‘Linda Perry: Let It Die Here’ Review: Iconic ‘What’s Up’ Musician Screams From the Top of Her Lungs

Tribeca 2024: Don Hardy directs an intensely vulnerable documentary about Perry’s life and career

Linda Perry (Tribeca Film Festival)

I don’t know about the rest of you, but it’s been 42 years and my life is still trying to get up this great big hill of hope. You know, for a destination. So I guess I’ve always felt a little bit of a connection to Linda Perry, a powerful singer-songwriter whose most famous track — “What’s Up,” recorded by her short-lived and (ironically) platinum band 4 Non Blondes — is probably the best song ever made.

Your mileage might vary, but if it does your mileage is off. “What’s Up” is the ultimate ballad, beautifully hopeful and deeply depressed. If you only know that one 4 Non Blondes song — and since the band only produced one album there’s a good chance it is — you might not know that Linda Perry has had a multi-decade career writing and producing hit songs for artists like Christina Aguilera (“Beautiful”), Pink (“Get the Party Started”) and Gwen Stefani (“What You Waiting For?”).

Don Hardy’s new documentary “Linda Perry: Let It Die Here” catches up with the musician in the midst of a stressfully productive period. Producing songs for Dolly Parton and Kate Hudson, organizing an EqualizeHer event at South by Southwest to promote gender equity in the music industry, and caring for an abusive mother who influenced much of Perry’s music. We never see Perry’s mother on film but she’s everywhere, in animated anecdotes and pained photographs, haunting her daughter throughout her whole life.

It’s common for documentaries about famous and prolific artists to blow smoke up their butts and focus on how great they are. Ron Howard’s recent “Jim Henson: Idea Man” is a pleasant but glorified commercial for the great Muppeteer’s intellectual properties, which could only conjure vague criticisms to mount about its subjects; he worked too much, he could have spent more time with his kids, but mostly he was a delightful super genius. “Linda Perry: Let It Die Here” doesn’t have many harsh words for its subject either, but this documentary doesn’t play like a hagiography because Perry has lots of harsh words for herself.

Perry spends most of “Let It Die Here” beating herself up for beating herself up. She knows damn well she’s talented, but she also knows damn well that she’s reserved most of that talent for other people. At the beginning of Hardy’s documentary she sits down to write a song for herself, not another artist, and realizes she doesn’t know her own voice anymore. Her default setting is what she refers to as “Female Springsteen,” and even that doesn’t click for her.

So even though she’s got one of the world’s most amazing careers, and friends and colleagues who love and admire her, Perry keeps pushing. She describes her workaholic schedule as a cycle of self-abuse. The overwhelming stress and anxiety doesn’t help her pursue her goals, it tortures her because she thinks she deserves to suffer. When she says “I don’t know how to stop,” she’s describing a Sisyphean tragedy.

Don Hardy’s film has fancy flourishes. Perry’s most troubling anecdotes about trying to kill herself as a teenager, or the time she fell off a building while on crystal meth, are animated in vivid stop-motion. But the most incredible parts are her desperate cries for help, even if she’s only calling out to herself. The image of Perry dancing to Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home,” joyously realizing she hasn’t danced in forever, then immediately falling apart because she just realized she hasn’t danced in forever, is as sad and beautiful a moment as you’re likely to find.

There are parts of “Let It Die Here” that illustrate Perry’s process, and parts that reveal hidden truths about her life. It’s incredible to watch her take control over herself, maybe for the first time ever. But I, for one, am most grateful for her vulnerability, because there are too many people in the entertainment industry — and many other industries — who live a life of constant pressure. Not all of us are wealthy, and many of us are lonely. We take every gig we can get and doggedly chase down every paycheck because we don’t know how else to survive, until we discover far too late that our survival strategies are killing us. Who are we, what was the point of all that work, will anybody give a damn when we’re dead and buried?

“Linda Perry: Let It Die Here” reminds those of us in similar situations that these painful paths are well traveled, and that the outward success we think might fill the holes in our souls usually turns out to be an excuse to push ourselves even harder. That’s why we cry sometimes when we’re lying in beds, just to get it all out, what’s in our heads. If Linda Perry can push through all that self-inflicted torture and find some peace, then maybe what’s going on with the rest of us doesn’t have to be so overwhelming.


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