Jane Siberry On Art, Science & Love

Jane Siberry

Jane Siberry Back In The Day

Her voice is often considered quirkily annoying by casual listeners, and in the early 90s, shortly after the career stride of being invited to work with Brian Eno at Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld studios, she played a festival in England and her quirkiness got her booed off the stage.  And, in the mid-90s I collaborated with her, shattering all illusions that my high school idol was a person I would want to be friends with.


She was not only a guiding star for me in high school (living in Ottawa but wishing I was safely in her Toronto) but when I go back to her output from ’84-’94, it was quite a contribution to music. Much of her earlier stuff was analytical and humorous, full of casual commentary on art, science and psychology…running with what Laurie Anderson started.  When a more serious, personal song appeared in the middle of an album it was surprising that the same person who just discussed the symmetry of atoms in a molecule, or the purpose of non-dancers taking dancing classes, would in the next breath express the bare pain of a breakup.

In ‘You Don’t Need’ she gets poetic, exposing her inner Robert Frost: ‘so I walk on through the marshes and my cheeks are burning white, and my hood is your rejection and my pain is your connection…and a bird I don’t recall called don’t recall called don’t recall…and I know you must be there because people stop to talk to you…you don’t need anyone to want you, don’t want anyone to need you and I think I have yourself almost convinced I have yourself almost convinced…so I ate a star from the far back black sky and it floated up behind one eye and wavered there.’

In the mid-80s, her refreshing, highly conceptual live show was a total girl-fest.  It featured three female background singers whose abstract miming was loosely choreographed, and it seemed to be a requirement that they match her oddly wavering vocal style.  When the four of them wavered together, it was like four flickering candle flames that synced up unexpectedly for breathtaking moments of harmony, like in the live version of ‘Map Of The World (Part 1)’.  There’s a brief reference to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ in the middle of this version, and the payoff comes as the womens’ voices fan out together in a beautiful chord.

After 1993’s ‘When I Was A Boy’ for Reprise records (which included her collaboration with Eno), songs found placements in films and TV shows; Siberry cut a jazz album; she parted with the U.S. major and formed her own indie, Sheeba Records; pioneered pay-what-you-can/’self-determined’ pricing for internet downloads before Radiohead did it; sold signed stuffed rabbit dolls online; disposed of the majority of her earthly belongings including her house; changed her name to Issa Light and continued recording, sessions funded by fans.

Press on sister.

  1. #1 by Jennifer on May 19, 2009 - 10:11 am

    I can never listen to the taxi ride song, ever. again.
    I blame you.

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