I have always felt that celebrities come into the spotlight for a reason, and Storm Large has a lot to bring to the spotlight and she uses it really well.
Self-described as a “musician, actor, playwright, author" and "awesome," Storm Large’s imprint is her authenticity.
“I am a very rare instance of someone who is not famous, just busted my [butt] my whole life doing everything, anything and everything but continuously showing up as myself. Some people hate it, but a lot of people love it and enough people love it that I have a career,” said Large during our one-hour-long interview over the phone. This is why Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way” fits her really well.
In her memoir, “Crazy Enough,” released by Simon and Schuster in 2012 and named Oprah’s Book of the Week, she talks about visiting her mother in mental hospitals and opens up about her addiction and sexuality.
To me, her awareness of the female experience and the female body and her openness about them is what stands out the most. This is why I focused our interview on the female side of her experience as an artist. I chose the headline to focus on her patriotic side because I believe it is a big part of who she is.
If you want to attend her performance, she will be at Wolf Trap on April 12.
It’s great to know about you. I’m filled with questions and I hope you have time for them.
You have such an interesting story. In one of your interviews, you said that the reason you stopped performing at one point and decided to pursue cooking is because you wanted to change the world. You felt that entertainment didn’t offer you as much of an opportunity to change the world. Do you still feel that way?
LARGE: No. No. That’s kind of how I got back into music. At the time, when I was living in California, being in a band and performing felt like I was trying to become someone that I was not.
LARGE: I was trying to prove something. You know, if I got a record deal, or if I had a hit song or if I was famous... There was this weird pursuit that felt very fake when I was in my twenties. I knew I loved to sing, but everybody forever told me, “You’re not really pretty enough. You’re kind of old; you’re kind of fat.” I was like, “Well, maybe if I was skinny, and I was cool, and I was better, people would love me, and people would like the show, and maybe I would be doing better. And if I was doing better, that means I’m good.” So there was just this weird kind of egotistical pursuit. And then after Sept. 11 happened, everybody became very existential. Everybody became very… I don’t know. It changed me. It changed me.
LARGE: I thought, you know what, “I have been selfish. I want to live a life more of service.” I’m a good cook. And I still cook. Actually, I’m cooking right now. I’m cooking paella right now. (Laughs) But I felt that if I could feed people, that was more tangible. I’d study cooking and then nutrition, and then figure out how to prepare healthy meals on a budget for, you know, old people who were living by themselves. Or, helping teach young, single mothers how to feed their kids in a healthy way on a budget kind of a thing. I thought, feeding people, giving them food and teaching them skills, life skills and things, I felt that that was a tangible act of service that made sense to me in terms of my skill set. Because, you know, I’m not very educated and I’ve been asked to go into politics, but I don’t have the patience for that. I ended up dragged out in handcuffs for punching people in the face. I would get so… I’m too emotional about things. But food was something I figured I could do. I became a musician really out of loneliness and out of the urgency of a broken heart, a broken heart as a child wanting to belong somewhere and wanting to matter. And in all of my travels, and in all of my experiences in this life, as a musician, as a woman, as a human being, as an American, we all feel that way. .. And from the stage, under the lights, I can show people that a piece of [expletive], a hardly educated, borderline hooker like myself can scrabble and scrape and be inspired and be inspiring, and work, and make a living, and smile, and struggle, and be proof of concept, that you can be yourself and you can champion others from being onstage, from singing.
When you are onstage, looking feminine and sensual, do men and women react differently to you?
LARGE: Yeah, at shows, if I walk out onstage at a place that has not, really, seen a lot of me, they don’t know me really well, I walk out onstage in a tight little dress and you can feel the men in the audience going, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to love this,” and you feel the women kind of going “Ugh, [expletive] great!” And then, within a few songs and a few stories, I feel it completely shifts, and the women are like “Yeah!” and the men are like “Ugh, great.” (Laughs). So, that’s a wonderful experience when that happens.
Is this what we can expect at Wolf Trap too?
LARGE: Maybe. It will be my first time at Wolf Trap. I have a lot of fans in the Washington D.C. area. Maybe, we’ll see. I am excited to get there.
Let me ask you about this: do you think that adults who love attention felt unloved as children? Because you said that you love attention.
So, do you think there is a relationship between loving attention and feeling unloved as a child?
LARGE: I only have an anecdotal sense of psychology. It would be irresponsible of me to answer that with any kind of a psychological cavalier, “yes” or “no.” But it’s safe to say that kids can go a couple of ways. I’ve met many extroverts and many introverts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the extroverts like the attention and the introverts do not. It is, in my experience with artists, it is sort of a reaction to the nurturing. Extroverts and introverts are, I think, nature. You’re either born loud or you’re born, sort of, more quiet. But your surroundings, and the way you’re rewarded or punished, it will sort of dictate your behavior. So, a lot of lonely people I know, they could be artists, entertainers, big personalities, cut-ups, comedians. Or, they could be bullies. They could be [expletive], evil, cruel, cruel bullies. Because that’s how they are trying to defend themselves from the pain of their abandonment or their abuse. And for me, my trying to recover from the pain of my childhood and the things that I felt I wasn’t getting that I desperately, desperately needed... I was kind of made to believe--in my own head, the story unfolded as, “You’re not pretty enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not enough. You being here is not enough. You have to do these certain things, or not do these certain things--basically, you have to not be you in order for us to love you, or even want you around.”
Let me ask you about addiction. You are open to talking about your addiction, right?
Are you still addicted?
LARGE: I am probably a functioning alcoholic, maybe. When I am on the road, I drink every single night. I don’t get drunk, but I drink, you know, a tequila or a glass of wine or something like that, but I don’t like being inebriated. I don’t do heroin anymore. I quit heroin back in the ‘90s, but I had a really bad back injury and had to take Oxycodone, not the one that kills people, but the Percocet; I think it was. Because of my history with heroin, I got very nervous about taking that drug, so I’ve started using alternatives to that like CBD oil from marijuana; it is not psychoactive, but it helps with pain. I am paranoid; I am paranoid about my addictive nature, so I tend to avoid drugs in general.
I wonder; can people find true love under the effects of addictive substances?
LARGE: That’s an interesting question. What usually happens in my experience is you find somebody that sort of matches your personality and you both absolutely [expletive] love the [expletive] out of the drug you’re both doing. Especially with heroin, you can get trapped very easily in a relationship that is codependent, abusive, horrible and nasty, but it feels all lovely because you are high. You are both high, and whenever there were drugs, it was like this romance reborn. It’s awful. But as far as finding true love, I don’t know. I also have a lot of friends in the recovery community, and they also encourage each other to not date inside the recovery community because even though you have shared experiences, the chances of a shared relapse are increased when two former addicts get together in recovery.
I still have questions about your book “Crazy Enough.” This book was named Oprah’s Book of the Week. You talked about your visits to your mother in mental hospitals. What was her illness?
LARGE: She was diagnosed pretty much with everything.
LARGE: It depended on the doctor that she was seeing at the time. I don’t even know how many doctors she had seen, but one doctor’s expertise was paranoid schizophrenia, so she was paranoid schizophrenic. Then, there was a doctor whose expertise was multiple personality and then she had multiple personality. Then, “Oh, no, she is depressed.” “Oh, what doctor is she seeing?” “Oh, the guy who is the expert in depression.” My feeling on her, now as an adult looking back, is that she was traumatized as a child and very badly abused in every basic way that you can imagine. She was in foster care. She was adopted when she was almost 4 years old, out of an orphanage, and my feeling is that the family that adopted her had a very bipolar, very violent, undiagnosed young man living in the house who just beat the [expletive] out of her. She was a beautiful, sweet little thing, and I can only guess that while she was in the orphanage after she had been handed around foster care for years, and I know in orphanages there are a lot of kids and not a lot of staff, and sick kids probably got more attention. So, she probably learned from an early age that being sick meant you get attention, you get love, and it was probably a little survival thing. Because she really loved to tell us what was wrong with her. She loved crying, loved crisis, loved ambulances and emergency rooms, telling us that she had any number of diseases that she never had. When I was a kid and I thought that sex was love…I knew that it was not, but I knew enough of love that I could subside myself on that, and then later as a performer, I perform and I can feel this sort of love and attention that I thought was missing in my life. My mom could not feel loved unless she was…on her back at death’s door. I could not give her enough presents, enough attention, enough tears, enough worries, enough stress. Nothing was enough, so I can’t even imagine the trauma that she suffered.
How did your father treat her?
LARGE: At first, he would drive her to the hospital and would do what the doctor said, and after years and years of constantly doing everything he was supposed to do and her constantly losing it and trying to kill herself in front of people and just endless, endless trauma for him, he ignored her. It was the creepiest thing. He just shut down and didn’t even look at her and we lived in the same house, she was hardly… But she had her own room in the house and she would come home and she would try to get his attention, and he would barely even acknowledge her. It is really [expletive] heartbreaking, like she was a ghost.
That is really hard. At nine years old, a doctor told you that “You absolutely will end up like your mother.” How did you overcome that? It is a hard thing to deal with, isn’t it?
I am not totally over it. I know I am not going to snap--actually I don’t know that, I don’t know that, but what I do know is that my mother’s experience was very different from mine. As hard as I had it, I know I did not have it as hard as she did, and I would not have it as hard as she did, but that is not to say that my chemistry and my legacy isn’t very similar to hers and she folded it up and stayed sick and small and I have that in me. I had moments of despair, where I was like “Oh, my God, this where my mom would cut herself. This where my mom would get all the pills that she’s got and take them all and make flurry phone calls to somebody so they could come and rescue her. I could just fall asleep and never wake up and that would be better.” I don’t get very far in that thinking because I would remember all the people who would beat my… and the people who would not recover from me committing suicide. I am not over that. I see my face, I see her face, I hear my laugh, I hear her laugh. I am the finest extension of the dreams she would ever have had for me. That in itself is a high responsibility, but also it carries a risk. I stand onstage and I ask for people to love me, she lay in the hospital bed and asked for people to love her. It is different in its own way, but it is also very similar.
Going through all of this, what was the moment you found light in the midst of darkness? What helped you find your way to success in your opinion?
LARGE: People ask me, “How did you know when you made it?” and I am like, “I am still making it.” I haven’t made it. I don’t have an “it” in mind. I just love what I do and I will continue to do it until I can’t. But there has been a few moments where I kind of [said] “[expletive] look what I did.”
Recently, like in the last five years, … I was asked to sing at Carnegie Hall for the first time ever, and I was asked by my artistic director at the Oregon Symphony because the Symphony was going to go to New York City and perform at Carnegie Hall, and then, a few months before the concert, it had to back out for financial reasons, so I was disappointed; I was sad. I was like, “Well...if I could ever perform at the Carnegie Hall, you know, it would just be a cool story to tell. Well, I guess it is not going to happen,” and then the next day, I got a call from Carnegie Hall and they said, “We are very disappointed that Oregon will not be joining us this spring, but mostly we are disappointed because we were really looking forward to having you there. Is there any way you would consider performing with another orchestra at Carnegie Hall?” I was driving and I said, “If I swear right now, will I still get to sing at Carnegie Hall? And he said, “Of course,” and I am like, “[expletive] you [expletive] Carnegie Hall, you’ve got to [expletive] kidding me, yeah ma’am.” So, I finished that conversation and I pulled over and I looked at myself in the mirror and I just looked myself in my own eyes. “Dude, this is from all your hard work, being professional, showing up on time and being polite, being supportive and being [expletive] cool and easy to work with and being [expletive] talented. You did this. You did this. Feel good. Be proud of yourself.” And I totally allowed myself to pat myself on the back. In 27 years, that was the first time.
LARGE: I never did that. Yeah. But this was a life-changing experience. Absolutely.
But is there any clue for people who struggle? What helped you find your way?
LARGE: What I would tell people is, “Know who you’re not, know who you are not and avoid that, things that … don’t speak to your heart, don’t speak to your vision of yourself. You know what, your vision of yourself is going to change. All the time you will change and you have to be ready for that.” … I am a very rare instance of someone who is not famous, but just busted my balls my whole life doing everything, anything and everything but continuously showing up as myself. Some people hate it, but a lot of people love it and enough people love it that I have a career.
You have great, great things to say and to share; what are you looking for now?
LARGE: Oh, I want to know how to help this country. I want to know how to help where we are right now … I feel like I could be doing something and I am not. The marching and the resisting and the writing and the campaigning and the voting, yes, but the healing that needs to happen… I don’t know what to do. I am lost in that and that’s what I want. I would love to know what to do.
How about the food? Is it ready?
LARGE: No, I had to stop because I have to use both hands to season and oil things and I also want to give you the attention that you deserve. This has been a wonderful conversation and I really, really appreciate it. You asked some really incredible questions that no one ever asked.
*Transcribed by Beteel Abuageel.