff, but I think that if I continued in that particular vein it would wear me out--like Nick Drake, or something." She emits a slight chuckle.
From the get-go, Lost introduces the listener to an uneasy, fragile place. "Lilybelle," which opens the record, tells of a woman who rocks in time to the voices inside her head. She is in a "wretched state, fat from years of sucking hate"; she has nothing inside her to shut up the demons, no weapons left. From there, Bozulich paints a landscape strewn with junkies and victims, abandoned people left to die on the roadside or to waste away to their addictions. They are people seduced by the devil and scorned by God, people "drowned in sorrow [and] drowned in scorn," people who "never knew nothing 'cept hunger and fear."
In one particularly piquant song, Bozulich tells the story of a woman who so dearly loved her junkie boyfriend ("asshole with an appetite") she could never leave him; she took his shit, forgave him, needed him like she needed her heroin. Then, one day, she realized if she was going to die by the sting of a needle, she'd do it alone. She leaves him only to get "even more fucked up, and she did it all by herself." The boyfriend dies, she dies, end of sad story--a true story, Bozulich says now, the tale of an old dead friend of hers.
Yet Bozulich refuses to let her legend define her. She speaks of her history indirectly, never addressing the needle and the damage done; rather, she talks of its aftermath, how the songs on the record are cathartic in a way, told only so she might begin with a clean slate.
"In my life, I'm a fairly optimistic person... I think," she says. "I've run the gamut from feeling really hopeless and believing that things were that way; then, through the process of surviving that and coming out of that, I had to kind of figure out a philosophy that opposed it. I have now, and I hang on to it. I'm not one of these people that would blow their head off. I never would. I totally have come to terms with that. Imade a decision about that, and it's not going to happen. And it's funny to say that because a lot of people romanticize that kind of thing and consider it to be, in a really strange way, heroic.
"I just floundered for so long figuring out how to live that it came down to a decision for me many times. And then the last time, it was like, 'That's it. If I'm going to do all this shit Ihave to do to have a real life and not be fucking miserable all the time, then I'm not going to visit this thing again of should Ilive or should I die because it's just too much work to pull my ass out of this again and again."
Lost is actually more like a book set to music than a record featuring disconnected pieces of music. With its table of contents, which presents the song titles as chapters or short stories ("IV. Dragon Lady"), and a lyric sheet that presents Bozulich's songs in prose form, the record is hard to dissect; each track leads into the other, fleshing out characters and building to one single climax--11 songs about hopelessness, faithlessness, despair, and loss leading to one final moment of revelation and promise ("my sadness does escape me now"). It's the faint light at the end of a very dark and cold tunnel, J.D. Salinger's 12 Stories set against a harsh beat and told through a howling voice.
It recalls the best literature--its words move you even when read outside of the musical context, when seen on the bare printed page--because Bozulich's words are so explicit and precise. It's the rare album that reveals itself in layers, that lends itself to new discoveries with every listen.
"I feel like a crusader in support of the written word," Bozulich says. "I feel like it's a dying art and a really worthwhile one, and the record seemed to be like a story, and I preferred to think of it as a book instead of a concept album. I like to write, and I've often thought about writing a book of short stories where the stories stand on their own, but if you read them in order they comprise a novel.
"Also, for this record I've never had so much freedom. I've been doing music for a very long time, but I've never been the lead character or vision before. I was going to say I don't think the next record is going to be that way, but I don't know because I swear I don't think that way. We'll see when all the songs come together if it comes off as the next volume."
The Geraldine Fibbers perform March 5 at the Galaxy Club. Lutefisk opens.
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