★★★★☆ Relive the pangs of your first romantic entanglements – brought on by an extraordinarily honest and insightful sympathizer.
It’s almost a shame that Jill Sobule’s charming song-centric memoir doesn’t linger longer amid the pangs of adolescence, because we all know how rich that delicate phase can be. There is a moment, at the beginning of the show, when she asks the audience: “Did any of you feel good when you were thirteen? Raise your hand if you wanted to die. During a press preview evening, a flurry of hands went up: the response was almost unanimous.
Sobule dives deep, albeit fleetingly, into his early teens. Some anecdotes are doozies. As a fledgling lesbian – bewildered in anticipation by the question she remembers in the song “What am I doing with my tongue?” – she was almost initiated into his true inclination by an ultra-cool, bad new girl (played by band member Nini Camps). No matter how mortifying your first groping sexual attempts were, it’s a safe bet that this story is hard to beat.
The song “Strawberry Gloss” packs the nostalgic punch of Proust’s madeleines. Once Sobule’s friends took an interest in boys, she recalls, they abandoned her en masse. “It was my first breakup… It wasn’t romantic and it wasn’t with just one person – it was with this whole group of girls.”
Despite a moving glimpse of his brother Penthouse magazine featuring “blurry photos of very pretty girls in a French boarding school kissing” (“I imagined being transferred to this school”), it took a long time for Sobule to shake off the culturally indoctrinated notion that “lesbians are rude”. It was only after her university year abroad in Spain that she would meet the glamorous woman (Camps encore) who initiated her into a world where she felt at home.
Next step: Sobule’s introduction to the music scenes of LA (“Open Mic Night”), Nashville, and eventually the world stage, where his hit “I Kissed a Girl” made the Billboard Top 20 of 1995 , thirteen years before Katy Perry co-opted it.
None of these flashbacks seem scripted – but they are. Lisa Birkenmeier, author of the off-Broadway hit Dr. Ride’s American Beach House, gets credit for the book. The narrative offers the best of both worlds: seemingly improvised, but cleverly crafted.
More good news for long-time newbies like me: you don’t have to be a pre-dedicated certified fan to be captivated. If you are, however, you’ll get everything you came for and more.
Sobule is a wonderful singer as well as an insightful songwriter. His style oscillates somewhere between classic folk and rock styles. Unlike the self-loving posers who often dominate these genres, Sobule comes across as down-to-earth and disarmingly modest. She sings with her head bent down, almost shyly, and if she doesn’t feel comfortable with the way she launched into a song, she will ask the audience for permission to start over. By the end of the show, however, his confidence radiates — head thrown back, voice blaring.
Normally, at any point in his thirty-year career, and indeed continuously, one would have to brave an arena to hear Sobule perform. She and her band continue to tour, racking up 100 shows a year. From now until November 5, you have the chance to be in the room – a very intimate room (89 seats). Don’t miss this rare opportunity.
F*ck7thGrade opened on October 21, 2022 at Project Savage and will run until November 8. Tickets and information: thewildproject.com