The McLachlan Group

'Girlie Goddess' tour brings sisters together in emotion

Sarah McLachlan may be a platinum-plus artist, but as a young songstress with only four albums to her credit, she still knows her place in the pop pantheon.

That's why the 28-year-old Canadian feels "kind of weird" about getting higher billing than legendary punk priestess Patti Smith at Friday's all acoustic fem-rock revue at Pine Knob.

"Just today, I asked my manager, 'Is Patti OK with this?' Because she's a goddess, you know? She's a legend," says McLachlan of Smith, who has called Detroit home since 1980.

"She should be headlining, not me. I mean, she's been in the business for more than 20 years. But I guess she's cool with it."

In terms of musical legacy, McLachlan is clearly no match for a seminal artist like Smith, whom Musician magazine credited with launching the punk movement with her 1975 Horses album.

But if McLachlan wanted to, she could point to 1.3 million reasons why she's getting top billing. That's how many copies of her 1994 release, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, have been sold to date.

"I just put together a wish list of the women I'd love to perform with - including Patti - and I called 'em all up," says McLachlan by phone from her home in Vancouver. "I was thrilled when Patti said yes, because she's such a hero of mine."

The Pine knob gig is one of only four stops on McLachlan's summer mini-tour. The lineup varies from city to city: Joining McLachlan Friday are Smith, Aimee Mann, Paula Cole and Lisa Loeb. McLachlan's shows in Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles pair her with such heroines as Emmylou Harris and Suzanne Vega, as well as Cole.

Computer terminals will be set up at the show to allow fans to access the CD-ROM multi-media track on McLachlan's 1995 release, The Freedom Sessions - a collection of acoustic versions of several Ecstasy songs.

"This is sort of my 'girlie goddess' tour," says McLachlan. "Next summer I want to do a full tour - sort of an anti-Lollapalooza-boys- club thing. But right now, I have to focus on my next record. I'm way behind. I should have been in the studio by now - but so far, I've only got four really good songs."

Judging from McLachlan's description, her new songs are a far cry from Ecstasy's shimmery atmospherics and ambient, subtly insinuating folk- pop.

"Everything I've been writing lately seems to sound like old Hank Williams," says McLachlan in her distinctive Canadian accent. "I don't know where it's coming from. I think I'm channeling some old country soul or something. I've been listening to Emmylou a lot - maybe she's been inspiring me, and bringing up some old ghosts."

But then, McLachlan's songs have always been inhabited be ghosts - mostly from her own childhood.

McLachlan's father was a marine biologist whose work frequently took him away from home. McLachlan's aspiring-academic mother set aside her own dreams to support her husband's education and career travels. As a result, her mother was haunted by feelings of isolation, loneliness, regret and lack of fulfillment. And McLachlan suffered "Some psychological abuse," she says, as a child.

"My poor mom, bless her heart, is still alive, so I don't want to get into all of that, because I love her," says McLachlan. "But God knows, we went through a hard time."

McLachlan's mother eventually pursued her own bliss, recently returning to school to earn a master's degree in English literature. But when McLachlan was in her early 20's, the leftover emotional and psychic residue propelled her into the kinds of obsessive relationships - and the state of exquisite torment - she details so sympathetically in her songs.

"Yeah, I've definitely been through those," she acknowledges with a hearty laugh. "And I do love to bring it on myself. I don't mean to, but there it is. I mean, I've always been in the great pursuit of happiness and fulfillment - if I get into a hole, I want out of it.

"And for me, I've found that the best way out is to write about it. This is such a cliche, but writing really is therapeutic for me. After I wrote 'Possession,' (from Ecstasy) I wasn't looking over my shoulder every time I left the house any more."

"Possession" - the most compelling and most popular song on an album full of quiet emotional epiphanies - was inspired by fan letters from overenthusiastic male admirers.

"Some of the letters were really over the top, in terms of what they expected and demanded from me," McLachlan says cautiously. "The song is written from the point of someone who's so obsessed with another person that they might become violent in order to obtain that person."

In "Possession", McLachlan's soothing soprano ascends from earthy to ethereal as she embodies the obsession inherent in lines like: "I would be the one to hold you down/Kiss you so hard/I'll take your breath away. My body aches to breathe your breath/Your words keep me alive." But her languid phrasing is so sensual, so evocative, she makes such dysfunctional impulses seem almost plausible, if not seductive.

And in "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," McLachlan sounds like a woman on the mend - one who's ready to embrace the full range of human emotion: "If I shed a tear I won't cage it/If I feel a rage, I won't deny it/I won't fear love/Peace in the struggle to find peace."

McLachlan sees the notion of "fumbling toward ecstasy" - an inversion of a line from a poem by Wilfred Owens - as "a great metaphor for life."

"It just jumped off the page for me," McLachlan says. "It's about trying to get back to that childlike state, and being open, and allowing things to enter in, and accepting them. And that's a hard place to get to.

"After listening to that song, people have said to me, 'Oh you must be so together," says McLachlan. "But I'm not there yet. That's just me, projecting. I figure if I say it enough, I might believe it."

Webmaster Julian C. Dunn ([email protected])