October 19, 2005
When she was growing up in New Hampshire, one of the significant cultural touchstones for Cosy Sheridan was Tom Lehrer. Lehrer was a jack-of-all-trades artist who mixed politics, humor and music in satirical songs about nuclear proliferation (“Who’s Next?”) and American military might (“Send the Marines”). Lehrer left the entertainment field early; claiming that Henry Kissinger as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize made political satire obsolete, he turned instead to teaching mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.Sheridan says that, as a young artist, she was not ready to present a spin on the world as Lehrer did, and focused on more traditional folk singing. But she has learned. Last year, Sheridan released a pair of albums rich in concept, humor and social criticism.”Botox Tango” is the comical side of Sheridan. The collection of her songs, old and new, satirizes such topics as tribal customs in public restrooms (“The Ladies’ Room”), yeast infections (“Turbo Yeast”) and body art (“Multiply Pierced”).”The Pomegranate Seed” presents a different, sharper side of the 40-year-old Sheridan, who has lived in Moab the last 10 years. The album is a companion to the one-person show of the same name that Sheridan wrote and performed as a final project for a degree she earned in psychology. “The Pomegranate Seed” is a two-part creation: the first half explores issues regarding women’s bodies, through songs such as “Barbie,” which suggests a more realistic version of the iconic doll; and “All Alone with a Bathing Suit,” about the experience of trying on beachwear. The second half of the CD is a musical exploration of the Greek myth of Persephone, the young woman abducted into the underworld by Hades.Audiences can expect some taste of all sides of Sheridan – the traditional folkie, the satirist and the social commentator – when she performs at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale on Friday, Oct. 28. But how much of each facet she presents depends on the crowd. “A performance is a two-way street,” she said. “The audience will let you know where it wants to go. If a lot of people don’t seem attuned to hearing archetypal songs about women, I’ll change direction.”Though she won’t be performing the full stage piece, Sheridan expects to include five or six songs from “The Pomegranate Seed.” The play has some roots in Sheridan’s personal history; as a teenager, she experienced an eating disorder. Over the years, Sheridan has witnessed how images of women stress the almost unattainable ideal form, causing no small amount of stress for the 99.9-plus percent of women who don’t measure up. She took action after a therapist informed her that, in all her years in practice, not a single woman had expressed satisfaction with her figure.
“So 50 percent of the country hates the package they come in,” said Sheridan, adding that an earlier song about body issues, “The Losing Game,” earned a surprising amount of interest from women and men. “I see a lot of women have this demon imposed on them: ‘You should look this way.’ And they lose so much energy over it.”Rather than create a work that only explored body issues, Sheridan decided to combine that topic with the story of Persephone. In that myth, Persephone is forced by Hades to eat pomegranate seeds, which were sacred to the underworld and thus, a symbol of death.”I interpret that as a loss-of-innocence myth,” said Sheridan by phone, while driving through Albuquerque. Tying the body issues to the myth allowed Sheridan to update the relevance of Persephone’s story. “What sorts of Hades do we encounter, and what sorts of pomegranate seeds do we eat that take our innocence? And how do we transform that seed of the dead into an instrument of rebirth?”I think it’s a beautiful image – a seed you can swallow, and it will kill you, or you can use it to transform your life. It depends whose energy is bigger.”Now entering her fifth decade, Sheridan finds herself under a different kind of assault. The anti-aging industry seems to have set its sights on her, and she is finding a familiar feeling of rage. “I take it personally that they want to stick a knife in my ribs and make me worry about things I don’t need to worry about at all,” she said.But Sheridan isn’t ready just yet to skewer the sellers of youth tonics and varicose vein surgery. Her next album, she said, will be a more traditional-sounding folk record in which she can focus on her high harmonies.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org