Jill Sobule’s career goals haven’t always been ambitious.
“When I was a kid,” she says, “I wanted to drink and smoke cigarettes.”
Has she realized these childhood dreams? “No, I didn’t,” she says wistfully. This, despite the image of her holding a martini on her website’s homepage. “There’s still time, isn’t there? she asks.
Jill, take it from an authority. There are always the time of vice.
Sobule already goes to the coolest dinner parties. And a recent one in Los Angeles really paid off as she finished recording what she calls “a song of hate for love.”
“I was here in LA, and a friend of a friend, who I became friends with, I needed an additional female voice for the duet,” she says. “I said, ‘Do you want to come and do it for me?’ And that’s Debbie Boone. “You light up my life” Debbie Boone. I make her sing a lesbian love song where she has to say…”
Wow, Jill! It’s a family medium. Let’s just say Sobule asked a woman who had a No. 1 hit in 1977, and who is also the daughter of Pat Boone, to sing a top-notch obscenity four times in a song.
“Yes!” said Sobule. “And it was delicious!”
Delicious is a pretty good way to describe Sobule. She is funny. She voiced a guest character on “The Simpsons” a few years ago. She knows all about the lizards, the shape-shifting reptilian aliens that some people say – a few, anyway – control the Earth. She has a solo acoustic show 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Petit Théâtre.
Sobule, 61, grew up in Denver. And now, “I’m in my hobo phase,” she says. “I haven’t found where I really want to live.” Since she’s speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, it’s safe to assume it’s her home now. But no, she’s at a friend’s guesthouse. She was only supposed to stay there for two weeks. But that was nine months ago. “The guest who won’t leave,” Sobule said with a sigh.
She did the struggling artist thing in Brooklyn for a while. “And you were meeting other struggling artists,” she says. But now an artist has to pay to struggle. “That same place I was paying $600 a month for is worth $4,000.”
Yet with the Internet, so what? “You don’t have to be in the centers, the traditional creative centers,” she says.
Sobule Songwriting Tip No. 1: When she teaches songwriting lessons, “I tell everyone they should keep a journal. Especially first thing in the morning, when you’re half fresh or in a dreamy state.
Sobule Songwriting Tip No. 2: Newspapers. Sobule says he read somewhere that Bob Dylan reads the newspapers every morning looking for songwriting inspiration. It’s good enough for her.
“It’s part of my life, because I’m a politician and an activist,” she said. “So even though these are things that don’t relate to my life personally – you know, I don’t live in a war zone – this is trying to channel, this is what I spend my time reading and to do.”
Bob Dylan reads about lizards? Seems plausible. It is the outrageous beliefs that Sobule finds fascinating and frightening. Q-Anon. Flat lands. And last week’s convoy of trucks converging on Washington, D.C., in protest at the requirement for the American people to wear masks. Which we’ve mostly stopped wearing anyway. So, as Emily Litella would say to those truckers… “It’s okay.”
Sobule has written songs about personal issues, such as anorexia nervosa and LGBTQ+; she identifies as bisexual. She has also written about the death penalty and the French Resistance of World War II, of which she has no personal experience, except as a romantic dream for a cocktail waitress.
More recently, she has also written about middle-aged love. The Texas anti-abortion ruling. And now she has a song called “Givin’ it to the Libs”, about conservatives who don’t care if a belief is true – all that matters is the wrath of liberals.
“I’m intrigued by what news we get, and what makes headlines, and what doesn’t,” she says. “What makes a person follow a cult or an extreme movement.”
These outer beliefs build up in her brain as what she calls, “Strange jealousy. It must be comforting to have such a view of the world in black and white.
Sobule turned increasingly to acting, although it took time. It actually started for her in fifth grade, when she was Miss Hanukkah in a school play. “I was really good, I guess.”
“Now, how many years later, here I am.”
She is writing music for a modern version of “The Scarlet Letter”, from the perspective of today’s high school students, called “Crimson Lit: A Scarlet Letter Playlet”.
“A lot of my songs always tell stories,” she says. “So I think with playwriting, it’s just more storytelling. It’s not that different in a way.
And here is another new song, although the title of this one is not for young eyes; Sobule is very comfortable with the F-word. And no, Freud is not the F-word we are talking about.
“I was thinking about that college time, which you never quite recover from,” she says. “You know, I always say that Freud may have been wrong. It wasn’t the first days or weeks or months or years. It was the seventh year that bothers you.
“I wish I knew I wasn’t alone,” she says of her struggles in middle school. “Everyone seemed pretty miserable.”
You get out. Or you try electrodes. “I am a cyborg,” says Sobule. She went through a period where she felt tremors in her hands. It affected his guitar playing. But her audience thought she looked nervous or had delirium tremens. So, two years ago, she had brain surgery. She wishes it had gone further.
“While they were in my brain, why couldn’t they implant, you know, music theory? And five years of Spanish?
Or explain why certain songs just can’t get out of your head. Like Debbie Boone, Sobule’s biggest hit came a while ago. “I kissed a girl”, in 1995. A lesbian love pop song.
“It’s a whole different generation, a whole world, right now,” she says. “I’m trying to tell these kids now, these middle schoolers, in ’95, it felt like it was a big deal. It was a brave one, it was one of the first songs to hit the charts ‘Billboard’ which had this kind of content.
Sobule’s label was concerned about plans to have Sobule kiss another woman on the video.
“And then they chickened out at the last minute and got me pregnant with Fabio’s baby.”
“And now nobody cares, really.”
We no longer care about two women kissing. Or cares about Fabio, for that matter.