Laura Zucker Explores Wrinkled Moments For Lifeline
Laura Zucker has recently released her sixth original studio album, Lifeline, which allows for a very specific perspective in her life that she feels she’s gained over time, the ability to review ones earlier days in clearer hindsight. That means addressing the things that one regrets and applying that renewed connection to the past to one’s own future.
Zucker is also the author of book SongC.R.A.F.T.- Writing Songs In Your Authentic Voice, and leads SongC.R.A.F.T. workshops around the country. As an observational songwriter, who is also a very visual person, she uses strategies to get an internal image-based idea for a song into an accessible format which can reach audiences and brings that approach to her students as well. For Lifeline, she had a great deal of potential material to work with, looking back over past relationships and connections, and also at the current state of human life where fear seems to loom large, to question what it is that creates our lifelines and enables us to forge ahead in a meaningful way. I spoke with Zucker about her modes of songwriting, her perspective as an older songwriter reviewing her life so far, and the real “wrinkles” in life that help us recognize our authentic experiences more fully.
Americana Highways: I understand that you teach songwriting, focusing on the idea of an authentic voice that we can find in ourselves. What sort of things do you talk about?
Laura Zucker: I myself am kind of a visual thinker. I’ve had to learn how to faithfully and accessibly describe what I’m seeing in my head, because it’s often an image that describes what it is I’m feeling. I hope I’ve learned to convey that, and that’s what I try to help other people with as well.
AH: When you say “image,” do you mean that it’s a visual thing, but it also has emotional tones to it?
LZ: Exactly. When I think about a topic, or an emotion, very often it presents itself in my brain like a picture of something that illustrates what I’m feeling. The song “Iron The Wrinkles Back In,” which is the last song on the record, is about a lot of things, but mostly about how I, as a woman in my later years, have lived my life according to how society says we should. That’s to say, “Don’t make waves. Don’t make trouble. Don’t take up a lot of space. Color inside the lines.” It occurred to me that I’ve spent so much time doing that, that firstly, it’s a fool’s errand. You can’t control that stuff, really, even though you try to plan everything to keep things going smoothly. It’s a waste of time.
Secondly, it occurs to me, looking back, is that so much of the richness of life is what happens in those wrinkled moments. Things you didn’t expect. When you step back and look at things, you realize that not only was it not a bad thing, it might even be a better thing than what you had planned. The bridge of that song says, “Fear of falling keeps you small, not steady, just still.” I think there are so many of us who have lived smaller lives because we were told that was what we had to do.
AH: A sidenote to that is the fear that’s ingrained in the advice and feedback that others may have given us. It’s usually perfectly well intentioned, and people are trying to protect us from mishap, but that can really impact us, too. Living in fear is a very small space.
LZ: Right, and so much of what we do, as women, is motivated by fear. There’s fear of physical safety. I’m 64. I came up in the time where they were telling us, “You can have it all. You can do everything!” But, of course, you can’t. The message was that if you’re not living every second striving and creating, you were doing something wrong. But at the same time, you were getting the message, “You shouldn’t be doing that. You should be doing something else. If you’re doing something else, you should be home with the kids. If you’re home with the kids, you should be out there working.”
AH: It’s contradictory stuff.
LZ: It was a really confusing time. As a queer person, I lived so much in a fearful place, fear of physical harm, fear of rejection, and in my musical career, fear of being pigeonholed. I don’t really talk about that. It’s a part of my identity, like being left-handed, right? But it doesn’t define me and there’s such a jump towards, “You’re a queer artist. You’re a women’s artist.” I didn’t want to be pigeonholed like that, especially since I’m an older artist. I didn’t start doing this until I was 46.
I had a career and raised some kids, and there was a great upheaval in my life, which resulted in me moving completely across the country with my kids and partner of 20 years, who then left me five months after we got there. I didn’t have a means of support and sort of evolved into this life in music. Again, that is in the wrinkles. I sure didn’t plan any of that or want any of that to happen, but it has created for me the most amazing, rich life.
AH: Sometimes we get snapped into reality when things disrupt our ideas and thoughts about our life. Then we live our real lives that are most unique to us, I feel like. It doesn’t always have to be negative, it’s just real.
LZ: Social media is just one facet of this, but we hold up the mirrors, we create the smoke, our brand, our visual image, and how we want people to see us. But it’s not authentic and it’s exhausting. That’s essentially what this record is about, authenticity, living an authentic life. And acknowledging my connection with my voice, my community, my friends, my family, my musical partners, and even my past and future self. That’s why it’s called Lifeline. I didn’t realize until I did a kind of zoom-out on this record that that’s what it’s about. I had a different name for this record. When I was in the final stages of ordering the songs when I realized. It was wanting it to be something rather than seeing what it really was.
AH: On some level, you probably knew all along.
LZ: I think that’s right! You have to let go a little bit.
AH: Is the idea of a lifeline different for everyone? Do all the things that you just listed qualify as your life, collectively?
LZ: People love to write liner notes, and I wrote liner notes thanking everyone, but I also posed a whole bunch of questions about the idea of a lifeline. What is it? Is it something that you hold onto to keep yourself from drowning? Is it the thing that you throw to someone else to help them? Are we following a lifeline that is ahead of us? Are we leaving a lifeline for those who come after? Are we all on the same lifeline but at different junctures along the way? Do they all weave into this amazing tapestry that is life? I think it’s going to be different for anybody who thinks about it, but hopefully the whole panoply of this record will give people something to think about. I think this is sort of the blessing and the curse of my songwriter life, I’m thinking about all of those questions all of the time.
AH: That reminds me that vantage point in life makes a big difference, too, what stage we’re at in life.
LZ: That’s spot-on. I like to think that this is the kind of record that I could not have written at any other point in my life. It’s the kind of insight that is born only from hindsight.
AH: Did you feel like you were looking back a lot when you were writing these songs? People tend to say, “Don’t dwell on the past,” but there are moments when that’s very useful.
LZ: I did look back for this record. There’s a song called “The Parting” that’s about a particular situation, and point in time, where I acted badly and have never forgotten about it. I just needed to write this song to apologize, to own it. That was really cathartic for me. I would like, at the end of all of this, to have no corner of my life that I can’t turn to. I don’t want any corners that make me cringe. I just want to live honestly, and if I have behaved badly, I want to rectify that. I also have the luxury of having lived this song, so I do have a perspective about how I would have handled something. There’s a song on this record called “What I Would Have Said.”
AH: I was about to bring that one up, because that’s an intense demonstration of all of this. That conveys a lot of emotion. It’s a densely layered song.
LZ: I think that, probably, everybody has had that experience where something happens and you’re just at a loss of what to do and what to say. I think that there’s some kernel in there based upon myself, but I think it’s kind of boring if I’m just writing about me. So I started there and then thought, “If I’ve felt that, I’m sure that other people have felt that, too.” Then I kind of opened up the song so that anybody could step into that. That’s one of those songs. The first chorus is “What I would have said,” the second chorus is “What I could have said,” and the third chorus is “What I should have said.” So for me, it’s a real catharsis saying, “This is how I wish it had played out.” I do have the benefit of hindsight.
AH: To go back to the “Lifeline” song for a minute, the song also talks about the pressure that we’re facing in life that causes us to reach for lifelines. There are other voices, voices of fear, there are other forces trying to propel us in different ways, and the lifeline helps to counter that.
LZ: That was my subtle, or maybe not-so-subtle, snarky comment at the right wingers tell us what we need to be afraid of and what we’re going to lose. They just want us to be afraid so that nothing will change but the year. The whole thing was fueled by me sitting on my best friend’s porch in Brewster, Massachusetts. We were looking across the street and there was a crazy pine tree covered in pinecones. She said to me, “You know, it’s a biological thing, that when things are nearing their end, they will throw out billions of eggs, seeds, whatever, because they want to create the greatest chance of perpetuating their species.”
I thought, “That’s very cool.” The pinecones appear in the song. But that compares to people being frantic because they are losing their hold on things. Also, I thought, “I’m sure I would like to leave one lasting seed before I go.” I think that’s an honest assessment of my humanness.
AH: I think if you have a really earnest conversation with any human being, you would get down to that. I think that every human being wants to know that something is left behind that they’ve contributed to.
LZ: I shouldn’t really care as long as my life was well-lived and I didn’t cause more harm than I created good, but you’re right. Inside each of us, we have that little voice, “I hope somebody remembers me.” This is where we started. You can plan and what you think you’re going to do and think you’re going to leave, then one day, you can stumble on something that completely changes the trajectory of your life. Then you realize that you just didn’t know yet what it was.
AH: And it often happens in those wrinkles.
LZ: Yes, it does! And the other thing about wrinkles is that I’m 64 years old, and I have some wrinkles on my face, another thing that society says is not desirable. I have to look young. That’s a problem for women my age across the board. The whole folk music industry is not immune to that, I’m not going to lie. It’s been really hard to get venues interested and house concerts booked alongside the 25-year-olds. But I got a late start and I’m only now hitting my stride.
Thanks very much for talking with us Laura! Fans can find more information about Laura Zucker and her music here: https://laurazucker.bandcamp.com/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Laura Zucker “Lifeline”