There Is No Loneliness, There Is Audiences:
Part II of A Night on the Town with Mary Ocher, Karl Jonas Winqvist and Felix Wickman
Profet´s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström meets up with singer Mary Ocher in Stockholm, together with musician Felix Wickman, label director Karl Jonas Winqvist and fellow Profet writer ECE (Elizeth Casal-Eriksson). This is the second, and final, part of the interview that includes pillow talk, poppies (?), puppies and misunderstood questions.
Remember to read Part I of the interview with Mary Ocher, Karl Jonas Winqvist and Felix Wickman that placed the three in a hotel lobby in Stockholm with Profet´s writers Filip Lindström and ECE (Elizeth Casal-Eriksson) right after Mary's performance at a antique book store. The first part of the article tells you how Karl Jonas and Felix got to know Mary, and it lets you in on her views on anarchism. Now, lean back and enjoy the remainder of the story, in the closing part of »There Is No Loneliness, There Is Audiences«.
From what I’ve read about Mary Ocher and her DIY spirit, she passes the knowledge of promoting your own tours on to others. I believe that one magazine actually used the phrase »teaching« when talking about Mary’s sharing of the things she knows about arranging a tour. Mary herself wouldn’t agree with that phrasing.
- I never taught anything, she laughs. I think I was invited to a workshop. No, not even a workshop, a talk about booking the big US tour. The first time that I toured the US, it was two months and I organized the entire thing myself. It took a really long time and it was amazingly expensive. In the end, I didn’t lose any money on it, but I also didn’t manage to make very much after enormous costs.
- The most interesting thing is, how did you learn that? I ask, pondering a statement which in hindsight isn’t really true, what is most interesting is how Mary pulled an entire tour together all by herself. I don’t ask further about the actual arrangement, I wait for a response to the first, slightly untrue question.
- I never learned that, I just did it, she says. My parents, coming from Soviet Russia, think that there is nothing that you can do unless you properly learned it and you have a diploma to prove that you know how to do it. I never wanted to learn anything properly, I just wanted to find a way to get things done. For me, it’s never been easy and I don’t think it will ever be. I’ve learned to accept it and to appreciate when things are going well, because I know that they will not always go well.
»The Lobby«, by Filip Lindström, picturing (from left to right around the tables) ECE, Mary Ocher, Karl Jonas Winqvist, Filip Lindström and Felix Wickman.
Mary’s story of how her parents needed documented proof for the existence of knowledge is similar to the one Andres Lokko, one of my biggest idols, told about his parents. With them being Estonian immigrants coming to Sweden, they put a tremendous effort into contributing to their new society, and wanted their children to do the same. Education was key, and Lokko pleased his elders by studying literature before becoming the foremost pop journalist of his generation. For Mary Ocher, I believe the philosophy of her parents might have made her walk a different path, rather than following the one they wanted. She values doing more than learning and I can guess that a priority like that can explain her eclectic music, moving from one corner of the musical hemisphere to the other. She never stays in one place to fully master one specific thing, which grants her total freedom of expression and eternal mobility. I re-include Karl Jonas and Felix in the discussion by enquiring about their experience of touring.
- My experience is very similar to Mary’s, Felix tells the group: It’s very, very hard. Or, it’s not very, very hard but it’s expensive and you have to have the energy to fight for every Euro, to make it not be a disaster. I’ve always been touring with a band, so I’ve always felt responsible for the other members. Even though we’ve had booking agencies, I’ve always felt responsible because it’s my project.
- So, did you carry their instruments? Karl Jonas asks Felix.
- No, I’ve never carried their instruments, Felix laughs.
- I have, says Karl Jonas. The drummer was like »It’s your band, can you carry my drums?«. I was just saying to Mary earlier, that I hope that you take care of yourself because I know that there are so many decisions to make. You can easily burn out or get depressed.
- You’re on this tour all by yourself, Mary? I ask.
- Most of the time when I’m playing solo, I’m just travelling by myself.
- How do you deal with the loneliness?
- There is no loneliness, there is audiences. And there’s friends, in every city that I come to for a second time I either already have friends or meet people I’ve met before.
Followed by chatter coming from Karl Jonas and Felix about the loneliness that will greet Mary when she visits smaller Swedish towns than Stockholm, she feels she has to add something on the subject:
- I played a show in a very, very, very small town in Austria, that shall remain unnamed. I played at this very nice venue and there was seven people that came to that show, out of which only two stayed to the very end. There was two people and the sound guy, and then there was a Chihuahua which made everything worthwhile. It was sort of shocking because I haven’t played to such a small audience in a long time, and not only were they few but they were also very cold and not responsive. In between songs, they would not clap. I could talk to the people but they would not talk back, it was horrible. Normally, I can make a joke and make it lighter.
»I don't agree with you«
»That’s fine, you don’t have to agree with me«
Thrilling dialogue, taking place towards the end of the interview
I attempt to raise a question about making things lighter during a show, which I think Mary’s talking between tunes does do. Her work lies in between the humorous and the solemn, and perhaps her performances would be too intense without the occasional cracking of a joke. For example, her story about the horrible show in Austria would have been more of a downer, if she wouldn’t have said that the presence of a very small dog made entire night alright. Mary answers my question before I’m finished with asking it.
- Do you often use humor as a…
- …an icebreaker, yes.
- I was going to say »defense mechanism«, but »icebreaker« is understandable. One thing I’ve thought a lot about, I say to the group, is that the difference between an artist and an aspiring artist is excuses. I liked the first act during the show tonight (referred to in Part I ), I enjoyed her music, but she made too many excuses for herself.
- Like what? Like »I suck«? says Felix, who didn’t catch the performer playing before Mary, Ella Blixt.
- Not literary, but almost, I say.
- I’m pretty sure I also used to make fun of myself in front of the audience, Mary states.
- That’s also an icebreaker, Karl Jonas claims.
- It could be, Mary continues. I think I learned from comments that people would make. People would come up and say »You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself« or »You’re making people lower their expectations«. It comes from insecurity, from not being able to control what you want the people to see.
- But also, Ella doesn’t want to be that diva artist, she wants to be like us, says Karl Jonas.
- It’s interesting that people telling you not to excuse yourself has changed your live performance in some way, I tell Mary.
- A lot of things have, she responds. Also, people would say things that I didn’t necessarily agree with. Generally, advice that people give you is not very helpful, but I think that apologizing for things or telling people to expect something which may not be good enough is maybe not very productive. Or at least that’s not how you want people to see your work.
»Ocher Sessions and Other Drawings«, by Filip Lindström
Perhaps giving advice that is not helpful at all, I start a line of thought surrounding the idea of insecurity and the many ways it may show its face. Just like many other advice, mine is not agreed with by all members of our little hotel lobby bar group:
- I feel, after seeing you tonight for the first time, that your insecurity may only be seen through referring to a pillow on the floor (referred to in Part I ). That was the only time during the show that I saw some kind of insecurity coming from you. And that was very amusing.
- Was there insecurity in that specific reference? Mary asks me.
- I did feel that, I answer. Maybe that is incorrect.
- I did say that I couldn’t hear myself, that was my excuse, Mary reflects.
- As I said, I might be incorrect.
- What did you mean by the pillow? I didn’t understand, says ECE, sitting next to me, facing Felix, Karl Jonas and Mary.
- I felt that the talking about the pillow, although very amusing, was the equivalent of apologizing, I explain.
- But then you are comparing her to someone else, ECE tells me.
- Well, I am an observer of both, I respond.
- But she has nothing to do with that, ECE continues, referring to Mary not being connected to the insecurity of others.
- The point is that I’m observing two acts and comparing them. Maybe not the acts, but the acting.
- I don’t agree with you, ECE says, further proving the point of opinions not always going together.
- That’s fine, you don’t have to agree with me.
As a reader of this article, you may be confused about why I’ve chosen to describe a long conversation about a pillow, concluded in a disagreement. From an outside perspective, I’m sure it looks dull and seems unnecessary, but to me it is of great significance. The discussion about the pillow, and its resulting in difference in opinion marks newly broken ground for me as a writer: For the first time, I’ve managed to not only praise the artist I’m speaking with, and thereby ensuring a pleasant conversation. This time, I actually had the guts to master a tiny critique, which was gratefully rewarded by a conversation that was more interesting than it was pleasant – although it never got unpleasant at any point. And, in this segment of the article, I have also succeeded in showing both security and insecurity; by making excuses for myself and then immediately and elaborately trying to explain them. If that’s not a double standard, I don’t know what might be.
To conclude the interview with Mary Ocher, which turned in to a group conversation all by itself, I ask her one final question that demands a bit of thought and in the end just portrays my own lack of thought.
- If you and me would be sitting Between Two Drummers, what question would you ask me? I wonder, imagining myself in Mary’s take on Zach Galifianakis’ talk show »Between Two Ferns«.
- Everybody we interviewed, I knew a bit so I knew what they were doing, Mary replies. What do you do?
- Well, I do this, I say, meaning talking to people in small hotel lobbies about anarchism, pillows, insecurity and whatnot.
- What format is it? Does it turn into written piece with questions and answers? Mary wants to know before she can ask a question.
- No, not at all, I say, somewhat stepping away from the truth since the format actually is a written piece containing questions as well as answers.
- Then I don’t know, can you describe it and then maybe I can figure out what question to ask.
»The Pillow«, by Filip Lindström
I get startled by having to summarize all of my grand plans and philosophies for Profet with one short answer, so at first, I blurt out:
- That’s a question that you could ask.
After a period of time that feels like an eternity of slow thoughts and correct words that are impossible to find, I narrow down the ideology behind what I’m trying to achieve:
- The point of what I’m trying to do is portraying the subject of an interview, but simultaneously portraying the person writing the interview, making it equal so that the story is as much about the person doing the interview as it is about the person being interviewed. So, based on that, what is your question?
More time runs by, while Mary thinks about a good question to ask me. Before she figures it out, ECE asks about her influences (»Eartha Kitt, Scott Walker, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Odetta«) and Karl Jonas suggests that we should do an interview with the talkative couple at the other end of the hotel lobby. Finally, Mary thinks of a question to ask, and I don’t quite catch what she says:
- Poppies, question mark.
- Poppies? I ask in return.
- Yes, poppies, question mark.
- I don’t understand the question.
- Then maybe that’s the answer.
Weeks after my meeting with Mary Ocher, I get the idea that »Poppies, question mark« might have had something to do with the Buffy Sainte-Marie song »Poppies«. I will never know for sure, if that’s what Mary meant or if she might have asked »Puppies, question mark«, and the not knowing will haunt me until the end of days.January 18 2018