By Erica Snowlake
Introducing Simone White, she who wanders whither and hither around the world, charming audiences with her (encore!) prodigious gifts of singing, songwriting, and fine guitar playing. Our lithe lovely mingles the tradition of the bard (wandering) and the chanteuse (crooning) with a voice evoking the honey-dripping bird tribes of Hawaii while boldly upholding the enlightened craftfulness of a female Dylan. It’s in her genes, with a folk-singing Mother, light-sculpture artist Dad, and grandma a burlesque queen in her day.
Her inherent whimsey charmed us upon first sight, we’ve been friends ever since. Let’s catch up! I say upon arriving at the Zen home in Venice she shares with filmmaker boyfriend Bob, stepping gingerly across a little wooden bridge over a pond of sparkling white and golden koi. Sipping hojicha, Simone’s happy to be home once again. She’s been touring steadily the past three years, recently returning from a month-long engagement with singer/songwriter Victoria Williams in Spain, playing in chapels and community halls to upwards of 500 people, rapt in pin-dropping silence as she delivers songs from her new CD “Yakiimo” (delicious mountain sweet potato in Japanese). Raving of the pleasures of playing in Europe (Portugal, Basque Country, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Womad and Green Man festivals in the UK, Scotland, Ireland) and overseas in Japan, she expresses gratefulness for the respectful way in which touring artists and musicians are cherished, celebrated and honored. Many of her performances were free, subsidized by local government grants. We bemoan the financial cuts of art and music programs in public schools across America, sadly acknowledging the reason behind this country’s current and ongoing downfall : addiction to War.
Simone’s first CD I Am the Man, recorded in Nashville, features a peace brigade of anti-war tunes, including “The American War” “Great Imperialistic State” and “We Used to Stand So Tall”, reflecting her intense disillusion with the Bush administration (I recall flowing tears while listening to the latter). She is especially touched by the appreciation German audiences demonstrate for her political songs, encouraging her to continue playing them, even as Obama has since (supposedly) replaced “the greater evil”. “Why am I still haranguing America?” she ponders, while in the next moment quietly affirming “the wars are continuing….”
She shares an emotional moment she experienced in Japan, breaking down while facing the giant Kuan Yin (the Goddess of Compassion) statue marking the memorial of the Temple of the Fallen Soldiers of WWII (or the Pacific War, as they term it). It is here in Japan she first hears the haunting, atonal prayer of the Yakiimo man, praising his wares of roasted yams warming in a hand-held cart he wheels thru alleys and narrow streets. Though the cart has been mostly replaced by trucks and the nostalgic cry with recordings, the heart of the old-fashioned original inspired the title track of her CD, a beautiful rendition of the call her Japanese fans say evokes childhood memories of reverently holding the mouth-watering offering. We joke about our past lives, as Simone reckons “the parallel times happening all at once” and how matter-of-factly such beliefs are held by the people she’s met in India and Japan.
Our thoughts turn to Venice, fragrant with Spring jasmines and magnolias blossoming in every garden. Simone enjoys riding her bicycle along the ocean, finding spaces with “nothing to buy” healing for the soul. She supports the Venice Farmer’s Market every Friday, across the public library on Venice Blvd. and Rawesome Foods, an organic membership club at 665 Rose. She’s disappointed with people trashing Venice, especially when “everyone knows better littering here eventually winds up polluting the ocean.” She takes responsibility in caring for our home seriously, citing the fact the 100 million ton garbage patch, ninety percent plastic, floating in the North Pacific Gyre, is made up of individual purchases. Her gentle admonishments takes a whimsical approach as she suggests people wanting to throw something down upon the earth might find a creative release in composting, an art Simone and Bob maintain wherever they live (it’s easy to do!) She likens co-creating the new black dirt rich with worms pure alchemy, the sensation of being part of the cycle of life to turning lead into gold.
Before we part, we feed Bootchii, the mama squirrel who lives in the giant palm tree, walnuts, while listening to Simone’s joyful cover of Victoria Williams “You Are Loved”. She mentions seeing “Love is the Change” graffiti on Rose Avenue. I think she sees love everywhere.
To hear “Yakiimo” and a listing of Simone’s upcoming shows: www.simonewhite.com