Barbara Manning, once the golden girl of indie rock, is getting a handle on impermanence. In the mid-to-late-1990s, she was riding high-snagging gigs with little effort, touring internationally with such peers as Calexico, Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth and enjoying support from the influential indie label Matador. Today, while music is more important than ever in her life, she's without a record deal and struggling to find a job after going back to college to get a degree and a "straight" career as lab technician.It's not a happy story, and though Manning remains optimistic about the future, it is clear she is going through some tough times right now. This is a more general problem my friend Adam and I have often discussed: What do artists do after they hop off the indie-rock carousel? The problem is perhaps most acute for those like Manning who experienced some level of success; not having made enough to retire on, but perhaps enough to stop working day jobs. It's hard enough to find a good job with a stable work history behind you, I can only imagine how hard it is to start on a new career path at 40, especially when there is a certain (largely unjustified) stigma attached to the lifestyle of a professional musician. I'm sure Manning is far from the only former indie-rock stalwart facing this dilemma.
It's especially painful to hear the Manning is having such a difficult time. I met her very briefly several times, and she seemed so nice. I guess you have to file it under "life's not fair" but it also pisses me off to know that some of her less-talented peers continue to experience more success because they are better self promoters (not that I'm calling Liz Phair out by name or anything).
Reading the article, I also felt a twinge of guilt, because in all honesty I stopped following Manning's career sometime back around 2000. It had nothing to do with Manning in particular, for the most part I stopped following indie-rock in general around that time. A lot of things in my life had changed; I moved out of New York City, I was married, I would soon be a father. I was Manning's audience, and I had moved on. During the late 80s and early 90s I bought everything Manning put out whether it was with 28th Day, World of Pooh, the S.F. Seals, or as I solo artist. I even bought stuff by her experimental side-project with Seymour Glass, The Glands of External Secretion. I probably have 10 Barbara Manning related 7" singles, and all of the albums up through 1999's In New Zealand. Then I just sort of stopped paying attention.
To make up for my years of neglect, I'd like to point out that Rainfall Records has just released a 3 CD box set called Super Scissors that contains Manning's long out-of-print albums, Lately I Keep Scissors and One Perfect Green Blanket along with live material and outtakes. The set is available for a very reasonable price from Parasol, who have also made some .wma tracks from the album available for listening. Apparently the albums come packaged in mini-LP slip cases, much as I wished the Love Blue Thumb set had. Nice. This set has been pressed as a limited edition of 1,000, so act fast.
"B4 We Go Under" (written for Barbara by the Bats' Robert Scott) was originally released in 1993 as a 7" on Teen Beat with unique silk-screened chipboard sleeves. I liked it so much I bought two of two of them. This was one of my favorite songs of the 1990s--pure indie-pop perfection. The song was last available on the Italian compilation, Under One Roof: Singles and Oddities.