My Dad The Fed
Jarboe and a father who really bugged her
Published October 29, 1999 in Scope

Jarboe was a member of goth-industrial band Swans for 13 years. Their later recordings featured a number of dropped-in verité tape recordings, many of them found as she went through her father's estate. It turns out that her father spied for the FBI -- and he didn't leave his work at the office. The following is an extract from a conversation with Jarboe the night after the final Swans show in San Francisco. -- PM

I was spied on my entire life. The saddest, the most extreme experience for me was having an older boy be interested in me in school, then to find out that he was reporting back to my father; and at the same time he was the first boyfriend to have his fingers inside my vagina, and like openly help me procure drugs in my acid days. And he, you know, I don't know if I did things I wouldn't have done without him, but he certainly wasn't a good influence, and all the while he was hired by my father to spy on my activities.

See also...
... in the Scope section
... from October 29, 1999

I wouldn't be surprised if there was a peephole drilled through the bedroom closet; I was convinced there was. The phone was bugged, all my conversations with men, every explicit detail, my father was listening to the entire conversation and recording. He recorded everything. I don't know if he was doing it for practice, or doing it for nostalgia, or for the future in the same way people videotape now. When the family would go on vacation, he would have a machine going, hidden in the corner of the motel room, and it's great hearing it now, because you hear the family, you know, in the hotel room in Florida, talking amongst themselves.

I found the tapes when he died, and there aren't words to describe how I felt when I discovered those things. I was simply trying to get memorabilia before it was all taken away, because when it got out he'd died, people came from all over the country, trying to get objects from his office. All kinds of boxes, metal boxes, and I was, like, rapid fire trying to get in there to get something before it was all gone. And it was interesting, finding all these devices that he had. I found there was two treasure troves of films, a drawer with tiny little cameras that fit in the palm of your hand, and things you put on telephones to tape conversations.

He was very mysterious, what he did. He'd disappear for months at a time during my whole childhood, and nobody had a clue what he was doing. He had many personas and accents he'd turn on just like that, and you'd have no idea that he was raised in Chicago. He had a degree in psychology, and was very well educated, but he'd put on, like, a hillbilly accent, and a beard. I'm sure that has a lot to do with what I'm doing now, today, the personas, being around such a theatrical father. The psychological damage that it did, or just the impact of that, there are no words to describe it. I mean, I can't confront him with it, now. But it's definitely creepy as hell. Very creepy.

He had a way with using people. When I was a kid, I wanted to not be a virgin anymore, and I went about it in a clinical way. I didn't have any sexual experience so I just sort of found this guy in a car and drove off with him, you know. The inevitable occurred but when I got back my dad was waiting in a car in the parking lot, and his lights came on. The guy had a police record and, because I was jailbait, he got the guy to be an informant, to keep him from going back to jail because of me. So he was calling the house periodically and asking to speak to my father. It became, you know, a working relationship.

That was the thing about the FBI. He would help different police from all over the country, they'd be looking for people across state lines and stuff like that. So all the times I attempted to run away from home, I could not successfully do it. My face, a description of me, was in every police station just like that, I mean everybody. I would be in Charlotte, North Carolina, running through suburban areas in the night and I could recognize the unmarked cars driving down the streets. He had everything at his fingertips.

I don't know what his motives were. But I'm sure he was a good, upstanding American, in a President Nixon sort of way.

See also: Leer: Jarboe

Paul McEnery isn't pleased to see you, that's a tape recorder in his pocket.