When I was growing up, people often had trouble pronouncing my family name. This always bothered me, especially when a couple of years ago, I realized that even I couldn’t pronounce it correctly. My family name is Margulies, which comes from the Hebrew word “Margoliat,” which means pearl. It’s a nice enough name, but I couldn’t really identify with it, especially when it was combined with my given first name, Samantha, which is also three syllables and lots of curvy letters; altogether it just looked too squiggly and too blobby. It didn’t suit me. I’m proud of my Jewish Heritage, but the Margulies variant of Margolyat is the Polish/Ukrainian adaptation, so it’s already altered from its original form, and furthermore I learned from some more religious Jews a couple of years ago that it is pronounced “Mar-GOO-lee-ehsss,” when I had been calling myself “MAR-gyah-leez” for my entire life. When you mispronounce your own damn name for years, well, you’re pretty disconnected from it. But I knew that I wanted to keep my first name, and I knew I had to choose my new surname carefully.
When I was at Hunter College and we were studying Ulysses, I considered using an anagram: rearranging the letters of a phrase or name to make a code name. I looked online for anagrams of my name and the only ones that came up were Manslaughter, Slaughterman, and Satanism (not that there’s anything wrong with Satanism if that’s your religion). I saw that as a sign that I should indeed adopt a stage name. I had just finished Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame around that time, and I recalled a discussion I had had with my dad: I was trying to pronounce “Hugo” the way the French would, with a closed “U” that sounded close to an “E,” and my dad joked, “when Victor Hugo used to get too full of himself, his friends would call him Victor Ego.” I thought of how much I loved Hugo’s work, and considered being…Samantha Hugo…Samantha Ego…hah…Samantha…Echo…Yes. Samantha Echo. That was it. It came to mind superficially, but I instantly identified with the Ancient Greek nymph I had read about for the first time when I was ten, and I knew I was on to something.
Gargoyles are my spirit animal.
Notre Dame Cathedral Pic courtesy of David Stanley.
In Greek Mythology, Echo was an Oread—a mountain nymph—and also a musician and a charming storyteller. One day, Hera, Queen of the Gods, came down to the mountain where Echo lived in order to seek revenge on a different nymph with whom her husband Zeus was having an affair (as anyone even remotely familiar with Greek Myth knows, that’s a whole thing). Hera became distracted by an entertaining story that Echo was telling, and as a result lost the chance to enact her revenge on Zeus’ mistress. Once she realized what had happened, Hera punished Echo for distracting her: she took away Echo’s voice so that she could only repeat the ends of other people’s sentences (sentences…sentences…) Later, Echo fell in love with a young man named Narcissus (who was also part Nymph, by the way), but could not speak to him. He fell in love with his own reflection and killed himself, and subsequently turned into a daffodil. In some versions of the story, Echo cried until she turned to stone, in others, she cried until all that remained of her was her voice; in yet another telling, she was pursued by the unattractive and lecherous woodland Demi-god Pan, who, when she rejected him, had her torn to pieces, which were returned by the goddess Gaia to become the echoes of the world, what we now know as the sounds that come back to us when we’re in spaces with certain types of acoustics (Physics is not my forte. You can look it up, I’m sure.) To return to etymology, it is from Pan’s lecherousness that the term “nymphomania” is derived.
Echo by Alexandre Cabanel
(Samantha) Echo by Michelle Fernanda Varela
It has been years now, but every time I think about my stage name I still feel things, and I think there’s something poignant about the Echo and Narcissus myth for anyone who has ever struggled with their ego in any way (which is everyone), and anyone who feels like they are relegated to the fringes of society even though they know they have a lot to offer. It could be said that the Echo and Narcissus represent the respective Ego stages of Alienation and Inflation, as defined by Jung’s illustrious disciple Edward Edinger, who wrote Ego and Archetype. According to Edinger—Alienation (I am nothing) and Inflation (I am super-human) are the two extreme of ego experience and we all go through them. We can see these extremes in the myth as Echo has her identity taken away from her and feels like she is nothing; Narcissus becomes literally absorbed by himself. I won’t say that all people in the Performing Arts have been there, but many of us certainly have.
Gertrude and Ophelia; still from the video “Nick’s Mom” Note the Daffodils.
Featuring Rosemary Loar as Gertrude. Still by Peter Carellini.
I have a very sincere theory that Echo and Narcissus is the Proto-Myth for many other tragic heroines in the Western Literary Cannon, including Ophelia, The Lady of Shalott, The Little Mermaid, and Sybil Vane (The Picture of Dorian Gray). I invoke the Echo-Ophelia connection in the video for my song “Nick’s Mom,” because Ophelia famously starts distributing flowers when she goes crazy, assigning each one a different meaning, and Echo is associated with flowers in a more roundabout way, as the man she falls in love with ends up turning into a daffodil, so whenever I do an Ophelia-inspired video or photo shoot, I carry and wear a bunch of daffodils. There’s a strange power dynamic in the image of Echo carrying daffodils that I haven’t quite figured out yet. Among other things, Echo and Narcissus is a creation myth—Echo becomes the first echo, and Narcissus ostensibly becomes the first daffodil (genus name Narcissi), but since you can’t capture an echo visually, the imagery of a woman holding a bunch of daffodils representing her dead crush has a kind of parallel to the imagery of Apollo wearing the laurels after the woman who rejects him turns into a laurel tree (this has been noted by some as the image of a sexual predator). Whenever I hold the daffodils in my arms, there is a sense that I am trying to posses the men who rejected me, to own their sexuality in a way I never could in real life.
Hah, Narcissus! Not so narcissistic now, are we? People have forgotten your name. They call you “daffodil.”
Photo by Michelle Fernanda Varela.
The linguistic deliciousness of the word "Echo” itself is striking. I pride myself on choosing a name that is the same in lots of different languages, therefore transcending cultural barriers and also describing itself. Then there is the matter of the past, and its role in my writing, the way that echo, in a colloquial metaphorical sense, can mean a displacement of an event through different time periods, or a trauma, or something that asks to be relived again and again.
It’s exactly the same!!
I started singing when I was six years old, and spent many years from that age until my early twenties studying opera, but I felt that my creative identity had been buried by an eight-year mentorship (ages 6 to 14) with my first Bel Canto instructor, who was extremely controlling, somewhat emotionally abusive, and convinced me that anything other than Classical was the devil’s music. Many years later, I began studying pop and belting technique with Rosemary Loar, reuniting with the type of music and singing that I had originally connected with. My adoption of the stage name Echo relates to my struggle to re-establish my creative identity after feeling like I might never sing again. Also, I am Echo because I am a nymph, just like she is, a nymph being a creature who is not quite of this world and extremely identified with the place that she inhabits—sometimes when a body of water would dry up, the nymph who inhabited that body of water would die. All my life, I have felt a deeply spiritual connection with places, as if places have souls. Most of my original songs involve the themes of rejection, unrequited love, and misunderstood or lost identity, but I also like to cover songs that deal with this, and ultimately, one of my major goals in music is to evoke a place or a world.
Ophelia-inspired Still from the “Nick’s Mom” Music Video but with daffodils
Photo by Peter Carellini
It has been years now, but every time I think about my stage name I still feel things, and I think there’s something poignant about the Echo and Narcissus myth for anyone who has ever struggled with their ego in any way (which is everyone), and anyone who feels like they are relegated to the fringes of society even though they have a lot to offer.
Sometimes it occurs to me that I probably should have called myself Samanthea: Samanthea Echo; technically the name “Samantha” is probably derived from a combination of the name “Sam” (sun) and the name “Anthea” (blossom goddess) But it’s too late for that now.
A Narcissist Named Echo. (selfie)
Theatre, Fairy Tales, Smartphones, and Arrested Development in “Nick’s Mom”
My newest music video for my song “Nick’s Mom” is a mash-up of Snow White, Hamlet, and the Lady of Shalott. But the personal source material begins at the end of the second millennium, in my childhood: I was nine when I decided to identify as a fairy instead of a human. Usually you stop believing in fairies when you get into your late childhood, but being me I had to do everything back-ass-wards, and when two new friends of mine suggested that the three of us were actually fairies from another planet inhabiting temporary humanoid avatars as a sort of social experiment, my first thought was: It all makes sense now: that’s the first thing anyone has ever said to me about this ridiculous and frightening and boring world that makes any sense.
I latched onto the fairy/alien changeling theory and spent the entirety of my pre-teen years studying all things occult and staring intensely at my pencil during math class in the hopes that I would make it levitate a la Matilda. As you can imagine, I was something of a loner and an outcast amongst my elementary school’s expanded student body.
Snow White says her prayers as the Huntsman prepares to kill her
Pied Piper Children’sTheatre NYC
When I was ten, a new musical theatre company came to my neighborhood. They were casting a production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I remember the day I auditioned, and I remember what I was wearing, and I remember who I hung out with backstage. It was late August, and unseasonably overcast and chilly. I had a cold and it took a lot for my mom to drag me out of bed and open my mouth for strangers when I knew I wasn’t at my best. But I’m glad she did. Things went well, in spite of my runny nose and grumpiness, and after one call-back I was cast in the title role.
It changed my life or at least my self-image. Overnight, I went from being that tall, hairy kid who thinks she has psychic powers to…well, Snow White. Undisputed Beauty of life. True, I was cast on the basis of my voice; my singing abilities at age ten were so advanced that they probably would have cast me even if I resembled a stereotyped Wagnerian, but when I walked into rehearsal on that first day all the other kids knew who I was.
Contrary Mary exiles herself to Toyland after her Mother tries to pimp her out to the 75-year-old Landlord
Pied Piper Children’s Theatre NYC
For the remainder of my pre-teen years, I did some more theatre, not knowing how far the roles I played would make their way into my psyche and my behavioral patterns: Like Sarah the Missionary (Guys and Dolls) and Marian the Librarian (The Music Man), I started having sex way after everyone else in my generation did; like Contrary Mary (Babes in Toyland), I have been pursued relentlessly by men three times my age and my solution to most of my problems is self-imposed exile…and as for my first role, Snow White…it’s complicated. Snow White is about a lot of things…Narcissism comes to mind…it’s one thing to be jealous of somebody who’s prettier than you; it’s another thing to try to kill her for that reason…or is that called Psychopathy…? Snow White is a tale of dysfunctional families, domestic abuse, exile, necrophilia…but let’s go Jungian and Campbellic for a minute and propose an idea that it is also about arrested development: let’s focus on one image: the glass coffin and the years that go by inside it.
This image anchored itself in my consciousness only recently, for this reason: during the time that she spends in the glass coffin, Snow White is dead to the world but her body does not decay. Because she is a child when she meets the dwarves but a marriageable woman when she wakes up, it is a reasonable interpretative conclusion that Snow White spent puberty inside the glass coffin.
Everyone and everything I ever loved is a picture on my phone
Photo by Peter Carellini
Samantha Echo, “Nick’s Mom”
For the purposes of my video, the “glass coffin” is also a Smartphone. In the video, we see me in my Snow White costume from both sides of the phone: in one scene I am lying in bed flipping through my phone whilst dressed as Snow White and oblivious to the world around me, and in another I am clearly in a selfie video on a phone, as you can see when I tap the screen from within to end the clip. But it can be said that I am both literally and figuratively inside the phone, and both of these scenes could be references to the fact that social media and, for the moment, smartphones especially, seem to in fact embower and encase our individual and collective worlds, containing us like a coffin would, and indeed both a coffin and a phone have a glass screen. I think in a way, social media and the technology associated with it are part of the mythology of our time. The use of Magic Mirrors to look voyeuristically into other people’s lives at things that are none of your business predicted our current culture’s preference for creeping on each other’s Facebook and Instagram profiles. Magic iPhone, Show Me Nick’s Mom.
Outtake from the “Nick’s Mom” Official Music Video
Circa late summer 2012 I purchased a slutty Snow White costume on the internet. In Summer 2018 I was in the UK for the first time and I bought a pair of red flowered fishnet stockings, which, from afar, made me looked like I had sliced my legs up pretty badly. But in late Winter 2018, I married the two, wearing the stockings and the sexy Snow White outfit in the music video for “Nick’s Mom,” as well as on the Album cover of my forthcoming record “Ether Trash,” whose title means exactly what it sounds like: somebody who is trashy and ethereal. (The Release Date is July 6th at the Bitter End NYC. Look out!)
I go out to make music videos and always end up covered in blood.
From “Wednesday Guy,’ filmed by Sam Teichman
As a singer-songwriter with a particular fondness for the Narrative-driven Music Video, I find it very hard to get rid of things even if I seldom wear or use them, because the record shows that I never know when I might need them again. For example, I bought a bunch of prop body organs and stage blood in 2014 for the “Show Me Your Facebook” Video, as a satire of social media “TMI” trends, which I ended up reusing in the 2018 “Wednesday Guy” video for the scenes when I’m supposed to be a Mad Scientist creating a monster-man. I also collected a bunch of weird-looking glass bottles for that shoot, but I’m holding onto them because who knows when they’ll come in handy? As an artiste of the Music Video I can justify my hoarding as having a purpose.
I maked a lab now I a scientist because youtube
Still from “Wednesday Guy” filmed by Sam Teichman
I wear the Snow White costume and the blood-looking stockings in almost every single scene: I wear it when I’m doing my detective work and trying to figure out what went wrong in my development while looking at a crime suspect board in which every suspect is me at a different age. I wear it when I play piano and when I look into my phone at images of me playing piano.
The costume symbolizes both beauty and childhood and the combined sense of who I want to be—beauty because Snow White, in the fairy tale, is famously the most beautiful girl in her entire Kingdom, and childhood because, as the first Disney Princess, she’s a famous childhood icon. Significantly, there are a couple of videos from my childhood years when I was actually cast in a local theatre production as Snow White, and when you watch the video, it’s as if I never took the costume off, as if I just sat there for over a decade in the same silly costume as my body changed, and the skirt shortened to a ridiculous length, as my colossal cleavage tore at the seams of the once gaping bodice; and here we have the costume as coffin, as another metaphor for arrested development, which is a central theme that occurs in my songs over and over again.
One of the final scenes of the video is me crying as I unzip the costume, as if I am unzipping my own skin, because it represents a kind of surrender to adulthood and its inevitability, which is a kind of death in this context. I can’t be a child anymore, nor am I a legendary beauty, and as I take off the costume I don’t know what else to be, so I run a bath for myself and contemplate drowning, going from Snow White to Ophelia in seconds.
The suicidal implication is hard to miss, but the additional subtext is that I am going into the bath so that I can be reborn, and in fact, in the epilogue, when the audience hears the voice of Nick’s Mom interchanged with shots of me moving about in my bath aka watery grave, I am moving around a lot and self-aware, and in fact the very last frame is me opening my eyes just like I said I would. There is also a post-it that I place on the bathtub in my self-made memorial that reads “Someday I Will Open My Eyes” above a crossed-out “Someday My Prince Will Come.” This is a reference to the fact that in the Pre-Disney, Grimms’ Tale of Snow White, she wakes up not when the Prince kisses her but when the poison apple chunk falls out of her mouth, dislodged by the motion of this creepy necrophiliac prince carrying a dead girl around in her glass coffin, but it is also kind of a metaphor for the fact that all things must pass and that sometimes the most transformative moments of our lives are kind of random. Illustrating my earlier point about hoarding, I was recently digging around through the thousands of photos on my computer, unable to find the picture of these post-its: I had to go back and watch the music video and get a frame grab instead. I feel like the placement of these two post-its next to each other in the memorial scene is significant, because the first one, if left by itself, could almost read as a darkly comical suicide note—”I wish Nick loved me like his mom does, and he doesn’t so I have nothing to live for”—but the one right next to it indicates the definite event of awakening and rejoining the world. In terms of the larger context of the song and the over-arching arrested development theme, the second post-it has to do with the idea of being that rare self-aware self-destructive person, of knowing that you’re doing something bad and being unable to control your impulses and wondering, what if when I finally open my eyes, I find that it’s too late? The mirror scenes of “Nick’s Mom” deal with this issue, because even if I’m still a relatively young woman (obviously!) the obsession with appearance reeks of Wicked Queen ego problems—as if my present self is envious of my childhood self.
"Wednesday Guy" is a torch song about a troubled but popular nerdy/artsy guy with daddy issues ("He knows a lot of big words, but he doesn't know any sentences..."). The subtext is that the narrator is attracted to him not in spite of but because of the fact that he is so screwed up.
My nosy friends and fans and associates love to ask me "ooh, that's about a specific person, isn't it?" I always answer honestly because I'm a lazy liar-- "yes and no; it's about four specific people all smushed into one, like in Frankenstein when you smush together different dead people's body parts and make a monster."
This metaphor inspired me. I decided to make my music video a re-enactment of Mary Shelley's famed Frankenstein story, with me as the misguided doctor who creates a monster and then abandons him and has to deal with the consequences. Except in the video, I seek to create a boyfriend (a.k.a. sex robot) for myself--in this, I will be creepily both mother and lover to my creation. The Oedipal implications are there, but I also see it as an exploration of power dynamics and the sense in which all relationships--up to and including sexual ones--are about power. (By pure coincidence, we have now entered the age of the Sex Robot, according to the Media that be.)
I also make a scarecrow and bring him to life as a second attempt to make my own boyfriend, after my corpse-reanimation creation goes awry. This is an homage to another work of old-timey literature (L. Frank Baum The Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900, Frankenstein in 1818), but it is also a very personal, primal reference to my first crush: I watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time when I was four and Ray Bolger's portrayal of the Scarecrow in the 1939 film made me swoon with a totality that my small and soft little girl self could not comprehend.
This memory got me thinking about the Power Dynamics in the Wizard of Oz. My dad has a theory that the Wizard of Oz, although written by a man, takes place in a Matriarchal Universe. It is a place where females have all the power. The Wicked Witch comes and goes in a puff of smoke and terrorizes everyone; Glinda the good comes and goes when she pleases in a bubble and transports Dorothy across realms; Dorothy melts the Witch by pouring a bucket of water on her. By contrast, the only men we encounter are severely handicapped: the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are both completely immobilized until Dorothy frees them (and they allegedly lack a heart and a brain); the Lion is psychologically and socially hemmed in by his own cowardice (and thereby cannot conform to the gender or species norms of his community); the Wizard is revealed as a fraud and a con-man with no real power. Magic and strength belong to the females of the story. Oz is a Woman's World.
Evan Alexander Moore as Wednesday Guy
in his Scarecrow Incarnation. Make-up by Jody Way. Video by Sam Teichman.
The Scarecrow's journey, as it applies to my video concept, takes on a bit of a new meaning for him. It occurred to me for the very first time this morning when I was procuring straw (of both the real and fake variety, city girl that I am) that when Dorothy takes the Scarecrow down from his post, it is the first time he has ever been able to move. In this sense, she is kind of like a Mother Figure to him , as she gives him the gift of mobility, which, of course, his insensitive creator--the unnamed farmer--never did. Then, of course, he stumbles around like a toddler for a while, learning to walk.
These comparisons--between mother and lover and creator, between straw man and toddler--also got me thinking in a meta sense about myself as a creator. I was inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne unit in my Literature Class at Hunter College to wonder if there is a kind of wannabe-Scientist subconscious urge present in the mind of a Writer who decides to write about a Scientist. Literary talents such as Shelley and Hawthorne, living after the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, saw Science becoming more powerful: perhaps they felt inferior on some level, as mere writers, and they wrote about science, because, well, those who can't do science will write about science. Are artists aware of themselves as doing the inferior kind of creation? I'm probably projecting on to them because, for a very long time, I have struggled existentially with my role as a mere singer and a mere writer on a planet where some people can make iPhones and cure diseases.