That Old Time Religion: Interview with a Girl in Trouble

By | Tagged: culture, texts

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,

girls in trouble, alicia jo rabins
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.

Posted on February 18, 2010

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