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tour bus, back

Yesterday, Glenn Walker posted the last piece on the Robin Renée Blog Tour on his blog, Welcome to Hell.  The original interview @ Biff Bam Pop! the day before ran so long that he rounded up some eclectic bits not included there for Odds & Ends.   What’s covered?  My jazzy version of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind,” a makeshift Ouija board, true holiday sentiments and a bit of parody, some great new Mutant Mountain Boys videos, wighead art, a personal question (with some answers), and a 70’s smooth rock dude named Devo Dan. Odds and Ends –  It’s an aptly-named article, I’d say!

Check it out at The Robin Renée Blog Tour, Odds and Ends

Miss anything?  You can take the tour with this great recap.  It includes a synopsis and link for every stop along the way for the interviews, podcast discussion, videos, reviews, and info on the new single, “All I Am.”

Thank you so much to mastermind Glenn Walker and everyone who helped put this together.  It was busy and engaging and was a way I’d never reached out to new and old friends.  The tour bus is home now, but I’m already psyched for next time.

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Gary Wilson’s music might be a gradually acquired taste for some, but in my personal experience people either get Gary or they don’t.  I’ve been a huge fan for years thanks to my friend Marcello McDonnell (Steel Tips, Spy Gods, Vinyl Dogs) and I have had the opportunity to turn many people on to Gary Wilson’s work.  Some love it and never look back.  Others just look completely puzzled or slightly freaked out.  Personally, if I ever were to leave for that fabled desert island, Gary Wilson’s cult classic You Think You Really Know Me would be a must on the playlist.

For many years, it seemed unlikely that I’d ever have the chance to see his live performance, so I was amazed when he began performing again in 2002.  Now I check out the live show whenever possible, and am excited to go to see Gary Wilson with his band, The Blind Dates on April 20th at Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn.

There is much to the Gary Wilson back story, but I’ll take a tip from Five Minutes 3 Seconds and will not reiterate here.  You can read my account of the story along with insights from the man himself in this 2003 piece for WeirdoMusic.com.  I will say that I’ve described various aspects of Gary with the terms “outsider rock groove,” “obsessive teenager in love,” “punk-influenced,”  “maniacal repetition,” and “Steely Dan with a Love Unlimited Orchestra attitude.”  All those still hold, and don’t even begin to cover it.

Gary Wilson exemplifies The Dream Between concept in many ways- his sounds and “out there” stage performance float free within their own lexicon, existing in no single musical or psychological universe.  All this points toward just the kind of mind I can’t help but explore.  Big thanks to Gary for taking the time to respond to these questions with honesty, oddity, and ultimately with optimism.

 

Robin Renée: According to my understanding, you tend to play and record all the time.  How does your process change when you are getting ready to release a new recording?  What was happening as you wrote and prepared for Feel The Beat?

Gary Wilson: Nothing has changed since I was 13 years old.  I get inspired and I walk into the room where my recording equipment is and start recording.  It can happen anytime.  I might come home from playing piano in some country club, turn a horror movie on the TV, throw a cheese pizza in the oven and wait for the inspiration to hit me.  Then it begins.  For me, coming up with an album’s worth of material is a long process.  I do a lot of self-editing.  I toss out a lot of tracks that I spend a lot of time on.  That can be depressing.  You think you might have a song, then after working for weeks on it you throw it away.  That’s showbiz.

RR: Even though your process seems to hold steady, will your audience be hearing new sounds and shifts since Electric Endicott in 2010?

GW: First of all, Feel The Beat was recorded on my new recording equipment (Tascam 2488neo).  It’s always exciting for me to get familiar with the capabilities of new recording equipment.  It’s sort of like a new toy.  I started with a Wollensak mono tape recorder when I was 12 years old.  Always had an interest in recording.  Also the dynamics of life, from day to day, bring a new adventure into my world.  This becomes part of my music.  Each album is like giving birth to a baby.  There’s excitement in the beginning, then it’s released and a sort of gloom comes over me.  That’s when you go back into the recording room and start a brand new project.

RR: The people and places of your youth in Endicott, NY still persist and are the backbone of your work.  Linda, Cindy, Debbie, Bermond Avenue, Northside Park– What continues to draw you into these stories?  

GW: I guess it brings me back to a happier, less stressful time in my life, though growing up is no easy feat.  When I perform now, I try to recreate the way I felt when I began playing professionally at 12 years old.  Music was fun, exciting and innocent.  Our parents would take us to the gigs.  That is why sometimes I will bring a large cardboard box on stage with my home address painted on the front of the box.  I can sit in the cardboard box and recreate, in my mind, the way I felt when I was a young teenager on stage – the way I felt when Linda, Karen and Lugene would come see my band (Lord Fuzz, Dr. Zork and The Warts, Gary Wilson and the Blind Dates) at the local teen centers.  When I come out of the box I feel refreshed.

RR: Do you recall a defining moment or incident that solidified these memories as your palette? 

GW: I recently was talking to my older brother and he mentioned that I was hit in the temple with a baseball bat when I was 10 or 11 years old.  We both thought that perhaps that event, getting hit in the head with a baseball bat, was what determined my perspective on art and music.

RR: “Lugene Kissed Me Last Night” is reminiscent of the intense ending of your classic “6.4 = Make Out.”  What inspired you to introduce “the new girl,” Lugene, on Feel The Beat?   (Note: I asked this question temporarily forgetting that Lugene was mentioned previously in “Your Dream is Not My Scene,” in 2008 on Lisa Wants To Talk To You.  It’s not easy to keep track of all of Gary’s women.)

GW: Lugene was my first girlfriend, before Linda.  The first girl I really kissed.  I have fond memories of summer days at my friend’s house in Endwell, NY.  His parents worked in the day time so we had the whole day to hang out at his house.  Lugene and Cheryl would bus it down from Johnson City, NY to Endicott, then make their way to my friends house in Endwell.  Yes, Lugene kissed me that night.

RR: I have an artistic love of mannequins and wig display heads.  At least in part, I think I have you to thank for this influence.  The mannequin aesthetic has carried throughout your artwork and live shows.  All kinds of theories could arise on what they indicate – beauty, uniformity, sexism, objectification, idealization… What’s the mannequin thing about for you? 

GW: There is something modern, surreal about mannequins.  I’ve been fascinated with mannequins ever since watching the black and white Twilight Zone episode “The After Hours” when I was 8 or 9 years old.  The story featured Anne Francis.  That’s the episode where the department store mannequins come to life for a short time.  For me, the mannequins represent the girls in my life –frozen for eternity in the form of a mannequin, as if our love will never die.  I remember my first “comeback” gig at Joe’s Pub in NYC in 2002.  The record label rented 3 or 4 mannequins for the night.  By the end of the performance, the mannequins were damaged.  It cost the label something like $650 per mannequin.  The label decided to put the damaged mannequins in their NY apartment as works of art.

RR: I once had a cassette of yours called You Made Me Feel My Misery.  As I recall, a few of those tracks, like “Gary Saw Linda Last Night (Kissing Frank Roma)” reemerged on later albums.  I always loved the title song.  Whatever became of it?  What factors help you decide which tunes make the cut? 

GW: I re-recorded “You Made Me Feel My Misery” recently.  I was going to include it on my album Feel The Beat but decided against it.  When I self-released the original Mary Had Brown Hair back in 2003 before Stones Throw Records released it, “You Made Me Feel My Misery” was included on that release.  When Stones Throw re-released Mary in 2004, (hip-hop producer and Stones Throw Records founder) Peanut Butter Wolf eliminated three cuts including “You Made Me Feel My Misery” from the original version.  The song will appear on my next album.

RR: What do your noise pieces and avant garde jazz interludes (“Why Did You Kiss Me?,” “Stephanie Was Crying in the Rain”) say that aren’t said in your songs constructed in a more traditional pop fashion?

GW: I’ve been involved in the avant garde since I was 12 years old – recording my own electronic music, composing avant garde classical music, modern plays, painting, etc. The weirder the better, when I was growing up.  This is what led me to John Cage inviting me to his house in Haverstraw, NY when I was 14.  I always try to combine both elements on my records and performances. I also love the music of Debussy, Ravel, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

RR: Yes, I always hear that combo of distinctly avant garde and smooth, upbeat pop in your music. I am wondering: does each style help you convey or express a different set of emotions or experiences?

 GW: Yes, the avant garde and smooth pop convey different emotions, though they can collide.  This occurs in many of my songs such as “Chrome Lover,” “Sea Cruise,” “6.4=Make Out,” “Gary Saw Linda Last Night,” “Linda Wants To Be Alone” and others. When we do these songs on stage, you never know what can happen.  I always wanted to do a 30 minute version of “6.4=Make Out” with my band and I performing with a large classical chamber group complete with a large string section.

 RR: What was your visit like with John Cage? What an honor at 14.

 GW: It was an honor to spend three days with composer John Cage at his house. I was 14 or 15 years old. I was playing cello and string bass with our school chamber orchestra and string quartet.  I was composing experimental music and our school chamber group would occasionally perform my classical compositions at school events. This led me to contacting John Cage by phone. Mr. Cage gave me an address where to send him some samples of my music.  A few weeks later John Cage invited me to his house in Haverstraw, NY, not far from NYC.  My mother drove me to Haverstraw from Endicott, NY.  On our first visit, my mother became lost in the wooded area not far from John Cage’s house.  We stopped at the local general store and I called and told him we were lost.  (He) drove down to the general store and picked me up and drove me to his house. Here I am at 15 years old being driven to John Cage’s house by John Cage himself.  My mother drove me to Haverstraw for three days.  Each day John Cage went over my musical scores, corrected things, and suggested things.  I still have some of the scores where he went over my original notation and put in what he thought the orchestra would be better at interpreting.  It still amazes me that he took the time to meet with me, a young teenager.  College grad students would give anything to meet one-on-one with John Cage and have him correct and advise on their compositions.  One of the highlights in my life.

Many years later, I had a chance to meet with John Cage again at the University of California, San Diego where he was a composer in residence.  Bernadette Allen was a grad student at UCSD at that time.  I handed John Cage a copy of You Think You Really Know Me and asked if he remembered me.  He said he did.  Truly an inspiration to me.

RR: You had a very long artistic and personal relationship with Bernadette Allen.  I heard about her passing – I’m so sorry, Gary.  If you are willing, will you please say something about your years with her?  Where was your connection and what was her influence on your life and work? 

GW: Bernadette Allen passed away in 2011.  My heart is broken.  We were together for 32 years.  I miss her dearly.  Bernadette performed with me often and we did many videos together.  Bernadette even attended (though didn’t perform) our last CBGB’s gig back in 1979.  Stones Throw Records has been converting all her 3/4″ videos to DVD for a future DVD release.

RR: How wonderful to have such a partnership for so long. What qualities made her such a special person in your life?

GW: The great thing about Bernadette was she let me be myself. I felt comfortable with Bernadette.  She was very intelligent and artistic and put up with me for 32 years.

RR: Thank you for being willing to share that, Gary.  Is there an essential story you ultimately wish to tell?  One’s roots are never forgotten?  Something about life as a romantic quest?  The surreal nature of consciousness?  Love is pain?  Is it really all much simpler? 

GW: Life has its ups and downs.  We all try to get through life the best we can.  Try to follow your passion.  Try not to hurt people and animals.  I know sometimes following your passion can be difficult if you have family and many responsibilities.  One has to sometimes put your dreams aside to take care of your family and your responsibilities.  That’s sad.  But still, you still can do what you love part-time.  My father worked for IBM for about 40 years.  He still played music at the local hotel lounge four nights a week.  He didn’t give up music even though he had a wife and four children and work 5 to 6 days a week.  In other words, don’t let life bring you down to the point where you lose your dreams.  I’ve been fortunate in the last ten years to be able to do what I really enjoy and will continue as long as I can.

RR: Is there anything else you’d like to share today from the heart-mind-soul of Gary Wilson?  

 GW: Please don’t sport fish and hunt.  The poor fish and animals have it hard enough already without humans killing and hurting them for sport.  How can someone laugh and smile while they hold up a gasping fish on a hook.  Poor fish is dying.  What’s so funny about that?  Or chasing some animal through the woods for the sole purpose of killing the animal.  Don’t the hunters see the fear in the animal’s eyes right before they blast away at the poor thing?  It’s one thing, and that’s even sad, when one has to hunt and fish for survival, but not for blood sport.

RR: It’s good to hear you speak out for non-violence. I am also so glad that your re-rediscovery has led to your being able to do what you enjoy.  Fans who never imagined new recordings and live shows are pretty happy, too.  So, I can see how the songs themselves convey the “follow your passion” message, particularly if your passion is pursuing Linda, Kathy, or Karen.  Is there anything else you hope the songs themselves convey directly to the listener?

 GW: Yes, I appreciate all that has happened to me. When people listen to my music and come to my shows, I do get different reactions, which is good.  I hope I convey to the audience what I learned from John Cage. Walk one’s own path. Be yourself.  Have fun with your art, and your life.  Don’t worry what other people think.  Ask yourself what would you like to see and hear.  Then do it.  It takes time to get one’s personality imbedded into one’s art but if you keep working at it, you never know where it can lead.

Gary Wilson will perform at Glasslands Gallery, 289 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, Friday, April 20th

Doors open 8:30pm (Early Show)

Also on the bill: The Immaculates, Moonmen on the Moon, Man, Slowdance (DJ set) and Mr. Fahrenheit (DJ set)

$10 adv/$12 day of show

 

Gary Wilson online: www.sixpointfour.com

Well, look at the time… It has been ridiculously long since I’ve written here.  I’ve written a few poems, done quite a bit of ghostwriting work, finished most of the forthcoming kirtan recording, and I still have fantasies that tease of a novel.  For a lot of the time I’ve been absent from this blog, I’ve been thoroughly sick of my own navel-gazing.  I never could quite bring myself to share it with everybody else.  The CliffsNotes will be much better, trust me.

Since I’ve written here, I’ve tried hard to think of myself as a semi-retired musician.  Many months of a seemingly lost ability to tell a story that matters, an economy that ceased to even kinda-sorta support traveling singer-songwriters (at least this one), and a couple gigs in a row too absurd to mention were all contributors to this shift.  I asked myself if I am neither making ends meet nor having fun, why am I doing this?  “Because it’s what I always do,” wasn’t a good enough answer.  So, I set upon the exciting adventure of not doing what I always do.

I’ve discovered that I can’t retire from music.  Sounds show up.  Words show up.  They will become something even when I resist.  I decided I wouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing performance and traveling without focused assistance.  It felt good to take off the bookings hat.  I decided I would respond happily to requests while I re-imagine possibilities.  Offers do arise while I work on other things.  The forthcoming chant CD that I’ve been recording at glacial speed has come back into my heart.  I feel the spirit that sings through those mantras and songs again.  It will emerge of its own volition.

Casting off the have-to’s has led to more rediscoveries than new discoveries.  I am dancing again.  Not only at the Sex Dwarf dance party off of South Street, but as much as possible.  The beach last summer. Latin Heat class at the gym.  When I wake up and Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner” is a leftover earworm from dreamland.  I used to walk for miles everyday and it made me inherently happy.  I have been taking a lot of that back from the suburban abyss.

I used to write for the absolute love of it.  Age-old wisdom would indicate that making the thing you love your business will alter it, perhaps not for the better.  More wisdom would indicate that if you do what you love for your living, you are truly blessed.  I’d say both are correct.

There will be more music, more concerts, more creative surprises, and new approaches.  There will be art for love and art that matters, at least to me.  I have begun to write through the gunk and the fear to get to the center, the heart of things.  I am reminded of Om Mani Padme Hum – the jewel in the lotus. No matter what whirlwinds I spin around it, there is that.

11/4/11

Eyes strain open above water

Lukewarm, then too warm to escape

Forget entropy-

This is the science

of my regularly scheduled life

the art of evolving

from surface tension

to shore.

The memory of arms flailing

a lesson

to seek the winter sunlight

and keep moving.

Often while working on the daily pieces for NaPoWriMo, I am reminded of my experience of writing poetry in the Stone Age before the internet explosion. I would write a piece and many times it would feel like the page would burn my hands if I didn’t do something with it. Off to Kinko’s I’d go so I could make copies for poet friends or to send it off to the most suitable Call for Submissions. I would feel a kind of relief then, as if this urgent burst of energy now had some focus or reason to be.

The immediacy of my daily posts on the Facebook Fan Page and 365/365  more than fulfills that old urge, and is fairly confronting. I am taken aback at just how truly immediately other eyes are on these words. The commitment to write daily leaves no real time for revision, rethinking, retraction. I get to see my jagged edges, neuroses, loves, and incomplete thoughts. And so does everyone else. Really quickly. The swiftness of sharing this ongoing series of poems and the comments and conversations that come up around them is as soul-shaping as the writing.

I do feel shaped by what I write, as the inner and outer experiences shape me and prompt me to write. I have felt shaped quite literally lately, posing for a clay sculpture class. It is odd to feel sometimes like there are 10 voodoo dolls of me being molded before my eyes. I sometimes imagine that I’ll leave class subtly or profoundly different from the way I came in, and wonder about this as a metaphor for every interaction.

Here are the most recent poems:

April 6, 2011

Names

I think I’ve found the perfect candidate
for The Fool
in my personal deck of Tarot.
The role of The Devil has been taken.
I wonder what The Goddess calls me
when I can’t hear Her over the music.

April 7, 2011

Where no orgasm is unmemorable
Where the walls embrace wide auras
Where books and beings point out the Heart of Hearts
Where God sings the wailing blues
Where there are clean dishes and enough blankets
Where there are spent toys of pleasure
Where I sleep late
I begin to notice things
Where the forest holds love without need.

April 8, 2011

Uninvited

He left her a message today
Said he wanted to make amends
A sound beating never forgotten
gets icy silence in any decade
I remember being made to hear
the uninvited
My face in a journal thinking
I’ll just write
No, I’ll just sleep
How do I get out Try to
sleep
Her story my story
Any woman’s story told
is a cutting of the cord
Bloodletting
Our Burning Times
to purify
if there must be fire.

April 9, 2011

On the Lindenwold Train

On the Lindenwold train to Philly
you keep approaching to interrupt
an otherwise perfect spring fever.
Warm enough tonight
to feel cute on South St.
in jeans and short black jacket,
and at ease back home
where forsythia announce
the inevitable end to cold.
On my way to meet the poly people
same place we met once
at the inevitable start.

This train best get going.
Take me to my punk rock roots
and motley crew of a mockup family
so I forget how once last fall
I would have liked to catch you sleepy,
mojito in hand,
and me with knives in mine.
Luck held out for both of us.

Trees still bare.
I long to lie naked in the neighborhood
under natural cover,
but I will not rush this season.
It pushes me slowly along from last September,
when I lay trapped in a learning curve
of drinking and dreaming
your house demolition.

Woodcrest Station.
A musty man stinking
of B.O. and basement
chatters questions.
I am annoyed by my impulse to answer,
glad to break the tumbling thoughts
of broken intentions,
secret darknesses
that I find have left
strange nutrients.
I lap up new knowledge,
drops of blood to a ravenous bat.
I turn my head to breathe.

The box is open now.
There will be more weapons
forged with sparks of light.
I rest relieved
it is someplace else
your poisonous script will run.
My feet hit 8th & Market,
smooth in the rhythm of my streets.

April 10, 2011

Spokeswoman

Whatever ruptured yesterday
heals today
I remember or decide
there is no healing
without the wound
The wig display head
At the foot of my bed
May tell the stories better than I.
I may let her.

April 11, 2011

My bath, her shower.
Dreaming a bathroom conflict,
I caved. She’s first again.

April 12, 2011

ROYGBIV

and so I looked relieved at the black and white 32 oz. shampoo bottles lined up
perfectly on the ledge by the tub facing one direction with no more price labels
bathroom is not bad today save for some sweeping that gets left for Saturdays
Order is like meditation, keep coming back to same things same places, a mantra of stuff
at least that’s what I tell myself sometimes and I mostly really mean it
Then I wonder if it is the loving order or the allowing disarray that is the real problem if there is one, but I do know
that the closet goes by item type and order of color the way nature paints rainbows and sometimes bills get so-called filed, forgotten in front of what used to be the Zen space with the new guitar strings candles and exercise bra
It is lonely when brain is frayed, never any-questions-fried but as if a little mouse were working away nest-building
from the outside in
Putting it back together I look for the real Zen space, the one that is always there in my head find it for real without pretense no pretending something about putting in order is holy aligning with the knowing of mystics flawless grace notes and good sex. I remember overhearing Rose and Lissa laugh about my alphabetical albums, I look
for something to wear and am pleased by the disproportionate sight of purple


www.robinrenee.com

One of the things I have been doing over the last few years when not writing, touring someplace, or off on some other adventure is working as a figure model. When I mentioned to a friend that I was looking for an interesting sideline, she made the suggestion and I felt that it fit very well into my life. I always want to spend more time where art is created. I am also a longtime nudist, so there is nothing strange to me about posing for an art class. It seemed like a fun and fairly perfect thing to check out.

Though I am comfortable without clothes, it is more common a situation in my life that everyone is nude – on my favorite beach, camping in clothing-optional space, or at some other naturist event. Being the only one who’s nude in the room did take a little getting used to in the beginning, but is no big deal at all now. Most art class’ protocol is strange and a bit frustrating. Students are generally not to speak to the model. That feels cold to me at times, and can be the least appealing aspect of the job. I’d rather be spoken to like anyone else in the room. When there’s an opportunity, I try to ask someone a question, show some sense of humor, and just keep an easy-going energy flowing as much as possible.

I feel my Zen sensibilities more strongly while holding a pose than in most other circumstances. In sitting or standing still for long periods, I find meditation. 20 minutes of posing divided by short breaks leads me to settle into stillness, to follow the breath. Posing is a time to experience my current reality. It is a profound opportunity to release the habit of hiding. It is like saying “Here is all of me, World, with my bundle of irrational fears, body image issues, joys, aspirations, ideas, boredom, peacefulness…” Whatever is going on that day and in that moment, there I am. Exposing the body combined with time to watch the mind is a powerful exercise.

I often simply notice and release thoughts in meditation mode. Sometimes I follow the seemingly significant ones. Here are some of the random thoughts that float through my brain while modeling:

Oh! Here come some titles for the dual CDs that I am working on this season. Need to write them down on break… The hypothetical book I mentioned in The Steve Forbert Chronicles really does want to be written… and it wants to be fiction. Research road trip? … How will I manifest time to create all that the muse is pouring through me? … Grateful to have the ideas flowing… Hmm, a sexy thought – Wow, if I were a guy that thought might have just become a lot more obvious! … Will I wear the gold sparkly spaghetti strap shirt out dancing on Friday? … Sad memory of an ex – We used to meet after my Philly modeling gigs sometimes… I really want to finish painting the basement… There is only this moment, right now. Sat Nam… Why the heck did I dream about playing pool and going boating with Hall & Oates?! …

I sometimes wish I were learning to draw, too, but listening in on classes has helped me to at least see so much more. I notice the light and the shadow and the planes that make up people’s faces. I am starting to imagine drawing without outlining, but finding the shapes that make up the figure. I get how it is important to see more deeply into how the body works and the structure beneath the skin in order to render something realistic. I take so many things as metaphor anyway, and these are useful additions to ways to find life lessons.

Lately, I’ve been learning quite a bit posing in Moe Brooker’s class @ Moore College of Art and Design. I can’t say that I would enjoy being in his class as a student. He dishes out some intense critique and hardly gives students a moment’s rest. If he wants someone to add the face to the drawing or redo the knees or a make the feet bigger, he means pronto. The door generally gets shut on you if you are a minute late. He doesn’t particularly care whether or not students like him, but he cares deeply that they become better artists. I suspect that even though it’s fairly clear some students can’t stand dealing with his class, they’ll be incredible artists one day and will thank him. I have the easy job in the class; I just get to stand there and observe the varying mix of intensity and comedy.

Moe Brooker often says that there’s no point in being almost anything. If you want to be an artist, be an artist. Don’t be an almost artist. In the past, I have resolved to stop almosting. I am inspired to revisit this, find my inner hard-ass, ferret out the almosts, and achieve.

Steve Forbert

I went to see Highway of Sight, Steve Forbert’s cell phone photo exhibit, this past Saturday at the ART629 Gallery in Asbury Park. I had been feeling a little anti-social all day, so it really was a good thing to hear from Nancey, my good friend and concert-going buddy, who convinced me to quit cocooning and come out and play. Thanks, Nancey—I appreciate that! The two of us have such fun hanging out and being Forbert groupies together- How could I miss this one?

As I came in the door, I was surprised by Steve, who said hello, remembered my name and that he had seen me the week before at his show at The Record Collector in Bordentown. I am not sure he remembered that I interviewed him for the 2008 Songwriter’s Market. He couldn’t have known that a few years ago I was contemplating using the title of this blog entry as the title of a book. The book would be based on a slice of autobiography – soul-searching in the years around my father’s passing and other lesser life complications – with the backdrop of my strange pursuit of this quietly enduring folksinger. For a long time I have also wanted to write about the power, mostly positive, I think, that exists in music hero worship, and the bonds and creativity borne out of fandom. When I heard about the recent publication of I Think I Love You  I felt scooped, but whatever—I have different insights and stories to tell. There are quite a few books living in my head. One day, some of them will escape and find themselves written down, I promise.

The photos were simple, telling bits of Americana and curious things found along the trail of a touring musician. In this show, Forbert seemed to favor repeating items – like soda bottles or rows of eggs – that reminded me of early industrial innovation. I was checking out the images, wondering why an artist finds a particular fascination, or vice versa. The artist himself had been affable and talkative with attendees all evening. He managed to surprise me again and out of the blue walked up and asked, “So what’s the deal?” He wanted to know about the town I live in, and which photo was my favorite. My fave of the moment was “Glass Stems in Case.”

His question got me to confront something I had only idly mused over before:

Seriously, what is the deal?

Why this cyclical fixation (and the requisite goofy crush that goes with it) on the unassuming Steve Forbert and his live performances? I have the records and CDs, but it is mainly about the live show. I’ve seen him more in concert than quite a few of my other fangirl obsessions like Steely Dan, Gary Wilson (I know, he doesn’t play that much), and even Devo.

Though it is fun to revel in the mysterious nature of my adoration, I can say a little about what draws me:

Storytelling. Forbert is a solid craftsman of songs of struggle, love, work, and everyday greatness. He is afraid of neither politics (“The Baghdad Dream,” the ever-evolving “Oil Song”) nor humor (“Strange Names – New Jersey’s Got ‘Em)”. One of the surprising byproducts of the emergence of kirtan chant into my life was a lessening of the impetus to tell stories in song. When you are at OM, what more is there to say? I feel the stories reemerging now, and can look to the art of cutting to the core of basic human experience in Forbert’s best tunes for guidance.

He loves his career. I have heard him say more than once that he is grateful for the early success of “Romeo’s Tune” because it has enabled him to do what he likes for all these years. Another artist might be forever angry that meteoric success didn’t continue unabated. Steve seems to get that he has a good life and a really cool gig going on.

Perfect timing. Honestly, I believe this all started back in the day the first time I heard WMMR play “Goin’ Down to Laurel.” My heart melted and I was changed in some intangible way. Later, “Romeo’s Tune” was the summer love theme playing in my head as I would travel hours by bus and train to Connecticut to see a girl I was crazy about who I’d met at summer camp.

He is earnest. The language he uses is often matter-of-fact, sometimes cute, and may deal with pain, but is not meant to cause pain. He can write a personal or cultural critique without the cutting cynicism that I actually love from other artists. A Steve Forbert song is like an antidote to an overdose of bitterness. His body of work tells us that he really wants the best for the world and all of us in it, without even so much as a devolutionary twist.

Inspiration. Whenever I’m nervous about whatever it is my next move ought to be, I remember these immortal words:  “You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play.”

I am not sure why wigheads are my usual canvas.  Maybe it stems from the new wave aesthetic that is so imprinted on me.  I find them strangely beautiful, sometimes eerie, and when I work with them it feels like sculpting.

 I wrote a novella in 1993.  That was the first time I discovered a phenomenon that I’ve heard fiction writers talk about frequently since— Characters take on lives of their own.  This new wighead has definitely done that. “She Dreams the Triad” portrays one woman’s jumbled musings of love and desire and her ultimate clarity about pursuing partnership with a man and a woman.  Creating her was peaceful in moments, and also an emotional challenge.  I, too, am seeking poly family.  I believe she is more certain than I of the people who will be together and the structure of the tribe.  Here is a look into her mind.

 

The images click along like an old school slide show.   They make trails as they shift through brainwaves.   She follows. 

She thinks of him, and for a moment he is red-splattered.   She is shocked to envision him bloody—Could her anger be so great inside this many-layered romance?   Then her cheek flushes red with wanting him and thick desire outruns all turbulence.   Another image flashes.   It is her closest friend— punky, blonde, intellectual, more social than she.   Yes, she loves her, but she is startled that snapshots of her have erupted so suddenly into her raw passion fantasy.  

The slide show click click clicks.  She sees herself.  Who am I now?  She sees her; she sees him.  What would he say? Sure, he could have a romp with them, but could he love them both?  She sees them all wildly distorted as if they’ve fallen into a kaleidoscopic abyss of color and dreamscape and alchemy.  Then they return in a picture clearer than any before. 

They are stylized and static, yet their emotions seep through in spite of themselves.  Her third eye shines with the knowing of what they could be, and her throat is jeweled just where she will form the words to speak her truth.  She knows that soon there will be the messiness and sublime potential of words and flesh.

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