Jill Sobule is a rare beauty who composes songs of equally rare pulchritude and a tangible tangle. It’s a palpable irony that reels you in. The music and the musician are inseparable and absolutely irresistible.
A parallel can easily be drawn between the impish songwriter’s intent and the listener’s need. Sobule could be singing to you or about you, weaving around into the things you have in common, tapping into topics like love, social justice, lost love … and brain surgery.
Sobule and I have had similar neurological afflictions; she, essential tremor, me, Parkinson’s disease. We’ve sought relief with what is the brain science equivalent to a pacemaker for your head.
Just over a year ago, Sobule went ahead and got the procedure for a brain implant called deep brain stimulation to combat the tremors in her hands that were getting more pronounced. It wasn’t rocket science, but it was brain surgery.
And it worked.
“We’re a special breed,” she says of our new status as robots and our walking around with extra hardware in our heads. “We’re cyborgs.”
You’ll recognize this fabulous singer-songwriter for her coquettish voice: pure pop confection until the gal turns up the volume.
Then it resonates with a slightly defiant snarl. Her guitar style is unique as well as she leans heavy on her big guitar from a folksy, lackadaisical lope to screaming chaos as she muscles into an all-Bigsby tug-o’-war. That’s a whammy bar to you and me, Russ.
Sobule took a break from rehearsal in Philly where she’s working on a stage version of “The Scarlet Letter,” to chat on the phone. She talks in clipped sentences dialing it down at times to a whisper as if checking over her shoulder before she let’s fly with top secret info.
“It’s the (Polyphone)Festival at the University of the Arts at Philadelphia,” Sobule says of her work with students studying there. “It’s called Crimson Lit, a Scarlet Letter Playlist.”
She feeds off the students’ enthusiasm.
“I so love that energy,” Sobule says.” I need that energy. And I’m very immature so I don’t feel that much older.”
Sobule hit the big time with her 1995 radio hit “I Kissed a Girl” and “Supermodel,” which led to her stardom and appearance on shows like “The Simpsons“ where she wrote and performed “Lumberjill.”
She sounds like a lot of fun, like a big sister you can sneak cigarettes or a beer from, or spin cool records with. Yet she tends to champion “Human beings, real and imagined” and often tends to visit heavier lyrics that resonate deeper and darker on the inside.
You gotta wonder, how does that work? Sobule looks back to a hero, the late, great John Prine on his beautiful song “Sam Stone” and its aching turn of phrase only to disintegrate into a hopeless ode to a junkie.
Her latest (and twelfth) record, “Nostalgia Kills,” fits well in the whole Sobule Pantheon, covering topics like social justice, the death penalty, anorexia nervosa, shoplifting, reproduction, the French Resistance, adolescent malaise, LGBTQ issues, and the Christian right.
And you’ll never guess what Sobule does for fun.
“Basketball,” she says. “I love to watch basketball on TV.”
At 61, Sobul ain’t sitting down or sitting still. She continues to tour–roughly 100 dates a year. She’s not done with the theater either, and a new album is in transit. But she’s realistic when it comes to stardom.
“I feel like I’m getting away with something,” she says. “It makes me feel lucky. No one’s asking me to be on CNN or ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ yet.”
Jill Sobule plays Wednesday, March 16, at the Little Theatre, 240 East Avenue. Doors open 6:30 pm. Tickets: $25-$30.
Here’s a comprehensive list of live shows in and around Rochester: Get Your Gig On