Interviews with Writers

Non-Fiction | Not Me | Marianne Dissard

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I’m delighted to be hosting Marianne Dissard whose memoir, Not Me, is the account of a year spent away from the stage in an attempt to reboot a life plagued by eating disorders.


French chanteuse Marianne Dissard recorded and toured with members of alt-Americana bands Giant Sand and Calexico. Her own desert noir chanson plays effortlessly with contradictions: tender, yet abrasive; melodramatic, but vulnerable; comical and heartbreaking.

Equally so her first book, ‘Not Me’, an impish and poetic exploration of trauma and the life of a touring musician, praised by three of Dissard’s favorite authors, Mitch Cullin (‘Tideland’), Chris Rush (‘The Light Years’) and Andrew Smith (‘Moondust’).

A courageous book of unflinching compassion, ‘Not Me’ is available from October 15th, 2019 as paperback (first edition is high quality-printed by CPI Antony Rowe UK), audiobook (read by the author) and eBook, with a cover design by noted British designer Jamie Keenan.

A vivid inner record of universal interest, Dissard’s often improbably funny memoir’(Andrew Smith), ‘not just painfully but viscerally, brutally honest’ (producer John Parish), will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to maintain physical and psychological well-being. 

Disordered, alone…

For years, Dissard orchestrated her public life as a performer around her private disordered world. In 2013, at the end of her rope, she flees her hometown of Tucson, Arizona to seek solace back in Europe, a continent she’d left at age sixteen. In Paris, Dissard latches on to an intensive yoga teacher training to turn her life around.

 ‘Of course, I was scared when I realized I would be speaking my truth after decades of keeping it freakishly hidden or, at best, cryptically whispered in my song lyrics—in French for more opacity’, says Dissard.

‘Not Me’ is the account of a year spent away from the stage in an attempt to reboot a life plagued by eating disorders. Invited to teach, Dissard grabs the chance to learn. Focusing on her students, opening up to friendship, she gradually finds her way back to health and connections… and a wooden boat in England.

 ‘I kept a journal of what I desperately needed to be a momentous year. These entries would form the basis of a book about my life, all these years I wasted in exile from myself. I don’t prettify my truth. You have to face the music at some point.’ 

Book cover Not Me by Marianne Dissard

Not Me by Marianne Dissard is published by Creosote and is available now at: London Review Bookshop (London), The Margate Bookshop (Margate), Harbour Books (Whitstable), Archive (Ramsgate), Vinyl Head (Ramsgate). Publication online 15th October 2019.

Interview

Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.

Why did you decide to write this book Marianne?

Performing, writing, declaring my flamme are all things, to me, worth living for but they require at an early stage of the process a giant leap of faith on my part. Singing? I never thought I could or would sing. That day back in 2004—I remember the light, and looking out the double-hung window of my Tucson house toward the desert—, I felt chills down my spine as I realized that, without any question, I wanted to be a singer. Where did that come from? The thought—and the certainty with which I embraced it—surprised me but I  knew myself enough to understand that the decision was terminal. Hence the chills, which I used as a yardstick in the following years to explore who I might be or become, daring myself in the process as an adventurer out to explore the unchartered territories of the self. The book? Of course, I was scared when I realized I had to tell the story I’d kept hidden for so many years. There was no backing down. You have to face the music at some point.

What have you learned writing the book?

I decided the best way to proceed was to keep a journal of that one year in Paris. The entries would form the basis of a book about my very secret disordered life. I learned to write while writing ‘Not Me’ and I learned that you have to speak up if you want to heal. No addict—and eating disorders are addictions—gets better on his or her own. We need a community, friends, a support system.  Connections—being seen and heard, being recognized and allowed to take one’s place within a community of people— matter enormously to our wellbeing. We are social animals. It took me a while to find the right balance for myself. When I moved on from journaling to actually mapping and writing the book, I found that I needed to be quite isolated. However, still battling my self-harming habits, I couldn’t get better if I was too isolated. It was looking for my balance in this new life as a writer. It’s only when I moved to the harbour town of Ramsgate and found the community and supportive friendships I needed that I was able to take the final steps in my recovery… and finish the book.

Was it easy to write?

I had an obligation to write and an obligation to ‘surmount the repulsive’, as that famous Vienna addict once said about the analytical process. I wouldn’t say it was easy to write this book. I’d only ever written lyrics before, and a bit of poetry—I ‘started’ as a ‘poet’ in my pre-teens—but for the particular story I set out to share, I couldn’t get in the way of myself. I had to be perfectly understood, to fumigate the obsfucating habits of the song lyricist.

 I had never been interested in writing short stories or fiction, content with writing lyrics, but I had written documentary scripts back in my filmmaking days. Film scripts and song are similar beasts, neither an end in itself. Not only are lyrics meaningless without music—and their performing—but they require a level of  impressionistic haziness to achieve their effects. With a book however, I soon discovered that I had to write with precision—I couldn’t hand out the clay to the next person to finish the vase—, reacquaint myself with the rules of grammar I can so recklessly forego when writing lyrics.

Another important point is that most of my creative writing to this point was in French. My first three albums are written in French. This book is not. I pushed back the limits of my bilingualism but I don’t think I could have written it in French either—nor do I want to translate it myself now. Again, I had to be direct, I couldn’t—and didn’t want to—hide any longer.

What was the process?

From start to paperback, the process took a little over five years. I was still touring and recording, and moved around a lot during that time, from Arizona to Paris, to Matera, back to Tucson briefly, working in Berlin then finally picking a ‘home’—my sailboat—in Ramsgate.

I began the process by taking daily notes for a year, a short-hand form of journaling. A few short lines or just a couple words. What did I feel during yoga class? Was I tired, happy, dumb and dull? I noted bits of conversations, mapping the timeline of my settling in Paris, going through the yoga training, starting to teach yoga. The note-taking also kept me in check and focused. I wasn’t backing down from the project. It gave me hope and a license to really do what I needed to do to and with myself to get better. The grand purpose of writing a book justified the pains I’d be inflicting upon myself. I was documenting my descent into hell, a form of self-inflicted torture. Writing the book gave me the autorization to get worse before I could get better. No, it wasn’t easy on my body.

After a year, I stopped taking notes and started structuring an outline from those I already had. I was listening at the time to the audio archives of W.S.Burroughs’ lectures at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. I hadn’t told anyone at that point what I was doing. When I wasn’t touring, I started spending time alone in a cave house in Matera. I would take long walks daily in the canyon wildnerness below town.

A first draft, followed by a second draft, followed by a third, each one shared with more people who helped me see what I had done. A quasi-final draft formed the basis of a stage play I performed in Tucson and Margate in 2018… before another round of revisions. I had neither editor nor publishing house—no one was waiting for the book,  pressuring me to finish it—, and took all the time I needed. Where would I find a freelance copy editor? Whose blog should I read (answer: David Gaughran)? I drew on my experience with music—recording and releasing my albums. Where to find a cover designer—Jamie Keenan, lucky me—and how to work with them through the process of creating a cover—and what cover he created! Which bookshops would be carrying the paperback—physical distribution, something I don’t worry much about anymore with my music?

Some of the books that helped me early on were John Burnside’s captivating ‘Waking Up in Toytown’, his memoir of life on the edge—of London—, and Patti Smith’s memoirs. I hadn’t read many memoirs before and didn’t feel the need to at this stage, more inspired by Heinrich Böll’s more literary ‘The Clown’, the portrait of a guilty man, its causticity tempered by great humor, or my literary hero, Pierre Guyotat who rigorously puts his flesh under a microscope in order to ‘noyer cette angoisse de la chair’ (drown this anxiety of the flesh). Viv’ Albertine’s first book came out during that time but, although I could relate to her heartfelt story as a musician and woman, I didn’t feel as inspired by her writing style as I was by Böll’s, Guyotat’s or Burnside’s.

What do you want your readers to take from the book?

I want my readers to know I have their back. They have to trust me. What I describe in the book is not something anyone really wants to hear about but there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. I want my readers to be reminded that we can’t know what someone else is going through, especially someone as adept at hiding in plain sight as a high-functionning addict. I had one thing to convey—the experience of someone suffering from an eating disorder—, and I had to say it as directly as possible, without shying away from detailing the more graphic details that can be glossed over in more clear-cut recovery memoirs à la Hollywood.

Beyond that, and more selfishly maybe as an artist, I wanted to investigate the flesh through these sensations I can so easily map out—my years of yoga, singing and somatics practice maybe—on my own body. Because I am deeply convinced now that writing is how I am set right in body and mind.

I want those who already know and love my music to understand it better through the book. I’m not talking about how the more lurid details of the life that is laid bare in the book might explain why it’s taken me so long to record a new album or why I wasn’t always singing and performing at my best but why, despite the humor and mischieviousness of most of my songs, they have, of late, actually become quite downbeat.

You always do a flip side project to your album – this time The Cat. Not Me – how does this enhance the creative process for you and for the listener?

In 2013, I recorded my third album, ‘The Cat. Not Me’. Until I changed its title to ‘Not Me’, this was also going to be the name of the book, which I had envisionned as the flipside project to the album.

A flip side project to an album shares its ‘energy’ or purpose. ‘The Cat. Not Me’ was a very somber album, with nightmarish and creepy moods, and songs that toggled between dark humor and petulant self-destruction. I realized early on that the content of the book would be what was between the lines of the lyrics of ‘Cat’. Whether my readers or my listeners get through these layers of connections is not something that concerns me. You can approach and enjoy any of these things from a superficial point or spend days looking for the meaning of song lyrics and videos, ponder how the book and the album are related, but I truly don’t expect anyone to have that time or desire. Hopefully, each of those productions (writings, videos, music, stage show) can be enjoyed at some level without being aware of the ‘other’ stuff I do.

Finally, how did writing this book change your music?

I hardly think of myself as a musician these days, even though I sing every day and work on my craft with workshops from my NYC-based vocal teacher Robert Sussuma, but I haven’t released an album of new material since I started writing the book. I’ve toured and recorded singles and as collaborations with other musicians, but my music is now grounded in a different place than when I lived in Tucson. To speak frankly, I’m very confused about music at this point. I’ve been looking forward to finishing the book so that I can record another album but this time of transition is scary. What if I didn’t have it in me any longer? What if I didn’t find the collaborators I needed here in England? What if it meant having to go back to the States? I have new lyrics and songs, enough for an album (it’s called ‘The Promise’ and will be my first in English) but what happens when I return to that place where I’ve always felt fragile and exposed, the studio and the stage? I think the next year will be full of (hopefully happy) surprises but for now, it all feels scary. After all, the last time I recorded an album, I was a sick and secretive version of myself. All masks off now.

Thank you for being my guest.


Author photo Marianne Dissard

Born in France but growing up as a teenager in the American West, Tucson chanteuse Marianne Dissard recorded and toured with members of Giant Sand and Calexico before settling back in Europe in 2013 to write her first book, ‘Not Me’, an impish and poetic exploration of trauma and the life of a touring musician praised by producer John Parish and three of Dissard’s favorite authors, Mitch Cullin (‘Tideland’), Chris Rush (‘The Light Years’), and Andrew Smith (‘Moondust’).

Marianne now splits her time between Ramsgate in England… and wherever the winds blow.

Singer and performer, lyricist and writer, producer and filmmaker. And as described by her friend BK-One in his liner notes to Dissard’s album ’Cibola Gold’… fearless.

Website https://www.mariannedissard.com/notme-epk


Live Dates & Book Tour

UK / Sept 26th to Oct 6th – East Kent Walking Book Tour

Ramsgate, Sandwich, Deal, Dover, Folkestone,    Canterbury, Faversham (The Hot Tin), Whitstable (Harbour Books), Herne Bay, Margate (Tom Thumb Theatre) and Broadstairs (The Chapel) including Making Waves Networking Festival.

UK / October 18th – London – Scaledown Series, King & Queen, Fitzrovia

UK / October – London – Words on the Water Bookshop

DE /  October – Berlin – Hopscotch Reading Series                                                                                                                          

UK / November – Margate – The Margate Bookie Festival


I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting and being out in nature are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school. I'm passionate about early help and sharing strategies with families to empower and help build resilience. I'm a member of of my Local Authority's Early Help Operational Board, working alongside other professionals to instigate change and growth.

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