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Marianne Dissard confronts old ghosts in new book & performance

They say that home is where you hang your hat, but for a lady like Marianne Dissard, that's a bit complex.

For one thing, these days Dissard wears an impressive number of "hats" including singer, songwriter, filmmaker, activist, yogini and now author. For another, the idea of "home" itself is of a fluid concept for the sometime Tucsonan.

Dissard first came to the Arizona desert from France as a 16-year-old, settling in Tucson a few years later after coming here to direct a documentary for her old University of Southern California film school roommate, Howe Gelb of Giant Sand. 

Tucson is the place where Dissard's "ghosts" and memories live. A touchstone of a place full of old friends and sacred spaces from across the years. But Dissard is also a daughter of Europe through and through, and it was to her native France that she returned when she began to wrestle with some serious inner demons a few years ago. 

The new memoir "Not Me" began as a diary Dissard began keeping while living in Paris and struggling to gain control over her lifelong struggle with the eating disorder bulimia. 

While the diary documented in detail the "special place in hell" Dissard was beginning to emerge from, the artistic expression it first inspired was much more vague and impressionistic. Her 2013 album "The Cat Not Me" is a dark, rich and cathartic record that is as inscrutable as it is listenable. Dissard was at once both proud of the recording and acutely aware that she had only just begun to tell her story. Slowly, full passages began to form around the bones of the diary entries and "Not Me" the book came into being.

Flash forward a couple of years and Marianne Dissard is back in Tucson, visiting her desert ghosts and putting her heart out on her sleeve with the publication of this intense and deeply personal work. And even now she is finding that the story still has more to tell her, as she begins to adapt passages for the stage and incorporate unusual performance elements, such as adding literal scent to emphasize the memories she recounts.

We caught up with Dissard recently to talk about writing, performing, making music, wrestling one's demons and the differences between European and American respect for artists.

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TucsonSentinel.com: You have a unique perspective in that you visit Tucson over large pockets of time. What are your thoughts on how it's changed?

Marianne Dissard: Yes, there are new storefronts and hotels downtown, and a lot more traffic. A hip new chocolate shop is replacing the old tortilla factory on 22nd Street and 4th Avenue. But didn't I read recently in a local newspaper that Tucson was on top of the list of distressed Arizona cities? Has that changed? Has their situation and visibility improved for the people of South Tucson and Drexel Heights who feature in my 1996 documentary on lowrider bike kids? Is Downtown still as much of a bubble as it was when I first got there in 1995?

TS: The idea of pairing scent with memory (an olfactory reading experience!) is kind of an amazing idea. Can you explain it briefly? And recap how it came about?

Dissard: I'm a fan of La Curie's perfumes, the Tucson brand launched by Lesli Wood — who explained her fascinating creative process to me over the holidays. I asked her to create four different "colors" to support the emotional arch of my performance and we came up with tricks to spread these scents throughout the room.

TS: A year or so ago, you organized a "no boys" tour of Europe with some stellar local female musicians. What prompted that tour? What do you think has changed since the days when boys would be boys in the local music scene?

Dissard: I did enjoy several years of touring and recording with Tucson's finest which at the time were unquestionably in my mind all males. I can't say I didn't enjoy it nor did I even question my lack of desire for female collaborators. But I changed and the gender composition of Tucson's music scene has too, for the better, in the past 10 years. I came back to Tucson in the midst of a #MeToo revolution and seemingly innocent behaviors that I used to brush under the stage carpet — the show must go on! — seem abhorrent to me now and ultimately self-destructive to myself and the perpetrators

I'm very thrilled to announce the Tucson performance of my memoir, "Not Me," a brutally honest account of my special place in hell, with an instinct for tempering bleakness with self-deprecating humor. This memoir, written over four years after my departure from Tucson in 2013, deals with depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, being a performer and yoga. It takes place between Tucson and Paris. 

TS: "Not Me" first began as a musical piece, transformed into a memoir and now is evolving still as you venture out to do live readings as spoken word performance. In brief, what's at the heart of this book and who do you hope it reaches? 

Dissard: It's the story of my struggles with eating disorders, mostly bulimia in the book, and depression. I don't see boundaries between one mode of expression and the other. Just like my music unsurprisingly, the memoir is tender yet abrasive, melodramatic but vulnerable, comical and heartbreaking. I could not have spoken my truth so plainly even a year ago but scents, props, confettis and a microphone give me all the courage in the world to speak up for myself and others who are gripped by this hellish condition. 

The stage adaptation of the book was previewed in Margate, Kent, UK, last fall and will continue being produced there in 2018. It's a solo one-woman performance. The Tucson iteration of the performance is a collaboration with La Curie's Lesli Wood for olfactory scenography and Geneva Foster Gluck for dramaturgy.

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Thursday night, Marianne Dissard will perform a live reading of selections from her upcoming memoir "Not Me," 7 p.m. at Tucson Community Yoga Space, 148 S. 4th Ave.

On Saturday, catch her live in concert: Marianne Dissard in duo with guitarist Connor Gallaher, 8 p.m. at Exo Bar, 403 N. 6th Ave. Maelana Cadiz opens.

Also happening this week...

It's Street Fair weekend AND high indie band touring season. There are literally dozens of shows happening in the next few days, and among them some odd little non-rock and roll gems. Friday night, check out "A Night With Nelson Riddle" for some Big Band-era grandeur. Saturday night, Celtic music legends Old Blind Dogs hit the stage at Berger Performing Arts. And Herbie Hancock of all people will be performing at Centennial Hall on Saturday night. 

In addition to all that, there are some damn good rock shows too, including the Rifle, The Desert Beats, Mute Swan and more. Get off your bums, Tucson, and get thee to a live show.

Not your average Bowie tribute

In the two years following David Bowie's death, a number of tribute acts and cover shows have made the rounds, some of them spectacular like drummer Woody Woodsmansy's Holy Holy project and Seu Jorge's mellow Portuguese translations and some of them outrigh cheese fests. Next Thursday's Celebrating David Bowie show at the Rialto Theatre is one of the "good ones."

A tribute by friends and former bandmates of the Thin White Duke himself, the touring show is as much a traveling wake as it is a concert, featuring performances by an ever changing assortment of notable collaborators. The Tucson show's lineup includes longtime Bowie guitarist Earl Slick, pianist Mike Garson (the genius behind all those virtuoso keyboard parts on Aladdin Sane,) guitarist Gerry Leonard, bassist Carmine Rojas and veteran back up singer Bernard Fowler, as well as a "special guest" who could be any one of the notable names Bowie toured or recorded with over the years. 

Celebrating David Bowie visits the Rialto Theatre stage in Downtown Tucson on Thursday March 8 at 8 p.m. Writer, producer, perfomer Mr. Hudson open.

Check your local listings...

Friday, March 2

  • Mik and Scott - 7 p.m. at Crooked Tooth Brewing (Downtown)
  • Cochise County All-Stars - 7 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Days of Destruction w/ The Oi! Scouts, Endless Struggle, Corrupted Youth, The Besmirchers, Revolt, Dirty Work, Short Fuse, Arms Reach, Upstart 33 - 7 p.m. at House Of Bards (Central)
  • A Night with Nelson Riddle. - 7:30 p.m. at Crowder Hall (U of A Campus)
  • Pop Evil, Black Map, Palaye Royale - 7:30 p.m. at Rialto Theatre (Downtown)
  • Tinsley Ellis - 8 p.m. at 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Bradford Trojan - 8 p.m. at Exo Bar (Downtown)
  • UNIIQU3 & Dai Burger: Nailz N Ponytailz Tour - 8 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Free Kittens & Bread, Cheep Cheep - 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse (North)
  • Dead Meadow - 9 p.m. at Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • In Lessons, JT Rivers, The Moxytones, Cement Shoes - 9 p.m. at SkyBar (Downtown)
  • Flyin' Hot Saucers 9:30 p.m. at The Dusty Monk Pub (Downtown)

Saturday, March 3

  • Andy Hersey - 6 p.m. at The Parish (North)
  • Nathaniel Burnside - 6:30 p.m. at La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Leila Lopez - 7 p.m. at Crooked Tooth Brewing (Downtown)
  • Soft Kill, Choir Boy And The Shift - 7 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Days of Destruction Featuring: The Oi! Scouts, Endless Struggle, Corrupted Youth, The Besmirchers, Revolt, Dirty Work, Short Fuse, Arms Reach, Upstart 33 - 7 p.m. at House of Bards (Central)
  • The Very Big Show (Of Support!) A Fundraising for Planned Parenthood Of Arizona - 7 p.m. at Rialto Theatre (Downtown)
  • Frank Hannon Band (of Tesla), Scare Card - 8 p.m. at 191 Toole (Downtown) 
  • Marianne Dissard w. Connor Gallaher, Melaena Cadiz - 8 p.m. at Exo Bar (Downtown)
  • Ones All - 8 p.m. at Fini's Landing (North)
  • Old Blind Dogs - 8 p.m. at Berger Performing Arts (west)
  • The Schisms, The Distortionists, A Capital Affair - 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse (North)
  • Miss Olivia and The Interlopers at the 21st Annual Burn In The Bowl piano burning- 7 p.m. at 7400 S Avra Rd

Sunday, March 4

  • Mariachi Luz de Luna - 11 a.m. at Playground Bar and Lounge (Downtown)
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12:30 p.m. at La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Legion of Mario - 3 p.m. at Crooked Tooth Brewing (Downtown)
  • Yamato the Drummers of Japan - 3:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall (U of A Campus)
  • Trunkweed, The Desert Beats, The Rifle - 7 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Buck Meek, Twain, Karima Walker, Casey Golden - 8 p.m. at Exo Bar (Downtown)
  • The Black Jacket Symphony Presents Pink Floyd’S The Dark Side Of The Moon - 8 p.m. at Rialto Theatre (Downtown)

Monday, March 5

  • Ian Moore, Whitney Rose - 7 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Jake Shimabukuro - 7 p.m. at Rialto Theatre (Downtown)

Tuesday, March 6

  • Tom Walbank - 6:30 p.m. at Sky Bar  (Downtown). 
  • Herbie Hancock - 7:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall (U of A Campus)
  • Protomartyr, Shame - 8 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Little Dragon - 8 p.m. at Rialto Theatre (Downtown)
  • Dos Muñoz - 8:30 p.m. at SkyBar (Downtown)

Wednesday, March 7

  • Fozzy, Through Fire, Santa Cruz, Dark Sky Choir - 6 p.m. at Club XS (Central)
  • Miss Lana Rebel & Kevin Michael Mayfield - 6 p.m. at La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Cadillac Mountain - 7 p.m. at Public Brewhouse (Downtown)
  • Candace, Mute Swan, Cool Funeral And Twgs - 8 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Noise Resort, Method To The Madness, Habitual Resonance - 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse (North)

Thursday, March 6

  • Celebrating David Bowie, Mr. Hudson - 8 p.m. at Rialto Theatre  (Downtown). 
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