Recovered from chemical poisoning, eclectic violinist Lili Haydn celebrates by headlining Saturday’s free Venice Beach Music Fest

By Bliss Bowen

Lili Haydn, who’s played with Sting and Robert Plant, recorded her latest album in a burst of inspiration over just two days

Lili Haydn, who’s played with Sting and Robert Plant, recorded her latest album in a burst of inspiration over just two days

Artist and activist Lili Haydn spent a significant chunk of time discussing her health last year, while promoting her album “LiliLand” and explaining tracks like “How I Got My Brains Back” and “This is a Moment of Grace.”

The eclectic, handsomely produced album represented a personal triumph after five years of disorienting struggle with the toxic effects of chemical poisoning so severe it drove her from her home and disrupted her ability to process thoughts and create lyrics.
Now, however, the petite “rock ‘n’ roll violinist” emphatically wants it known that she is celebrating her full recovery, as well as a new collaborative album with pianist William Goldstein.

“It was a multilayered event,” Haydn says of the poisoning that triggered profound change in her life. “The upshot of it, if we were to distill it into one little thing, is it was pesticide poisoning. It’s a pesticide that’s in 30 to 60 million homes in America … Chlordane. It was outlawed in 1988. I was able to fix my house, but in the process I had to get rid of everything I owned and evacuate. I got sick and sustained brain damage. I had a miraculous recovery because of music, which I detail in my TED talk. …

“Because of music, which is the most powerful neurotherapy that exists, I had complete recovery, and I’m now preaching the gospel of music in schools and sustaining our mental acuity as we grow older. Music is the most powerful medicine on the planet.”

Well-spoken and politically astute, Haydn is a forthright conversationalist who speaks in detail about the cultural as well as medical value of music, buttressing her statements with statistical evaluations of the benefits of music-related neurotherapy. Her own experiences she thoughtfully places in broader context.

“Everybody has some kind of trial in their life,” she muses. “The point is how we recover our tools and points of inspiration and points of connection, and how we inspire each other and help each other, and how we forge bonds that create community and a sense of richness and meaning in life. Science has shown us that those points of connection are responsible in large part for longevity.”

Before going public with her experience, Haydn’s press was dominated by recitations of the elite stars who’ve benefitted from her passionate violin playing, including George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Cyndi Lauper, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, the LA Philharmonic and Sting.

Now, Haydn wants her narrative to be understood as one of liberation and catharsis.

“Getting rid of everything proved to be liberating,” she says, “and I found myself in a new way. It was emancipating.”

Haydn says the last few years made her stronger, more compassionate and more present: “It gave me a better sense of appreciation for other people’s experiences. And in terms of my own performing, it’s always had a sort of social justice and spiritual imperative to it, but it became even more palpable and rich as I emerged from my own catastrophe. I was able to connect with people more emotionally and more essentially.”

That extends to the classically oriented music she created with pianist William Goldstein for their graceful, recently released instrumental album “Evocations.”

“I’m going to [paraphrase] Oliver Wendell Holmes: ‘For the simplicity that precedes complexity I wouldn’t give a nickel. For the simplicity that comes after, I would give my life.’ I was trained from day one to improvise and respond musically. That’s the way I feel most articulate, honestly. Yet all the years on the road, and all the years playing with the masters that I’ve had the honor of playing with, and the film composing, and the catastrophes and the life experience and the maturity that comes with just being a musician for as long as I’ve been playing — I stripped all that complexity away for this recording with this master pianist. This was a completely spontaneous, completely improvised record. It was recorded in two days. I needed to just give voice to that spontaneous part of me that finally, after all these years of training, was able to be expressed with the eloquence that we were lucky enough to capture.”

For her headlining 5:30 p.m. set at the Venice Beach Music Fest this Saturday, Haydn’s recruited a steeply credentialed band of players comfortable with improvisation and groove, including guitarist Steve Postell, Maetar bassist Itar Disraeili and drummer Jimmy Paxson. She says she’ll “let the ocean inform the music.”

“It’s not completely improvised,” she says with a laugh. “I have song structures, and I have some programming and production, and I’m navigating it. We’re doing a full-length set where we really get to jam and groove and play emotional and intense music. It’s a rare opportunity for me to stretch out and have fun in a way that I don’t always get to do.”

Lili Haydn, Greg Douglass Band, Meet Me at the Pub, Spiel, ArtQueen, Ann Cohen, Ya Harissa Bellydance Theater, Jah Faith & the Hashishans, Jojo Stella and Samba Da Mudanca perform at Venice Beach Music Fest between 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at Windward Plaza Park, 1 Windward Ave., Venice. Free. Haydn’s set starts around 5:30 p.m.

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