In 1970 at age 25, singer-songwriter Linda Perhacs recorded her first album, “Parallelograms.” Often compared to Joni Mitchell of that era because of her crystal clear voice, Perhacs inflected folk with powerful ethereal strains. Her sound was categorized as acid folk.
“Parallelograms” sold poorly; her label failed to promote it and the record was pressed so badly that Perhacs didn’t even want to listen to it. Dismayed, she threw away her only copy and refocused on her day job as a dental hygienist. It provided security and a steady paycheck.
And that was that – for a few decades, at least.
Last month, 44 years after her solo debut, Perhac’s second album was released on the independent music label co-founded by indie artist Sufjan Stevens, Asthmatic Kitty. “The Soul of All Natural Things” is currently ranked at number 21 on Billboard’s Folk charts and at 33 in the Heatseekers category for top-selling albums by new or developing acts. Her label has just announced a European tour for Perhacs, now 70 and still working as a dental hygienist.
Unknown to Perhacs, while she was scaling gums in Santa Monica, “Parallelograms” had developed a global cult following. By the year 2000, a new generation of fans was discovering her via the Internet. That was the year in which, after a near-fatal bout of pneumonia, she came home from the hospital to find a letter from a fan, Michael Piper. Inside the envelope was the first CD she had ever seen. It was a digitized reissue of “Parallelograms.”
Piper had released the CD on his own acid folk label in 1996. Among her other fans, Perhacs discovered, were luminaries of the independent music scene like Grammy-winning electronic music duo Daft Punk (who used one of her songs in their 2006 movie “Electroma”), Devendra Banhart and Julia Holter. With the encouragement of these younger artists – and with the collaboration of Holter and others – she slowly returned to songwriting, eventually recording her album.
We spoke with Perhacs by phone from her LA dental office early one morning, before her first patient arrived, to ask what life is like for a 70-year-old recording artist the second time around in a youth-oriented music industry.
You’re still working full time as a dental hygienist!
Yes, I am, believe it or not. And I still accomplished doing an entire album and I’ve now had two tours. We had a big one in Europe and we just returned a few days ago from the Pacific Northwest and California.
After all these years, how are you growing artistically?
The first time I was ever on a stage was in October 2009, to do a program of my material at an LA show put on by Dublab, an Internet radio station. When they asked me to do the show, I told them, ‘I’ll be glad to help you, but I can’t stand up solo and sing all those songs when I’ve never performed live.’ So they had me do four or five songs and then they brought in these marvelous younger acts to perform whatever songs I didn’t want to do. And the young acts knocked us out!
I have a very profound gift in music but I’m not formally trained. So when I saw what we did that night, it woke me up to the concept of collaboration. It just opened my eyes that you don’t need to go out there all by yourself and be a master performer. You can mix with younger people who have perhaps already spent 28, almost 30 years doing nothing but music.
Leonard Cohen does that. He works with a lot of musicians, many of them quite young. It’s an experience that you can’t quite describe. It renewed my desire to do more, because these musicians are so wonderful to work with.
Any age barriers playing with a bunch of much younger musicians to a young audience?
I’ve felt totally embraced. I couldn’t have had a more enthusiastic group of people around me and I would say that no matter where I’ve entertained – Europe, New York, Big Sur, San Francisco or Los Angeles – the audience is consistently the same way. It’s very amazing. Most of them are between 20 and early 40’s. And they’re all artists. They come up afterward and we start talking talk about their music, their book writing, their scripts and their photography, and we can just share. So we’re all adding to each other’s lives.
What are your plans for your music career?
After the Grammys this year, where Daft Punk demonstrated that collaboration makes a whole lot of sense, it was so easy for me to call my label and say, I’d love to do some more collaborations because that can be done through the wires while all of us are busy all around the globe. Within ten minutes, I had my answer from them, “Absolutely! Proceed with the beginning of at least a 7-inch disc and we’ll turn that into your next album.”
I like to be very daring with some of my harmonies and I do mix electronic and organic. So, in these newer recordings, I’m going to be more daring because I like to do that.
Along with your full-time job, what were you doing during your hiatus from music?
I took a personal spiritual journey in my life. I worked inwardly for years. Dental hygiene has been my financial stability but I was spending most of those years on a solitary inner study, reading everything I could come across to understand how to love more powerfully and how to direct your life in a way that will be more complimentary to the needs of other people – and how to evolve, rather than get grouchy and stale, and age ungracefully.
What does “aging with attitude” mean to you?
I was really touched by a quote from Paul McCartney in [the online magazine] Mojo. Someone said to him, “Hi Paul, how ‘ya doing?” He said, “I’m fine. Everything’s good.” And the person repeated, “Everything’s good?” And Paul thought for a minute, turned to him and said, “Yeah, everything’s good. Except I seem to be in this older body.”
It was a cute way of saying, “Who did this? I didn’t order this.” It showed me that he understood that this older body was not necessarily him. He may be in that clothing, but it’s not necessarily the essential him. And I feel similarly.
I had a dental patient who came in during her first pregnancy. She’s in my chair and I said, “How far along are you?” She said, “Four months.” I said, “How are you doing?” And she got a little funny look on her face and said, “I thought I was the master of my body. I thought I was in charge. I’ve always made a command to my body, did my exercises and my body would perform according to my directives. At this moment I would have to tell you that I never would have asked for all of this.” And I just started to laugh! I said, “Nature is a powerful force.”
So when we’re talking about aging, we have to be respectful of the power of that.
Surround yourself with young, creative people. It’s an ecstatic experience – it’s wonderful! In my case, I get to create with them. Age disappears. When you’re doing that, you’re working from your most powerful center, which is the real you.
Click here for more about Perhac’s music on her website and here to follow her on Facebook. “The Soul of All Natural Things” and “Parallelograms” are available for download on Amazon, as well as in CD format and on vinyl.