Artist of the year: Gretchen Seichrist

It was Flannery O’Connor who said, "At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily."

The late, great Georgia–born author was speaking about the 1950s, that storied decade of repression and rebirth, but she could also have been talking about the here and now, as the ongoing popularity of everything from "Mad Men" to "Weeds" to "Revolutionary Road" attests.

For me, the best recent example of the searcher/discoverer busting out of her own domesticated despair and not going quietly into that dark night is one Gretchen Seichrist. Over the last 12 months, this single mother of two made Facebook her canvas, recording and posting middle-of-the-night/day/all hours videos of rambling, intense, poignant, funny, to-the-bone songs and stories.

A longtime fixture on the local music milieu, Seichrist (a.k.a. Patches and Gretchen; www.facebook.com/pages/patches-and-gretchen/20203775676) is now being discovered by a new audience thanks to the Internet. Last year she released her debut CD, "Music From Little Big Pink," and like her videos, her songs have a goofy desperation to them, borne of a punching-her-way-out-of-her-own-brown-paper-bag desire to communicate with the outside world by any means necessary. Along the way, she has created a small but budding community of fans and kindred spirits in her Tangletown neighborhood.

Writer Sari Gordon: "Gretchen is everything little girls and women want to be: Unashamed. She’s a mother who needs health care. She’s an ex-wife who forgets her last husband’s name. She’s the first girl who wore homemade dresses and old man shoes. She’s the one who looked all strung out and beautiful. She’s the one who got tattoos that look like the doodles she did on the back of her notebook, waiting for her juvie officer to show up.

"She’s that lady singing while she’s hangs out her laundry, just making it up as she goes. She is completely nuts and smart enough to stay one step ahead of her mania. She’s laughing and burning herself with the hot glue gun when she’s sticking pastel-colored balls to an old hat and giving it to me as a gift and insisting I like it until I do. She’s that best friend who wanted to go throw frogs over the neighbor’s fence and break into the church to drink holy water."

I’m with all of that, but times being what they are, artists like Seichrist could use more. And this being the "Hopes and Fears for the Next Four Years" issue, I’d like to propose paying artists like Seichrist what they’re worth. Surely, if the feds can bail out Wall Street and Detroit, there’s got to be some money in the corporate kitty for a one-woman show whose art is so fierce and fecund it begs to be gathered, discussed, and celebrated. Surely, someone who provides others comfort by sharing the struggle-joys of parenthood, love, life, and smoking deserves respect and some dough.

But until the Great Artist Bailout of ’09 happens, we’re lucky to be able to dig into the collected works of Patches and Gretchen. Seichrist shares a certain distrust for men (a la her sister, singer/songwriter Aimee Mann), and that skepticism — of power, players, and posturing — comes through loud and clear. But there is also much love and optimism in her postings, much genuine dissent (she recently made a promotional poster of her nude on the cross, barely blinking at what her family and friends might think), and from the looks of things, she’s just getting started.

There’s a musical in the works, and myriad songs, paintings, and ideas whose vision can be summed up by something she recently said to me. I walked up the stairs of her smallish apartment, and expressed admiration for the two dozen or so paintings that blast off the corridor and living room walls.

"Oh, yeah," she scoffed. "None of those are finished."

Jim Walsh grew up and lives in East Harriet.