The Secret Life of Girls

On the latest blog-rock sensation's improbable, somewhat verifiable backstory

"How many kids are gutter-punk-style, drug-addicted?" the 71-year-old asks in a gruff drawl. "Most aren't any good. They are boring. Chris was a diamond in the rough."

Marsh rejects the notion that he performed any Dickensian act of charity: "I don't know about 'father figure'—I raised hell with him. We're not Boy Scouts." But he did cop to adding stability to Owens's life, and appreciated the teen's artistic fervor: "We have this grand piano, and Chris would come out with those little tape recorders mainly used for dictation and write music to send to his relatives, his nieces and nephews." Because Owens didn't want to practice in front of the group, Marsh and his wife had to sneak into the dining room and listen to him sing and play in the dark. "I don't think Chris has insights that come easily to him," Marsh says. "He works hard for it."

When told of his benefactor's secret listening sessions, Owens just chuckles. Perhaps in response to growing up with so many secrets, he doesn't seem to put much stock in privacy. He does want to correct one thing from previous interviews, though: He bears no ill will toward his mother, whom he hasn't spoken to in years.

"Some stories make my mother sound like a crazy person," he says. "I like to say that she meant well. She is really kind and genuine—a high school dropout trying to find some kind of meaning in the world, and she got influenced by some people she shouldn't have." He went on to say that, unlikely as it seems, he looks up to her: "She was strong and courageous, and she followed her dreams."

Girls play Bowery Ballroom November 6

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