I struggled so hard to think how to adequately sum Madigan up in a soundbite intro, as her creativity both overwhelms and delights me to the point I can no longer be wholeheartedly objective! So this is what her website says:
‘Since her performing & songwriting appeared with Seattle's first generation Riot Grrrl band, the seminal acoustic duo, Tattle Tale, to her art, advocacy and activism of today - Madigan doesn't play for safety.
... Shive certainly sets the underground ablaze.’
Madigan’s art, advocacy and activism of today includes her cello-based, goose-bump inducing music releases as Bonfire Madigan, (her new album is, excitingly, out in 2008) and her work with the autonomous mental health group, the Icarus Project.
Madigan, throughout my contact with her has proved to be one of the most friendly, supportive and generous people I have had the pleasure of interviewing, and I look forward to speaking with her much more in the future, as well as catching her when she plays Europe next year!!
Hi Madigan, how are you?
Cello there Melanie,
I am quite well. Mad & proud - thnx! On tour now, driving from Madison Wi toward Chicago. But I’ve been poking around at finishing this interview for some time now so my "how” state of being has shifted many times since this question was initially posed. And thank goodness, it will continue to do so. Here’s to the spiral time of making everyday a living art project; off the linear-grid communication map. In the interest of actualizing my new album and developing idea bubbles in your super interdependent publication series.
I see that you have played the "Slumber Party Cabaret" presented by Michelle Tea in San Francisco. How did that go? There were some amazing queer acts set to perform, including yourself; I’m so jealous that events like this are happening over there and not here!!
This was an inspiring evening for me. Michelle asked for our femme role models and I cited eartha kitt, quentin crisp, louise michel, leslie mah and machiko saito as personal fierce femme's of a gender spectrum. Since this gig I’ve become extra excited to read Anna joy Springer's new novel.
What is the Icarus project, what is your personal involvement with it, and how & why did you wish to be involved with such a unique project/initiative?
The Icarus Project is a radical mental health website community, support network, and media project rooted in mutual aid and created by and for people with emotional extremes, distress, anxiety, defiance and other experiences that get labelled "mental illness."
I am enamoured with the mystery. With the journey as the destination.
How crucial do you think radical, mutual mental health support networks are within our current depressing and depressive society, and as an effective crisis intervention?
I have yet to participate in anything more illuminating than creating opportunities to describe our inner world in a support, activism, and creative community-building capacity.
A short piece on Icarus aired this past wknd in the usa on NPR/National Public Radio.
See pics & listen to it here:
How do you personally define ‘radical’ in the sense it is used here?
Radical: from the root to the extremes.
In the ‘people are a trip’ video you made with Juliana Luecking you say “Sometimes I get really sad, but I’m choosing life in the face of this death machine”
In talking about inspiration this is about as good as it gets for me!
I was going to ask if you had any good pointers, from your experience on how to gain that perspective to choose life, especially since many people do not feel, do not know that there is/are alternatives to the ‘death-machine’. Then I read your blog where you wrote:
‘When my brain is trying to kill me, shouting "get off this poisonous prison planet!" I must give in & open my fear. heart. hopes. trauma. shame. my healthy opposites. names, numbers. activities. 3am friends. wildest dreams. sleep. stretch. breathe. deeper. write. walk. scream & sing.’It seems like there isn’t just one technique that works for you to remain / gain positivism, but a multitude; would this be true to say? Is it a creative journey through a combination of various alternatives and attempts?
Is it important to you that you have lots of options, creative options, to turn to for support?
Yes. Exactly. I need access to & cultivation of lotsa expansive harm reduction modalities.
Your statement in the above video is continued by you saying, “Sometimes I get really sad, but I’m choosing life in the face of this death machine. But I know I’m not alone, so I keep going.
Chosen family keeps us going. Best thing about being an adult really – is choosing your family.”
This sense of chosen family, or community, is something that I understand so much, as I too have a great chosen family of about six friends who help me know I’m not alone, even if I don’t see them all the time I know they’re there for me.
Your words remind me greatly of this following quote by Miranda July, she writes:
‘One day I got a letter. It was a big envelope from my friend Khaela Maricich. I opened it and slowly pulled out a strange mass of paper. I started unfolding it. And unfolding it. The Hollywood screenwriters began looking up from their conversations to watch me unfold. Eventually I had to stand up because the thing was so long. It was a life-size paper version of Khaela herself. She must have sensed I needed backup. There she was, carefully painted and cut out, one arm punching the air, wearing jeans and a T-shirt that said temporary version. Oh and look, the jeans even had a tiny paper pocket. Everyone watched as I reached into the pocket and took out a letter. I sat down and read it with Khaela folded over my arm. This was the official beginning of my confidence that week. There is maybe a myth that freaky-artist types are either total loners or members of packs, scenes. I’ve never been either of these things, but I have two or three friends who are my touchstones. Khaela is one of these. We don’t hang out very often. Sometimes we fight, sometimes it takes hours to warm up to each other, but sooner or later the gates are flung open and everything comes crashing out of our hearts. Our hopes and insecurities become spiritual when she talks about them.’How important to you is chosen family, in regards to them being the ones able to remind you of who you are, and why that matters? Like what Miranda July is saying about having someone who uniquely knows as you understand, and as such can pass on great strength, or confidence, or positivism in ways that make sense to you. Mind/body/community.
Yes mind, body, community interconnectedness is something I have been obsessed with finding harmony and wholeness with as long as I can remember. I suppose this becomes more urgent for those of us who have fractured experiences with these. You’re making me recall my own stories of when I was living with Miranda July in a house in Portland Oregon with other diy feminist artists. But hmmm this could be a whole other article/interview at some point.
In return, how important to you is being a collaborator in others lives, in their creative journeyings?
I ask this as I’m aware that (whether you know it or not) you’re ‘there’ for many people, and helping them out [for example being willing to respond to this interview, amongst all your other commitments!!}}]
Being a collaborator, creative champion, collective member (which I called in the moonpuss manifesto: ‘freeform freedom fighters!’) is at the heart of my ethos and anarcha creed. Working on honing this skill everyday in every kinda relationship I have is the best way that I have found to confront and actively dissolve the hierarchy, competition and harm that the dominant capitalist value system has culturally normalized in us. Replacing unchecked ego & territory with compassion & active listening. Our values are innovation and cooperation, shared resources and community asset building. I call it post-apocolyptic self-help. Transcendence is the call - which sounds like: ‘share or die!’ (in that old school sk8 or die font).
Riot grrrl, of which you first musically came to prominence, was dominated by girl guitar bands, whilst you were carving your name within that ‘scene’ as part of Tattle Tale, a strings-based group, with you playing the most remarkable cello pieces.
I remember when writing my MA thesis on female diy music scenes and their challenges to ‘conventional’ forms of (feminist) activism, having to explain to my research supervisors how diy, and how riot grrrl differed from their knowledges of ‘punk’. I remember being asked how all my research was linked to Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McClaren and the Sex Pistols, and trying to explain it to them by playing them, and writing about, your music. Music that you yourself have claimed as a form of ‘punk rock cello history’.
What is your understanding of, and commitment to ‘punk’ in terms of the music you create?
Wow. I’d love to read your thesis. Please email it to me? That’s quite humbling and empowering to hear. Thank you!
The punk spirit that welcomed me as a teenage composer and performer was one of deep, raw, honest truth of experience and expression. Anti-apathy, anti-conformity and pro-creativity, pro-comradery. That everything is contextual and how we present our ideas is as valuable as what those ideas are. And this context ultimately defines what we are looking at. The k records scene of the puget sound region of WA state where I was growing up carried the expression of love rock. Of youthful revolt against the corporate ogre. I want to thank calvin, tinuviel, chris jordan, diana arens, (+ many others) with a commitment to an all ages art and music community because this is how punk came into my life and continues to inform my travels within and culturally evolving it outward. I feel honoured that both the "folk-punk" and "chamber-punk" genres that my work has been able to identify and contextualize and make accessible conversations on class liberation.
In various messages you’ve sent me you have ended with sentences such as ‘we are the ones we've been waiting for!’, or ‘we are the badass gifts we've been waiting for ...’
To what degree do you believe that as individuals we can all be important and inspirational with and within our own lives, with the talents, creativities and experiences we have [and thus can potentially save our own souls]?
When I was regularly peer facilitating mental health support groups, I would often reflect on how want takes need. This is something that makes us different than other animals. We can be participants in our own death thereby our own rebirth. But only if we want to. Desire seems to take necessity most every time.
Of the writing you create, the letters and messages you send, I have noticed that you are a great believer of the word ‘aspire’ (or, ‘on the aspire’).
What power and importance does this word hold for you?
Aspire. To long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value. To soar. As the collective says: a new world in our hearts. My other favourite is conspire. To breathe together. To agree together, especially secretly, to do something "wrong, evil, or illegal: They conspired to kill the king."
To act or work together toward the same result or goal.
There’s something I wanted to ask somebody about, and since it’s associated with an article I found online at the Icarus Project website, and since I’ve heard you speak about love and being heart-broken via Julaina Luecking’s project, I thought it may be interesting to ask you.
Okay, so this article entitled ‘is it love or mental illness’ begins:
‘At some point in life, most of us will face a major mental-health crisis. It’s called love’
And when I first read that I got kinda cross, like it was trying to separate the two, when often I’ve thought that a lot of my reactions towards love, and relationships, and heartbreak was *due* to problems I face and experience due to my (lack of) mental health, and an inability to ‘cope’. I was angry cuz it was almost trying to rationalise, disempower and simplify something that to me was far more complex; almost like saying, “oh, you’ve not got a major health problem, you’re just experiencing love”.
But then the article continues and all the research shows that subjects dealing with failed relationships showed activity in brain regions associated with OCD problems, and activity in a part of the brain linked with physical pain. The research also claims that ‘the dramatic changes evident on the brain scans may help explain bizarre behaviour that is often associated with love’; ‘you’re not operating with your full range of cognitive abilities. It’s possible that part of the rational brain shuts down’.
What are your thoughts on this?
I’ve quoted a few paragraphs from a good article on this exact idea that crimethinc published called, ‘Join the Resistance... Fall in Love’.
Falling in love is the ultimate act of revolution, of resistance to today's tedious, socially restrictive, culturally constrictive, humanly meaningless world.
love harder: or else the usual bigots who form the front-line offensive in the assault of modern Western culture upon the individual will step in.
We must fight against these cultural restraints that would cripple and smother our desires. For it is love that gives meaning to life, desire that makes it possible for us to make sense of our existence and find purpose in our lives. Without these, there is no way for us to determine how to live our lives, except to submit to some authority, to some god, master or doctrine that will tell us what to do and how to do it without ever giving us the satisfaction that self-determination does. So fall in love today, with men, with women, with music, with ambition, with yourself. . . with life!
One might say that it is ridiculous to implore others to fall in love—one either falls in love or one does not, it is not a choice that can be made consciously. Emotions do not follow the instructions of the rational mind. But the environment in which we must live out our lives has a great influence on our emotions, and we can make rational decisions that will affect this environment. It should be possible to work to change an environment that is hostile to love into an environment that will encourage it. Our task must be to engineer our world so that it is a world in which people can and do fall in love, and thus to reconstitute human beings so that we will be ready and able to find meaning and happiness in our lives.
What if everyone decided right and wrong for themselves, without any regard for conventional morality? What if everyone did whatever they wanted to, with the courage to face any consequences? What if everyone feared loveless, lifeless monotony more than they fear taking risks, more than they fear being hungry or cold or in danger? What if everyone set down their "responsibilities" and "common sense," and dared to pursue their wildest dreams, to set the stakes high and live each day as if it were the last? Think what a place the world would be!
Finally, how are things currently going with your music and recording? Is the new album coming along well?
I’d like to quote my anchor, guiding light collaborator in this process: Shawn Biggs of little echoes in san Francisco.
"Bonfire Madigan has been in the studio finishing her 3rd album. The new album is amazing and adventurous, taking on and blending new styles, sounds and songforms. There have been many spectacular guests to help in the journey including: Joan Jeanrenaud (Kronos Quartet), David Coulter (Pogues), Ralph Carney (Tom Waits band), Jolie Holland, Carla Kihlstedt, Shelley Doty, Ashley Adams, Jonathan Egg Hughes, Eliana Fiore, Adam Pfahler (Jawbreaker) and Matt Lucich.
Watch the BMad website for release details."
Is there anything else you’d like to add / say?
Tons of mad love & gratitude to you Melanie, With Arms Outstretched & everyone Coloring Outside the Lines ... !
Let’s keep awakening in this collective dream.
Come join me on the conspire to aspire ...