"My A&R guy there would have shit if I would have handed him this," she says. "He absolutely would have laughed and said, `Yeah, sure.'"

The reason, she believes, had everything to do with the Mellencamp factor. Germano was a staple of the band put together by the onetime Mr. Cougar; he was impressed enough by her songwriting to include one of her compositions on the soundtrack to the 1992 film Falling From Grace, a megaflop that marked his directorial debut. This led to On the Way Down From the Moon Palace, Germano's first album, which she released on her own Major Bill label. Capitol's offer followed, but after completing Happiness, Germano learned that the company's braintrust saw her as an extension of Mellencamp rather than an artist in her own right.

"I heard some of the publicists on the phone one day and I was absolutely shocked," she notes. "At the time, you had Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair and P.J. Harvey all out, and I just said, `How would you possibly try to sell one of those three girls if they didn't play a fiddle with John Mellencamp?' But Capitol was so into thinking that mentioning him was the only way they could promote my weird record that I lost any opportunity for people who might have liked it to hear it. And radio wouldn't even listen to it. College alternative would say, `We don't play John Mellencamp here,' but when stations that played John got it, they'd say, `This isn't anything like John.' It was a really destructive way of trying to market me."

In spite of these problems, Germano goes to great pains not to knock Mellencamp personally. "I'm totally proud of everything I did with John, and we're still good friends--I'll probably work with him again at some point," she claims. "I get people who are into alternative saying to me, `God, Lisa, how did you ever put up with playing with John?' And I'm like, `Why do you have that attitude? It was wonderful. It was great. I loved it. Why do you have to cut that down in order to like me?'"

With Geek, Germano finally seems to be emerging from her ex-employer's shadow: Although Entertainment Weekly reviewer Josef Woodard couldn't resist describing her as the "former John Mellencamp violinist," he gave the recording an A+ rating. Meanwhile, Germano is discovering that she's become a muse for an growing number of young men and women who identify with her emotionally stark tales of love, loss and terror.

"I had a lady come up to me one day after Happiness came out, and she told me, `I just wanted to tell you that I listened to that record every day for the last two months just to get through the day,'" she says. "So that made that a successful record right there. I'm learning that there are a lot of people out there who feel the way I do." She chuckles while adding, "Usually we wind up having some sort of talk about therapy."

Pale Saints, with Lisa Germano and Idaho. 9 p.m. Monday, November 14, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $5.25, 447-0095 or 290-

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