In 1970, Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms was an acid-folk flop. It was produced by sound track composer Leonard Rosenman, after he met dental hygienist Perhacs during a routine teeth cleaning. The man who scored Fantastic Voyage and Ralph Bakshi's 1978 The Lord of the Rings took one look at the strange blueprints for Parallelograms — colorful, abstract drawings Perhacs described to him as music — and saw that within this dental hygienist's imagination was a bohemian masterpiece.
Using professional studio musicians guided only by scribbled lines, swirls, dots and carefully chosen adjectives from Perhacs, they created a psychedelic milestone — ahead of both its time and technology. It was voice and echo repeated into infinity, like a mirror mirroring a mirror.
Nobody noticed. Perhacs received the crookedest part of a crooked business deal. She was barred from final production choices and the label did nothing to promote her music. Disillusioned, she resumed her 9-to-5, diverting her creative attention to a quiet Topanga life — reading Annie Besant's spiritualist books and hanging around Yogananda's Lake Shrine Temple.
Thirty years later, she began receiving phone calls for interview requests. Unauthorized reissuers had been hard at work. She didn't even know there were any new copies of Parallelograms, but Perhacs found a world of writers and collectors and artists waiting to embrace her. (Now she affectionately calls Devendra Banhart “Dev.”)
This led to her first performance ever, at REDCAT last year, at a tribute show curated by local DJ collective Dublab, where L.A. bands performed the songs from her one and only album.
Perhacs felt reawakened. She recruited some of the young musicians who had inspired her by playing her own songs in new ways: Julia Holter, Michelle Vidal, Aaron Robinson, We Are the World's Robbie Williamson. She began writing again for the first time since 1970. This summer in L.A. at HM157, she unveiled her new music. (Perhacs makes music that must be unveiled.) This month, indie label Mexican Summer released Parallelograms the way Perhacs always wanted. It's not so much a reissue as a restoration.
L.A. WEEKLY: You've performed in public three times now. Who is your audience?
LINDA PERHACS: Every time we do something, we have a crowd of primo young people — all very artistic. High spiritual, high ecology, high intelligence, doing some form of artist work, most watching their diet and health. You couldn't ask for better people. They are all between 19 and 36. It's their exploratory years. They don't have so many babies or household responsibilities. They still have time in their life to explore. That's the age I did Parallelograms. Young people in their exploratory years are making choices. It's the choice between following the good energy in the universe or choosing to forsake that and follow the opposite. Follow the opposite, the problems are going to be maximum. If you follow positive energy, take care of the children, take care of your job, good will flow into your health, your spiritual life, your relationships, your work. We make choices. When we stay with the good energies, we will feel the good coming through in crazy ways.
Parallelograms seems to be full of love songs. What memories come up when you sing them?
There's a lot of memories that come up, but some of them are pretty tender. The sweetness of the love for a man is expressed in that music because that's where I put my love in those days, and those guys are gone. They were experimenting with things that did not allow their lives to go full-term. I didn't participate in that. I don't need it! But, yes, it was everywhere and we lost a few that we loved. … I'm sorry, it makes me cry to think about this. … One died from an overdose, another, I don't know if he's still on the physical plane. Of these two people that I thought were so strong, I am the one that ended up being the strong one.
They were all genuinely love songs, yes. One is of a man who had impeccable logic except when it was aimed at himself. He lost it because of that flaw. The other one was so sensitive he would retreat to the wilderness because there was so much clamor in the city that it drove his sensitivities nutty. I don't know where he is or if he is still alive. I never chose a practical go-to-work guy. I love energy people and artistic people. I do dental hygiene but still stay in the other realm. At that time a man was the center of my attention, but when they proved to not be reliable I decided to grow in the other dimension and haven't had a problem since.
But you do believe in love, right?
All I know to tell you, Daiana, is that loving a man began to be too difficult. If I depended on them to be the center of my universe, I would be in trouble. You need to understand your balance with the whole picture. The safest thing you can do is understand your capacity to love in this huge picture. Then you begin to stand up stronger and know where you're at. That pivotal point is when you begin to develop the strength you need to face anything — life, death, job problems, money — nothing can hurt you once you connect with your strength in that larger picture. If you are only strong because you are connected to another human being, you will be in trouble because they won't be there forever. But there will always be someone there for you if you are strong, because that power is attractive.
Parallelograms has just been reissued and you're three songs into writing a new album. What do you sing about now?
I want to address world issues and needs subtly inside my music, so that it isn't offensive but just shows love and concern. A song like “Prisms of Glass” addresses an issue in life without hitting you on the head with a billboard. The real need is that the children get better influences from the adults. They are hurting bad with this stuff on TV, which we use as a babysitter. It's show after show on deviant behavior and kids see it. I don't think that's good for them. Pretty soon they begin to think those deviant thoughts are OK. I want something to flow out good to them, to help them with the problems they're facing. The energy of 150 vocal harmonies will envelop you when you hear the recorded version of “Prisms of Glass.” I want people to have that good energy flow into them and quiet them down and give them something that will strengthen them — to try harder with the gifts they have, to stabilize their life and help others do the same.
Parallelograms was rediscovered just after your near-death from pneumonia. Was there meaning behind that timing?
It could only have been put together by a higher hand. All the pieces have come together since: the special events I've played, meeting the musicians and people I'm working with. After that pneumonia that almost took me off the Earth plane, I did a lot of soul-searching and prayer, and I felt the need to create. I felt a strong tug from the needs of the world, more than I had before.
And the universe presented me with a way to be heard. It was about that time that Devendra Banhart started communicating and asking if we could connect. As soon as I met him and learned e-mail, I said, “Dev, we need to think about the world.”
I see a lot coming from the young people. In music, the change in tone is finally moving more toward groups expressing the need for love. People are seeking answers, anything to cheer them up. The news is terrible, there's more loss of jobs. It's not real positive what we're facing. Even the proud and boastful are hit hard.
What do you see coming from young people?
I really love these young people, the ones making the music, the ones helping to put it together, and the ones hearing it. I think a lot of people feel something strong coming from the streets of L.A. They're mystified by it. I saw it at the REDCAT show, the L.A. Folk Festival and the San Fran thing. These young people are hitting the marks. Media people should be interested in understanding that flow better. I've been telling people, the birds are flying elsewhere.
Where are the birds going?
The birds are flying toward doing things their own way. Young people are finding ways to express without big studios or companies. They'd love the money, but they'll do it without them. That is where the birds have flown.
I wish the birds would understand their power to change things for the better. They are satellites with the huge potential to communicate, to get through all barriers, and to let the truth of their hearts out and be heard. Sometimes our younger people look to us for some input, and if I can help in any way, I'm ready to do it. We are here because we have something to give and something to express. Ultimately so we can help each other instead of the opposite.
We are all in this together. It's not new versus old. Artists are going to approach the same questions of the old world with the tools of the new world. Just hopefully they keep their balance with the organic. We have to remember that these technologies require a power source. Without that they go down instantly. That power source is not man-made. It comes from a higher place in the universe. That's the only reason I am doing music at my age. Of course I love doing the music, which is so stimulating and enriching, but it doesn't have anything to do with trying to be the best whatever. The world has a huge need right now. That pulls me from the inside. There's too much negativity. Anything I can do to increase positivity is essential.
Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms is out now on Mexican Summer.