BWW Cabaret Conversation: CAROL LIPNIK, BWW's 2015 Best Alt-Cabaret Show Award Winner, On Origins of Her Art and Becoming a 'Heart-Warrior'--Last of a Series
Last Thursday night I went to see Carol Lipnik and her band at Joe's Pub (where she has been the first two Thursdays in March and will be again tonight at 7 pm). I was there with a friend, singer-songwriter Erica Smith, who has known Lipnik for many years. Smith met Lipnik when Lipnik was part of an experimental ensemble, accompanied by a harpist and a tabla player, performing downtown at venues such as ABC NoRio. Erica warned me before the show: "Whenever I see Carol perform, I cry puddles." After the show, I asked her what it is about Lipnik's music that brings out this emotional response. She thoughtfully replied that in addition to Lipnik's gorgeous instrument, there's a purity of feeling that Lipnik transmits through her songs, eliciting an emotional release in her. "It's cathartic," Erica said.
I met another friend after the show, musician Courtney Lee Adams, Jr. She, too, confesses to shedding tears at Lipnik's concerts. I asked her the same question: What is it in Carol's music that evokes the emotional response in you? Courtney said that Lipnik's lyric, "Oh, the tyranny of your beauty" is what really gets her these days. Lipnik resonates with the longing for that unreachable ideal, that deep yearning, a heartbreakingly human endeavor.
In this last installment of my three-part interview series with Carol Lipnik, BWW's 2015 New York Cabaret Award-winner for Best Alt-Cabaret/Musical Comedy Performance, we explore the origins of Lipnik's art and her unique perspective, and how she became a "Heart-Warrior" with the ability to intimately and emotionally connect with her audience.
Carol Lipnik: I really like Marlon Brando. He had lived on his island in Tahiti. One of his greatest joys in life was his collection of kaleidoscopes. After he died, Christies auctioned off his belongings. There were so many different kinds of kaleidoscopes. I imagined him lying on a lounge chair, high off his gourd, looking at the sunset through kaleidoscopes--talk about looking through different lenses! And then there were all these beautiful boxes. I opened one. And in all these beautiful boxes were fake severed fingers. I imagine someone was in his house and admired the boxes, opened one up and-surprise--Finger! So it might not be a bad thing to do--get some boxes and put some severed fingers inside. You know, as a gag.
Remy Block: So he was a freak . . . like you.
CL: My red hair is my freak flag banner. My hair is long and red and f-you. My identity is all tied up in being a redhead. It's a badge of horror! It's not easy being a redhead. You get a lot of shit.
RB: Red hair makes you a target?
CL: Kids were just looking for anything different. I paid my dues and sowed my seeds as an outsider, and then I was able to turn it into an art form.
RB: Who were your childhood allies?
CL: I have a brother and he also has bright red hair. He is a musician, too. He specializes in early music. He sings high--the countertenor--we both have high voices. He has two acts. One is called Lionheart, a polyphonous male vocal ensemble. They're amazing. They have a lot of records out on the Koch record label. They perform at places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters. He also plays the Viola de Gamba, which looks like a cello but is really descended from bass. We're best friends and we're both outcasts, being from Coney Island and being redheads. We come from a race of redheads.
RB: Are your parents red heads too?
CL: My dad has pitch-black hair. My mom has red hair, which she hides under a blond wig for some reason. When my dad grew a mustache, it came in red, so that explained it, because you need two recessive genes to be a red head.
RB: What did they do when you were growing up?
CL: My parents are retired schoolteachers. My dad taught junior high math and my mom taught first grade. My dad hated it, and my mom, a natural performer, absolutely adored teaching.
RB: What do you think your dad wished he could do instead of teaching?
CL: Probably an astronaut of the spirit?
RB: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
CL: An artist, living in a cloud.
RB: What do you remember daydreaming about--riding your bike on the Coney Island boardwalk?
CL: Riding around, in the brooding moment, was like-you know how you go to a bar to have a drink to feel a certain way? Riding around Coney Island, in those days when it was a dangerous, menacing, decaying place, was like taking a drink of sad fun, a drink of the landscape. It was my sustenance, my preferred drink.
RB: So you always knew you were an outsider artist, it just took a while to figure out what kind . . .
CL: I've been reading about David Bowie's life and how he was such a private person. He was David Jones, but David Bowie was his persona, and very separated from David Jones. I had this revelation recently that I am this character on stage. It's not me. It's aspects of me, and it's probably my best me, but ultimately it's not me. It's a character that I'm playing when I'm on stage.
RB: How did you come to this realization that you're playing a character version of yourself on stage?
CL: When I ended my recent residency at Pangea [in the East Village] the folks there gave me this poster that they all signed with messages. And because I have such sentimental feelings about that place and the staff, I hung it up in my living room. I never do things like that. So I'm staring at this poster and that's when I realized: This isn't me; this is a character.
RB: So who is this character?
CL: She's a heart-warrior. All the things I wish I could be. It's like a century plant. It grows for 100 years, and then it gets this gigantic flower, and the flower is magnificent. After the flower goes to seed, the plant dies. And the seeds grow more flowers. No--it's called a silver sword--y'all can Google it. Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm a late bloomer. I'm a poster child for the late bloomer.
RB: There's something very powerful in that.
CL: I'm ready for my close up with my bloom. Maybe a close up of the stamen, like a Georgia O'Keefe painting. Do people whack off to Georgia O'Keefe flowers? Great actors shed themselves and become something else. I like the notion of being something better than me. It's liberating! I never get tired of that moment when the artist is backstage waiting to go on, and then the door opens and they go out. I find that moment to be very sexy. If we take that sexual analogy further, the orgasm is all about losing control. Being a good sexual partner is about surrender, and that's the moment of surrender--the waiting. You hear yourself introduced, and then that split second when you're here and all of a sudden you're there.
Carol Lipnik performs tonight with Matt Kanelos and Kyle Sanna at Joe's Pub, 7 pm. Lipnik and Kanelos will be back at Pangea (178 2nd Avenue, NYC) for a weekly residency on Sunday nights, starting April 3 at 7:30 pm.