Image courtesy Asthmatic Kitty
The Disney incarnation of Pocahontas once asked in song, “Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?” It might have been innocent karaoke for the toddler set, but the princess raised a truly cosmic question— one that cult music legend Linda Perhacs is answering with her first album in 40-plus years, The Soul of All Natural Things (Asthmatic Kitty). Perhacs possesses the gift of synesthesia, a neurological trait where the subject can “hear” colors or “taste” sound. The sensation differs from synesthete to synesthete, and historical figures such as Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov are said to have been among those with the unique talent. To get an idea of what Perhacs, a former dental hygienist, experiences, watch the video for “Prisms of Glass.” The fractals of light are part of the artist’s vision, the notes she “sees” as her mind composes the song. (Apropos, trippy musicians such as Sufjan Stevens collaborated with her on The Soul of All Natural Things.)
She recently told Fader: “I don’t jam to create a song, I don’t sit at the piano. I hear it and then I run to the keyboard or the guitar and try to capture it. At first it comes through me like rain. That’s why I got along with the hippies so well, they were well-versed in energies. I can’t live there on the pedestrian level, it’s too limited for me.” It’s rare for a “normie” to grasp the synesthete perspective, but Andrew McMahon (Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin) made a notable effort. On his 2013 solo EP, The Pop Underground, he released a bubbly track called “Synesthesia,” with lyrics such as “I see colors when I hear your voice.” (Watch the video.) Maureen Seaberg, a card-carrying member of the “Rainbow Tribe,” as she puts it, beheld McMahon’s song and video as a rare moment of understanding. In her article for Psychology Today, she praised the piano-rocker for dedicating the song to a synesthete he met while in the hospital for cancer treatments eight years ago. McMahon has been in remission ever since. Perhacs and her ilk give us ordinary folk a vivid alternative to sedentary listening. Music is always better when one is immersed in it; and for the synesthete, she is constantly awash in inspiration.