Wanted/Needed/Loved: Josephine Wiggs’s Memory Machines


A couple of years ago my friend Will Carruthers published Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands, a memoir about his time in Spacemen 3. I played bass in Perfect Disaster, who were friends with them, so I knew some of the stories, but Will revealed a lot more, and I thought the book was really good. It made me think: If he can do it, maybe I can, too? I’ve always liked writing. But I kicked myself for not having kept a proper diary and felt defeated before I’d even started.

Last year, leaving for a long tour with the Breeders, I gave up my apartment. Going through my stuff, I found my old Macintosh 520c (the first color laptop) and thought I’d have a quick look—sure there was nothing of significance—before throwing it out.

I turned it on—it was a bit uncanny. Remember the Macintosh “chime” and the icon with the tiny computer smiley face? I started opening files. I was astonished to find all sorts of things I’d written which I had COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN—including a diary from when I toured with the Kostars, and I’d also saved all my email—this was when email was written as a proper letter (typed in that ugly AOL font!).

Having discovered all this material I didn’t know existed, I was overcome with a clammy fear that at any moment the computer might die and I would lose it all (again). I had no idea how to transfer it—the ports were obsolete (phone jack and serial port). I went to the Apple store where the Genius Bar was collectively amazed—the machine was older than most of the techs—but alas they were of no help since “anything older than five years is vintage and anything older than seven, obsolete.”

They said, “Try Mikey’s Hookup,” the neighborhood computer repair shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Mikey’s said they could get the data off, but would charge $400. My friend who a) knows about computers, and b) is very charming, started chatting them up and inveigled out of them how they proposed to do it. She then took the computer to her tech friends at work who had a rig with the right connectors, and the data was finally retrieved.

Reading what I wrote twenty years ago made me laugh—it was really funny—even though I say so myself—and it made me realize I should just get on with writing, instead of thinking about it. It’s also something I can do on the road to entertain myself. Living on a bus with eight people twenty-four hours a day for three months is like being assimilated by the Borg. I like getting out and walking around the different places we go, because you never know what you might find.

For example, on a day off in France, in the city of Tours, I was walking down one of those medieval streets with high stone walls on each side and came to an open gateway and huge courtyard. A couple of people were peering into a stable and I went over to investigate.

Inside was a taxidermied elephant. His name was Fritz. I looked him up to find out why he was there, which led to several other stories about the untimely demise of elephants, including the Tregaron elephant (poisoned), the Kelvingrove elephant (shot), and the eponymous Jumbo (struck by a train).

And when something unpleasant or annoying happens on tour, instead of getting fed up or angry, I’ll write about it. I recently spent a night at a decidedly down at heel Comfort Suites, which was on the cusp of putting me in a bad mood. But I started to document every disagreeable detail—starting with the stagnant mildew-infused air, and the window, offering an unparalleled view of Chuck-E-Cheese, that does not open—and I almost began to relish each new loathsome aspect.

Usually I’ll make notes in a notebook, and take photos with my phone as a short-hand aide-mémoire. Then I’ll work on an iPad. Will Carruthers told me: “Don’t edit! Just write, write, write! Two thousand words a day! Edit later!” I understand the rationale behind this, but I just can’t do it. I often spend the morning putting in a comma, and the afternoon taking it out.

Even though it’s all backed up, I worry about losing it all. Everything is “in the cloud,” but what happens if the cloud disappears? I recently heard an episode of On The Media about the Post-Apocalypse—which is one of my favorite things to think about. (Remember in Soylent Green, where bottles of liquor and bars of soap and have become scarce, prized commodities?)

It made me think: What would happen if we lost the Internet? No one thinks about reading a map anymore, but on the tour buses the internet often fails, and I have to resort to looking out the window for road signs to find out where we are.

I’m in New Jersey at the moment, staying in a barn, mixing my upcoming soundtrack album. I recently went for a walk in a state park nearby, and before embarking I studied the trailhead map (and what to do if you encounter a bear), but before too long, I got lost. Looking at my phone to orient myself, I found there was no cell service. But then I ran into some hikers who had a paper map and offered to share it. I thought: this is how it will be—having to join up with strangers in the woods…

Pen and paper are still indispensable to me. But I live in fear of losing the notebook, of course.


Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.


Josephine Wiggs is a bassist/multi-instrumentalist and a founding member of the Breeders, whose highly anticipated album All Nerve was released this spring. She is also a composer who has written music for live performance, art installations, and feature-length film, including and soundtracks for Piggie by Alison Bagnall, Happy Accidents by Brad Anderson, Appropriate Behavior by Desiree Akhavan, and the documentary Built on Narrow Land. Wiggs is currently touring with the Breeders and working on her forthcoming solo album.

Allyson McCabe writes and produces stories about music for NPR, and her own subscription-based channel, Vanishing Ink. Esme Blegvad is originally from London but is now Brooklyn-based. Her work has also appeared at Rookie and VICE. More from this author →