Alicia Jo Rabins is the frontswoman of Girls in Trouble. Their self-titled album was just released on JDub Records, and it’s more than just a ten-song collection — it’s a cycle of songs, each narrated by a specific woman from the Bible,
Rabins isn’t just a musician following a lark — she has advanced degrees in both poetry and Jewish studies — and to her, the song cycle is a culmination of a lifetime of study. When I asked her whether dealing with some of the sexist-seeming stories ever made her angry, she almost took umbrage at the suggestion: these songs, you can tell, are the product of a person who’s in love with her source material. She replied: “The Torah itself I see as sacred literature, and literature isn’t supposed to be fair; good stories come out of the terrible things people do to each other.”
The interpretations of the sacred literature, on the other hand, can go in any which way.
MJL: Why the Bible? You write good music, and your lyrics are smart and funny and inspired. Why not just write songs with your own voice?
Alicia Jo Rabins: Well, thank you, sir.
First of all, I couldn’t have come up with narrative material this twisted on my own. So I had to get it somewhere. But I do see Girls in Trouble as my voice: it’s just funneled through a particular project, a song cycle. The song cycle has a unifying theme — each song interprets a Biblical woman’s story — but still involves a lot of choices: which stories to write about, and then how to interpret them lyrically and musically. So the project gives me a structure, a form through which to direct my voice, which is really fun as an artist. I like to triangulate: there is my experience, and then the source material, and then the aesthetic artifact.
Of course, I think all art is part of a system that is greater than any one artist. I do find myself particularly interested in art that explicitly re-interprets earlier stories: for example, James Joyce’s Ulysses, a modernist retelling of the Odyssey, or Louise Gluck’s poems in the voices of Greek gods, or midrash which comments on Torah stories, or Leonard Cohen singing about Joan of Arc.