Smile Politely

Make way for the ladies

It’s Ladies Night tonight at the Canopy Club, as Champaign-Urbana’s Lynn O’Brien and Tracey and Tricia are joined by San Francisco’s Paper Crocodiles and Annie Bacon. Doors are at 8 p.m., the show starts at 9 p.m., and cover is $7.

The lovely Ms. Bacon graciously answered our questions by email.

Smile Politely: I see you’re originally from Maine. How did you end up in S.F.?

Annie Bacon: The short answer to this question is that I had a dream and my grandfather (deceased 10 years at that point) told me to go. In the dream I was sitting at his desk (which I inherited) and playing with the odd things that I’d found in the drawers after his children had taken everything they thought was important, which amounted to a few newspaper clippings and some tiny porcelain penguins. He didn’t speak outright to me. but as I played with the penguins I could feel him in my bones telling me to go. So I went. Best decision ever.

SP: Have you ever been compared to another musician that you felt didn’t fit?

AB: Oh, the comparison game is hilarious. We all just love putting each other in these little boxes. The boxes I feel like I haven’t fit in are mostly the ones that I am longing to be in, which is to say someone compared me to Neko Case the other day after we watched her perform at the Warfield in San Francisco, and I was just dumbfounded because I feel like she is on this untouchable platform of greatness to which I aspire.

SP: What kind of music did you grow up listening to? Have your tastes evolved as you’ve grown up, or do you still appreciate your childhood favorites?

AB: Thankfully my tastes have become much more sophisticated as I’ve grown. My earliest influence was the blues guitar played by the old man next door on summer mornings, he’d sit out with his tiny amp in front of his junk, I mean antique shop and I’d lay in bed, feeling the breeze on my face and just soak in every note. Later it was all soft rock, well that and classic rock. Soft rock made me feel, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful, sometimes longing or desperation. These were all emotions that I was exploring in my tweens and soft rock just really yanked those strings and let me sit in the wells and memorize those emotional stone walls.

Later I stole my brother’s Pink Floyd album, I think it was Pulse first, then The WaIl, then Dark Side of the Moon. I couldn’t get enough. I loved Pink Floyd and wanted to live inside their songs.

SP: Are you a solo performer on tour, or do you have other(s) with you?

AB:For this show I am riding solo, although an old high school friend, Joe Asselin, will be sitting in on a few songs either on guitar or harmonica, we haven’t decided yet. Also my friends from the Bay Area — Paper Crocodile — will also be playing that night and I might try to talk them into singing some oh-oh-ohs with me.

SP: Can you talk a little bit about the origins of “You Are Just An Idiot”?

AB: Oh it was a desperate heartbreak. blah blah blah. Some boy who didn’t realize my greatness and tried to make me feel like I was too much woman for the world. In a moment of inspiration the song just poured out whole. and of course in the very second I put the guitar down after writing it, he called. I didn’t answer the phone. He was nice, but he was an Idiot.

But to be more philosophical about it, there’s a tendency I’ve noticed among men of my generation to be intimidated by women who are smart, active and engaged in life. (There are exceptions to every generalization of course.) The effect being that women are subtly encouraged to “lessen” themselves — to be less outgoing, less intelligent, less brilliant — so that men feel like they’re on equal ground with us. The Idiot song is sort of a battle cry that we don’t have to diminish ourselves for the sake of someone else’s low self-esteem.

And I’ll say that there are Idiots of every gender and persuasion, and there are Brilliant-Empowering sorts of every gender as well.

SP: Are you traveling with the Paper Crocodiles, or are you just passing through at the same time by coincidence?

AB: It is not in fact coincidence, but neither am I traveling with the Paper Crocodiles. They are a lovely band with whom I’ve shared bills in many different bands through the years. They put out a cry for help in booking their tour and I had been booking my own and know how incredibly difficult it is, so I put the line out to the Shadowboxer Collective folks (who have been incredible) and it worked out for them to be on the bill.

SP: How long has your current tour been? How did the east coast treat you?

AB: This tour has been about 3 weeks, and it’s been magical. the east coast in the summer is such a lovely place. I’ve played in Portsmouth, N.H., Boston, Mass., Manhattan, Williamsburg/Brooklyn and Red Hook/Brooklyn, and in Cleveland. In general I’d say the audiences have been small-ish but incredibly loving: from strangers who just happened by, to old friends who came out in droves.

SP: Do you still have family in Maine? Did you get a chance to visit anyone on the tour?

AB: Yes I do still have family in Maine. My parents actually live in Abu Dhabi (UAE) but my mother was home for the summer and cooked up an amazing lobster and steak tip dinner for us with sweet corn and baked potato and it was brilliant. I also got to see my niece for the first time since she was three weeks old (she’s 18 months now) and my big brother (the one with the Pink Floyd CDs).

SP: Have you ever played in Champaign-Urbana before? Anything you’d like to say to the fine folks here?

AB: Never played in Champaign-Urbana, never even BEEN to Champaign-Urbana, and I am looking forward to it immensely. What I’d like to say is that you have a wonderful resource in this Shadowboxer Collective, who have graciously put this whole evening together, and it looks like there will be some great music. It is going to be a “Ladies Night” which is to say all female-led performances, which to be honest is a rare thing (sometimes I’ll go three or four shows without another female performer on the bill even as a band member). I’d like to thank Shadowboxer and the Canopy Club for inviting me and giving me space to sing my lot.

SP: What’s something you enjoy about being a touring musician that you didn’t expect to like?

AB: Interestingly this is my first tour alone — I’ve only actually been alone for a few days now, since leaving New York — and I didn’t expect to be so happy about being alone. My life in San Francisco is brilliant and I am surrounded by incredible community there, and I am a social person in general. But there is nothing like pure solitude to really get that creative metabolism flowing.

SP: Anything else you’d like to share?

AB: I’m coming into this show on the heels of the death of a friend two days ago. So if there’s room for this, let me say that I don’t recommend taking any of this beauty for granted, it’s all so fleeting and that’s what makes it beautiful I suppose. That’s what I love about live music, it brings us into the moment — to be completely present even for a second — and when you do that you aren’t taking anything for granted.

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