In Cold Song
February 4, 2010
Mali Sastri is the singer of the Boston and New York-based band Jaggery . I sat down with her to chat about an obsession that has taken her from the deepest archives of the New York Public Library all the way to rural Kansas and is informing her soul as much as her music.
Edrie: What first got you interested in In Cold Blood and what is it about Perry Smith specifically that caught your attention?
Mali: I had never even heard of In Cold Blood, and if you’d asked me who Truman Capote was I would have gotten him confused with Al Capone, when my dear friend and Jaggery bassist, Tony Leva, lent me a copy of the book. I was caught up in the story within the first few pages, but found myself particularly taken, to a profound degree, by the character of Perry Smith. As I read about Perry, I began to feel as though I were being led into a sort of secret chamber inside another human being, and there I saw, clarified and articulated, the inside of myself. This might seem strange to others, considering the sorry case of Perry Smith, an abused, “hated and hating” “homicidal half-breed” to quote Capote. And here I am, a seemingly well-adjusted young woman who was raised in an upper-middle class suburb of Boston, with a family, education, etc., but I felt such an overwhelming and intense identification and connection with Perry that I’ve spent the last two and a half years researching him.
This kinship I felt with Perry stirred in me a real need for understanding why and how one person becomes violent and takes things out on others, whereas someone else does not, or takes things out upon themselves, or is able to channel their destructive impulses, tendencies and energy into something positive. These are the things I struggle with myself, as an artist, and a human being.
In reading, researching, and thinking about Perry, it feels like I am excavating my own darkness. As well as trying to understand the interface between creativity and destructiveness.
Edrie: What made you decide to go to Kansas? Did physical proximity to the murder’s legacy help you understand him?
Mali: At least a year ago I decided I wanted to go to Kansas in November 2009, 50 years after the Clutter murders. I don’t know if physical proximity helped me understand him, per se, but it was nonetheless an excruciatingly intense experience. I left with an armload of more questions, feeling more strongly a current of insatiable information-seeking.
Edrie: Perry maintained a strong interest in art, music, and literature in-spite of grade-school education; will your research into Smith tie into your music?
Mali: Yes, though not directly, as in there is no direct product as an output. His artistic aspirations, and actual talents, are of course, a point of symmetry with me. I admit I was somewhat uncomfortable with my fascination and obsession with Perry, but I ran with it, and it has led and continues to lead me to so much learning and deep thinking and feeling: about crime, the death penalty, detective work, the artistic process, rehabilitation, on and on. It finally bled into my music, and has truly helped me through a feeling of “stuckness” there. Perry is written about, both in Capote’s book, as well as independently in all other avenues I’ve researched, as such a genuinely fascinating literary character. I feel like he is a character loaded with artistic “jumping off” places.
Artists in residence archive.