Published on October 30th, 2013 | by Meg Lemke1
Rock MUTHA: An Interview with CLAUDIA GONSON
Claudia Gonson is in the bands The Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes. She also lives down my block in Brooklyn and we hang out with our kids. I met her in a dumpling shop. My daughter Lola was a tiny baby and hers, Eve, was only about a year, and in her stroller calling out one of her first words “Hi, Hi, Hi!”
Gonson is a single mother (by choice), and as a band-manager as well as musician she works overtime around a toddler’s demanding schedule. She even takes Eve along on tour—they do it all together. She is pretty amazing. We chatted about what it’s like being a rockstar MUTHA…
-Yours, Meg Lemke
MUTHA: Tell me about Eve. Well, I know Eve—she’s funny and brash and adorable. But tell MUTHA about her. I read she was named after Eve Sedgwick.
CLAUDIA GONSON: Eve is 3 and a couple months. She’s an outgoing, lovely person. Super performative and obsessed with affect study, which were both primary interests of Eve the First (Eve Kokofsky Sedgwick, a wonderful academic and scholar with whom I was extremely fortunate to work, and after whom I named my daughter). My Eve likes to play harmonica, xylophone and drums, wear any sort of princess dress, and can make up endless songs for hours. I wish I was that creatively free. By “obsessed with affect study” I mean that she scrutinizes people’s faces, especially mine, to see what we are feeling. She likes to tell me when I have my mad face and she likes to tell me when I am happy. She likes to make faces in my face. Eve Sedgwick was a big fan of a scientist called Sylvan Tomkins, who specialized in affect study.
MUTHA: You tried to get pregnant for a long time (as a single-mother-by-choice). Can you tell us the story of how you got to mama-hood?
CLAUDIA GONSON: At around 35, I worried that any relationship I would get into would be so driven by my desire to get pregnant that I thought I’d ease the tension by doing it on my own. This worked, actually; my boyfriend from 2005-2009 didn’t want kids, and was open to my trying to do it independently, so we got along great. Of course, it didn’t work out, and my friends now think I was insane to stay with him instead of trying to find a partner who did want kids. I leave all this to my therapist to figure out. Anyway, I tried with various donors, known and unknown, for over a year, and finally got pregnant in 06, and lost that pregnancy in ’07. Tried again for another two years and finally achieved a pregnancy in Dec ’09 through IVF. I had Eve in Aug, 2010 at the age of 42.
MUTHA: Is motherhood what you expected, now that you’re here?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I’m not sure what I expected. It is very hard, very rewarding, very everything. It changes everything, I suppose like any fundamental relationship would. I had hoped for my life to be fuller, and it is certainly fuller. But with fuller also comes the huge anxiety of responsibility for another person’s life. I work hard to remember to celebrate this crazy roller coaster ride with this wonderful person. I wish I had the presence of mind to write it all down. Every day is so unique with her.
MUTHA: Eve’s a toddler now. How has your life changed from when she was born? What are your days like?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I like to say that other people’s Friday nights are my Monday mornings. I always feel a bit brain-blasted after the weekend is over because our weekends are full. We go to play dates and events and generally race through the weekend. So by Monday morning, all I want to do is lie on my face and recover. I am lucky to work from home—I manage my band, work on contracts and song assignments and whatever else is needed. Also on Monday and Tuesday, I spend a few hours cooking for the week. Basically the big changes in my life are that I cook constantly and do dishes constantly. I like feeding her real food, and am enjoying discovering more about cooking.
MUTHA: What’s it like being a rockstar mama? You took Eve on two tours—how did that work?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I refuse to call myself a rock star until ONE HUMAN BEING recognizes me on the street. I am the most un-rock star person ever. I can’t even get a date! Give me a break! Anyway… the two tours were pretty different from each other. Firstly, they were two different bands. The first tour was enormously long—40 shows, 9 weeks, 23 flights with a 18-20 month old baby. It was incredibly stressful and I only sort of recovered some sense of equilibrium by around week 6. The second tour was only 11 shows, with a different group. It was stressful because it was low budget and thus a shit ton of work, but we actually had a lot of fun and I was a lot less overwhelmed. Eve was older, and we both had a better sense of how it worked. Although, I have to say, she made me promise not to tour again when it was over. She must have asked me 1000 times if it was really over afterward, and I reassured her it was. She said “hooray!” So it was probably a bit much for her to be dragged around so much. (Now, of course, she asks if we can do it again.)
MUTHA: How has your view of the world changed since having a child?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I went through a period of feeling very angry at people who elect to have enormous families. It’s almost always due to some religious competition to take over the earth. Meanwhile, we are destroying the Earth with our obscene overpopulation. But, now that I have been raising Eve solo for 3 years, I realize that although I still feel this way politically and environmentally, I also feel that larger families with more children and adults are more normalizing for everyone. As my friend puts it, it’s best to parent with “benign neglect.” That’s hard to do when you are one on one. Honestly, why should I care if she insists on wearing shoes that are completely impractical for wintertime and for running around in the playground? If I had a brood of other kids pulling me in all directions, she would probably have a much more relaxed upbringing, not feel like I’m breathing down her neck.
MUTHA: Do you bring politics into parenting choices? Do you feel like you have a “parenting style?”
CLAUDIA GONSON: I don’t have a particularly organized parenting style. I wish I did, but I’m just trying to keep up with the dishes. I often give Eve some mixed messages—no TV tonight… well, ok you can watch a bit of TV. I guess if I have one parenting ethic, it’s just repetition. I like to introduce new things- new foods, new tv shows, new clothes, new books, new music—but I am acutely aware of how comforting it is for Eve to have everything repeat over and over, past the point of my being able to bear it. So, if she wants to watch the opening 10 minutes of “Tinkerbell: the Disney Movie” every day for a week or two, ok with me. She’s figuring something out. I think that instills confidence.
MUTHA: What children’s music does the rockstar mama listen to? You and Eve seem to do a lot of jamming at home, like the other night when Lola was over to play and we had an impromptu ocarina and recorder rock-out. How do you and she communicate musically?
CLAUDIA GONSON: Music has been completely fundamental to our relationship. The ocarina, melodica, recorders, xylophones, wood drums and harmonicas have been recently introduced over the last 2 months, and Eve is going through a big jamming stage. We also sing, pretty much all the time. She has been singing with good pitch since she was a tiny kid. She teaches me songs from school every week. On the stereo right now, it’s mostly Peter and the Wolf, Nutcracker, and the complete Mary Poppins with all the incidental music, which Eve follows religiously. We also listen to a smattering of grown up music, although mostly a lot of wonderful kids artists, like Elizabeth Mitchell and Putamayo discs. Woody Gutherie. Dan Zanes, Wiggleworms, Stuff like that.
MUTHA: What is most pressing to you right now as a parent—what’s your biggest concern, day-to-day, larger/longer term?
CLAUDIA GONSON: Right now to be honest my biggest concern is how to control my anxiety and anger level during PMS. Many of my same-aged forty-something friends are reporting a lot of PMS moodiness as well. I don’t mind being a gorgon towards my friends for a few days every month, but it is not ok to do this to my child. I guess this is the bummer part of being an older mom.
MUTHA: What advice would you give other mama-artists / artists who want to be mothers?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I give advice all the time to women interested to be single parents. It’s an unfortunate reality that, at least in NYC, most single guys in their 30’s and 40’s feel free and happy and are not interested in having kids. Women even in their early 30’s appear as scary predators who just want to slay these men and make them fathers. It’s so hilariously Darwinian. Anyway, lots of women in their late 30’s and 40’s are asking me for advice. I can’t say anything in specific, because it has so much to do with your life—do you have a supportive circle of friends and family to help out? Are you steady enough to handle the pressures of single parenting? Do you have the finances to handle this? Living where we do, in Park Slope, you certainly have a lot of great resources around for kids. It’s kid heaven here.
MUTHA: What’s your own favorite music right now?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I am not great about keeping up on current music, sadly—I hear about all these bands, like Haim or whatever. But I find myself sort of underwhelmed. I’m just so jaded. I did really enjoy the Sam Amidon album, which Nonesuch sent me. I listen to a lot of Nonesuch albums, Cesaria Evora and Amadou and Mariam and Caetano Veloso. Eve and I were dancing to the Carolina Chocolate Drops yesterday. And, of course, I plunder my monstrous CD collection all the time and listen to music I have always loved—Kirsty McColl, Stereolab, Nanci Griffith, The Chills, whatever. The list goes on.
MUTHA: What about books/movies/etc., what do you turn to when the kid goes to sleep?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I am watching “Madmen” with one friend. Just finished “Orange is the New Black.” I am very normal. But I’m getting back into going out—I have been actually going out to see movies in theaters, once a week if I can. And I have been seeing some friends performances, and going to some theater. I’m getting back to my old culture-hawk ways!
MUTHA: Are you dating anyone?
CLAUDIA GONSON: Nope.
MUTHA: What are three things you want most for Eve in her life?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I feel she should grow up to be respectful of people and learn about how varied this world is. She should travel and get to know other places and languages, and learn about this rich cultural world. Ideally she should not feel overly stressed about achievement, and be a confident person. I am very disgusted by how plugged in we all are to our mobile screens, so I can only hope that Eve will enjoy watching live theater, movies in theaters, and music on stage, and remain comfortable going through the day without a screen in her face. Of course I will lose my mind if she ends up becoming some sort of radical right winger, but I doubt it’ll happen. Whatever happens, I’m sure she will teach me a lot.
MUTHA: Are you thinking of having other children?
CLAUDIA GONSON: I do think about it, but I am 45 and I fear if there were any problem with the new baby or me, how would I take care of Eve? So I think our chances of having a larger family are slipping away. Perhaps I will meet someone with kids and we can raise them Brady Bunch-style.
MUTHA: And, finally—tell us about the new album… What is your favorite track? Where can we see you playing next?
CLAUDIA GONSON: All my bands are dormant at the moment. The Magnetic Fields will record a new album at some point, probably next year. Future Bible Heroes most recently released an album, Partygoing, in June 2013. We may not make another one for years, as this one was our first in a decade. The new album is fun. There’s a video with me singing here.