Arlene Bishop

What happens when what you hoped for happens and it makes you miserable?

~ Written by Colin Buchanan

What if that thing is fame and fortune and maybe it’s pounding down the door? Is it worth walking away in order to save your sanity, your health, your soul? For Arlene Bishop this was the case. The accolades were pouring in: “How Arlene Bishop has managed not to become an international sensation is one of the great mysteries of the late 20th. In an era of angry- girl-with-appropriated-angst music, Bishop writes adult-woman-with-life-experience songs, rich with seasoned irony and despair, juxtaposed against elegantly upbeat and memorable melodies.” Bishop was garnering reviews for her cds that raved, “thank God … to lose this voice before it becomes recognized as one of the most unique in this country would be a sad thing indeed.” She was making videos, touring North America and Europe, having bands such as the Barenaked Ladies open for her, playing showcases for major label Polygram, who were about to create a new subsidiary with her as their “star.” She had created a persona of what she perceived as a pop star, crafted mostly on fabrications that she thought the world considered appropriate for a rock-star-chick’s story. She grew to hate it all; the gossip, the backstabbing, the “business” side of the music business. There were people, some of whom she barely knew, who were relying on her to further their interests. The only part of it she still felt comfortable with was the time she was actually on stage performing, everything else had become, in her view, “ego-feeding bullshit.” She was self-medicating. Bishop especially dreaded the interviews. “I didn’t want to speak anymore. I never want to speak again. I really wanted to stop lying about who I was.” Maybe she self-sabotaged before the Polygram showcase; she had very long hair and it was something of a stage gimmick for her to whip it around wildly. Shortly before the showcase in New York City, she cut it off. It was disillusion based in part on wanting to gain artistic control of her music as well as control of her life. “I had this feeling that I wanted to write, I wanted to have, a really dark record, ‘cause that’s how I felt inside. I was very comfortable with the darkness … I wanted to make a lonely, dark album, and I wasn’t allowed to make it.” When her marriage ended she dissolved the band and resolved to play solo. But by then she didn’t care about her career, didn’t care about being famous, didn’t want to be looked at. “The weird thing about fame, is there are lots of really nice people, people who say nice things … but there’s a lot of goofs, who say really, stupid things. Like, ‘Whatever happened to you?’ ‘Gained a lot of weight, eh?’ And I’m like, ‘Back off. I’m a person.’” She didn’t play live for several years, concentrating on raising her son, her recovery from substances, doing some low-profile production work for friends. Eventually, she was asked to play a benefit for a friend’s daycare. “I jumped at it, because when you’re in the middle of it and playing gigs, making records, you can’t play for free, ‘cause that lowers your value.” Now she plays occasional gigs when it feels right, on her terms. Often benefits for little or no pay. She spent the past two years writing new songs and something will come of it. In time, when it’s ready, when she’s ready, “when the universe knows what I should do with these songs, it’ll tell me.” There is no regret in her story of walking away, and she is a happy, generous, humble person without a trace of bitterness. She was made wiser by the experience. She got to the edge, looked over, decided she didn’t like what she saw, and turned around.

Arlene Bishop photo by Ted Buck
Arlene Bishop photo by Ted Buck

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