Friday, February 27, 2009

Psychic reportage on the murder of a girl

Claire Eiler made this evocative drawing just before her dad, John Eiler, received the horrible news that his older daughter, Marcella Sali Grace, had been raped and killed in Oaxaca, Mexico, last fall.

Claire said the top image was Sali waving, "Goodbye."

It's remarkable that Sali managed to instigate memorials before she was completely gone.

Most of us who see this image strongly feel it is a kind of psychic reportage on the violent act committed against Sali.

John talked about this image, Sali's life, modern Mexican history and Sali's death on Literature for the Halibut last night. The show is streaming now on the KDHX site. John has a well stocked mind and is eloquent - this is quite a narrative.

He also points listeners to the journalist John Gibler's detailed report on Sali's murder.

John was joined on the air by poet K. Curtis Lyle and accompanist David A.N. Jackson. They all will appear together 7 p.m. Saturday night, February 28, at Stone Spiral Coffeehouse, 2500 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood.

Curtis will read from his long poem Sali's Ark, which we intend to score and release with an art invitational. Tim McAvin has already produced a fragment of the score, Stealing the Baby's Milk. Curtis gave it two thumbs up, "only because I don't have three thumbs."

I expect John will also read his own striking poem in memory of his daughter, cast in terms of a cooking lesson.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rats, people, motion pictures and poetry orchestras

I don't know why I was trying to use the diving metaphor.

"We do what you do," I was trying to say, "except we do a reverse half gainer of it."

I was trying to say we do it backwards, but with a twist. Did I get that right? I never did know my names of dives.

I was talking to Brien Seyle and Matt Pace of The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra. (By the way, "Brien" sounds like "Brian"; I had seen his name written before I heard it spoken, and kind of hoped for some kinky, olde English pronunciation: not so.)

We overlapped, last night, on the agenda of Brett Lars Underwood. Brett has booked them into the upstairs space at The Tap Room for a live performance of Go West, the great silent film by Buster Keaton, on Friday, March 13. I had booked Brett for company to see The May Day Orchestra - which also features Brien and Matt - live at City Art Supply on Cherokee Street.

During the overlap there at The Tap Room, I was trying to tell these guys that Poetry Scores does the same thing they do, only backwards and with a twist.

They take existing silent films, score them musically, and then perform their score live as the film screens. I like this sort of thing as much as it is possible to like anything, I was telling them. If I miss anything about living in New York, as I did for six years, it's that any night I found myself with social time, I could always find someone, somewhere, playing live music to a silent film, which is my favorite form of entertainment.

I like it so much, I would say it changed how I make music and even turned me into an amateur moviemaker. For many years I have set poetry and traditional texts to music, but it was over the years I began to seriously cherish live scores to silent films that I began to score long poems and call them "poetry scores," and then to fantasize - and, in one instance, actually accomplish - writing, shooting, and editing a silent film to accompany the score.

That was Blind Cat Black, which Brien surprised me by saying he had seen. I was so happy and so grateful for the new connection that I produced a copy of the CD to the Blind Cat Black score, as well as the score to Leo Connellan's Crossing America, from my car and gave them to Brien.

When we got to the art store gig, Matt reciprocated by giving me a CD copy of their score to Go West. So I then tipped him a copy of the K. Curtis Lyle book we published. It was a little culture swap orgy going on.

Now, all I have got to do is find myself with an opportunity for a social life on a night when these guys are doing their thing. It hasn't happened so far, though I have been admiring them afar through calendar listings and FaceBook events invites, and it isn't going to happen on Friday, March 13, when they will be performing live to Go West in St. Louis and I will be doing something just as cool, one would hope, in Los Angeles, my favorite city.

That there March 13 Tap Room silent film show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and thoughtfully include your first pint. Don't make it your last. Unless you're a drunk! In which case, don't have any beer! Tickets are to be had online.


Image is a still from Go West, I think; haven't seen the film in awhile, but I will this weekend, while listening to my Rats and People score and thinking fondly of these talented chaps.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tribute to Sali Thursday on Literature for the Halibut

This Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. the plucky spoken word show on KDHX FM 88.1 Literature for the Halibut will feature a tribute to the late Marcella Sali Grace, as a preview to a reading in her memory at 7 p.m. this Saturday, February 28, at Stone Sprial Coffeehouse, 2500 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood.

On the radio: K. Curtis Lyle and Sali's father, John Eiler (both Poetry Scores board members).

I expect Curtis will read from his long poem Sali's Ark, an elegy for this amazing spirit who was raped and murdered last fall in Oaxaca, Mexico. I exect John will read his own striking poem in memory of his daughter. I am sure John also will tell tales of her remarkable, short life.

This sounds bathetic, but I have a racquetball date at the time. No worry; the show will stream for a couple of weeks on the show's website.

I also can pass up no chance to link to Tim McAvin's score to a fragment of Curtis elegy for Sali, Stealing the Baby's Milk.


Picture of Sali from an anarchist blog.

A letter from Alice Fulton ain't odious

I have been carrying on here recently about coming up with an idea for a poetry score while drinking chocolat at a brasserie in Paris that shares a namesake with my hometown, St. Louis.

This is all so impressive to me, because I was born and raised without much money in a dismal little steel town in the Midwest. The first time I crossed the ocean, it was to board a U.S. Navy helo carrier. I was anything but "to the manner born" when it comes to this Parisian brasserie stuff.

Not to mention the evolved artistic process of setting a long, complex poem to a long, complex piece of music. I am impressed that I ended up in an arts org that does that sort of thing.

Above all, however, I am pleased and proud of the quality of our fellow travelers. Like Alice Fulton. It was her long poem Give that I was scoring at the brasserie on the Isle de St. Louis. I sent her a link to the blogpost, to reignite our correspondence. And that paid off - big time.

Thanks so much for getting in touch again. I'm so sorry that I haven't thanked you for Crossing America. My husband and I loved what you (and others) did with Leo Connellan's work. The musical glosses suited the words so well, and there was such variety to the music. I was daunted by all I wanted to say and so said nothing at all. (A real character flaw.) Now I look forward to hearing your settings of Les Murray and Paul Muldoon, two poets I've long admired.

I'm thrilled, really, that you're thinking of setting "Give," and I'd be happy to read at least some of the spoken parts. What more can I do to help?

The composer Enid Sutherland scored "Give" a few years ago. (I'd be happy to send you a cd, if you like, but I also can understand if you'd rather not hear her setting. "Comparisons are odious," though from what I've heard, your work is very different from Enid's. ) My poems also have been set by William Bolcom, Anthony Cornicello, Joseph Klein, and others. I've found the collaborative process, to whatever degree it exists, to be fun and rewarding.

Thanks for the good wishes on my fiction collection. Do you have my book Felt? There's a long sequence in it called "About Music For Bone And Membrane Instrument" that might be of interest... If you send me your street address, I'll mail you copies of both the fiction (The Nightingales of Troy) and Felt, if you don't have

Thanks, too, for mentioning me in your blogs. Please forgive my silence; it was full of marveling gratitude for your interest and your music. I'm very eager to aid and abet you in whatever way possible. I'll try to be a more reliable correspondant, as a



The picture is of Alice, taken by her husband Hank De Leo. I know, I know; all that, and beauty too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Lexington love junky meets Leo Connellan

I was told something Wednesday night that made me really happy: Paul K now has a copy of our first poetry score CD, Crossing America by Leo Connellan.

I had completely forgotten, but a guy I know from the St. Louis music scene is good friends with Paul K, of Lexington, Kentucky - otherwise known as "the Lexington love junky," when I used to kick around Kentucky and run in the same circles as Paul.

The local guy, a City cop named Mike, and I swapped Paul K stories one night (at CBGB, I think), and apparently I gave him a copy of the Leo score to give to Paul, the next time he saw the man. I managed to forget, but Mike remembered, bless him. On Wednesday at Fred Friction's gig at The Tap Room, Mike was thoughtful enough to tell me he had made the handoff to the Lexington love junky.

This nickname for Paul K, which I picked up from mutual friends in the Louisville music scene, owed to his being handsome (or so the ladies said) and either a junky or a recovering junky, depending on whom you asked and when you asked them. The Louisville scene was full of mythology and danger, when I stumbled into it in the early 1990s, which I have to admit I appreciated - I thought rock & roll was supposed to have love junkies shrouded in local mythologies.

None of that matters, of course, if you can't write and play - and good God, can Paul K write and play. The Afghan Whigs used to cover him ("Amphetamines and Coffee"), and he is always ripe for a major rediscovery that would vault him into the class of world-class lyrical rock songwriters where he belongs - I am talking Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen. Let me say a prayer to the rock gods, right now: May Band of Horses or My Morning Jacket or frigging Wilco cover Paul K and put him into the money and onto the road.

When I knew Paul K in Kentucky, he had a few CDs out on indie labels that didn't quite capture his thing, and he sold hissy cassette recordings of his live gigs out of a suitcase that did capture his songs and his sound, despite the hiss, though I have lost all of the ones I bought, over the years of hard traveling.

But let me make it really, really, really easy for you. Mike told me that Paul K has uploaded his entire discopgraphy for open source downloads on I can't believe this is true, but it is! Check out the Paul K and the Weathermen website for a list of links to If you like rock music, you won't be sorry!

Tell you what, though. Let me make it even easier. Take Mike's advice, as I did, and start with A Wilderness of Mirrors. I am listening to it right now and it is utterly sublime - the best representation of this enormous talent I have ever heard on a recording.

So, now I am wondering why I wanted Paul K to hear our score of Leo Connellan, other than I would like for him to know what I am up to. If he remembers me, and he should.

I remember running into Paul K out on the road once, when I was on tour with Enormous Richard and he was on the tour with the Weathermen. Comparing notes, we discovered that he would play St. Louis before I got back home, so I gave him the key to my house - 2115 Marconi St., on The Hill, across from St. Ambrose's. And so the Lexington love junky spent a night in my house in Italian town, right across the street from the monsignor. He left my key under the doormat and an ashtray on my mattress to remember him by.

Oh, yeah! I must have also wanted him to do some composing for Poetry Scores! Good idea. I'll send Paul K a link to this post and see where it leads. Thanks for the music, man! You rock! Get in touch!


Photo from the Paul K and the Weathermen MySpace page.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Scoring Alice Fulton on Isle de St. Louis

Last week I reached out, again, to the poet Alice Fulton.

I first approached her some years ago with an interest in scoring her great poem "Give: A Sequence, Reimagining Daphne and Apollo". I got her address in Ithaca, New York (where she teaches at Cornell University) and sent her a CD of our score to Crossing America by Leo Connellan.

She responded appreciatively, and welcomed the collaboration. But the email exchange soon fell silent, as happens with busy people - one of whom is an Ivy League professor and world-famous poet.

But Alice Fulton and her great poem have been on my mind again, since my last trip to Paris, one year ago.

As I was recalling in a recent post, I sat one cold day drinking a hot chocolat at the Brasserie de Isle de St. Louis in the middle of the Seine, listening to my vast archive of post-progressive rock music from Southern California by Another Umbrella.

I was hooked up to sound via an inexpensive portable CD player I had just received from my Secret Santa at work. I paged through poems we intend to score as I listened to Another Umbrella, searching for connections.

One six-song sequence really caught my ear. It was recorded live to cassette on April 25, 1987 at Club 88 on Pico near Bundy in L.A., a place that "smelled of cats and mildew," according to a fellow scenester. They performed live to drum tapes Richard Derrick had recorded at home in San Pedro and other tapes Crane had recorded at home in Palos Verdes the previous month.

It opens with a doo-wop vocal, sung by Crane - "Ooo, I do, really love you," looped over and over again - that reminded me of Alice's poem, which is steeped in American pop music: Daphne and Apollo reimagined (one might say) as rival Elvis impersonators.

I sat at the brasserie and read "Give" as I listened to this fabulous music, recorded just a few years before the stretch of time in the early 1990s when Alice composed her poem and the rest of Sensual Math (1995), the volume in which it appears.

As I sat there sipping chocolat in a brasserie named after an island in the Seine that shares a namesake with my hometown (St. Louis), I found that a properly paced reading of the poem fits this six-song sequence pretty well, start to finish.

A poetry score was born - or, at least, seeded.

I am going to bootblog the first song from the sequence, with the doo wop opener, but only after bootblogging the very beginning of Alice's poem, so you can hear what I heard in my head in that brasserie in that island in the Seine. The score opens with just voice, a bright but rich woman's voice:

I'll entertain questions before the stellar estrus
commences: if you want
But since it's you I depend on
to change the lines to living

ground and figure, I'd rather have you
find the answers on your own. Remember how

music was aroused in the old technology?
Cue Another Umbrella, after the sound of a needle hitting vinyl groove ...

Free mp3

"Really Love You"
(Crane, Richard Derrick)
Another Umbrella


Image of a beautiful woman (not Alice Fulton, who is also beautiful) at the Brasserie de Isle de St. Louis from Peter Turnley/Corbis on the National Geographic site.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Private dance for Poetry Scores with Alice Bloch

"I am lucky," Dianna Lucas said today. "I get to spend Friday afternoon with my friend Chris watching a solo dance recital."

We were very lucky.

The solo dance recital was performed by Alice Bloch. It was her choreography, as well. Exquisite material: two dance settings of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and a setting of a hybrid piece that melds Alice's own writing with translations of San traditional text from South Africa.

The poetry-to-dance process, of course, was why we were there. This work had come to my attention when Alice and one of her dancers, Tamarra Parrish, promoted their recent concert at COCA. All three of these pieces had been in that show, which Kenya Vaughn previewed in The St. Louis American.

It struck me as very much our kind of thing. The mission of Poetry Scores is to translate poetry into other media. Mostly, we translate poetry into music and visual art, but we have taken one stab at a movie and talked about incorporating dance. In fact, I know Tamarra because I had recruited her to perform in a dance adaptation of our score to Blind Cat Black that fell apart (and was later salvaged as a silent movie).

Dianna and I watched Alice dance, this afternoon, in a studio at COCA, with light spangling the trees outside the windows behind her. The work had an intimacy and interiority that didn't immediately suggest a great fit with the poem we are scoring this year, The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray, or the one we are scoring next year, Jack Ruby's America by St. Louis' own David Clewell.

But, who knows? Alice has copies of those two poems, as of this afternoon. Surely, she will have a far better sense than I of the dance potential (in her idiom) of a poem. I look forward to hearing what she thinks.

And, as Dianna and I discussed with her, we could be open to a collaboration with her on a poem we aren't even scoring. The dance translation of the poem need not accompany a poetry score or be performed to the score - it could be a stand-alone project or paired with an art invitational.

Or anything else we dream up. Certainly, I would expect Alice to respond to Sali's Ark, K. Curtis Lyle's elegy for the late Marcella Sali Grace - and Sali was a dancer.

We'll see. Also, I expect we will one day see a Dianna Lucas photograph of Alice Bloch at work. I learned something new about the new Poetry Scores board chair today: that Dianna is a dance photographer. How about that?


The dancer photo (of Vanessa Skantze, not Alice Bloch) from somebody's Flickr site. Dianna didn't have her camera!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

K.Curtis Lyle and John Eiler remember Sali

I am excited to report that next weekend St. Louis audiences will have a chance to see the great K. Curtis Lyle performing from his long poem Sali's Ark, an elegy for the late Marcella Sali Grace, who was raped and murdered last fall in Oaxaca, Mexico.

He will be accompanied by percussion prodigy David A.N. Jackson and introduced by Sali's father, John Eiler, who has written his own striking poem in memory of his daughter.

Both Curtis and John serve on the Poetry Scores board. We also plan to score Sali's Ark and mount an ambitious multi-venue art invitational devoted to the poem. The protean Tim McAvin has already embarked upon a fragment of the score, Stealing the Baby's Milk.

The performance is titled SALI'S SONGS: THE GIRL WHO OPENS DOORS and will be held at Stone Sprial Coffeehouse, 2500 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 28. It is guaranteed to be an intense and unforgettable evening in memory of an intense and unforgettable girl.


That's my blurry photo of Curtis performing in The Skuntry Museum, watched by Murphy Mark Shaw, assistant director of the Poetry Scores movie Blind Cat Black, which featured Curtis as The Pharaoh.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Another Umbrella in Paris: note on process

I was poring through recent notebooks yesterday, looking for some contact information, when I came upon what can be an odd, sad, even disturbing thing: a letter never sent.

This one actually seems like a happy little document and possibly still worth sending, slightly more than a year after I wrote it. I'll transcribe it here because it betrays nothing personal, while offering a glimpse into the compositional process of Poetry Scores.

I was writing to Richard Derrick, of San Pedro, California. He was roommates with d. boon of The Minutemen before d. boon was killed in a van wreck, and he is sitting on a vast personal archive of what I call post-progressive music from Southern California.

Richard's project Middle Sleep has appeared on our last two scores and will appear on the next one. He also has sent me 50 (!) discs of another project, Another Umbrella. As this letter to Richard makes clear, I will be finding a lot of uses for this music in years and scores to come.


On the plane home to St. Louis from Paris, listening to a smattering of Another Umbrella tracks that I culled from the first 20 discs. At the moment I am listening to a song that made it into a folder I named "Longform Variations I" - these are longer (often multi-track) excursions that seemed promising but didn't immediately volunteer for duty on any of the many projects I have in my head.

I grabbed a handful of the discs I had made from my sorted folders for this journey, and they have been my only musical companions. That's why I am writing, really. I thought you'd get a kick out of knowing that these old improvisations and compositions of yours were being piped into my eardrums as I strolled through the Cathedral of Notre Dame, The Louvre, along the Seine and, during a visit to London, through the British Museum and all up and down those city streets.

I solidified a number of ideas for using some of this glorious stuff on the poetry score for 2008, The Sydney Highrise Variations. Another batch of tracks was judged to be of themselves a usable score for the poem we may do in 2009, Give by Alice Fulton. I sorted that out one afternoon drinking a chocolat at the Brasserie de Isle de St. Louis in the middle of the Seine.

ANYWAY, I thought all of this might amuse and perhaps encourage.
I am amused myself by how much I got wrong - we decided not to do a score in 2008, pushing Sydney back to 2009, and good old Alice Fulton stands much further back in line than I was imagining when writing this letter, no doubt enthused over what was sounding like a finished score (just add poetry).

I was right that one of these Another Umbrella tracks would work its way onto The Sydney Highrise Variations score, track 6 on disc 12. Richard recorded it himself on multiple guitar tracks on May 1, 1988, titling it "Rolling Hills" after the town in Los Angeles County where he was recording.

A handshake deal allows Poetry Scores to make free use of Richard's material and provisionally retitle it for our purposes, so long as proper credit is given. Here is "Rolling Hills" and a very rough sketch of the use we are making of it in the score.

Free mp3s

"Rolling Hills"
(Richard Derrick)
Another Umbrella

(Richard Derrick, Chris King, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men w/ Another Umbrella

That's me, Robert Goetz and Dave Melson on vocals. Tim McAvin has since added vocals and a smoking cymbals track, though I think this earlier rough mix has a better feel. We still need to add Heidi Dean on vocals as well.

This ten-minute track scores all of two lines of Les' poem!
Enormous. England's buried gulag.
The stacked entrepot, great city of the Australians.
By the way, the Another Umbrella record that sounded like a finished score for Alice Fulton's poem Give, when I was enjoying that chocolat at the Brasserie de Isle de St. Louis in the middle of the Seine has since been released by Richard on his Box-o-Plenty imprint. The album name is Transition, and it's one of eleven Another Umbrella records available for digital download on his site. As someone who has heard them all, I recommend them all.


"Paris Umbrella" photo from somebody's Flickr site.

The poet Paul Muldoon, of Northern Ireland and New Jersey

I spoke this week with the great Irish poet Paul Muldoon, whose epic poem "Incantata" we are scoring. And I may indeed call him a great Irish poet, having now clarified the matter with the man himself.

For, daft as it might sound, I actually called Muldoon to ask if it were all right that we classify him as "an Irish poet," for our planning purposes. I know full well, for he told me and his poetry bleeds with it, that he is from Northern Ireland. However, I also know that he has lived since 1987 in the U.S. and is happily ensconced at Princeton University.

Princeton, New Jersey is not Northern Ireland, a fact that will not have escaped the poet's notice.

Paul Muldoon is both a poet's poet and a regular dude with a winning way of sidestepping hoopla, though he appears on a regular basis in the world's best newspapers, has won a Pulitzer Prize (2003), and is almost certain to take home a Nobel Prize in literature one year before long (home to New Jersey, I am predicting, rather than Northern Ireland).

I am fortunate to know Muldoon through mutual friends at Princeton, rather than as fanboy to a fabulous and great poet. At times, I have the scuttlebutt on him that mutual friends retail about one another, which tend to be about humble and human things, often with a twinkle in the eye that radiates a shared knowledge of human foible.

So, I wasn't surprised at all when Muldoon told me, in effect, "Jeez, Chris, I don't mind how you classify me, either way should be fine, I'd think." At which point, I explained he would be going down in our planning as an Irish poet.

What's it to us? Well, Poetry Scores tries to alternate, year by year, between an international poet and a poet from the U.S. We have been sticking to this plan, so far. We have scored, in order: Leo Connellan (U.S.); Ece Ayhan, trans. Murat Nemet-Nejat (both Turkish, though Murat now lives in New Jersey - Hoboken - like Muldoon); Stefene Russell (U.S.); and, this year, Les Murray (Australia).

Next year we come back to the U.S. for David Clewell (Jack Ruby's America), who has lived and worked for many years in St. Louis, but who hails from ... pattern emerging, here ... New Jersey!
The question, then, is: where do we go from there? Back overseas, somewhere. Northern Ireland and Paul Muldoon is not the only option, mind you. We also have recorded our own Stefene Russell reading an epic Polish poem about the Warsaw Uprising, Building the Barricade by Anna Swirszczynska, and I have my eye on a Japanese poem by Shiraishi Kazuko.

But, once we have Les Murray and The Sydney Highrise Variations in the can, I should like to get to Paul Muldoon as soon as possible. We already have recorded him reading "Incantata" (thanks to the labors of Roy Francis Kasten), it is one of the greatest poems in our language (as Michael Shannon Friedman agrees), and either Paul or Les will win the Nobel Prize for literature in our lifetimes; possibly both will.

Like Les and Paul (Les ... and Paul ... Les Paul!), I don't care that much about fancy awards. But I am fiercely proud of my fancy friends, and I can't tell you how much I would like for this nobody arts organization in St. Louis with no funding outside of what we can scrape together from our benefits to have made recordings with the active participation of a Noble laureate. Maybe two!

(I also once knew 1986 Noble laureate for literature Wole Soyinka, from activist days. We were up to our necks in some dangerous stuff together - I'll let it come out in some memoir of his, first, since his involvement is not yet a public record, as far as I can tell, and he deserves to take credit for some courageous risks he took in Nigeria long after he had been lionized in the white man's world. Come to think of it, let's put a Wole Soyina poem on the to-be-scored list! Why settle for two Nobel laureates when three are within reach?)

Free mp3

(Paul Muldoon)
Performed by Paul Muldoon
Produced by Chris King
Recorded by Roy Kasten

Note: this readings is long - longer than 25 minutes.

Also: we agreed there is a flub somewhere in the first few verses, which we went back and re-recorded, but this is just the first unedited take.


Photograph of Paul Muldoon with the late Warren Zevon from the part of Muldoon's site devoted to his music. Paul is an avid rock music fan, plays guitar in a band called Rackett, and cowrote the song "My Ride's Here" with Zevon for Zevon's 2002 record of that name.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Who says meetings are an excuse to drink beer?

Poetry Scores had a remarkably productive board meeting last night at Sasha's on Shaw. We got news!

The one and only Dianna Lucas is our new board president!

The new president is going to set up a FaceBook profile for us and attempt to spread the word about us thataway.

New board member Stephen Lindsley has agreed to lead our search for a venue for the 2009 Art Invitational (he thinks the new Hoffman LaChance space may be too small).

Stephen also has agreed to play bass in a working band version of Three Fried Men, which will enable us to play songs from our scores around town at gigs.

Board member Charlois Lumpkin has agreed to run our little consignment operation. Our records and books are available at: Firecracker Press, 2838 Cherokee; Vintage Vinyl, 6610 Delmar; Euclid Records, 601 East Lockwood; Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road; Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid; and Apop Records, 2831 Cherokee. And maybe more places one Charlois gets cracking!

We agreed to do new printings of two of our scores, Blind Cat Black and Go South for Animal Index.

We agreed to pay a modest $100 honorarium to three people who put a lot of time and/or money into the recent Nashville sessions for this year's score, The Sydney Highrise Variations: Lij (free studio time, several days of free production), Marc Primeau (many hours of volunteer production), and Matt Fuller (paid his way from L.A.).

Board member Matt Fernandes has set up our PayPal account - which will come in handy at the Art Invitational in November, wherever we do that, and at the Experiential Auction in September, which we are doing at Atomic Cowboy again.

We agreed to postpone our ambitious plans for a multi-venue Art Invitational for Sali's Ark, board member K. Curtis Lyle's poem about the late daughter of board member John Eiler, Marcella Sali Grace.

Dianna's friend Kimberly Gunn-Stone sniffed us out and is considering joining the board.

We even came out of the meeting being more productive.

Today board treasurer Serra Bording-Jones put almost the final, finishing touches on our papers for the IRS with our volunteer lawyer Mathew Poetry, and I set up a meeting with choreographer Alice Bloch, to see if she wants to translate one of our future scores into a dance production.

Long live Poetry Scores! Our board meetings are fun, too!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An experimental improv (some assembly required)

Monday, one day after the 2009 Grammy Awards show, found some of Three Fried Men in the home recording studio of Adam Long, where Adam had mixed two records that were nominated this year. How do you get your records onto the Grammys? By laborious attention to detail in the studio.

Adam spent the evening methodically copying source recordings we would need for the poetry score we are working on this year onto the Poetry Scores hard drive. I was eager to start combining source recordings into fragments of the score, and Tim McAvin was really itching to do some live recording from scratch, but Adam would have none of it.

First things first. First get all of the source recordings onto the hard drive and back up the hard drive because, as Adam noted, the failure rate of hard drives is "100 percent." A producer working on a project with only one hard drive (with no backup) is a producer begging to have all of his hard work disappear into the mysteries of zonked circuitry.

Here are two of the source recordings Adam copied onto our hard drive and backed up last night. One is a fretless guitar improvisation by St. Louis musician Frank Heyer. The other is Australian poet Les Murray's interpretation of his poem The Sydney Highrise Variations in a form he called "mouth music".

Free mp3s

"untitled fretless guitar improvisation"
(Frank Heyer)
Frank Heyer

"mouth music improvisation to
The Sydney Highrise Variations
(Les Murray)
Les Murray

Basically, Les scanned through his poem and made noises with his mouth that he associated with whatever was happening in the poem at the time. Les' biographer at the University of New South Wales (in Sydney), Peter F. Alexander, has been keenly interested in hearing this truly remarkable performance.

By posting these two tracks up together, I am trying to let folks in on our creative process. This is sort of an experimental departure on a poetry score, with some assembly (or, at least, imagined combination) required.

My concept for this piece of The Sydney Highrise Variations score, to be titled "In ambiguous battle at length," is to sequence Les' mouth music with Frank's fretless guitar improvisation. We won't stop there. I also plan to invite our secret weapon, the classically trained vocalist Heidi Dean, to freestyle over Les' mouth music - to, in effect, enter into "ambiguous battle" with it - and, indeed, "at length"; Frank's guitar piece is slightly longer than 10 minutes!

From our first poetry score (to Leo Connellan's Crossing America), we have always had one or more experimental set pieces on each record. It occurs to me that (with his permission) we have actually made use of the great Les Murray as a performer on an experimental piece on a previous score!

Free mp3

"Bats without wings; wet guns"
(Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Middle Sleep, Les Murray
From Blind Cat Black

This is a fragment of an improvisation by Middle Sleep (post-progressive rock from Los Angeles) with an excerpt of Les reading his poem "Bat's Ultrasound". Half of the poem is written in what Les calls "Bat English" - the words are all drawn from the English language ("row wry—aura our"), but selected and arranged to approximate what he think a bat hears.

In our piece of this score (to a bizarre Turkish poem - Les had nothing to do with Blind Cat Black the poem), Adam Long also flipped Les' "Bat English" backwards and dropped the backmasked reading onto the music too. Paired with the noir improv from Middle Sleep, I think it illustrates nicely this pregnant phrase from the poem (by Ece Ayhan, translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat): Les' voice is the "bats without wings," and the murderous rock music is the "wet guns".


Image borrowed from a husband/wife team of St. Louis small business bloggers.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stealing the baby's milk from justice without borders

St. Louis artist and songwriter Tim McAvin has made some progress toward scoring a section of K. Curtis Lyle's great poem about the late Marcella Sali Grace, Sali's Ark, and I have a wonderful free mp3 to share, but other news first.

The City Council of Tucson, Arizona has presented Sali posthumorously with a "Copper Letter," which honors people who make outstanding contributions to the local community.

Margo Cowan, a fellow volunteer with Sali in No More Deaths, wrote the letter of recommendation. It appears below, edited for concision.

Sali was tragically murdered in Oaxaca, Mexico on September 15, 2008 at the age of 20 years.

She traveled to Tucson in the Spring of 2007 to work with the No More Deaths campaign to end deaths and suffering in the southern Arizona desert. She worked for months in the spring and summer of that year in the migrant trails, putting out food and water. She also worked on the U.S.-Mexican border washing migrant's feet, bandaging, massaging sore muscles, comforting broken hearts.

In the early fall of 2007, she returned to Oaxaca where she served as an international observer with the Oaxaca Popular Indigenous Council. She worked tirelessly and she gave of herself, her goodwill, her passion for justice, her sweat and her tears without end. I firmly believe that her contribution should be recognized for what her witness represents: her generation's commitment to fight for justice and fairness regardless of borders.

She was a teacher of dance and she would write to friends that when the suffering she was working to relieve became too much she would dance, dance, and dance and dance until her soul was somewhat lifted.
That's beautiful.

So is K. Curtis Lyle's poem Sali's Ark, available on his blog. Tim McAvin has been working on scoring the second section of the poem, "Stealing the Baby's Milk." I think it's a marvel of invention and melody - of getting a song out of a poem.

Free mp3

"Stealing the Baby's Milk"

(K. Curtis Lyle, Tim McAvin)
Tim McAvin

(Actually, Tim saved the file as QuickTime movie file, so bear with it as it downloads, then hit "play" on the QuickTime player. It's worth it.)


Also, Sali's friend on the activist Angry White Kid blog has uploaded yet another Sali tribute song, "La Que Lucho" by the Portland punk band Adelit@s [download].


Image from Sali's friend at Barking Zanahorias.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"Las Vegas Dace" scored by Lettuceheads

Mike Burgett and his mates in the Lettuceheads have risen to the challenge of scoring one of Stefene Russell's poems about extinct species, "Las Vegas Dace", for our open-ended Extinction of Species project.

I was surprised to find he approached it as a spoken word piece, reading the poem over a band jam. I was surprised because Mike has a terrific senses of melody and is well accustomed to writing melodic pop music from obscure lyrics (his own) - see three installments of my Bootblogging series on Confluence City: Three by The Lettuce Heads, Three more by The Lettuce Heads and The silly side of The Lettuce Heads.

I have implored Mike to take another crack at this poem, treating it as a lyric sheet rather than a poem, which is sort of like telling someone who has just given you a present that they should give you another present.

The image, by the way, is some other nameless, faceless dace from somebody named Robyn's dace page. For the life of me, I can't find an image of Las Vegas Dace online, whose extinction seems to be matched by internet invisibility.

Much more on the little critter from a previous post: He's a real nowhere fish from a real nowhere creek.

Free mp3

"Las Vegas Dace"
(Mike Burgett, John Marshall,
Carl Pandolfi, Stefene Russell)

Stefene's poem:

Las Vegas Dace

It didn't glow in the dark
or eat silt, it was not pin-striped,
it didn't know any magic tricks
and its skin was the three colors of mud
and its fins were accordion fans;
its funeral music was nothing but
blood curling into the water.
A man with three cards up his sleeve
and a shiny green suit
kept a slack-jawed fish from Egypt
in a wide-mouthed glass bottle
and carried it with him as he traveled.
He thought about letting his fish go
on the strip, in the flowering spitfire waters
where the fiberglass pirate ship
rocks back and forth every hour,
shooting plaster cannonballs
suspended on wires,
then thought better of it.
Into the desert he drove,
with a malfunctioning gun
under the passenger seat
a burlap sack of kwik-crete
in the trunk, and his fish in a jar
dancing back and forth
as the car lurched.
Here's your new water, fish -
Goodbye and now for you
your own drunkenness and
all-night carousel, your
fish Paris and Rome and Memphis.
Go whirl around in the river, outlines of
Indian paintbrush wavering over you in the darkness,
and the lights of the city, far off,
promising you everything,
lights effervescing
like a pirate's flying saucer.


More on The Extinction of Species. Sign up to score a poem today!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Heidi Dean #2: sings ghost songs of drunk ancestors

I'm continuing a new series of looks back on Heidi Dean's vocal work with Poetry Scores over the years, in recognition of (and to publicize) her blog debut, Married to the Masala.

I started off with "In the night when it's dark," an ancient Egyptian hymn to Hathor that I scored for an early version of the band Three Fried Men, with Heidi on vocals. That song isn't a poetry score proper, as defined ("a long poem scored as one scores a film"). It's a poem setting - a poem set to music - a subsidiary art of poetry scores.

So, here's another poetry setting I did with early Three Fried Men, "Ghosts drunk on horseback," as always featuring Heidi on vocals. I recall encouraging her to double my vocal lines or harmonize just as much as she wanted - anything to drench the songs with her crystalline, crisp, angelic, shadow-casting voice.

"Ghosts drunk on horseback" should actually be characterized as a prose setting, if I gave a hoot about the generic distinction between poetry and prose. Really, I don't, especially when it comes to my favorite materials to write songs with, which tend to be mythic and folkloric texts.

Most such traditional texts were originally spoken, chanted, or enacted in some ceremonial context, rather than written down. So how we format them on the page and what generic assumptions govern that formatting strike me as bibliographic concerns. Just tell me where to find this stuff on the bookshelf, so I can get it off the bookshelf and into a song.

The words I adapted for "Ghosts drunk on horseback" are to be found in a book shelved with prose or autobiography (or ethnology or American Indian studies), because they are excerpted from Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian (1920), gathered, cotranslated and edited by Paul Radin (still available in a cheap Dover Publications edition and a great read!).

A Winnebago man identified only as S.B. (Sam Blowsnake) wrote his life story using a written form of Winnebago they had adopted from neighboring tribes, who had adapted the syllabary after contact with those problematic European bookworms. With the help of another Winnebago man, Oliver Lamere, the maverick Polish-born ethnologist Paul Radin fleshed out the written Winnebago text in English and published it as a memoir.

The part I set to music appears in a small, bizarre chapter titled "I GET DELIRIUM TREMENS AND SEE STRANGE THINGS."

Blowsnake is remembering a time when he came back home after he had been out cranberry picking and working for the white man, making money and spending it on alcohol and women. Back home, without booze or money to buy any, he goes into withdrawal, which sends him a jarring vision:

In the morning I was sick. I was shaking (from head to foot). When I tried to drink coffee, I would spill it. When I lay down I would see big snakes. I would cry out and get up and then when I was about to go to sleep again, I would think that someone had called me. Then I could raise my cover and look around, but there would be nothing. When the wind blew hard (I seemed) to hear singing. These (imaginary people) would spit very loudly. I heard them and I could not sleep. Just as soon as I closed my eyes, I would begin to see things. I saw things that were happening in a distant country.

I saw ghosts on horseback drunk. Five or six of them were on one horse and they were singing. I recognized them, for they were people who had died long ago. I heard the words of their song, as they sang:

"I, even I, must die sometime, so of what value is anything, I think."
When you listen to the song, you hear that I adapted these words to make them fit a melody. I also added a verse:

I asked, "May I borrow your sacred song?"
They said, "There are no sacred songs, anymore.
All we got are thinking songs and drinking songs
And some thinking about drinking songs."
I have always liked that "thinking songs and drinking songs and thinking about drinking songs" bit of mine - I think I do my best work when collaborating with other writers or singers. Even dead ones. Even Winnebago ghosts.


Free mp3

"Ghosts drunk on horseback"
(Sam Blowsnake, Oliver Lamere,
Paul Radin, Chris King)
Three Fried Men
Featuring Heidi Dean on vocals

The band: Heidi Dean (vocals), Chris King (vocals, guitar), Lij (banjo), Jim McCarthy (pedal steel), Dave Melson (bass), Billy Teague (bass).

From Dance for an Orphan's Wedding
(out-of-print CD)
Mixed and mastered by Adam Long


By the way, students of American Indian traditions (as I was, on an amateur basis, when I wrote this song) and followers of a native faith (as I have since become) will recognize a bottomless depth in the imagery of Sam Blowsnake's vision.

Typically of native peoples, the Winnebago traditionally followed a faith based on ancestor veneration (sometimes called "ancestor worship," which gets the emphasis wrong). Essential to this spiritual practice is an ongoing relationship with the dead, through dream, ceremony - or vision, as Sam Blowsnake experiences here, albeit through the degraded visionary form of delirium tremens. Degraded, but powerful!

So, consider what happens. He sees in a vision the ghosts "of people who had died a long time ago." This is a conventional sacred experience for a devout native person, the sort of thing that perpetuates the tradition, like going to Mass for a Catholic or fervently praying on Scripture for
a charismatic Christian worshipper.

But the wisdom of the ancestor transmitted in the vision is, in essence, a vision of the end of the tradition: "I, even I, must die sometime, so of what value is anything, I think." This is a negation of a cardinal tenet of the faith. A spirit of the dead is saying: I die, so it doesn't matter what I have to tell you - when the visionary tradition of ancestor veneration depends upon the dead ancestor providing wisdom that helps to sustain the living and the tradition of the faith.

At this precise moment in this Winnebago man's autobiography, I saw one of the signs of the death of this faith. Imagine Jesus speaking to a Christian in deep prayer and saying: I died, forget me, it doesn't matter what I said, your Bible is just a book of things said by a man who died.

Of course, this is the vision of a drunk in withdrawal, which makes the moment even more profound, considering the role alcohol and alcoholism have played in the devastation of the Winnebago and other American Indian people.

There is an interesting sequel here. Let's go back to the vision/song and pay it forward one more thought.
I saw ghosts on horseback drunk. Five or six of them were on one horse and they were singing. I recognized them, for they were people who had died long ago. I
heard the words of their song, as they sang:

"I, even I, must die sometime, so of what value is anything, I think."

Thus they would sing and it made a good song. I myself learned it and later on it became a good drinking song and many people learned it. I liked it very much.
Think of that! A vision of the end of the sacred tradition, transmitted in song by a group of drunken ancestors, survives among the living - but as a drinking song! A song shared by the living while drinking "spirits" that are decimating the people!

That's where I was going with my "thinking songs and drinking songs and thinking about drinking songs" bit, and why I wanted to set this passage to music in the first place. I am not sure if it is possible, any more, to keep alive the old ways, but we can keep alive the memory of their extinction and their survival in other forms.

At the very least, we can keep alive the drinking songs of the ghosts of the ancestors. Heidi Dean's voice happens to be perfect for this sort of thing.

More in this series

Heidi Dean #1: she is the one who sweetens evil


Picture of a contemporary Winnebago man in a Halloween ghost costume at the tribe's WinnaVegas casino from the tribal site.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We're having a Grammy party for Adam Long 2nite!

Nothing like the last minute, but I hope some folks join us tonight at The Royale (3132 S Kingshighway Blvd.) as we celebrate with Adam Long from 8-11 p.m.

Unbelievably, for an independent studio engineer living in St. Louis, two records he recorded, mixed and mastered - Gypsy: The Original Broadway Cast Recording and Our World Redeemed, by local gospel hip-hopper Flame - have been nominated for a 2008 Grammy.

At the Grammy Launch Party on Friday night, DJ Matt Fernandes and DJ Nico DiCastro will spin only recordings recorded, mixed, or mastered by Adam Long. The complete list would be impossible to provide - Adam has forgotten more sessions than most people have recorded - but suffice it to say he has done it all - rock, rap, classical, poetry score, gospel, R&B, ambient, you name it.

Adam mixes and masters our Poetry Scores CDs, on a pro bono basis. He does this because he likes the creative challenge of our odd, eclectic records, and to keep his own freaky creative side alive outside of his more commercial work with clients. I'd like to think the opportunity it gives him and me to drink beer all night and eat chicken wings at the lesbian bar has something to do with it, too.

I have spoken with a number of people who think our 2007 poetry score, Go South for Animal Index, is the best thing we have ever done. I agree, and I know Adam has a lot to do with that - he mixed, mastered, and helped to record the tracks. Here is a selection from that score that shows the range of his sonic innovation and skill.

Free mp3s

"The yellow monster"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Stefene Russell)
Three Fried Men
(With Richard Selman on mbira)

"Our hero"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Stefene Russell)
Three Fried Men

"O Doctor Roentgen"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Stefene Russell)
Three Fried Men

This guitar solo is basically Adam's - he compiled it digitally from a bunch of takes Matt didn't like.

"The new sparkly bark arfs"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Stefene Russell)
Three Fried Men

"Tell me what is the power"
(Amy Camie, Chris King, Stefene Russell)
Amy Camie, Tim McAvin, Christopher Y. Voelker

Adam having fun with source sounds, strings and walkie talkies!

"The perfect day"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Stefene Russell)
Three Fried Men
(With Christopher Y. Voelker on strings)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Heidi Dean #1: she is the one who sweetens evil

When Fred Friction released his solo debut, Jesus Drank Wine, I marked the occasion with a retrospective set of posts picking apart Fred's many and varied contributions to Poetry Scores over the years.

Now that Heidi Dean has debuted her blog debut, Married to the Masala, I thought I would give her the same deluxe treatment.

Certainly, no one deserves more praise or gratitude from me than Heidi does - she has been lending her gifted and trained voice to our projects (often, alongside my own awkward and untutored voice) for more than a decade now.

I'll start at the beginning, with the first Three Fried Men record, Dance for an Orphan's Wedding. Though a band record, rather than a poetry score per se, nearly all of the fifteen songs on the record incorporate texts drawn from earlier traditions.

One that particularly showcases Heidi is "In the night when it's dark." Adam Long's final mix begins with Heidi's rather wicked-sounding laugh in the vocal booth, as she was getting ready to record her backing vocal. That vocal is sublime, soaring above my mutter as we relay an ancient hymn to the Egyptian goddess Hathor.

I adapted the lyrics from Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt, a now out-of-print book by a serious Egyptologist named Lise Manniche.

Three Fried Men was offered a national recording deal for this record (long story ...) that we turned down (partly on the advice of the wife of the label owner! long story ...). While we were considering taking the deal, I went about trying to get permissions to use all of the lyrics I had borrowed, chopped and screwed; somewhere around here I have a puzzled letter from Lise, who was living in northern Europe, saying, "Uh, sure. Have at it."

(Chris King)
Three Fried Men
(Heidi Dean, vocals)

From Dance for an Orphan's Wedding
(out-of-print CD)

Some great musicianship on here, by the way: Dave Melson (bass), Jim McCarthy (pedal steel), Carl Pandolfi (piano), Billy Teague (drums). And then there is me on acoustic guitar and lead vocal, playing a tricky part I no longer remember.

I found the source lyrics (drawn from Lise's book) online in an interesting essay by David Whitwell.

Come, O Golden Goddess, the singers chant
for it is nourishment for the heart to dance the iba,
to shine over the feast at the hour of retiring
and to enjoy dance at night.

Come! The procession takes place at the site of drunkenness,
this area where one wanders in the marshes.
Its routine is set, the rules firm:
nothing is left to be desired.

The royal children satisfy you with what you love
and the officials give offerings to you.
The lector priest exalts you singing a hymn,
and the wise men read the rituals.

The priest honors you with his basket,
and the drummers take their tambourines.
Ladies rejoice in your honor with garlands
and girls with wreaths.

Drunkards play tambourines for you in the cool night,
and those they wake up bless you.
The bedouin dance for you in their garments,
and Asiatics with their sticks.

The griffins wrap their wings around you,
the hares stand on their hind legs for you.
The hippopotami adore with wide open mouths,
and their legs salute your face.
These words were written in hieroglyphics alongside a painting on an Graeco-Roman temple at Medamund, north of Thebes. Lise must have translated them into English, which would have been why I went to her for permissions. Being a rock & roll poetry scorer rather then a real scholar means a little leeway in remembering the footnotes.

If you scan these lines while listening to the song, you will see the many liberties I have taken, beginning with only using a few of the best lines and then rearranging them to make them more fun to sing. The opening bit, "you can scare birds with me," was pulled from somewhere else; I think that is the literal meaning of the phrase Egyptians used for "tambourine".


Image of Hathor from the Temple of Hatshepsut, Deir el-Bahri.

Monday, February 2, 2009

To score a poem, delicious beer is required

This is a documentary shot of the interior of Lij's little college dormish fridge at a particularly well-stocked moment. Three Fried Men was tracking our poetry score to The Sydney Highrise Variations in Lij's studio, The Toy Box, in Nashville. It seemed important that we have really delicious beer to do this.

I was fresh from a beer run with Marc Primeau, a primo assistant engineer. The beer run seemed to call for an abundance of beers made by my friends out in Stone Brewing, who made all of these delicous beers, though I suppose this is obvious at a glance only if you are a Stone-r and have gazed longingly at each of these bottles.

It's a story I've got for you, of potent beer and the recording of music. And it's a story, of Stone Brewing and me. Both, fast - at the speed of blog (if not, quite, Twitter).

Man drinks potent beer. (Woman does too, but only men in Nashville at Toy Box at time.) Man dream big. Man play well. Man drink more potent beer. Man dream bigger. Man play worse. Repeat.

So, you learn to trick yourself. You postpone "beer-thirty," that bewitched hour when man drinks first beer of day. The later beer-thirty arrives, whatever fibs one tells oneself at the time, the more productive the recording session, in the end.

However, no hope of beer-thirty at the end of the day, and what a drab recording session.

As for Stone Brewing and me, it started at a riverfront bar in New York City. There was a Czech barmaid. God bless her soul. There was a Turkish actress. My sister for life. There was the Turkish actress' father, who had translated all of Shakespeare into Turkish.

This is starting to sound like make-believe, but it's all true, and the Turkish father translator and I drank strong beers together at that riverfront bar where I stumbled upon Stone.

To suburban San Diego. To Stone Brewing. Drinking, telling yarns.

With Steve Wagner, brewmeister, about his indie folk rock days. The Balancing Act. "A TV Guide in the Olduvai George."

With Greg Koch, CEO type honcho. About the rehearsal studios he owns in Downtown L.A.; his tenants I might know.

To Downtown San Diego. To the Koch loft. Joined by Chris Cochran, Stone marketeer. He formerly of Las Vegas High School. Yarns about yarns about yarns. Cochran's pool boy years. Koch fading. Past tense "faded".

Koch to journalist: "What can I give you? We make beer. Let me remind you: the thing we make is beer."

Journalist to Koch: "Give me beer."

Koch gives to journalist ludicrous amount of free Stone beer for the road. Journalist takes it to ...

... Los Angeles! Where he ... writes songs with Matt Fuller! Songs that ... end up on The Sydney Highrise Variations!

Which we record in ... Nashville! In the state of ... Tennessee! Which has a distributorship for Stone Brewing!

Whereas, a state that lacks such a distributor, would be the state of ... Missouri! Where I live! As does my fellow beer geek and three fried man, Dave Melson.

Hence the Stone. And the Stone. And the Stone. And the Stone.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Marc Primeau, or Primo; the cantilevered behometh

We may have been making recordings for almost twenty years, but the chance to be in a recording studio for a few days is still a treasured experience for the creative core of Poetry Scores, who mostly do very different things for a living.

As hobbyists, we geek out on the minutiae more than would come natural to a working professional, like Lij, whose studio The Toy Box we invaded last weekend in Nashville.

Take, for example, this fellow, Marc Primeau.

Primeau - pronounced "Primo," as I also thought his name was spelled - has become something of Lij's righthand man in the studio, his assistant engineer. They met when Primeau (one so badly wants to spell the name "Primo") interned at Alex The Great, the great Nashville rock studio where Lij got his start in the industry.

Lij's agenda for the Poetry Scores session (working on The Sydney Highrise Variations) was to spend a lot of time with a guitar in his hand and very little time twiddling knobs and tweaking compressor settings. That's where Primeau came in.

When Primeau was at the board, Lij was called upon to do very, very little knob twiddling. He became executive knob twiddler, knob twiddling consulant, and full-time musician - drummer, as it turned out, rather than guitar player, for the most part; that's the way it goes, for guys like Lij who can play just about everything.

As someone who earns his living in recording studios, Lij long ago learned how to appreciate an assistant, but more or less take them for granted when he is fortunate to have one, the way I have learned to take for granted reporters and Matt Fuller in Los Angeles now takes for granted high-ego Los Angeles art directors, creatures who might seem equally exotic and interesting to people who don't grind out a living in their company.

So, anyway, being in a better place to appreciate a character like Primeau, Dave Melson and I took some time to take his pictures, and we all developed affectionate banter with the lad over a couple of intense working days in the studio. A name like "Primo" (would have swore it was "Primo") certainly didn't hurt, considering the prominence of that word in the slacker lexicon of our youth, when a very good thing was "primo" when it was not "rad" or even "bitchin'".

Having Primeau at the knobs and in the house was a very good thing. We even dedicated one of our songs to him, "The cantilevered behometh."

Primeau has been spending his days producing a heavy metal band from his Tennessee hometown (where his family moved as a child following his nativity in Quebec, which explains that "eau" stuff in his name). I was guessing that the heavy metals bands of northeastern Tennessee just don't serve up many phrases like "The cantilevered behometh," as does Les Murray, the Australian author of our poem.

Here is the scrap of Les' poem I culled for lyrics to this Three Fried Men song on the score:
The cantilevered behemoth
is fitted up with hospitals and electric Gatling guns
to deal with recalcitrant and archaic spirits.
Alas, just as we were working this song up - it was late of a Saturday night - Primeau had to leave us, one sensed in pursuit of the company of a young lass.

"It's okay, Primo," I said (spelling his name in my mind without that "eau" stuff, at that time). "You don't have to be here and work on the song for us to dedicate to you."

So we recorded it without him and dedicated it to him. Thanks, Primeau, Primo; we hope to have you again when we come back down to finish up.

Free mp3

"The cantilevered behometh"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men
(Rough mix with scratch vocal and no overdubs.)


Photo of Primeau on the way out the door by Dave Melson; photos of Primeau at work by me. Like every engineer and producer in Nashville, Primeau also is a musician. Check out his MySpace page for recorded evidence.