Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

dept. of self-hype-gnosis

you wanna hear my music?

[updated with next day 2nd thought below]

I know how it is. Sure, I’m OK to talk to, Blogville is easy-come easy-go, what are the consequences of an unpleasing post? But listen to my music? I can hear you thinking. “What if I don’t like it? If he’s any good, why haven’t I heard of him before? Isn’t that how it works in this America? You can’t be good and unknown at middle age!”

Or, in other words, what’s my excuse? My excuse is . . . I was in a terrific band in high school, and then we went our separate ways. In college, 1982, I was in a terrific synth-pop-noise band, but the drummer drove me nuts and I quit; and then I was in a terrific punkish post-punk band, and then we went our separate ways. After college I was in a band that would have been terrific had we had a better drummer, but I gave it up to work with my terrific theater-mates from college, but then I quit that for a variety of personal reasons -- but they’re still going and I’m proud to have been a part of it. And then for the first time I put together my own band -- not a collective band but one of which I was the leader -- and that was terrific too, but then I moved away.

Here’s how it was in 1990 Chicago: Good friends of mine, a band I worked with but was never a member of, filled a club every Friday and played two sets, with lots of new songs every week, for three years running. They sold a couple THOUSAND of their cassettes out of this club. But because their style -- a sort of brassy Beatle-esque cabaret rock -- wasn’t in fashion, they got NO critical notice. I saw that going on and said, forget it. Really, both their accomplishment and its larger-culture invisibility still astound me.

I moved to Seattle just as grunge exploded. My Chicago band had had a set of a couple dozen originals plus a half dozen covers, and the players were hot -- they were my songs, but I was both the worst singer and the worst player in the group. People I knew in Seattle were getting record deals before their bands knew 10 songs, if they dressed right and played loud. I was a bookish freaked-out folk-rocker who had covered Cole Porter before “Red Hot & Blue” came out and Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly before “A Vision Shared” came out and a Disney song before “Stay Awake” came out, and much as I dug and dig Nirvana and the Gits and a few other bands from that time, my style wasn’t going to get me in the door then.

I’ve since become a much better songwriter, because I’ve continued to learn about life and music. A couple years ago a kind person I had never really met found my blog and mailed me a CD dubbed from a live cassette he’d recorded of my Chicago band. In some ways my songwriting was “freer” then, but not, finally, as intense, and I have different freedoms and better melodies and deeper words now. As an impressionable young man I read Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” and took seriously the idea that life experience and years of study would enrich one’s art. And, for me, as far as I’m concerned, it’s been true.

So, that’s that. I wanted to have this record done two years ago, but, oddly, and surprisingly, now I’m happy it took me two years to finish. Arrangement ideas ripened, and a few personal circumstances have made this a better time to release than it would have been then.

Love songs, political songs, family songs, car songs, walking songs, songs of existential freak-out, songs of awe. Mostly acoustic, lots of emphatic group singing, lots of loose-folk-jazz improvisation, lots of crafty arranging. If you’re on the influence tip, friends have said: Pentangle, Byrds, Mamas & Papas, Violent Femmes. I would add: Plus blues. Plus Woody Guthrie. Plus rockabilly.

Plus haiku. And Robert Burns & Shakespeare & William Blake & Emily Dickinson & Mother Goose. And Beat-spiel spoken word. Plus Tin Pan Alley. And John Cage. And Ornette Coleman. And Satchmo. And Duke Ellington. (OK, some of these may be stretches sonicly, but they inform the music-thought.) Plus grunge. And punk. And some movie I saw a long time ago that takes place in Medieval times, and this indelible image of a sardonic menacing minstrel singing in people’s faces, only for the life of me I have no idea what the movie was. Plus the Bible and the movies and history and bloody awful current events. Plus poetry. Plus lust. Plus girl group & Fela & Gypsy music. Plus the time you were tramping through the woods and came upon a bog filled with hundreds of bleating frogs.

Life, life, life. Music music music. That’s what it’s about. The beauties & uglies & joys & pains & passions of life, conceptually emotionally observationally expressed in music + words.

It’ll be up on the web soon. For free. Soon!

Thanks for listening.

Next day 2nd thought: Who really knows where influence begins and ends? It's your whole life.

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