“I’m not crazy, never was crazy; I’m stark-raving sane”.
The hardest part of a writer's job is when there are no words to describe how she feels. This is the challenge with which I was presented when I sat down with Emilie Autumn.
In this instance, I was not just a journalist, but a peer (survivor of a serious mental illness) and a ‘muffin’ (Emilie's affectionate term for her fans) as well.
This was not my first time meeting Emilie, nor my first time seeing her show. I had been to two prior (one in Montreal, the other in Toronto). At that last Toronto show I met her. Completely starstruck-- a rare event for me-- I hugged her and whispered, "thank you for your music and your words and for being you. Thank you for showing me I will survive too".
This time was different from the start.
I had it all worked out: I’d stride confidently into the room, smile and introduce myself.
Well, I arrived about 10 minutes early. The venue’s doors were locked. I wandered back to the stage door, where angry (or maybe just very urgent and determined) men were unloading what appeared to be Emilie’s set from the back of a truck.
“You’re not ‘sposed to be here!” one uttered, gruff and exasperated.
Taken aback by his abruptness, I stuttered “y-yes I am. To speak to Emilie Autumn”.
“Wait ‘til the show. Doors at 8”.
“I’m a journalist. Emilie’s tour manager, Melissa and I set up an interview”.
He shook his head and left me alone.
Just then, Veronica (from Emilie’s “scantily-clad girl band”, the Bloody Crumpets) flounced by, blissfully unaware of my nervousness or the man’s annoyance. “Hi, dear,” she smiled as she strode past me.
Melissa arrived at that moment, ushering me inside. “You’ll meet Emilie in ‘the dungeon’,” she grinned. The room, though well-furnished, did look like a dungeon, complete with concrete walls and narrow steps, and very cold.
EA appeared from her dressing room, clothed in a casual outfit and minimal stage make-up. She pulled me in to a hug (she gives the best hugs, truly!) and introduced herself. I explained how we had met before, though not professionally, and she said she had thought she remembered me (though whether she meant to flatter me, I’m not sure. I was charmed either way).
We sat together on the black pleather couch. I had prepared a list of questions, but looked at it only once in our near-hour together: I really didn’t need that piece of paper, because what followed was simply a conversation between fast friends.
First, we spoke about the evolution of the Asylum. What started as an outlet for Emilie to express her pain, sorrow, and her history as a girl affected by mental illness soon developed in to the album Opheliac, an international tour, the Asylum Book, and now the Fight Like a Girl (FLAG) tour and forthcoming album.
“It’s become this whole Asylum world,” Emilie says, “It isn’t just about me anymore”.
She emphasizes multiple times that she is helping herself (through music and art) to help others, and that her victory “is not just for me, but for all of us”.
“This is your third time performing in Canada,” I say, “how is this tour different from the last one?”
Emilie’s show has always been theatrical, akin to a vaudeville show, complete with singing, violin solos (Emilie is a classically trained musician, afterall), skits, acrobatics, burlesque… But the FLAG tour, Emilie exclaims, goes above and beyond. “This show [on this tour] is more intense and dark… a horror story”. She explains that, despite the heavy subject matter of a young woman’s struggle with mental illness and the cruelty of people who don’t understand, it’s empowering and explores the “role of sex and humour in really dark subjects.
“I’m a main character in the story, the story is actually true, but it’s kind of getting to a comfortable place where it’s not directly about me, and Emily, who tried to kill herself. This is what the story is about and this is why you [Muffins] can relate to it. It’s just a good story. For those of us who are in on it, it’s probably something more personal. It’s a big theatrical production where you can just go and be entertained. It’s kept its comedic side… It’s important to balance everything out!”
Upon being asked what her next step will be (after Fight Like a Girl is released), Emilie explains that FLAG is meant to be “the soundtrack to the Asylum musical”. Having heard a few songs, it’s very easy for me to believe this; the music is epic and cinematic, the lyrics powerful and the theatrics are definitely there. As EA says herself, putting her story into a Broadway show “doesn’t seem like a stretch”. She continues, “I don’t need a Grammy; I want a Tony!”.
Oh my tea trays, the Asylum on Broadway! That Tony is sure to be Emilie’s; it’s just a matter of time.
On a more sombre note, Emilie divulges that the song Take a Pill is about her experience being locked in an insane asylum—an experience both myself and many of her fans can relate to.
She laments the fact that most people don’t talk about mental illness. She postulates that most are terrified of even thinking about it, so they judge and criticize those who do talk about it or are affected by it.
“Suicide is considered a crime and you get locked up for it. You’re punished for having survived, and all you wish is you could have pulled it off, could have done better”. That hasn’t changed since the Victorian era (a major theme in Emilie’s work).
“What we’re often referencing in a very dark and sarcastic way [is the Victorian Era]. Most of society has not progressed very much. And that is fucked up”.
Which leads us to this: “A huge part of the Asylum story is this question of ‘who’s really crazy?’.
“I’m not crazy, never was crazy; I’m stark-raving sane”.
Her eyes wide, Emilie says, “escaping the asylum doesn’t mean you’re free. You never really get out. So instead of fighting that, we ask, ‘how do we change a prison into a sanctuary? Change being alone into not alone?’ Unfortunately, you can’t solve the problem of mental illness or being mistreated because of it-- but that also means you don’t have to look to anyone else for the solution. You just have to ‘put one foot in front of the other’. That’s how the Asylum was born”.
Emilie volunteers her love and empathy, exclaiming, “The Asylum is mine and yours and all of ours… And now you”--she points at me—“and muffins everywhere have a cellmate”-- she points at herself—“and a sanctuary”.
My final thought, as I hug Emilie farewell and make my way down Queen Street is this: Emilie is as genuine and emotional and real as she seems, especially when she talks passionately about her wish for a world more understanding of the people in it.
And running through my head for weeks later, is “one foot in front of the other foot in front of the other one…”
| Emilie Autumn | Mental Health @ RebeccaEsther.com | Emilie Autumn on Twitter |
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