You may have spotted The Space Lady's name alongside Daniel Johnston's, and Jandek's, on Irwin Chusid's seminal Outsider compilation Songs in the Key of Z. Perhaps you registered the lo-fi synth minimalism of her Peter Schilling cover 'Major Tom,' on Erol Alkan's Bugged Out mix last year, or John Maus' 2011 Rough Trade set.
But now, after 30 years of building a reputation on word-of-mouth plaudits that have gradually taken the cult busker musician from the streets into the studio, The Space Lady's Greatest Hits is the first official introduction to a most remarkable artist, and is released via Night School Records on 25th November, 2013.
Initially self-released on hand-made cassette in 1990, Greatest Hits marks a return from outer orbit of a life that's taken in UFO sightings, hiding from the US government, homelessness, communing, hitchhiking, and over two decades of playing the street corners, storefronts, and subways of America.
Often seen performing in 1980's Boston, and then a decade later in San Francisco's Castro community - where she would play and sing for hours on end for the gay scene, and got her apt moniker - The Space Lady's winged helmet and setup of a Casio battery-powered keyboard, vocal mic, and echo & phaser controls, became a small but striking phenomenon. Greatest Hits is a fascinating document of her journey; the covers, originally recorded in 1990 at a friend's San Fran studio, reflect both the longevity of her own time performing, and a certain lineage of American radio and chart music itself.
TSL's former partner Joel - a US Army draft evader in the 1960's, with whom she went on the run under assumed surnames - often picked out the covers. As she performed, he would stay at home with their three children, and pick tracks from the radio hits...or else cycle to second hand record stores, crate-digging for faded gold. "I thought of him as the man behind the curtain," she says, "like the Wizard of Oz, because he was so influential during those early years."
As such, the album covers some of the most memorable chart hits from the dawn of popular music, 'I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)' by The Electric Prunes, The Steve Miller Band's 'Fly Like An Eagle', Steppenwolf's 'Born To be Wild' and ELO's 'Showdown.' They're threaded together by some of the biggest outsider pop of the era, including Schilling's 'Major Tom' and Sweet's 'Ballroom Blitz.' Put through her electronic set-up however, these staples reduce, re-morph and dissipate into ethereally singular re-interpretations; with their melodies re-created via spindly synth lines and through the wisp-in-the-wind vocal of The Space Lady herself, and a sparse guide beat accompanying each, they take on alien forms, as though hypnotic transmissions refracted back from another planet.
The Space Lady never intended to busk. Initially, it was Joel who believed he was destined for bright things in music. Twelve hard years in Boston between 1972 and 1984 changed that, with him having to make ends meet through designing collages and hand-bound poetry booklets, and she through panhandling. It was when they had their first of three children together that she began busking, taking an old accordion out to the streets of the city.
Its eventual damage at the hands of an unruly drunk one night became an unlikely silver lining: it forced the artist to use her aerial vocal a cappella, her subsequent street-level success earning her enough to buy the Casio keyboard that provides the dominant frequencies of Greatest Hits' signal. At the time, she says, its unwavering tones enhanced by a phaser, seemed unnatural - otherworldly even - to passers-by. "Some people even refused to believe I was singing" she exclaims, "because of my echo unit. That really irked me!"
Outer frontiers have always been something of a fascination for The Space Lady, but then how could they not have been? Fate dictated as such when her parents gave birth to her just a few short months after living in Roswell, New Mexico during the time of the infamous flying saucer crash of 1947. UFOs became a theme of her life when, over 20 years later she witnessed one of her own. At the time she lived in a cave on Mt. Shasta on the Oregon border with Joel. In her own words "from then on we were convinced we were being watched, if not guided and protected, by aliens;" it's a belief that perhaps could only be possessed by someone whose great life awakening came during the late 60's and its explosion of potential new horizons.
It is no surprise, given that she has been so marked by that period - arguably the last era where the future was anticipated with wide-eyed wonderment and imagination - that the The Space Lady's music befits that of an artist who has constantly gazed towards the stars, even when she has had to fight to stay out of the gutter for so much of her life. It is that life-force energy she possesses from that time that enables her to say "The songs chosen for the track listing represent TSL as a stand for love and peace in the world," and for you to completely immerse yourself in its now world-worn bohemian message.
The Space Lady retired in 1999 to look after her parents, her voyage seemingly complete. Now, however, married to a songwriter/recording artist who urged her to don once more the winged helmet and dust off her Casio, she has returned to performing on the streets of her native Colorado, as well as "City Different" Santa Fe, New Mexico. And with Night School Records pushing her music into a broader spotlight than ever before, it seems that her talent, hidden for so long, is finally ready to take glorious flight throughout the world.
2. Synthesize Me
3. Major Tom
4. Ghost Riders In The Sky
5. Domine, Libra Nos / Showdown
6. Fly Like An Eagle
7. Born To Be Wild
8. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)
9. From The Womb To The Tomb
10. Ballroom Blitz
11. All Shook Up (Indies Only Bonus CD)
12. Slapback Boomerang (Indies Only Bonus CD)
13. Puttin\' On The Ritz (Indies Only Bonus CD)
14. Radar Love (Indies Only Bonus CD)
15. 20th Century Fox (Indies Only Bonus CD)
16. Shakin\' All Over (Indies Only Bonus CD)
Listen to 'I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)' here:
The BBC drama starring Aidan Turner returns to BBC One on September 4th.