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Musician Jill Sobule finds inspiration in the news — and lizard people

jill sobule holding a guitar
Photo provided
Jill Sobule will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at The Little Theatre.

Jill Sobule’s career goals haven’t always been lofty.

“When I was a kid,” she says, “I wanted to drink and smoke cigarettes.”

Has she fulfilled those childhood dreams? “No, I have not,” she says, wistfully. This, despite the image of her holding a martini on her website landing page. “There’s still time, isn’t there?” she asks.

Jill, take it from an authority. There’s always time for vice.

Sobule already goes to the coolest dinner parties. And a recent one in Los Angeles really paid off as she was finishing the recording of what she calls “a hate to love song.”

“I was here in LA, and a friend of a friend, who I’ve become friends with, I needed an extra female voice for the duet,” she says. “I said, ‘Will you come and just do it for me?’ And it’s Debbie Boone. ‘You Light Up My Life’ Debbie Boone. I’m having her sing a lesbian love song where she has to say…”

Whoa, Jill! This is family-friendly media. Let’s just say that Sobule got a woman who had a No. 1 hit in 1977, and who’s also the daughter of Pat Boone, to sing a top-rated obscenity four times in one song.

“Yes!” Sobule says. “And it was delightful!”

Delightful is a pretty good way to describe Sobule. She’s funny. She voiced a guest character on “The Simpsons” a couple of years ago. She knows all about lizard people, the shapeshifting reptilian aliens who some people -- a few, anyway -- believe control Earth. She has a solo acoustic show 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Little Theatre.

The 61-year-old Sobule grew up in Denver. And now, “I’m in my hobo phase,” she says. “I haven’t figured out where I really want to live.” As she’s talking by phone from Los Angeles, it’s reasonable to assume that is her home now. But no, she’s at a friend’s guest house. She was only supposed to be there for two weeks. But that was nine months ago. “The guest that won’t leave,” Sobule says with a sigh.

She did the struggling artist in Brooklyn thing for a while. “And you’d meet other artists who were struggling,” she says. But now an artist has to pay to struggle. “That same place I was paying $600 a month for goes for $4,000.”

Yet with the internet, so what? “You don’t have to necessarily be in the centers, the traditional creative centers,” she says.

Sobule Songwriting Tip No. 1: When she teaches songwriting classes, “I tell everyone, they should keep a journal. Especially the first thing in the morning, when you’re semi-fresh or in a dream state.”

Sobule Songwriting Tip No. 2: Newspapers. Sobule says she read somewhere that Bob Dylan reads newspapers every morning in search of songwriting inspiration. That’s good enough for her.

“It’s part of my life, because I’m a political person and an activist,” she says. “So even if it’s stuff that’s not about my life personally -- you know, I don’t live in a war zone -- it’s trying to channel, that is what I spend my time reading and doing.”

Bob Dylan reads about lizard people? Seems plausible. It’s the outrageous beliefs that Sobule finds fascinating and frightening. Q-Anon. Flat Earthers. And last week’s truck convoy converging on Washington, D.C., as a protest against the American people being forced to wear masks. Which we’ve mostly stopped wearing anyway. So, as Emily Litella would say to those truckers… “Never mind.”

Sobule has written songs about personal issues, such as anorexia nervosa and LGBTQ+; she identifies as bisexual. She’s also written about the death penalty and the World War II French Resistance, which she has no personal experience with, except as a romantic dream for a cocktail waitress.

More recently she’s also been writing about middle-age love. The Texas anti-abortion ruling. And now she has a song called “Givin’ it to the Libs,” about conservatives who don’t care whether a belief is true – all that matters is angering liberals.

“I am intrigued by what we get as news, and what makes the headlines, and what doesn’t make the headlines,” she says. “What makes a person follow a cult or an extreme movement.”

These out-there beliefs pool into her brain as what she calls, “A weird jealousy. It must be comforting to have such a black-and-white view of the world.”

Sobule has increasingly moved toward theater, although it took a while. This actually started for her in the 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’s been writing music for a modern-day take on “The Scarlet Letter,” from the perspective of today’s high-school kids called “Crimson Lit: A Scarlet Letter Playlet.”

“A lot of my songs are always storytelling,” she says. “So I think with the theater writing, it’s just more storytelling. It’s not all that different in a way.”

And here’s another new song, although the title of that one isn’t for a youngster’s eyes; Sobule is very comfortable with the F-word. And no, Freud is not the F-word we’re speaking of.

“I was thinking about that junior high school period, which you never quite get over,” she says. “You know, I always say that maybe Freud had it wrong. It wasn’t the first days or weeks or months, or year. It was seventh grade that messes you up.

“I wish I would have known I wasn’t alone,” she says of her junior high travails. “Everyone else seemed pretty miserable.”

You grow out of it. Or you try electrodes. “I’m a cyborg,” Sobule says. She went through a period where she was experiencing tremors in her hands. It was affecting her guitar playing. But her audiences thought she looked nervous, or had delirium tremens. So two years ago, she underwent brain surgery. She wishes that had gone further.

“While they were in my brain, why couldn’t they somehow have implanted, you know, music theory? And five years of Spanish?”

Or explain why some songs you just can’t get out of your head. Like Debbie Boone, Sobule’s biggest hit was a while ago. “I Kissed a Girl,” back in 1995. A lesbian love pop song.

“It’s a whole different generation, a world, right now,” she says. “I try to tell these kids now, these college kids, back in ’95, it was like that was a frickin’ big deal. It was a brave, it was one of the first songs to reach the ‘Billboard’ charts that had that kind of content.”

Sobule’s record label was worried about plans to have Sobule kiss another woman on the video.

“And then they chickened out at the last minute and made me pregnant with Fabio’s baby.”

“And now, no one cares, really.”

No cares anymore about two women kissing each other. Or cares about Fabio, for that matter.

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.