Yeah, I know. It was some stuff I was reading and I think it's all the more reason to feel that things that are literate be brought to the forefront as much as possible. I've been feeling this strongly about the kind of work I do in King Kong Serenade and the kind of work I'll be doing on my next album because basically my whole style has developed as a marriage of myself as a poet and a musician. The two things come together and I write stuff that has a lot of vivid imagery in it and some people say it's cinematic in a way. Hopefully there's an audience for that kind of stuff. So far my work's been pretty well received and it encourages me to go on and do more of that kind of stuff. I like to see other people doing it so it keeps me going.
Do you feel that this plunge in readership has anything to do with the high illiteracy rate in this country?
I think there are a number of factors from that to some of the obvious culprits. It's a double-edged thing with our technology. The Internet is great but I think people spend a lot more of their time on activities on the Internet between getting their news and downloads and chatting with friends and that sort of thing. I include myself in it. I don't think it's a bad thing. A by-product of that is that we have less time to spend on other things. Actually I'm guilty of it myself. I feel that I would like to spend more time reading books than I do. We're all fighting for time.
Well at least if people are reading news on the Internet then at least they're reading. Maybe this is a good thing.
Yeah, I've read stuff on the other side of it too. I've read articles about this that it's a good thing. That people are writing more because of emails and instant messaging and all that.
Yeah, exactly. It's hard to know how all of it is going to play out but I think you also have to be adventurous and open about the whole thing. Not just declare it like it's not a good thing. It's interesting. Things are changing. I think we're also much more of a visual society. We have perhaps a little bit shorter attention span or patience for things. That's why there's been the rise of the comic book novel. Things that are more visual. There's some of those trends going on which may be a good thing. There's all kinds of trends happening because of technology including what may be the demise of the record album as we know it. Obviously you're very aware of this in your field and from what you've seen and experienced. As a performance artist on the other side of it who makes albums, I've had to confront this myself. A bit more so for somebody like myself who makes albums like King Kong Serenade that are thematic. Where the whole of the album is important. So it's not just a collection of songs which are loosely related. They actually are closely related. It's an interesting situation and I don't look at it negatively completely. I just think that it's something I have to adapt to. We had to adapt one day out of the horse and buggy era. Adapt to automobiles. It's not necessarily a bad thing. It just challenges me to think differently and I think all artists are thinking about different ways to release their material and we've seen a lot of novel things go on here too. Look, iTunes is a huge smash and it's a great thing because it's also a great equalizer. U2 is on iTunes and Green Day and Allen Shadow is on iTunes so hey. We have the opposite end of the scales now and it's a good thing. There are opportunities for artists to reach a wider audience even when you're an independent like myself. You have a lot of opportunity. Speaking of technology, this whole thing with Google and their whole Ad-Words feature that they do with the little text ads that are on the sides of Google searches, that's a really incredible phenomenon. That has enabled businesses, artists, and people of all stripes at all levels to actually reach a national and international audience. It's another one of those leveling of the fields parts of technology that's exciting. I digress.
Digressing is a good thing. You started out as a poet. You wrote a couple of books. Some of your stuff was published in literary magazines. When did you decide to marry music with poetry as it were?
It's something that happened over a very long art that took a couple of decades for me because my chops as a writer and a poet developed much more quickly than my chops as a musician. I was working as a poet for the earlier part of my life and having success developing a strong sense of what my voice was as a poet and it was working. It took a long time like it does for a lot of poets to mature with that but I felt a certain sense of what my voice was about. I knew what my identity was there and I was always interested in music. I played music and I played in cover bands and I wanted to write songs. I would try to write songs when I was younger in my 20's and I wanted to write songs that were much more complex than I had the ability to do at that time. I just didn't have the musical abilities at that time to match what I wanted to do. At a certain point I said to myself, what don't I just try writing a simple song. Because I had wanted to run before I could walk and I said okay. I just started writing a simple three chord song and it was working. I got real turned on to it. I said wow this is great. I love this. It took me in the direction to say I'm going to spend some time writing songs. I want to know about writing songs. I'm going to open myself to that and I did that. My poetry career went a little bit more on the backburner, not completely. I devoted myself. I tend to be like a lot of artists, kind of obsessive about what I'm doing and I just got into it full tilt. I kept writing and writing and writing. I'm pretty good at the discipline of doing my work. I write just about every day. I worked and I got a little better and at that time it was in the mid to late '80s and I couldn't quite believe it but I thought to myself that people say that the place for opportunity is Nashville. I had played in string bands and we played eclectic music. Everything from Dylan and Neil Young songs to bluegrass and I started opening myself up to country music more. I decided to take a plunge and I was writing some stuff that I thought was country music. I grew up in New York City, in the Bronx, and to me my country influences were more like The Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones songs that had a country element to them and some Bob Dylan stuff. "Nashville Skyline". And Crosby, Stills, And Nash. There's been a lot of steel pedals and guitars in a lot of those songs in that period.
Lynyrd Skynyrd and all of that. Southern rock. I'd figured I had a handle on it and I started writing some stuff and I figured I'm going to put a little bit more of my offbeat side of me to it and I'm going to show these guys in Nashville a thing or two. I put together what I felt was a pretty good demo. I lived near the Woodstock, NY area and I had some pretty good players there and I put some people together who had some pretty good talent. I went down to Nashville. I had an old beat up Ford at the time and I had a grand old time on my way down thinking that I'm going to show these cats something. I'm from New York and I've got an attitude. I went down and wow, did I get my ass kicked. I didn't know what a mainstream country tune was and I spent about a decade in Nashville overall. Maybe a little bit more plying the songwriting trade. Commercial songwriting vis-a-vis Nashville. It took me two years to get the drift of what it was really all about. I used to go around to publishers' offices the first couple of years and man, they were brutal. Telling me what made a good song and why these weren't and blah blah blah. The Band was a big influence for me and my lyrics were kind of on the dark side and actually I did have people who were very interested in me. Significant people like Bob Doyle who is Garth Brooks manager and head of his publishing company too. He had a place down there. He used to entertain me. I'd come in and he'd listen to my stuff and he liked it. He says "too dark. It's too dark." He let me come back and he was helpful and encouraging. What would happen is I started learning what was going on. I started getting better demos. I started getting people down there to do the music because there's nothing like those Nashville cats. They play clean as country were. The talent in Nashville is just phenomenal. These guys can whip anybody with one hand behind their backs and I got some of the regulars, studio guys, guys that go on the road with the bands and stuff to play on my demos and I started getting some pretty neat demos together. Started learning about it. Next thing I know after a couple of years I'm sitting in the office of this guy, Russ Zavitson, from Polygram and he's going bonkers over this one song. I'm turning around thinking you're talking to me? I had been hearing a lot of hard stuff about myself for a couple of years. He said "where did you come from? You wrote this by yourself? This is one of the best things I've ever heard." It was a song called "Is It Love Yet?" and the demo was actually done by Trisha Yearwood just before she had her first album out. Her name was Trisha Latham at the time and she was just tremendous. Not to denigrate her as a huge star but she was a tremendous demo singer and not everybody was really good at getting inside of the songs and she had this ability. Iíve met her a couple of times and she doesnít like to be reminded of that. I can understand that she hates that period in her life which is understandable. It was a real good demo and she was great. It just went over so he pitched that song for many years and he signed it. Then I started getting other songs signed to a lot of the big companies. Sony, Polygram, Mel Tillisí Tillis Tunes. I became a staff writer for a while at Mel Tillisí company and I was kind of bubbling under. Itís a little tough when youíre coming from out of town. I never actually moved there. Iíd go down two or three times a year for a couple of weeks at a time and developed a lot of contacts. After a while I realized that it was just so long and to me Nashville was always meant to be a stop along the way. I wanted to song craft and then I wanted to go on to write more stuff for me as an artist. It wasnít happening fast enough. Ten years. It was like hey, you know what? I guess if I start doing the political thing and hooking up and writing with more people, two or three guys because I wrote solo mostly and itís tougher that way. The industry started to change too. It started to get less innovative which was from about the late í80s when Garth was first coming in. This was before alternative radio had been invented and there was almost no place else to go for a lot of talent in country and Nashville needed young blood. Young listeners. It was interesting because they were actually taking on more folk type material and more rock influences and it was a cool period. Then what happened after a while like everything, it was an innovative period, then alternative radio came into being and it took away some of the need for that out of Nashville. Nashville started going more towards these what we started calling ďthe hatĒ acts. Young guys with tight butts and cute faces and hats. Not to sully their reputations but they started doing more material that was more like these sort of party ditties and it was just like rubberstamping after a while. People in the industry, songwriters, used to make fun of it because you had to. The industry wasnít going the way we wanted it to and the opportunities were shrinking and I said Iím getting tired of this. I could probably do this another five or 10 years and maybe get one or two hit songs here and there but that wasnít my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal was to do my own stuff so I said why donít I just go ahead and do it? It was around that time that I finally really sat down with myself and said why donít I just start writing the stuff that I always wanted to write? That I never had the ability to write before as a musician. It was all scary to me but I applied myself and it was like the Nike thing. Just do it. I guess I wasnít sure I was ready for it and I started just applying myself and it was working. It took a while. Iím a slow developer so it took me a while but I kept working at it and I spent four years developing the material for King Kong Serenade. The whole style started to coalesce for me because the poetic voice and the music were finally getting married the way I had always envisioned so for me at least, it was an exciting period and I had a lot of fun doing it and I ended up recording it in Nashville with some cats that were actually on the alternative scene in Nashville. I was in with that group for a while so it worked out perfectly. The lead guitar player was John Jackson. He had played with Dylan on the road for six years and he was just getting off of the road with him. He was doing shows with Lucinda Williams when she had the Car Wheels album coming out and he was sticking with me and playing my stuff. My drummer was playing with John Prine and not too many other people. I had some pretty cool people and they seemed to get what I was doing which was great because it just was one of the ensembles I had in the studio that really clicked with what I was doing. That was real satisfying and we spent four years. I was writing and Iíd go down and weíd do a couple tunes each time. Work them out. Iíd go back down and redo tracks and so forth. Thatís how the album came about. That was the long, what I like to say, circuitous path that I followed to becoming what I termed being a rock poet which is what I am. What I do is just what it is. Itís authentic. Itís not like I was trying to sound like something or somebody. Itís just something that developed and evolved over a long period of time. Thatís me.
You toured college campuses in the í80s with a staged version of Harlem River Baby. What exactly was that?
That was part of my development because I was doing my poetry like I said and the music stuff was just developing slowly and I played in some bands here and there. I would start to incorporate music in my readings and I had a pretty dynamic style as a reader. My reading usually went over pretty well. I had pretty good audiences. I wrote this chapbook as they call it in the poetry trade. Itís a thin volume. The history of that actually goes back hundreds of years. I had just had that put out by Quick Books in Colorado and I was out one night in the Woodstock area and saw a group that I had seen before who did acapella and their name was The Phantoms and Iím standing there watching them. All of a sudden I envision this thing because the poetry I was writing was kind of street wise, attitude, maybe a little bit punkish sort of poetry about the city. I saw these guys and I said I had to get together with these guys. I talked to them and they were into it. We started to rehearse and I started to integrate them into what became more of a performance poetry piece and we took it around the colleges. What I would do is I would read a couple of things. The poems were mostly short and punchy and then they would come out and do a doo wop number and weíd integrate that. Sometimes I would read over a doo wop number and it was developing very nicely. We had very good reactions to the shows. I did it at colleges and universities with them mostly in the Northeast. I had an agent who picked it up and helped us out a little bit and it seemed to have a life of its own and went for a while. Then what happened is, it was just at some point in that period that I got bitten with the songwriting thing. I had started to write simple songs and it led me to saying Iíve got to do this right now. I know I need to follow this. Thatís what happened there but I did do quite a bit of what would be termed performance poetry in the Ď80s and that actually also contributed significantly to my development of the whole staging of things and so forth. It helped develop my style and I think it was just a normal part of the evolution for me.
King Kong Serenade is basically about pre-9/11 New York. Tell me a little bit about the CD and why you decided to try to basically introduce people to what I consider one of the most fascinating cities in the country.
Of course I grew up there. It was to me my city and in my poetry I had written about it from the vantage point from the street up. It wasnít like from the boardroom in the skyscraper looking down. It was street wise stuff that I was writing with my poetry. When I came back to the point at coming out of the later period in Nashville when I decided I needed to get back to my urban poetic voice and really get into it, I got into it with a vengeance. I felt like I had played the outsider a real long time in Nashville and so personally I had the feeling of the outsider and I still do. I somehow got onto the image of King Kong as symbolic of New York and an underdog in a way or maybe an underape. A figure who was symbolic of nature or the beast in us, the wild side in us, versus the structured society, the city. Thatís how that came about. I knew I was going to use King Kong and I came up with the title and I started working on different songs. It takes me a while to develop the material because I donít force it. I write almost every day but I can take four to six months to complete a song. I might be working on a couple of songs at a time. Two or three or more and I donít use all of them like a lot of songwriters. Springsteen sometimes would use a third or less of the material he developed for an album. I would wait until subjects spoke to me. I wanted to get a sense of the personality, a portrait so to speak. The essence of the city over time. I guess pretty much through the 20th century. I wanted to develop stories. Some of them might have seemed obvious. A song about Times Square. I came from all different parts of the city. Coney Island, the Bronx, the five points section of New York which was in the Lower East Side. A very rough, gang-ridden, crime-ridden section. A squalid section of New York in the late 19th century and early 20th century that later became popularized by Sorcese who came out with Gangs Of New York. Thatís kind of where I was at. Of course I didnít know he was going to come out with the movie when I was writing it and actually, he had had that in his mind for 25 years. He always wanted to do that. It was about the dark side of immigration because I thought we were brought up in the classrooms as kids to believe in this Horatio Algiers version of America. You came over on the boat to the land of opportunity of milk and honey like it was just going to be a Hollywood ending story all the way. In actuality it wasnít. I did a lot of research. There were books that were written, one of them by a muckraker called Jacob Reese, wrote a famous book called How The Other Half Lives and he was a former journalist who had a lot of great photographs and wrote about the squalid conditions. People lived in awful conditions and they died in them.
My mother is from Europe and she told me that the suicide rate among immigrants from Germany and other countries like that was tremendously high. We like to say ďgive us your poor and your needy and everything is going to be wonderful.Ē Nine times out of ten, it doesnít turn out that way.
Exactly and Iím glad that Scorcese did the movie. You just want to see the truth of it told. The real story. Not just the Pollyanna-ish story that you get at school years ago. The easy story. Yeah, it wasnít so great. I love this country. Iím not meaning to put it down in a sense. Itís just a matter of just telling the truth. Just the way we want to tell the truth about slavery or the American Indians or anything.
I see that side too because my father is Choctaw and people talk about how weíve always had freedom and democracy. How do you equate slavery and the slaughter of the indigenous people with freedom and democracy? Or not allowing women to have any rights? People see things the way they want to see them. I feel that people need to acknowledge the truth and see that things were not always that wonderful for everybody.
Exactly and I think weíve done a lot more of that now. I love some of the Ken Burnsí documentaries on PBS. Fortunately weíve had a lot of storytellers in this country in more recent decades who are telling more of the truth about things. Whether it be the Civil War or he did that long series on New York which was tremendous because I learned so much from watching it. You learn about the slavery in New York and the way they were treated and you learn about draft riots and you learn about gangs. You learn about a lot of things and I like to look at some of this stuff again. Itís not just to be up on somebody or not but just to look at it. Itís sort of jaw dropping. You listen to stuff and youíre like ďoh my God, is this really the way things developed?Ē
A lot of people think slavery was just in the South but it wasnít. It was all over the country and if these slaves escaped up North, the folks up there would send them back to their slave owners and get their bounty money.
I guess I just think that itís really interesting to try to go back to look at history and try to get the context of a time. Try to put yourself in a position and say ďwhat was it actually like at this particular time?Ē A lot of it is pretty raw. Itís not like Hollywood portrayed it 30 years ago in some cowboy and Indian movies where everything was neatly done. Fortunately we have. Weíve had a lot more come out from the books, movies, and documentaries that show the rawness of things.
Like Ellis Island. It was a really horrible place.
Absolutely. I developed a greater interest in history as Iíve gotten older and sometimes Iíll go to a library and look at the old back stories and newspaper articles they have on this microfiche and you can go back and see whatís going on at a particular time. Itís always interesting. Iíll go back to the old New York Times and look. One time I wanted to know in the mid 1930ís, what was it like in America. What was happening in Europe with the Nazis and so forth. What was the perception here. What was going on. I went and I looked for a certain period from maybe í36 to í38. I jumped around and I looked at different coverage of what was happening overseas. Get the story at that time. Try to picture what people in this country knew. We didnít have the Internet obviously. You couldnít get unfiltered news. How did people get it? How did they see it? What was being told and sometimes itís even interesting looking at life at that moment. That particular photograph. That slice of life looking at the ads juxtaposed with the news. Itís a little bit surreal, a little bit interesting, and to go back and submit to that and get the feel of the time. The full pallet, the full texture, what it was like is interesting and thatís what I think some of these storytellers have gotten better about doing like the Ken Burns or like Clint Eastwood did in Unforgiven. A movie about the West that was raw and brutal. 30 or 40 years ago you didnít get the sense when you went to a cowboy movie that they stank.
All those movies were always neatly done and the cowboys were the good guys and the Indians were the bad guys.
The white hats and all. I know.
I never could watch those because they would infuriate me so badly because that was me those cowboys were killing. I couldnít handle it.
Thatís right, it was you. That had to be hard. Itís like wait a second. How could you make light of this? Thatís me and my ancestors. This isnít just fun. This isnít a joke. This isnít a sport.
This is stuff that actually happened. I think it was Andrew Jackson who said a good Indian is a dead Indian. I donít think people quite realize just how harsh and brutal some of our past Presidents have been.
Thatís right. And how things were ignored. To go back to see. A lot of people that we feel were and maybe still are great men from the past, people were very complicated. A lot of conundrums to them. There are a lot of things that didnít square with them and they had their own internal battles. Like Jefferson did with slavery. And he kept slaves. Whatís always interesting about great people, a lot of them have a lot of brutality in their backgrounds too.
You always get these neat little pictures of ďoh yeah George Washington was the father of the countryĒ and what they neglect to tell you is he also did some crooked real estate deals and yeah he literally may have been the father of the country because he screwed around a lot and rumor has it that he died from syphilis. Thatís the stuff they donít teach you about in history class at school.
Exactly. If you want to get an unfiltered view of people in history and events, itís usually you have to dig for it and when you see it, you have to find some way to square it with yourself. People are complex and there arenít too many saints walking around.
These people were human beings and they had bad sides and maybe not so bad sides.
Right. Martin Luther King was a womanizer so you have to hold these different parts of people. Obviously Bill Clinton. We know about him and his compartmentalizing became a catch term for our times. What can you say?
I think folks put some of these past people on a pedestal and they donít actually give them the luxury of having been living, breathing human beings who made some good decisions and some bad decisions. Some people are just outright assholes and maybe some people arenít such assholes. I donít think people give these figures in history a humanity of their own.
Right. Itís a funny thing when you try to get a different perspective on things. It occurred to me a couple of years ago. The sound of birds chirping in the spring and the summer. What a sound. We meditate to it. Itís soothing and sweet. What about the damn crickets? Youíre terrified by that.
Especially in my house because thatís what I feed my lizards.
They see you coming. They hear your footfalls. Oh my God. Iím not going to go out and picket for cricketsí rights but itís just interesting to note that itís all a matter of perspective. One manís serenity is another womanís terror.
You want to talk about history. I actually read about what women went through to help push the right to vote for women. Some of them actually put their lives on the line. I always exercise my right to vote because I owe it to the women who fought for that.
You do. Look at the women in Iraq. It was kind of moving on whichever side of the whole thing anybody falls down on. That thing with the purple ink on their finger. You couldnít help getting choked up seeing some of the pictures and realizing what these women have been through.
What is frightening is that a lot of them are still going through things that are just as bad. Unfortunately we only get a certain perspective of whatís going on there. I read some of these Iraqi womenís blogs to get an idea of what theyíre going through over there. They had the choice before of wearing the hajib or western clothing. Now they are afraid of leaving their homes without covering their heads for fear theyĎll be kidnapped and killed. This is not something they had to deal with before. Now it is.
Thatís kind of a slip backwards.
Itís such a complicated situation. We see wars as neat little packages. We go over there, we get the bad guys, we conquer, and everything is wonderful and great. Not really. Itís a horrifying experience for those people.
Yeah, war is hell. Thereís no question about that.
When youíre on the outside looking in, you donít always get all the details of whatís going on. Thatís one of the reasons I like the Internet. It gives me the opportunity to try and see what is actually going on. Not having to depend on one source. Seeing what the people have to say themselves.
Absolutely. Youíre getting that unfiltered and you can make your own mind up about that. Thatís great. That really is revolutionary. Thatís huge. The sense of rawness in terms of a vantage point, youíre just trying to look at something straight on.
You have to have a stomach for it. You have to look at stuff head on and accept it for what it is. I know some people have a hard time with that.
Yeah, definitely. Maybe thatís the spirit of what Iíve been doing with my work. That makes it sound like something Iím trying to do. Itís just what I do.
You basically gave this image of New York as the way it is for the people who live there. These people in the high rises, they donít really know what the nitty gritty is of the city. They see a nice clean office and this is where theyíre at. The heart of the city because Iíve been there once, is on the streets with the people, looking at the garbage, and the beautiful things that you see there. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Right, exactly. Thatís the vantage point that I wanted to take. I wanted to do it through time because New York City was, probably like a lot of places, changing constantly. Building, tearing down, building. You look through time and something, some context that occurred in the past. So many ghosts. So many interesting stories.
Whatís so cool is you have so many contemporary stores but you still have folks out in the streets hawking their goods. Street vendors. Amazing. To me that city is so electric and so energized and the people always look like theyíre in a hurry to get somewhere even when theyíre not. I wonder if that electricity just carries them along and they canít help but scurry along.
Yeah, I think thereís something to that.
Somehow theyíre being pulled or pushed or something.
I think youíre right. Itís like the magnetic levitation trains that hover above a track and they go along that way. Thatís true. Thereís a tremendous vibrancy in the city but some people felt like in the last decade or so, New Yorkís been cleaned up a lot and the crimeís gone down. Itís a good thing. Times Square, 42d Street, it kind of looks like a mall. The Mouse came in from Disney. There are a lot of good things to it but the city lost its edge.
It looks more corporate and a number of people are starting to get uncomfortable with this over corporization of this country where money is more important than the human element. To me that is totally foreign. People are more important than material wealth.
Right, exactly and it used to be that way in New York not so long ago. It had more neighborhoods in different parts of Manhattan, above Times Square, that had still housing that was affordable enough so a family could live who was lower middle class and because of it, they had ma and pa delis and groceries. You had a personality neighborhood to neighborhood of German neighborhoods, Jewish, and Italian and Chinese. Thereís still quite a bit of that but actually there are new immigrants coming in. Very exciting. From Pacific Rim countries and all over.
That always means good new restaurants too.
Good new restaurants. A lot of those people have moved to Queens, New York which is across the river because they canít afford which is okay, itís fine. But Manhattan itself, the real estate values have pushed out that sort of lower stratum, middle stratum, of society and most art. A lot of arts have gone last couple of decades, had to move out of town. Dance companies. Lofts are unaffordable to people. Iím not saying that New York is not still a great place for development for artists. It is. Itís just a shame to see that there isnít more opportunity for people there who live there. Who arenít making a fortune. There were articles written a lot. Editorials like in The New York Times here and there. Itís a controversial thing because who can argue with New York being safer. Come on. On the other hand, artists are kind of dark people. Part of them and part of what the inspiration is. Thatís why when I did the King Kong Serenade, my inspiration I took from the beat writers, jazz musicians, and the kind of edge and vibrancy. Some of which included sleazy, beat places in Times Squares and so forth. Now can I argue thatís a good thing for everybody? No but for artists, thatís where you draw a lot of your inspiration from and thatís why when I wrote the piece about Times Square across North America, thatís what it was about. The ghosts of Kerouac and Monk dancing amongst the wrecker ball. That kind of thing. Thereís some of that theme in there too. I tried to approach different aspects that gave a portrait of the city over time. My next album is now that I took on New York City, now Iím just taking on America. The whole country.
I took on New York and conquered it. Now I want it all.
Taking America on, baby. Not that Iím the first thatís ever done that, but thatís my activity the last couple of years. Iíve been working on material for that. Hopefully, in the next year or year and a half Iíll have something coming in on that. Iím on Blue City Records. Itís a real small privately owned independent. Iím working with them on trying to maybe get a deal with a little bit larger boutique label or something to do some more distribution for the next album. Thatís the business side of the thing.
You need to get your shit out there. Ever since I was 16 years old, Iíve always been a huge Springsteen fan because he sings about every day people and his lyrics are always thought provoking. He always nails things and I love stuff like that. Thatís one of the things I loved about your album. It just made you think and see things in a different light.
Thank you. Circa 1976 when he came out with the Born To Run album which on my list is up there with the greatest albums of all time. Iím a huge Bruce fan. I always look to him for inspiration. Of course, like a lot of artists, inspiration is mixed with intimidation sometimes. Heís such a master. I remember, it was around 1976 I believe when that album came out, and that was the period where I was really struggling. I hadn't yet formed the ability to write material like that. Songs like that. I was writing poems like that but that was not a problem for me. I'm not saying like that. I would never put myself in the same breath as The Boss. In any case, in terms of music, when that album came out, I listened to that album and I thought oh my God, that's just everything I would love to be able to do. Of course I'm sure I'm not the only artist around the country who's feeling that way. I felt crushed. I felt so strongly inside of me like there was something in me that could do something. I'm not saying that but something in that vein and yet I couldn't do it. It was a difficult thing for me to realize but at the same time I absolutely loved what he was doing and it just took a lot of years for me to be able to develop in a way that I could write more complicated music. As I said before, integrate or marry my poetic voice with what I was doing as a songwriter. It was satisfying for me to achieve that.
Both of you have that raw honesty that comes across. You're not getting any bullshit. This is the way it is.
Wow. Thank you. That's certainly satisfying to hear because again like I said, and I would never compare myself with him, I have my voice. It's developed in it's own way. I've certainly had influences. People I loved including Bruce but I never sat there, certainly at the point that I was writing this material, and tried to be something or I want to sound like this or I want to sound like that. I just fell back to who I was. I just really took all of my experience as a songwriter, all of my experience as a poet, and actually just collapsed into myself. During the four year period when I was writing the material for King Kong Serenade, I didn't listen to a lot of music. For the express purpose of not trying to listen for anything. Not being influenced. I said you know what, I've spent at least 15 years as a songwriter. I've been a poet for decades. I know what my voice is as a poet. As a songwriter, learning about the craft of songwriting, I've looked at song structure up and down, left to right. Parts of songs. I've understood what's going on. I've developed to be a pretty decent writer structure wise. I said it's time for me to witch it now. I don't want to listen to anything anymore. I don't want to be influenced by anything. I said if I don't have it in me now, I'm never going to have it. I had read about a couple of other writers and artists who had done similar things. Just gone inside which is where I wanted to look. It certainly was a collective fabric in the things we picked up from here and there. I was just being who I was and that's what I continue to do with the work and that's satisfying to me. At least, whatever ends up happening with whatever I do, I know that it's simply just what I do. I think it might have been Bruce who actually said something like this because he has the great working person's ethic. That's something that I've always had. I've always emulated people like that and said I like that. I work. I'm like a shoemaker and I think it was Bruce who said something along those lines. I'm like a shoemaker and I just work everyday. That's what I do. Unglamorizing what you do. This is just what I do. Itís that simple and I work hard at it. I donít mind working hard at it. Naturally you would like to make a living at it ultimately but itís what I do and Iím happy with the work. The work actually satisfies me and the fact that Iím getting at least some recognition at this stage is satisfying. Like you say, definitely get the work out there and itís something Iím doing. I do have a day job and Iím actually in public relations so it helps. Iím a former journalist and Iím in public relations. I can do some good stuff for myself too but knowing that, still I realize that I need as every artist does in this profession, youíre always looking to get to the next level and thatís why Iím looking to cut a deal with a little bit larger company if I can to put a little bit more into the promotion side of it. Weíve done a post mortem on the release of this album and there are some things we would do differently.
You have to live and learn.
Absolutely. Actually, we hired a publicist whose name I will not mention who works with a lot of indies. Actually what happened is, and of course Iím a PR guy and a former journalist so I know some of the stuff but I donít know the music industry PR per se and I respect that. If youíre a professional, Iím in education actually. I work for a college. I know what I specialize in and what I donít. I can reinvent the wheel. I can look up people or contacts. Thereís one problem. I donít call them every day so they donít return my calls. What happens is I hired somebody and I was very clear up front. I said weíre releasing this album. Weíve launched it at CBGBís. I had everything set up and we had everything ready to go. The packages were supposed to have gone out to everybody. The press kits. Just about a week or two before the show, this person was avoiding me so I said whatís going on here? Did you get this stuff to The New York Post? Did you call them up? I knew all the names. I said did you call so and so up? Did you call John at The Times like I told you to? Did you call this person? Did you call that person? Then she got annoyed with me. I said excuse me? I only release my debut album one time in my life. Itís like the airport baby. Youíve got to be there when the plane takes off or you ainít on the plane. This launch gets old pretty quick. She just didnít perform unfortunately so I learned a hard lesson. What happens is I start calling these people. I knew who they all were.
You can save yourself a lot of money.
Exactly. It wasnít a fortune but it was enough. It was for the principal of the thing. She worked for a record label. Sheís got a track record but it turned out she was just an undependable, unreliable, unprofessional kind of person.
I wonder how she manages to secure her job there.
I donít know. Maybe it was chemistry. I think that what happens with some companies is that they have these package situations and they have some track records. They have some stuff to show you and its like okay, letís go with it. Then theyíre doing so many things and they donít have huge staffs themselves and theyíre with the next thing of the moment and all of a sudden youíre a couple of steps down on their radar screen. Which any of us in the music profession who are coming up know because that happens with A&R people at record companies. They love you one minute and then itís hard to get their attention. That happens with established artists. Thatís just part of the game so Iím not complaining really. Itís just one of those things. Next time, I want to get things put together a little bit differently so that we get the ground better prepared. I had a whole marketing plan but they just werenít really interested in following it that closely. Thatís it. Iíve gotten, yours included, Iíve been fortunate enough to get some favorable reviews. Generous reviews and sell some stuff.
You never know what will grab someone's attention. The part about people not reading enough is what got mine.
Yeah, that's interesting. That's what I've done. When there's been something as any band or artist is going to do, I look for something that ties in with what you're doing and it was a thing of the moment. Here's a national story. The media loves trend stories. If there's something that you tie into what you're doing, that's what I did there. You picked up on it as did a couple of other people. That stuff can work and sometimes you hit it. That's the kind of thing I keep doing and little by little you create some momentum and hopefully it won't go away. You just move up another rung. Maybe you find a champion or two here and there and everybody needs to have that but you move along. It's great having the Web and sites like yours and people like you and iTunes and Google. They really enable small companies to be able to move around a little bit. Position themselves and move their artists and possibly get to that next level.
We can't wait to hear the next album you release. I'm sure it'll be just as intriguing as this one was.
Thank you. I hope so. I will certainly get you a copy when it happens. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.
Any other thoughts or comments?
I think that's pretty much it.