Photo courtesy of Linda Heck.
By Bramwell Atkins
Linda Heck is a talented musician, song-writer, recording artist, and producer. She is a local community member, with two daughters, one of whom attends St. Andrew’s Sewanee.
For those of you who are still confused about who, exactly, Heck is, what she does, and why she is important to Sewanee’s artistic community — you are not alone.
“I’m confusing,” Heck told The Purple in her typically blunt way, while sitting in her recording studio, which is annexed to her house.
The place is beautifully cluttered. Books, records, and various pieces of musical paraphernalia are falling off her shelves; home-made lampshades and chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling; I counted six guitars, two drum-sets, one upright piano, and countless amps; the walls are hung with homemade collages and posters advertising Heck’s old shows — some dating back to the late 70s; the hat-rack at the door is laden with ball-caps, gardening hats, purses, and book-bags. The studio resembles one of her chaotic collages, like the one which adorns the cover of her most recent album, Experimental Connections in the Memphis.
Indeed, collage is important to Heck and her philosophy as an artist. When speaking of her creative process, she said said that “the common underlying ideal is using available resources and organizing or re-organizing [them into] some version of collage.”
In this way, her art mirrors her life, which could similarly be described as a collage — a wild and vibrant assemblage of people and places. Trying to establish any sort of chronology is nearly impossible. Heck’s life is not Picasso’s Blue Period, full of well-ordered and easily processed paintings. Her life is Picasso in the 1930’s, when he made “Guernica.” Fantastic characters and surreal settings pop in and out of her stories, connected only by one thread, united under one theme: punk rock.
A shady character named Jimi Inc attempted to take credit for producing her songs in the ‘80s. She briefly sang for an all-girl punk band called Hell-Cats, until internal divisions tore them apart. Her early musical career revolved around “The Antenna,” a small Memphis bar frequented by “weirdo freaks mixed with other weirdo freaks,” as Heck so eloquently put it.
I was able to establish the beginnings of a timeline. Heck began to play guitar at 10 years old, back when her name was Linda Schid.
“I was so alone,” she said, speaking of that time, “I didn’t have anyone in my life who played music.”
Her subscription to Rolling Stone and a love of electric guitar gave her a glimpse of another world, one beyond her Catholic school in North Carolina.
And so she left home at 18, after “a very brief college stint at the University of Florida.” She rode a bus all the way to Memphis, reading Nabokov for the whole ride. When she arrived, a new chapter of her life began, a chapter filled with punk bands, tiny bars, shady characters, and the “experimental connections” of which she likes to write and sing.
At 19 years old, Heck started her first band. It was called Pseudo Bop. Then her boyfriend at the time started a band called Kings of the Western Bop, and Heck left her own group to play bass for it. She didn’t really find her footing as a musician until the birth of Linda Heck and the Trainwreck, a grungy post-punk group that Heck started with Jimi Inc. She played a sample for me as we sat at her desk, drinking tea. From the laptop came the sound of a twenty-year-old Heck, her voice as clear and intense as her electric guitar. It was a dark and lovely song.
Until she told me, I had no idea that she had been drunk during the recording.
“I’m drunk,” she said, “But still awesome.”
Memphis was the cocoon of Hecks musical career. It was where she witnessed the “concurrent decay and beauty” of places like Beale Street, “which of course the white people just destroyed.”
The gentrification of Memphis has always been deeply troubling to the punk rocker. “I think I always felt it as soon as I started driving and smoking cigarettes,” she told me, “It’s hard to explain the push and pull. My album, Experimental Connections in the Memphis was a deliberate explanation of this past.”
Heck has never been able to escape the city of Memphis, which seems to have been a place of great “decay and beauty” in regards to her personal life as well. Heck witnessed the underworld of the punk rock scene, and she speaks often of the “destructive and non-nurturing” people who, for the sake of petty rivalries would injure and steal from one another. As one of the few women in this environment, Heck seems to have dealt with the brunt of the abuse. But she rarely let it affect her attitude, her outlook, or her lifelong goal: “I just wanted to make music,” she said.
And she has. She has made a great deal of music. The style, genre, and attitude of her pieces vary so widely that it often seems as though Heck is not one artist, one creative mind, but a commonwealth. She is able to communicate a wide spectrum of thought and feeling, through an array of mediums. While one song might sound like a traditional, guitar-heavy piece of highly American, 80’s-style classic rock, another resembles an avant-garde piece of conceptual art, meant not to be enjoyed but appreciated.
“This is a tiny part of the tuba baseline from a performance of the Messiah,” she told me at the beginning of our interview. Her laptop was open and a bizarre, jungle-style soundtrack was playing. She had put the baseline on loop and layered it with animal noises. The result was haunting, cerebral. It was hard to believe that the Linda Heck who created it was the same Linda Heck who sings powerful, punk rock lyrics over an electric guitar.
It is because she is in a continual process of transformation.
“The idea of mastering anything is hilarious to me,” she said, describing her process as “experimental . . . in that there is not a specific outcome I’m trying to produce . . . really allowing process, and allowing exposure, exploration, and discovery.”
Heck’s life has surely been one filled with these things, and with many more, with larger-than-life figures and other-worldly places, with personal growth and freedom, and many “experimental connections.”