Time Out New York / Issue 688 : Dec 4–10, 2008
By Jay Ruttenberg
Photo: Ports Bishop
GRIMM TIDINGS Singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm chronicles a berserk American experience on her new album, Parplar.
The itinerant folksinger Larkin Grimm has come downtown from her current home in Spanish Harlem—length of residence: one week—to grab breakfast on her way out of town. Rain tumbles down with a ferocity generally seen in movies about shipwrecks, yet she dines outside, beneath the restaurant’s modest canopy, remaining miraculously dry as the city soaks. To the musician’s right sits a drunk, welcomed to Grimm’s table after he drifted by requesting money. “Arggh!” he mumbles. “No mucho English.” The aromatic stranger drifts in and out of consciousness, missing the fantastic, at times unbelievable life story that the singer recounts with a monologuist’s poise.
Grimm is 27, the colorful tattoos of her generation splayed across her arms. Her riveting new album, Parplar, is her third full-length, yet the first to feature nonimprovised material and gain wider distribution, courtesy of Young God Records. Her songs are at once witchy, funny and intensely sexual—as befits an album that she claims to be “about Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and the battle between male and female energies in the world.”
Like many eccentric young artists, Grimm is a child of hippies. “There are a lot of us making psychedelic folk music, and we’re not freaky or fakes,” she contends. “We’re just our parents’ children—this is our culture.” Parplar was recorded earlier this year, but its roots lie in the late ’60s, when Grimm’s mother dropped acid on a family sailing trip, “realized that everything was messed up” and ran away from home. The future Mother Grimm hitchhiked to Haight-Ashbury, where she minded children of the Grateful Dead and enlisted in the Holy Order of MANS, a religious commune into which Larkin was born.
The singer’s parents left the Order when she was six. “In the ’80s, the utopian communities that thrived in the ’60s started transforming into the weird cults that we have now,” explains Grimm, who continues to dabble in various factions “because they remind me of home.” The family moved to the Appalachian Mountains so that her fiddler father could immerse himself in hillbilly music. The young singer, accustomed to socializing with pacifists, reacted to the rednecks she suddenly encountered in predictable fashion: When her parents found Grimm throwing knives, they enrolled her in a liberal boarding school. “No longer was I the delinquent bad kid,” she says. “Now, I was class president.”And so, a decade after leaving the Holy Order of MANS, Grimm matriculated at Yale, where she soon befriended the scion of a far more demented American sect: presidential daughter Barbara Bush. “She was interesting,” Grimm claims. “Her best friend was a black gay guy—the gayest man on campus. She was in love with a radical environmentalist, who broke up with her because he didn’t want the Secret Service snooping around. She drank a lot and had problems with boys. There was this very mean plan to get her pregnant and then follow her when she got her abortion. Guys were trying to sleep with her and they were planning to poke a hole in the condom.”
“Hech hech!” the homeless man murmurs. “Acapulco mucho bueno.”
“You can’t blame people for who their parents are,” Grimm adds.
The singer had her own plans for the President’s daughter: She hoped to involve Bush in a performance-art piece, “turning her into a fabulous Paris Hilton character.” Before this could unfold, however, an unpleasant drug experience caused Grimm to cease talking for months and flee to Alaska, where she fasted on a mountaintop. She was discovered there by a kindhearted shaman—named Jezebel Crowe!—who taught her the ways of the medicine woman…and encouraged her to return to Yale. (These days, even witches harbor Ivy League ambitions.)
Returning to school, Grimm broke her silence. She began playing music both as a member of the Dirty Projectors—a band she has since left—and solo. “I realized that when you’re singing, all your emotional truth comes through,” she says. It’s these voices from Grimm’s life that aggregate on her broad, bizarre, uniquely American record, with its collegiate folk and Appalachian howls, ’60s spirituality and contemporary pop culture, chaste hymns and sexual deviance.Her story drawn to the present, the singer rises from the table, gives a piece of corn bread to the homeless man and walks alongside Tompkins Square Park. The rain has cleared, casting the city in a luminous glow. “That Mexican guy totally just felt me up,” she says. “I’m probably the only woman he’s touched in ten years, which is so sad. I’m okay giving him a little bit of sexual healing.”
Larkin Grimm plays the Charleston Fri 5, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine Sat 6 and Housing Works Bookstore Café Wed 10.