Two big things have happened of late for the great Jill Sobule.
“Last week I started getting hate mail again from Katy Perry fans wanting to kill me!” she told a doting City Winery crowd at the end of her Thursday night show. “So I’m bringing back ‘I Kissed a Girl.’”
Turning to her Dinah Shore Junior band guitarist Alex Nolan, she asked how old she was when she heard the 1995 hit, which preceded Perry’s same-titled but different hit by 13 years.
“I would have been 11,” said young Nolan, innocently.
“Fuck you!” responded Sobule, innocently. “Did you know what it was about?”
“Yeah,” said young Nolan.
The other big thing for Sobule is a new album, Dottie’s Charms, and the big interest it’s already generating. A concept album, Dottie’s Charms takes its name from an old charm bracelet given Sobule as a birthday present—that she never wore.
“I’m generally fine with wearing dead people’s things: vintage clothes, shoes, but there is something odd and slightly ghoulish about having a stranger’s life story dangling from one’s wrist,” Sobule explains on her website. “And that’s what a charm bracelet is–an archive of places, things, people, and events in another human being’s life. It’s kind of personal.”
So she put it in her “drawer of forgotten and misfit gifts,” then checked it out again last year after the cowboy hat charm caught her eye and encouraged a closer examination. Discovering from a round charm with the name “Dorothy” and a birthdate etched in the back, she began putting Dottie’s life together out of other charms including a jet plane, Statue of Liberty, Mackinac Island, Kentucky, a swiveling office chair, horses, piano, ballet slippers, and a tiny Jewish mezuzah.
She mentioned the bracelet to cultural historian David Hajdu, whom she had once suggested a music collaboration with, along with other favorite authors. Hajdu took home a photo of the Mackinac Island cham and a few days later gave her a “wonderfully heartbreaking and funny lyric,” which became the album track “I Swear I Saw Christopher Reeve.” She then approached the likes of Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Mary Jo Salter, Luc Sante, and Sam Lipsyte, each with a different charm from which to flesh out the story of Dorothy/Dottie.
The City Winery gig, then, celebrated the release of Dottie’s Charms. With Nolan, keyboardist Joe McGinty, bassist Amanda Ruzza and drummer Ben Perowsky, Sobule and Dinah Shore Junior played songs from the album and crowd faves, most notably including encore “When They Say ‘We Want Our America Back,’ What The F#@k Do They Mean?”–a perfect concert companion to the previously played “Statue of Liberty” from Dottie’s Charms.
Lyrics by novelist/essayist Lethem, “Statue of Liberty” is a melancholy piano tune transposing a sighting of the Statue of Liberty into a failed relationship. “They Say They Want Our America Back” references the Statue in its topical lyrics involving the complaints of those who want to go back to when “life had a paler shade of white…before there was Ellis Island and that statue we got from the French”:
“When they say, ‘We want our America back’
Our America back
Our America back
When they say, ‘We want our America back’
Well, what the fuck do they mean?”
Two other big things from the show: Sobule’s mom was in from Denver (“She made the mistake of eating a whole pot Gummy Bear when I told her to eat one-quarter!”), and rapped her rebuttal to her daughter’s “Big Shoes” song-complaint about being born severely pigeon-toed and having to wear “really really ugly big corrective shoes” through sixth grade.
“If not for me she’d have crinkly toes, and still be wearing Dr. Scholl’s,” Ma Sobule inserted.
And in addition to her little signature Vagabond Travel Guitar–affectionately known as “The Jillster”—Sobule rocked out intermittently on a big electric, and on her apocalyptic final encore “A Good Life,” banjo.
“All I ever really wanted was to play guitar!” she said after the show. “George was my favorite Beatle. What more can I say?”
Jill Sobule’s “When They Say ‘We Want Our America Back’, What The F#@k Do They Mean?”
Jill Sobule’s “A Good Life”: