At that initial meeting, I was impressed by Hersh's self-determination and refusal to abide by feminine stereotypes. Though she now says she became a "cartoon" of herself during the Warner years, I've always respected her prolonged dedication to her . . . er, muses. I didn't know back then what she was going through and, reading Rat Girl, I realize I only glimpsed a fraction of her intelligence and talent. We've both recently entered new phases of our lives — changes that, in a way, have allowed us to come full circle and meet once again. Hersh is recording with the Muses again; they're making an album and releasing a song a season on her website, She also released a solo album, Crooked, this summer and has another record coming out with her band 50 FOOT WAVE.

WE LAST SAW EACH OTHER ABOUT A DOZEN YEARS AGO, WHEN YOU WERE LIVING IN THE CALIFORNIA DESERT. HOW DID YOU COME TO BE IN NEW ORLEANS? We had left LA looking for America. We found it just outside Cleveland. It was amazing. The people were brilliant. We just wanted to raise our kids there and escape. It didn't work out that way. We lost our house in a flood. We were wiped out in a day. All the money we'd saved from touring, all our retirement funds, all the kids' college funds were gone in one afternoon. We were deeply, deeply, deeply in debt.

We went on tour for a year. We stayed homeless. It was sort of a perfect storm. It was just as the industry was beginning to fail. So the tour and record both lost money, so I was even deeper in debt. We had to live on credit cards to feed the kids. It was an interesting life lesson — not a practical lesson, because we already lived small — but a life lesson. Because poverty's a big monster. I was hungry. Pictures of me then, I looked old and brittle.

We lived in Portland, Oregon, for a while. Then Billy got this job teaching the music business at Loyola University in New Orleans. It's very idealistic, teaching what music is and what it should be.

YOUR DAD, JAMES HERSH, TEACHES PHILOSOPHY AT SALVE REGINA. SO IS BEING ON A CAMPUS FAMILIAR TERRITORY FOR YOU? It's kind of familiar. I wasn't aware of the parallels between philosophy and the music business. That's all that's left when you tear away the crap, is the philosophy behind it.

I still don't think people should play music for money. Not that I want a bunch of trust fund kids doing it, but I also like to think that there are a lot of people who will play music because they have to no matter what. I love the idea of people supporting themselves with day jobs, being local. We looked into doing house shows when we started doing the DIY thrust. The audience was made up of people who were in bands together. They were each other's audiences. The shows were rehearsals. There was no one trying to do anything but play good music. I was in tears. I was like, "This is the future and the past of music." I want to erase the whole business in between.

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