No one has a story quite like that of psychedelic-folk artist Linda Perhacs. Born with synaesthesia, she sees swirling masses of multi-coloured light in her mind’s eye that twist, writhe and geometrise to music. In the early seventies, through her work as a periodontist in Hollywood, she met cinematic composer Leonard Rosenberg, who helped her to record her first and only album, Parallelograms. While the initial response to her music was underwhelming, it has gained a cult following in the higher echelons of the music industry, with her fans now including Daft Punk and Sonic Youth.
Zac Bayly: What were the seventies like for you?
Linda Perhacs: The seventies… Look, there was less concern with ‘me and I’ and more concern with ‘we and all of us’. I never heard the word ‘licensing’ in the seventies; I’d never even heard that word until, like, 2003 or 2005, when I became aware that my music was being used in movies. Like, the Daft Punk people used some of my music and they credited the wrong person.
Are you a Daft Punk fan?
Well, it was a patient who told me about the movie thing — a guy in the industry, whose teeth I’d helped save. He had really bad problems… It happens to a lot of guys in the film and music industries who do the mixing. They work all day and night, and sleep a couple of hours in the studio. Some of them lose track of the fact that they’re getting into their fifties and need to take care of their bodies.
So, what did he say?
His name was Ron Schwartz and he said, “You need to wake up! Your song is in a movie!” I was like, “What?” He said, “I watched Daft Punk’s movie Electroma, and there was your song ‘If You Were My Man’, and they gave the credit to the wrong person.” So, I had to make some phone calls to get everything sorted out, but that was the first time I’d heard the word ‘licensing’. By the way, Daft Punk were as shocked as I was. They’re dear friends now. Everything’s cool. Oh, that’s nice. So you didn’t worry about licensing in the seventies? It was so different back then. In the seventies, we would write songs and hand them over to people as a gift from our heart. We would go and play somewhere and we’d do it for free, because we wanted to help our community and the world. The spirit of the time was so present everywhere. Fame, beauty, licensing, age… it didn’t matter. We didn’t want baggage getting in the way.
So, I’m curious to know whether you feel or see the same things when working at the clinic that you do when you’re making music.
Oh, yes. It’s all the same energy. When you have cats, dogs or birds around you, they perceive energy that we often aren’t feeling, and they swim within that realm. I go there; I live there. Come and find me!
That’s where you spend your time?
Yeah, totally. And all the musicians that I’ve started working with in the past couple of years [such as We Are The World, Devendra Banhart and Julia Holter] have become my musical family — now we’re all doing shows together, you know? It’s amazing. I can’t describe the enjoyment of sharing this with young people. It’s the closest that I’ve ever come to the excitement that I used to feel in the seventies.
Linda, I get the impression that you could talk all day.
Oh, yes! Definitely, but… right now I’m looking for my glasses, in case I need to read anything [laughs]. Oh, you’re interested in the energies, right?
Well, when I started reading Annie Bessant, I decided I had to ‘come out of the closet’, but I didn’t do it right away — we are living in a time when people are much more open to these sorts of things, and they don’t think it’s as weird. A few years ago, I went to the Museum of Modern Art, or something like that — the big one in LA — for a visual music exhibition, and I was looking at all these displays. Suddenly, in the middle of everything, I see Annie Bessant’s little book Thought Forms, and they have it under glass at the centre of the exhibit, because she can see music in its wavelength form! I’d been hiding that book for years, and they had it in the middle of this very prestigious place, so I decided that it was time to talk about this thing in my life.
So, you hadn’t told people that you had synesthesia before that?
No, because in the seventies — and this is something that people really don’t understand, even though they think they love the sixties and seventies — there was a very distinct difference between the ‘straight’ world and all those experimenting with ways to understand energy and different… different everything. But the straight world was where you were earning your money, so this other world was what you kept quiet and didn’t document, because it could mean your job.
Right. People might assume you were on stuff.
Yes — and that wasn’t it at all! I have seen these patterns in my mind since I was a little girl. I would see dancing patterns whenever I went to sleep. I’ve even heard things — sometimes they come through as strong as voices. I thought, “Their advice sounds logical and it sounds wise, so I better just do what I’ve heard and not ask questions.”
Can you tell me what colours you see with certain sounds?
Well, a high flute note will have a yellow tone and a distinct form that matches it. A deep, bass-y guitar will have a deep blue or a green colour, because the wavelength is slower. It’s just physics. If we could all see them, we’d probably really enjoy it. We would want to clear our own minds so that we could heighten the experience.
So, how did the song ‘Parallelograms’ come about?
I saw that song before I heard the music. I saw it as clear as day, like moving lights or a rainbow in the sky. I was like, “Am I imagining this?” It was very late at night, you see. I was driving back from Leonard Rosenberg’s house, heading towards Topanga Canyon. I think I’d maybe had a sip of wine — but mostly coffee — and it was pitch black when I pulled over. Finally, I said to myself, “Linda — that’s music.” I had to scrawl what I was seeing on bits of notepad.
How did you communicate what you’d seen to the other musicians?
Well, it was tricky. When I realised that I was going to be recording this with a full set of musicians at Universal Studios, I drew what I’d seen onto the scroll and made timing notations, but they’d never seen anything like it.
And they were into it?
Yes. Totally. They were such accomplished musicians that they’d get a little bored sometimes. But Leonard gave me a little bit of advice: he said, “Linda, if you see the black-suited executives come in behind the glass to check up on our progress, stop doing this song immediately — they’ll never understand it. Switch immediately to something simple that they’ll understand.” We had to keep it
undercover! And then, during the internet explosion of the mid-nineties, people started copying and copying my music. I was down here and didn’t even know this was going on. It culminated with a performance at REDCAT Gallery in 2009, where all these musicians [over 100] came to perform their own interpretations of my music.
Did Leonard get to see you achieving success?
No. He had no idea. I called and tried to tell him once, but I could tell that his memory had lapsed and that something was wrong. He didn’t recall who I was, and it’s not like he shouldn’t have remembered the album — partly because his first wife died right about the time the album was released, so… She was a lovely woman, as pretty as day. His wife of 20 years came to the REDCAT show, and she explained that he was far more limited in his ability to remember things in his old age. I never asked directly what it was… I’m sorry, Zac. I’m a little tired, and we’ve been speaking for a long time. Thank you so much for