From the Archive: 5 Questions: Singer-Songwriter Jim White

Songwriter Jim White’s new record Misfit’s Jubilee will be released on October 30. In eager anticipation of this release, we’re re-running this interview with Jim from last February.

Jim White gets around. When he’s not releasing his own critically acclaimed solo albums he splits time producing records for other songwriters, exhibiting his visual art in galleries and museums across the US and Europe and publishing award-winning fiction.

His sixth solo studio album, the bizarrely titled Waffles, Triangles & Jesus, is a mind-bending joy ride of sonic influences featuring a bevy of his hometown Athens’ roots musicians, plus west coast indie darlings Dead Rock West, and rock and roll maverick Holly Golightly.

Prior to Waffles, Triangles & Jesus, White (born Mike Pratt) released five eclectic, totally uncategorizable albums plus another six even stranger side projects.

Numerous songs from his back catalog have appeared both in film and television, with his Primus-esque Word-Mule being featured in Breaking Bad, and more recently his cautionary rocker Crash Into The Sun appearing in Ray McKinnon’s highly praised Sundance Channel series Rectify.

UK fans may recognize White as the narrator and defacto tour guide for the award-winning BBC documentary, Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, a road movie set in the rural South, which the LA Times described as “Decidedly strange, delightfully demented.”

Prior to becoming a musician, White led an aimless, diverse life, working countless menial labor jobs:  dishwasher, landscaper, lifeguard, cook, surfboard laminator, road builder, culminating with thirteen long years driving a taxi cab in New York City.   

White is presently at work completing a memoir, Incidental Contact, based on a series of uncanny coincidences that befell him during his days driving that taxi in New York City. Two chapters of Incidental Contact, The Bottom and Superwhite, have been published in the literary music journal Radio Silence, with Superwhite being awarded a Pushcart Prize for short fiction.

White was a pro surfer. He served as literary commentator for the National Endowment of the Arts. He was a European fashion model. Samuel Beckett once played a practical joke on him. There’s lots more non-linear information that doesn’t really fit the usual bio format. But that’s Jim—he gets around.

You can keep track of Jim on his website.

1. What’s been keeping you up at night?

It’s kind of the opposite.  I’m a lifelong insomniac, sleep apnea type.  I wake and then go back to sleep dozens of times nightly, falling in and out of REM sleep so much that when I wake up I’m exhausted from all the dreaming. I sometimes think that a fair amount of my semi surrealistic work is just riffing on the incessant juggernaut of nightly dreams. But recently a good friend sent me some of that CBD oil, and lo and behold as a result of taking a drop or two of it before I turn in I find myself sleeping much better. At this point in my dysfunctional sleep life it’s just this side of bewildering to wake up after a good nights sleep, only having woken up a few times.
When I do have sleep problems it usually results from worry for childhood friends who have been driven further and further into Right Wing mania.  I grew up in an intensely conservative region and keep in touch with home folks via social media.  These are good people, kind and well intentioned, who are unwittingly being incrementally dragged across the threshold of fascism. I fear for them and subsequently for our country, because if they can be twisted so far out of shape as to accept this slippery slope we’re presently descending, then we’re in real trouble. Lately I avoid social media in the evenings.  It’s a little too much of a dialectic platform these days.

2. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or heard lately?

I like science—always did.  I stumbled on this youtube video recently that explained something called Quantum Locking.  Basically it’s an explanation of how magnetic waves can be used to levitate objects in an incredibly controlled manner.  In theory this could lead to something approximating a perpetual motion machine and solve the worlds fuel crisis forever.  Kind of mind blowing innovation.
When I was in my early twenties I worked at a surfboard factory.  The foreman was this brilliant, slightly manic inventor who took the job to cover raising his kids.  He designed the first multi fin surfboard and invented the fin locking system that is presently the industry standard.  A smart guy.  A cool guy. He once confided in me he’d created a perpetual motion machine, but did no show it to anyone because he feared someone would kill him.  I thought he was joking, but he gave a few examples of inventors who had mysteriously disappeared after creating devices that would render the internal combustion engine obsolete.  This sounded pretty far fetched, at least back then, but as the secret world of big business becomes more and more exposed, it’s not such a stretch any more.  His invention was a magnet motor that spun an axle by using opposite pole magnets mounted in a circle with a central magnet with oppositional polarity.  The center mounted magnet would spin infinitely, propelled forward by the ring of opposite magnets.  It’s very similar to the device you see here, except it’s a semiconductor, not an actual magnet that is the centerpiece of the idea.

If you’re interested in this type of thinking and it’s impact on our world, Steven Kotler’s book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think is wildly engaging reading.  Kotler has an uncanny knack of tackling incredibly complex scientific subjects and synthesizing the ideas into very simple everyday language.  In these difficult times the premise and surrounding substantiation of his ideas is profoundly uplifting. 

3. What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?

I just finished the first draft of a novel.  Well, not really a novel, it’s something I’m calling a “Magical Realism Memoir”.  I’ve struggled with mental health issues at times in my life, and at one point—the absolute nadir of my struggles—a series of uncanny events befell me. I was working as a taxi driver in New York City and so was daily let loose in a grid of potent interactive possibilities—both positive and negative. As I fell more and more into that mental health crisis the inexplicable events started happening. Premonitions, eerie interactions, etc.  It was almost as if I had to go crazy to gain access to this altered dimension of being.  And what’s weird is that nearly every incident involved me having a bizarre interaction with someone incredibly famous. Why famous people? Why not beggars or soldiers or cops or auto mechanics? I still laugh thinking about that. Famous people–Jesus.  So it’s been twenty years since that mysterious door opened, then closed, and only now am I starting to truly comprehend the meaning of that experience. And what’s interesting is, those connections propelled me into this life I lead of relative notoriety.  Had they not happened, I would probably still be driving a cab in New York, or dead.

4. If you could add anyone, alive or dead to your team, who would it be?

Well, like I said, I like science, so I’d opt for Richard P. Feynman.  He was a trickster genius who won the Nobel Prize for an idea he got during a food fight in the cafeteria at MIT.  He was also the man who called bullshit on the NASA coverup of the Challenger explosion.  He did his famous O-Ring reveal during a press conference and subsequently blew everyone’s mind who was trying to cover it up.  They figured they’d misled the science geeks enough to where nobody would actually discover it was management that was at fault.  Do you know about Touvan Overtone Throat singing?  If so, you probably have Feynman to thank. He and a friend once made a dare to spin a globe, stick a pin in randomly, and wherever it landed go there. They ended up going to Touva in the former Soviet Union—which was no small feat at that time.  And there they discovered the overtone throat singers. I would post a link to that, but listening over speakers destroys the magical physics of this type of performance.  You have to be in the room to hear the overtones in their actual form.  The singers are in front of you, and their main voice is emanating from them, but a second tone appears, emanating from above and behind you. And it’s coming from them, but it feels like its origins is elsewhere.  It’s WILD.  

5. When the movie of your life is made, what will it be called?

As you can see, I’m a real talker, but I have no answer to that question.  My life isn’t over yet.  I’ll say this, I believe that at one point or another in a person’s life they say the perfect epitaph for themselves.  I used to collect oddball epitaphs like the now infamous “I Told You I Was Sick” from a grave in Australia.  Or Oscar Wildes famous parting words, “I’m glad I’m dying. I always hated this wall paper.”  Once riding in a cab with David Byrne we passed a strange business establishment on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.  There were banners and castle like turrets that had been added to what looked like a defunct gas station.  There were flashing lights and fancy cars and four huge Nuwaubian style bodyguard types and a midget in a tuxedo and top hat, the midget tap dancing, the bodyguards massive arms crossed glaring at the passing traffic.  We both did a double take, then David said, “Wow! Was that strip joint or a car wash????” and I though to myself, “That’s the perfect epitaph for David Byrne”.  Mine came after an idyllic day at the beach with my younger daughter.  As we were pulling away from the parking lot, entering the flow of traffic headed for home, I said, “Well, nothing to complain about here.” to which my four year old daughter added, “Nothing to complain about but the leaving.”