The Unlikely Music Career of Linda Perhacs
Linda Perhacs exists in a kind of nether-time all of her own.
After being persuaded to explore her unique musical vision by Leonard Rosenman, film composer of scores like Rebel Without a Cause and one of Perhacs’ dental clients, the resulting 1970 album was both masterpiece and disappointment. Over nine months of sculpting and teasing out Parallelograms, the pressing was so poor that Perhacs couldn’t even bear to listen to it a second time: “I threw my copy of my own record away,” she admits. The album and Perhacs’ musical career slowly disappeared into the rear view, but as the years passed by, the album became a cult favourite among collectors, capturing and inspiring a new generation of musicians and songwriters.
It was a tribute show organised by digital radio dons dublab that saw Perhacs perform live for the very first time, and put her in touch with several contemporary LA artists. It was enough to spark renewed musical activity, and the follow-up album The Soul of All Natural Things features a host of collaborators, including Julia Holter and Nite Jewel. From the ’70s to the present day, Linda Perhacs’ musical universe stretches far beyond trends, decades, and even generations. In this edited and condensed excerpt from her recent sit-down with RBMA Radio, Perhacs talks about her beginnings in music.
The first time that I personally was ever just totally overwhelmed by music or aware of it was [when I was] probably about five years old. I just spontaneously started to create pieces of music that, in retrospect, were pretty complex and pretty sophisticated. It just kind of came out.
I thought, “All right, these are adults. I’m obviously not an adult. They look like they know what they’re doing, so I better behave.”
I sort of pushed my poor little friends in a circle and said, “Now you do this, you do this, you do this,” and the music was complex. There was choreography, there was lyrics, there was good song construction. Don’t ask me where it came from, but it kind of came out of the blue. Then I had the guts to walk up to the school doors at this little school where I was going and knock on the door, out of nowhere, it could have been any time of day and say, “My friends and I are here to put on a show for you.” The teacher would always look a little astonished and say, “You’re what?” Then I would repeat it, like, “Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do in life?”
I don’t know where this came from, but I was just very bold and we went in and we would do a little show and everybody loved it and we’d leave. Then I’d create another and do the same thing and finally they had to call my mother in and reprimand her and me for interrupting school curriculum. At which point I said, “What’s curriculum?” They explained it to me and I thought, “All right, these are adults. I’m obviously not an adult. They look like they know what they’re doing, so I better behave.” I didn’t argue.
Looking back on it, I would have to say that I always take children very seriously, even if at two they’re showing a very deep interest in something and it’s very prolonged and very deep like turning a box over 500 times and looking at it from every angle. You’re seeing the child expressing something that’s going to come later that will be very important and it’s good to pay attention. In the case of that one child I’m mentioning, he became a very well-known volume specialist, but at two years old they caught him on tape just looking at a Kellogg’s cereal box, an empty one, for a couple of hours, studying it from every angle.
The next time it surfaced again with great volume and intensity and success was as a freshman in high school. I saw them doing what was called song leading, which was a kind of a pretty form of cheerleading. There were about seven or eight girls in the group. They wore prettier dresses and had sweeter looking pompoms and it attracted my interest. You had to be voted in. I said, “This is for me.” I gathered the little girls around me again and I said, “This is what we’re going to do.” We won hands down. It was a resounding victory, especially for freshmen. It was unheard of, of freshmen winning that honor.
Well, it wasn’t unusual to me, it was natural. Then again I thought, “Where is this coming from?” Then, about senior year, they gave me the lead in a musical and insisted that I take it seriously, and I thought, “Here it comes again, knocking on my door.” I’m wondering, “Where does this come from?” I really truly had almost no lessons in music, it’s just spontaneous. Well, then I got a scholarship to USC, thank heavens, and had a free education for four years which was quite a blessing, and I chose to be a dental hygienist which is like nursing, because in those days, believe it or not, the two things totally open to women, which would have been the early ’60s, was nursing or teaching.
Every time I thought about teaching I knew it was a worthwhile career but I’d hear a dark rumble inside like, “Don’t go there.” I kind of knew those intuitive inspirations. I didn’t know where they were coming from. I had no training in religion whatsoever. There wasn’t even a Bible in the house where I was raised. I just knew that when I had those intuitions, they came from a place of truth and a place of integrity. I chose to follow a career that would be an offshoot of nursing, but one that gave you more freedom so that if you chose a different route in your life, you would be more able to make that adjustment. That choice was dental hygiene.
This is the first time in all of human history when women can make any choice they want to and be a total success.
You could work one day a week, three hours a week, or seven days a week, it was your choice. Another additive was that at the time it was one of the highest paid careers for women in the United States. I keep mentioning women, because we really truly only had those two choices. Unless we wanted to take on a huge battle, it’d be a silent pushy battle against things that you didn’t always see. Thank heavens that’s all gone now, and to many of you young women who might be reading this, it would seem astounding. But I’m giving you the truth. This was the way they were thinking in those days.
This is the first time in all of human history when women can make any choice they want to and be a total success, but let’s evaluate the great privilege and realize that maybe for 10,000 or more years that privilege has not been there, not to the degree it is now. People keep telling me, “Well, there was this country that did this and well there was this country that did that.” I don’t think it was 100% successful as it has been at this time in our lives here in the United States. I mean that women have been able to take on anything, and the doors are open. I just choose to be grateful for that.
Anyway, music began to surface when I lived in Topanga Canyon, I had a young husband. While I was still finishing finals at USC, he chose Topanga Canyon to live in for the two of us because he had a very exotic bird collection and needed to be in a rural area. He drove me out there one day and said, “What do you think, Linda?” and I said, “Beautiful, let’s do it.” We found a great little rental that I later purchased, so it was my own home after I was no longer married. That little house is where every song was written for the Parallelograms album.
Anyway, that little house was probably 40 years old when we started to rent it around 1965. It was very rustic, it was kind of a standard built home, nothing too woodsy about it, but it was sitting in a setting where there was 300 or more acres behind me at the backyard that was wide open, and every night I could take a long walk if I chose to. There were cattle out there and wild deer and many different kinds of bird varieties and coyotes. It was really quite rustic and wonderful and quiet.
My husband had a deep interest in skin diving and he was quite a naturalist. Still is. We would travel into wild country like Canada, Pacific Northwest, Baja on the Sea of Cortez side, and we would do many very outdoory things. I finally began to realize that even as a tiny child I spent far more time in nature outdoors just being in awe of nature by myself. Maybe by second grade even, I would take long walks in pretty secluded nature and nobody worried about me. I had baby brothers at home and mother was very concerned about them. I was probably outdoors more than you could ever allow a child to be in this country right now.
I would say that was the greatest inspiration for the songs that I wrote for the 1970s album. The interaction between man and woman in my age bracket – because I was in my middle 20s at that time – and the great love of the universe. Combine those both, and you have friendships all around you at that time because it was the hippie era, and those people understood energies.
Thank God for the wonderful friendships that I developed in those years. It set a basis for me that gave me a stronger spiritual life for the rest of my life, because you could talk to them about the intuitive, about the energies other people were sending back and forth. It was common language in those days, it wasn’t anything esoteric, it wasn’t something you shouldn’t talk about, it was just common communication on a daily basis. I’m very, very grateful for those years. I realize it was a heavy time for major rock groups and things, I humbly admit I never went to a large concert. I went deep into nature.
Right now I feel that most of our environment is a little more job-oriented. We don’t have hippies floating around quite as much, and we’re sort of on the clock and on our cellphones. In those days there was great peace and quiet amongst us, and my group of hippie friends and musician friends, we were the quieter ones who would go between Big Sur in Los Angeles, Pacific Northwest in Los Angeles, and we stayed more in reclusive, quiet areas. I definitely wasn’t interacting with huge rock concerts at that time, and I’m sorry for it because I’m sure they were wonderful, but I just needed quiet.
He said, “May I hear those songs?” I said, “Why would you, a composer of great renown, want to hear my music?”
Then I also had a big straight job in Beverly Hills doing my dental hygiene for a periodontist. That’s where I met the man who was instrumental in allowing me to have that privilege to do my first album which is called Parallelograms, and that man, his name was Leonard Rosenman. He and his wife are composers and they came into the dental office in Beverly Hills for periodontal care. After seeing them for about ten appointments or more, one day Leonard said, “I can’t believe this is all you do, Linda.” He just sensed there was more going on in my life.
Very quietly, I explained the situation to him, I live in Topanga, my husband’s very creative, we take a lot of trips, and I write little songs when I’m out in nature. He stopped me right there and he said, “May I hear those songs?” I said, “Why would you, a composer of great renown, want to hear my music?” He said, “Because I’m given a lot of assignments lately that need the hippie influence and you seem to be surrounded by that type of people in Topanga Canyon. Let me just hear the songs.”
I gave him a little homemade tape and he called me the very next morning, and said, “How soon can you get here? Those are beautiful.” I worked with Leonard and his wife for quite some time, but just literally after hearing enough of my music, walked over to Universal Studios and said, “We need to do an album with this girl. This has got to be an album.” He got us a budget in no time, no hassle, and that’s the story. It was like a miracle now that I think about it.
I started guitar lessons and researching my own capacity to connect with that level of life that I intuitively knew was there.
To be honest, I believe I was creating the music originally in my little Topanga Canyon kitchen because I needed something of my own to connect me more with the universe. The marriage was starting to feel a little bit on the wrong track for me, just something was missing. To be very forthright, I’ll just say what was missing was a stronger spiritual link to God. That was not in my marriage, it was not in my childhood. There were no religious books to speak of until I made the decision that this was something I needed, and I needed to do some research.
That was the same time I started guitar lessons and researching my own capacity to connect with that level of life that I intuitively knew was there. Very quickly, like within a year or two, something blossomed that was very, very powerful, and so powerful I would have to say it’s not my first time to go through this. It was like reconnecting with the me that was really me in other forms of life. I’m very convinced now that this is not my only physical life, I’m sure that I’ve had other lives, because music exploded too fast and it exploded in too definitive a way, and it was just too well done.
I can’t believe that that was an amateur at work. I believe that I have done this before and I was just reconnecting with the true me. In fact, in front of 70 musicians at Universal Studios, I had my first confirmation of that. The session was going very poorly, we were trying to get the song “Hey Now Who Really Cares.” They had a time deadline for a TV show. Finally, the producer, in exasperation, said, “Does anybody here know why we can’t get this to sound the way I want it to sound?” And 70 musicians, nobody raised their hand.
I was young enough to understand what the problem was, so I reluctantly raised my hand and I said, “Yes, I know what’s wrong, sir.” He said, “Well, what is wrong? We’ve only got a few minutes left here.” I said, “Well, Shelly Manne, you need to stay here, we need you, but play your lightest version of percussion. This is a gentle song, we need a light percussion, as light as you can get it.” He ended up playing a sand ashtray. He just tapped a sand ashtray. I turned to Laurindo Almeida, a world-class guitarist and said, “Laurindo, we need more of you. We’ll probably need to double-track you. The rest of you can go home.”
When it comes to you, you know it’s the voice of truth, whether you know who the voice of truth is or not.
For a novice that was a big mouthful, especially since they would be paid more if they stayed, but that simplicity was the missing link. How did that come to me? I stood in front of that group of musicians and I heard inwardly a man’s voice, a very kindly, loving male voice, and it said, “You’ve already been here before, you’ve already done this before. Do it.” Now where do voices like that come from? Where does information like that come from? And when it comes to you, you know it’s the voice of truth, whether you know who the voice of truth is or not. It comes from a deeper part of you, it comes from a more universal part of you, and it’s good to listen to those voices, they’re guiding you correctly when they come.
I started to research where these voices come from. I went to the facility of Self-Realization here in Los Angeles where Paramahansa Yogananda’s work is. I spent a long time reading his books. For a Westerner, completely confused about which route to take, it’s very good to read his books in particular, because it will bring you right back around to the New Testament, the Old Testament, and some of the other very famous books in the spiritual world, and you’ll be more able to understand them, which is what happened to me.
That’s a very good doorway to start, and then go back and look at things that have troubled you and you probably won’t have as much trouble understanding them. When people ask me, “What happened after the album, Linda, why did you disappear?” Well, pain from a relationship with a man which came after my marriage and divorce was so severe I said, “I never want this pain again, so I’m going to take a spiritual journey and begin to understand things in a deeper way so that my decisions in the future will be guided by love, and not by confusion.”
“Chimacum Rain” is based on the little area just north of the Hood Canal and just south of Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. If you would stare right out your window, you would see Seattle and the Cascades, and that’s where I lived when I was married to my one and only husband who taught me so much about nature and form and function from a designer standpoint.
“Chimacum Rain” is the song that I wrote in that house because I knew that I needed to leave the marriage and I just didn’t quite figure out yet how to go about it. The song is about the dilemma between your love for someone and your realization that there must be a parting. That’s what it’s all about. Chimacum is a very rainy territory, so every day we would see drops of rain and I just started to write about the beautiful drops of rain and the beauty of the ferns and the trees. The essences up there are so natural and so magnificent. It was a choice place to live and a great privilege.
I had to be a loner and go a direction required of me in this life in order to fulfill it properly.
I know many of us have issues in our relationships and sometimes the reason we stay is because we are doing what it was our purpose to do in life and staying in a relationship is the right thing to do. Others find ourselves in a relationship that is restrictive and we’re not allowed to grow to the next level that was meant for us. It’s very important to know the difference between the two.
Sometimes it’s not a selfish reason for leaving. You’re leaving because you need to grow in an area where your mate refuses to allow growth in himself or in you. In other words, there’s a door that the mate doesn’t want to open, is not comfortable going into, and yet you know you need to go there. The reason I had to leave the marriage is to pursue a spiritual study that I came to earth to pursue and that’s why I had to leave. It’s a tough decision, but that’s why I had to be a loner and go a direction required of me in this life in order to fulfill it properly.
I share that with you because some of you will obviously be facing these important questions yourself at some time. If it’s to pursue more understanding of God, you need to do that no matter what. That is the biggest reason for your being here, so it needs to be addressed. I chose to leave my marriage to address a deeper study of that area of my whole being.
In the process of thinking about this, I’d like to share with you also that my second album 44 years later of course threw me into the digital world which is very exciting, there’s so many things we can do musically with the digital world. Now I’m in a world where everybody is checking their cellphones and doing this and doing that, none of which I am as skillful at as most of the other people are. Probably because of my age, but it gives me also a perspective.
In the hippie era, they spent more time going inwardly and addressing God directly. In the digital world, we go directly to the digital and study what’s there, but let’s remember that the information there is put there by human beings. I want you to know that Parallelograms and the composition of that piece of music did not come from what I learned in a digital context, it came from being able to receive some of the teachings of the universe, which come from a place so much higher than just sheer digital.
When it pours through, it is so organized and so beautiful in its structure, I never really capture in its full entirety, but I do the best I can.
In fact there’s a man who many, many, many years prior to digital coming into play on the physical plane, he saw in a vision the satellites that would come into being. And – above the awareness that it would reach the whole globe and the full magnification of the impact this was going to be on humanity – he could perceive the hand of a much higher being, and I’m going to say in my humble words, the hand of God. If properly used, it can be so helpful to humanity. I’m saying this because digital has its place in our life.
There are times in our life when we need to have the capacity, not just to check our cellphone, but to get an answer within seconds as to what to do. I lead my life like that now, I go inward. Something as simple as where did I leave my keys, if I can’t remember, I will say inwardly, “Could I please receive a little help on where the keys are,” and it comes instantly and one instant before I couldn’t think of it to save my soul.
When people ask me, “How do you write those lyrics that you write so quickly, Linda, and they’re so good, maybe you thought of them in one night, how do you do that?” I come home from work as a dental hygienist; I’ve put in long hours of work. I may be incapable of adding a budget and billing and banking at that time, and I just have to let the mind be at peace and be at rest. It’s in those quiet hours, say, between 10:30 and even 2:00 in the morning when I’ve already put in a long day in the dental field, and it’s in that magical set of hours where I will put on some music and I will listen to the music and lyrics will start to flow in like fast rain.
Believe me, I have to run for pen and paper and not miss a detail because I can’t say, “Could you play that back again?” When it pours through, it is so organized and so beautiful in its structure, I never really capture in its full entirety, but I do the best I can. I know that that is not coming from the digital world.
When I found out that we might be working with the chief engineer of Animal Collective, and that would be a collaboration for my third album, this is in the works, I called Julia Holter, she’s so imaginative, and I said, “Julia, I think I’m over my head on this one. Can you give me some help?” Because they do some pretty wild things. Just last weekend Julia and my co-producer, Chris Price, spent a number of hours together with me watching while they started to craft some of her beautiful and exquisite harmonies which are just off the Richter scale. She gets out there.
She said, “Okay Linda, now it’s your turn. We need the lyrics.” I’ll go home and listen to it over and over and over again until the lyrics just fall into place, and it will come quickly like rain, and I’ll know that help was given. This is how I work.
Digital is a tool, but there is something far higher, far more loving, and far more exquisite, and it’s in our universe.
I kind of knew what I wanted, but it was still a confusion to me, so I went into prayer and one night when I was in my little bathroom, actually, putting curlers in my hair, I heard an inner voice say, “Linda, it’s time for love,” meaning it’s time for prayer. I said, “Oh dear, I’ve got to put curlers in and I’m multitasking and oh geez, I’ve got so much to do, but I’ll listen, I’ll listen.” I’m telling you within, I don’t know, minutes, I started to visually see two waves folding together in a waterfall or like how water comes together in an ocean, where two different tides come together and it just envelops, and two things fold into each other with great grace and beauty.
I started to literally see the lyrics come together like that. I knew it was coming from a very high place in the universe, way beyond digital, way, way, way higher in its finesse and its exquisite beauty than just digital. Digital is a tool, but there is something far higher, far more loving, and far more exquisite, and it’s in our universe.