Tara Jane O’Neil performs at Soundfix Records on Saturday, December 1 at 8 pm.
Volume I, Issue Six (Part One)
Tara Jane O’Neil
Words and still photos by Rob Trucks
Tara Jane O’Neil’s first take, “Sunday Song” (a delicate equation on its best day), is overwhelmed by noise. We’re outside the back door of Max Fish, famed Ludlow Street watering hole slash art gallery, and a couple lots towards Houston there’s an exterior elevator continually scaling a new high-rise. There’s a parking lot behind us and more construction going on next door. And if that’s not enough, the wind is positively biting like an obscene phone call from a borderline asthmatic into our microphone.
We’re surrounded not only by a menagerie of plastic figures – smiling blue bears, an orange witch astride her broom and a red and merry Santa; about what you would expect from the back alley of a bar known for its character – but, further down the building, by detritus of the discarded variety more carelessly placed (though much less now, Tara says, than the old days, when the trash used to be “up to the windows”). Sure, some has been bagged in white and bright blue plastic, but most (tennis shoes, plywood, paint cans, chairs with missing legs) roams haphazardly free.
And yet pretty much everything surrounding this seemingly static alleyway, this urban courtyard, this open yet enclosed space (minus the moored Max Fish, of course), is evidence of how this neighborhood (which happens to be Tara Jane O’Neil’s old neighborhood), is changing or has already changed.
“The apartment, the bar and the coffee shop, when I lived there,” Tara Jane says, “that was kind of my reality. Of course, there was this whole big city all around it but that was kind of my nest, all those buildings. And so that would be like my view from where I lived. I would look out and that was like my backyard. That construction site with the elevator and the giant new high-rise, that stuff wasn’t there when I was there. It’s just interesting how things tend to change in this city.”
“That was definitely a special vibe during that time and that place,” she says of her time (circa 1997-2000) there. “I was in my mid-twenties. Everybody that I was hanging out with, you know, was making music. We were going to each others’ houses, jamming, doing whatever.”
“Sunday Song,” says Tara Jane, “corresponds with the place so nicely. I was spending a lot of time at the Pink Pony. It was kind of like my living room, and my friends worked there and the owner was kind enough to turn a blind eye to the coffee we consumed for free.
“Anyway, my friend Josh was playing guitar. He was working and playing guitar one day and kind of dared me to write a song with fucked-up tuning. So I took it upstairs to my apartment which was next door and worked on it a little bit and brought it back down to the Pony as a half-finished song. I think there’s actually a line about me drinking at Max Fish in that song, so it’s totally like my experience on that block.”
We’re sorry you missed it.
Tara Jane O’Neil
Visual and recording artist Tara Jane O’Neil
Around 2 p.m. on Friday, November 16th
In the back alley/backyard behind Max Fish, 178 Ludlow Street
Songs performed for us:
“Sunday Song,” a cover of Richard Hurley’s “New River Blues,” and “Blue Light Room,” a song of which O’Neil says “I now no longer relate.”
One thing Tara Jane O’Neil has never done:
“Grown a beard.”
Something she’s done once and once time only:
“One time I opened a show for a Buddhist monk at a temple.”
The name of a book she’s read at least twice:
“Trickster Makes This World (Lewis Hyde).”
And a movie she’s seen at least three times:
The album Tara Jane O’Neil has listened to more than any other in her life:
“Probably The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell, but I think it might be a tie (between) that and Sign ‘O’ The Times by Prince.”
If life on Ludlow was so damn special, then why did you leave?
“Well, I mean, I think everybody who lives here (New York City) should probably escape every so often to see some trees, but that’s just me. Most specifically, our situation, we were living in an apartment that had a sublet. Someone that had a lease sublet to us. It was still relatively cheap for the neighborhood that was about to change into what it kind of is now, so in our building everybody was getting evicted and they were renovating the place and charging twice as much and we were just kind of safe inside of this sublet. But then the landlord blew the whistle after three years or whatever and so we had to go. And the way my life is structured, it’s a pretty delicate weave of economics. You know, I can’t continue doing what I do if I have to get a full-time job, so we had to go somewhere and there weren’t really any options in the city and had kind of been looking to get out anyway, so we went upstate.”
Was your time in the city productive?
“I tend to be pretty productive wherever I go because that’s just what I do with my time. I make shit.”
Speaking of . . . your second book with CD, Wings Strings Meridians: A Blighted Bestiary, is ready for release. Is this the closest, so far, to a merger of your music and drawing?
“Well, it’s the most comprehensive document of those two pursuits. But there’s other projects I work on that are more of an actual merging of the visual and the musical side. This is a more a document. It’s a project in that I’m compiling all of those things, but it’s not a composition. I didn’t make all the things specifically for the book and make all the songs specifically for the CD that goes with the book, you know. It’s not like a specific project with a big concept behind it. It’s just a collection. There’s a lot of doodle work in there. And unfinished pieces in there. Like little sketches of things that maybe I brought to some other form later. You can call it like a monograph.”