27 December 2007

Some thoughts on modern music distribution and rarity,
by Hoi Polloi Musical Director Dave Malloy

So. Hoi Polloi Artistic Director Alec Duffy recently won the Sufjan Stevens Xmas Xchange Contest, with his song "Everyday Is Christmas" (official site here). First off, let us say that all of us here at Hoi Polloi are just pleased as punch and beaming with joy for Alec's honor and Sufjan's kind words. We have all been huge fans of Sufjan's work from the first (Alec first told me about Sufjan right after Michigan's release, when he discovered that they worked in the same building, making Alec rather girlishly starstruck. I was initially a bit confused by Alec's excitement, because I thought that he was talking about Cat Stevens, and that Sufjan was Cat's new Islamic name; Alec soon corrected me, and I became smitten myself. And that moment in "Feel the Illinoise"..."I cried myself to sleep last night..."...oh thank you, Sufjan!)

Anyway. As winner of the contest, Alec (and thus Alec's theater company) is in sole physical and legal possession of an original Sufjan Stevens track, "Lonely Man of Winter".

And it has raised the interesting question: well, what to do with it?

We've talked about it quite a bit, and we've come up with an approach. Alec has asked me to write a little bit about it.

Already Alec has been approached by a few websites, offering to host the song. Certainly the easiest and most immediately gratifying thing would be to share the song with all the world through the all inclusive, world absorbing internet. It's the great hallmark of our age that everything is so easily accessible to all (well, all economically and socially able to access a computer; but that's another rant). And it's a lovely thing, this vast world of information and art at our fingertips.

However, there is a part of us here at Hoi Polloi that mourns a bit for something lost. For the not so instantly available, for the hard to find. For the labor, the anticipation of seeking something out. For the rarity.

My two record collecting obsessions as a kid were The Beatles and Prince. It was clear to me growing up with my parent's record collection that was something wrong with the (American) pre-Rubber Soul Beatles catalog. My only source of information was the scattered record stores of Lakewood, Ohio, which had an abundance of even more confusing alternate titles...Something New!...Beatles '64...Love Songs...all with just one or two different songs on them! How could I simply and easily (and on a $5 allowance) get all the songs? How could I get every song The Beatles had ever made? The discovery of the record Rarities in a Detroit record store increased my curiosity and insatiability...I wanted it all. Every new vacation town was scoured for used record stores, in the hopes that some new track might be found.

With Prince, my obsession took a slightly different flavor: the 12" and the B-side. The realization that "Erotic City" wasn't on Purple Rain opened me up to a whole new medium, the dance single...and man that weird piano solo on the "Let's Go Crazy" extended mix! I was hooked, taking buses to Yellow Pages found record stores in Shaker Heights, Bay Village, Parma. "Shockadelica"? The 22 minute "America"? This shit was INSANE; and I was one of the few people to know about it. It was like knowing a masonic secret.

It was special.

And then CD's came. The British catalog, Past Masters Vol. 1 & 2, The Hits/The B-Sides and the gaps in my collection were finally filled. And I felt happy, sure. Years later, Napster and Limewire filled in the final 12" mixes, and I was Prince complete (pre-93 that is, I'm not nuts). And nowadays, I've got every Bjork and Radiohead B-side, easily BitTorrented, easy easy easy.

But the romance, the romance of the unfound, the unknown!!

So. We'd like to do something unique with this track.
And so, in an effort to rekindle the flames of rarity, it is not our intention to release the track over the internet.
We'd like to make the hearing of this song something truly special.

We'd like to invite you to email us (sufjansong at yahoo dot com) and arrange a special hearing. We're in Brooklyn. We've been doing Wednesdays and Sundays, with about four people per listening. Bring your best headphones. We'll have cookies and tea.

It is not our intention to hoard the song; we feel the delicate balance here, the danger of seeming like the cruel older sibling dangling the toy out of reach. No, no, we want this to be nice! ANd special, and memorable, and dear, and fuzzy, and all.

There are also tentative plans for a holiday show for 2009 in which the song will figure prominently...and after that, who knows? Like Sufjan's own 50 states project, we have high-reaching, long term visions for this project: a song that's passed on over the years from person to person, a hermetic grail, never being ripped into the world of the digital. Absurd, sure. But we think that Sufjan's artistry will stand the test of time, and we'd like to add to the mythical world of musical legend with our curation of this song: the song that will never be uploaded.

It is our intention to do something truly special, something new for the world of music and digital media. We hope you'll all join us on the ride.

Hoi Polloi

fansite response is here

bah humbug! and scrooge mcduck!!

which are really not the spirit of our idea at all. the idea is to share it, just in non-massmarket/internet ways. like in the old days. (canary pointed out this really interesting article by david byrne- the stuff on music as a social event- dig?)

anyway, i think the original manifesto doesnt properly emphasize that we would love to share it with people in a special way, in person special, with tea and cookies.

so drop us a line...really. were nice. and in brooklyn.
its a really lovely song.

20 December 2007

my hugest, gushiest, most sincere grin-plastered-on-my-faceiest outpouring of joy to my dearest friend alec duffy, who won the sufjan stevens xmas xchange contest:


alec really does deck the halls every day.
hes the prince of peace.

06 November 2007

last night ps and i set out to go to a new french restaurant in town, la jardinaire. a few friends had recommended it, with a coy hint to an out of the ordinary experience. it was a pleasant autumn night - berkeley allows itself fallen leaves and brisk breezes - so we decided to walk. ps and i were in a bit of a mood. joyful, daring, delirious. like teenagers on pot. we set out into the world laughing and stumbling, going to get us food.

the address was an odd one, on a residential street. we arrived at an ambiguous building, quite unlike a home or a business, somewhere in between, inviting awning bewitched by glass door, concrete walls adorned with deep wood mailbox and private small plants. we entered, up a staircase, and arrived on a dark and uninviting landing. the lights were out, the door before us unmarked and shut. it seemed that the restaurant was closed.

my mind registered a touch of disappointment. we looked at each other silently, our night suddenly unhinged. and then we clicked and turned to the door, just to be sure.

the door opened into a dark hallway.

"i don't think anyone's here?"
"well the door's open"

ps started to walk through, and i followed.

we found ourselves in a home. there was nothing restaurant about it; it had all the trapping of a modest family home. but it was the right address.

to our left was a kitchen. in the kitchen we found a large silver refrigerator. the food inside was magnificent - fancy bacon, endive and leeks, marinades in exotic bottles. also several cheeses that we couldnt name. a lidded glass bowl of homemade hummus. in many ways, this was the food you always hope to find in a strange refrigerator.

ps went into the living room and starting pounding out "claire de lune" on a small church organ, banging his head like he was a a rock star. he was really happy that we had found all this amazing food, and that we were going to have our restaurant experience after all.

me, i wasnt so sure. part of me felt like we had made a mistake: that we were in someone else's private home, and were about to burglar their food. it seemed wrong, mean.

but ps was so happy. this night couldnt have turned out any other way. the universe is all for us.

i went to the refrigerator and pulled out the cheese, first thing. there was a leather couch i was looking forward to sitting down on. i prepared the food while ps continued his recital, now picking out some angular talking heads melody. we didnt talk; we had mastered the evening, and we didnt put words on it.

to the right of the front door was a long hallway into darkness which we had been neglecting. a few times already we had heard noises from down there, metallic nosies, but we had ignored them.

but now a man cam running out from the hall. he was a fat italian looking man wearing a red one piece long thermal. he looked like luigi from super mario bros 2. he had a black wooden bat in his hand. he started yelling at us, spittle flying from his mouth. his violence was immense.

ps and i started to scream as the man approached us, shaking the bat. he was blocking our way back to the front door. i didnt think very hard; i threw the plate of cheese straight up, with the idea of creating a diversion. amazingly, it worked, to some extent; the man looked up at the airborne cheese. ps and i ran straight at him, hoping to squeak by his sides. at this moment, my vision is very sharp.

ps like a star quarterback pulls a fake and gets by on his left side. im not as agile; he swings as i pass him and i smell bourbon, then he gets me on the shoulder, hard. i barely feel it though; we are at the door and racing down the stairs, leaping them five at a time. we spill out onto the street and continue bolting, not looking back.

we ran about five blocks and collapsed in front of a parked ice cream truck.

anyway, we got away. we rolled onto our backs, breathless, and laughed at the moon. it was fine. but the next morning, my shoulder hurt so fucking bad. something went wrong.

26 September 2007

i remember in school, in third grade, mrs sikon gave us the classic following directions test: the directions tell you to put your name on the paper, then read the whole thing carefully, then at the end it says now turn in the paper with just your name on it. ie you werent supposed to do the questions, because the directions told you just to read them.

this is a piece of shit test that teaches conformity and blind adherence, and belittles ones ability to draw conclusions.

14 August 2007

last night i went to see the HOTTEST SHOW ON BROADWAY, spring awakening. it was pretty great, though the second act seemed strangely non-existent. microphone rock dancing, teens pounding their boots on the floor, working really hard, very exciting. the mics are a nice touch...especially when the guys put them back in their breast coat pocket when they are done. though one cant help but notice that the voices are mysteriously miced even off mic. hm, blech.

the much hyped sex scene is certainly exciting and dangerous- thank god broadway is taking chances like that, a furious blinding grope on a teen breast. even more dangerous is the girl duet hard rocker about child abuse, which just fucked with me in so many ways...these two teen girls are singing about what happens to them at night, while behind them the 30ish white male drummer is rocking out. just totally joyously obliviously rocking out. whoa. (while talking about the band here, ill also note that i have a monster crush on the uncredited, im guessing sub, pianist/conductor {uncredited unless her name is adam} the way she would duck down and groove, very hot. call me!)

one thing thats been really scaring me lately is the idea of genius decay...the late works of artists getting worse and worse. miles's 80s-90s studio albums are a fucking joke; paul mccarteny is recording for starbucks. what the fuck? cant they hear any more? the gradual blindness into mediocrity, its a scary thing, and i fear the day it happens to me. i already have the seeds of it, i know: the artistic blind spot, that moment that in retrospect is just so obviously terrible and yet cannot be seen at the time of creation. spring awakening has two of them...the first are the absurdly horrible schoolteachers, complete with funny, overpronounced german names, facial ticks, and most horrendously the single moment of "lets party" dancing during "totally fucked" that we all saw 20 years ago in a hundred teen comedies, the crusty old dean finally cracking a move at the final jubilee. are you fucking kidding me? when so much else in the show was so real, do we really need the adults to be trite, totally unbelievable caricatures? do you really need that cheap laugh so badly?

worse for me though was the act two homosexual seduction scene, which is played strictly for laughs. after such a tender and true, awkward and terrifying hetero dance in the first act, to go to cheap "im like a pussycat, i skim off the cream" land, with two again caricature voices, is just fucking insulting.

cmon! if youre gonna go for it, FUCKING GO FOR IT. actually much of the show seemed to play this uncomfortable dance, lodging it in this strange netherworld where parts took bold chances and rocked, while other elements felt like halfbaked concessions to an earlier broadway, one of overacted hilarity and euphemistic broadness to gloss the unease. one can imagine the agehardened producer trying to inject some lightness, something familiar into the show. or maybe the creative team had their own issues with bipolar pussiness. who knows.

its just so weird to me; how can someone (myself included) create something so very very good and yet have such egregious lapses? is it because we see too much, or not enough? i guess i know the answer to this...theres not just the forest, not just the trees, theres the roots, the incredible complex system of inspiration and thought that bubbles underneath, that looms so blindingly large in the artists mind but that the audience never sees. id like to take this blog out with one of my trademark "new hyperplatitudes", but am now plagued with doubts that those are artistically poor. and even more plagued by how exactly the phrase "forest for the trees" maps out metaphorically. too plagued to continue.

dude i love matthew dear!

30 July 2007

after rehearsal thursday night we went out for a drink at showmans, on w.125th in harlem. there was a hammond organ on stage, which alone caused me enough excitement to overlook the 2 $9 drink minimum; the band started playing some perfectly capable standards, and the waitress brought us our drinks, double jamesons all around (i just learned that ones choice of irish whiskey is a political statement. though my choice honestly has less to do with politics than with a mother-inflicted soft spot for a good rebel song), and free hot dogs, made on a foreman grill in the corner.
so were chatting along finely, when im startled by a new crystalline sound; and i look up at the stage to see that there is now a tap dancer, an old old black man in white pants and a loose bowling shirt, with a knowing gleam smile on his face, and his legs and arms unstrung puppet loose. its really, really wonderful tap dancing, cause hes dancing with his face too, all the tiny expressions of joy and surprise, like a balinese dancer. and his taps are a good three octaves higher than any taps ive ever heard, giving the whole thing a decidedly fantasy oz feel. weve all stopped talking and are mesmerized by this man with id guess 50 years of experience at his art, and im marveling about that; the new unknown to me realm of synthesis and confidence that comes with age. artistic wisdom, unwavering.

he heads towards the edge of the stage, and im disappointed that the tapping is about to end, but instead, as soon as he leaves the stage a young japanese guy in a long black shirt takes his place. his taps are at the usual octave, and his dancing is quite different; a little stylish and aloof, but still quite good. he does most of his dance with his back to the audience though, which annoys me and sends my attention drifting...so im surveying the audience and hear two guys talking, the one saying "im not going after you"...and then i look down at their feet, and see shiny shiny shoes. and in fact i look all round us and see that theres over a dozen people sitting near the stage in suspicious shoes; and it dawns on me that somehow weve stumbled into a tap dance open mic night. holy shit.

what was amazing to me was how varied each dancers style was. heres a pretty limited palette, basically just rhythm and dynamics, but each of the 14 or so dancers we saw (all, by the way, taking two choruses of an unending "its always you"; one can only imagine what the organist was thinking after a half hour of this) was quite distinct; some swung threes and some shuffled fours, some reveled in the silences, some pyroed their way through each beat. it was so much more then just "this guy was fast and loud, this guy slow and soft"; instead these amazing personalities on their faces were somehow translated directly into strings of sixteenth notes. one young guy in dreads and patent leather boots (boots!) teetered on the edge of losing the beat the whole time, acrobatic polyrhythms never acknowledging the one but nevertheless staying convincingly grooved. there were two women, one a silent film star pinwheeling but always abbreviating, the other fiesty firecracking in a too short skirt. the other japanese guy was strangely effeminate but for his charlie chaplin moustache, and his tapping was from another time and place, like a termite picnic. one super old guy milking the silences absurd. two out of place and slightly apologetic white indie kids nevertheless shuffling just right. an old old cowboy, white hair and a studded shirt, messy but firm. then the wizard got back up, his shoes again jingling high above reality, took a interim chorus, and then they traded fours. then like five of them got up and tapped all at once, tap tap tap! to take it out.

the wizard said thank you, thank you, and come on back and bring your shoes, we do this every thursday.

personalitys a wonderful thing to see in someones feet.

19 April 2007

i have the sniffles.

so clown bible closed, this week i put finishing touches on the recordings, they are lovely and the cast and band is just absolutely astounding...so many little touches that i never would have thought of. zappa calls adding these touches "putting the eyebrows on"...and these songs are bushy bushy with them. what a delight.

so the show itself, pretty overwhelming feedback to the tune of the ending being too serious/unclown/avantgarde opera/reverent. its true, its true...it was a beautiful ending to a completely different play. however, the charge that ive had the most fun picking at is "too reverent"...one piece of feedback said "i thought we had agreed to be skeptics for the evening"; a good friend said he was surprised by the reverence because he "knows mg and i"; another email feedbacker wrote "i still came away from your show with a message similar to that of conventional Christianity: The Old Testament is burdensome law and the New Testament is forgiveness and renewal. I don't think you intended that."

didnt i? yes the play was too serious at the end, but too reverent? what i find funny here is the classic old reversal of conformity and revolution...that liberals watching a piece on the bible created by liberals are expecting to have their own educated, higher tier "religion is bullshit" beliefs confirmed- expecting us to conform to the revolution. now some of this is because of an expectation we set up earlier in the show...i think our old testament god veered too far to lampooning at times, setting up an expectation of no holds barred irreverence. but i think theres something deeper at work here, this "enlightened skepticism" that actually creates just as much of a dogmatic wall as anything else. "i will not sit hear and listen to someone blasphemy my blasphemous beliefs!" etc.

heres the dirty little secret- i got no problem with christ, as hes presented in the gospels. none. i think hes beautiful, and i think every little crazy word of christ's is just jawdroppingly awesome. this is not a religious belief at all..i got no interest in finding a personal savior, and i am not a believer in anything so literal as christainaity, but storywise, storywise i think jesus's shit is fucking great...confusing and fierce and demanding and so real, so knee scraping visceral. and the things he says, his advocacy of asceticism and compassion, really fucking fierce let them beat you up compassion, his eyeplucking out solutions to the problems of desire, its all to me so clearly the answer, and so incredibly fucking difficult to do. i like my spiritual paths strict and crazy. aesthetically, just aesthetically you understand...i love my wine women and song too much to follow any road to enlightenment, for now i can just delight in the idea of it, the promise of it, and live another few lifetimes suffering in the sensual.

so yeah, if im gonna write a play about christ, its gonna be reverent. i revere him. not to say that i dont wanna have some fun with him...theres already a new tune in my head about jesus learning about his new human body: "ill betcha jesus cant dance, oh no oh no"...but belittle him, play the exhausting petty game of pointing out the contradictions? ugh. some skeptical knowledge of how these texts were actually written informs me here...believing that this is not the word of god but instead accounts written by imperfect observers and passed down over centuries lets me not worry so much about the odd line...and actually the strangeness, the incoherence is where i find so much of the compelling in christ, the baffling fig tree burnings and sword brandishing. fuck yeah, bring it, you imperfect man you!

it just exhausts me here that people cant seem to to make the next jump, the next big leap after cynicism...everyones so fucking extreme, either its the word of god or its a laughable piece of shit. cmon, cmon, back here in the center, im sittin in the center of town, at the top of a big beautiful marble lion and siren fountain, and you can see absofuckinglutely everything from here.
come the fuck on!

07 April 2007

i have the sneaking suspicion that as a lyricist, no one knows what the fuck im talking about. and this is because i, as a music listener, sometimes go YEARS without hearing the lyrics of a song.

today on a rainy bike path ride into albany, a mist of drizzle slowly but steadily covering my face with a fine film of running-to-the-altar-too-late rain, built to spill's "you were right" came on:

You were wrong when you said,
Everything's gonna be alright.
You were right when you said,
You can't always get what you want.
You were right when you said,
It's a hard rain's gonna fall.
You were right when you said,
We're still running against the wind,
And life goes on after the thrill of living is gone.
You were right when you said,
This is the end.

Do you ever think about it?
Do you ever think about it?
Do you ever think about it?
Do you ever think about it?

god i do! i do think about! but all of the sudden, all of the sudden. i had never really heard those "jack & diane" lyrics until this mornings ride made me discover them...because in hearing them in the built to spill song, i recognized them but couldnt place them, and so got to play the hilarious game of trying to remember one song while listening to another, all while still riding in this romantic rain. eventually, it snapped in, oh mr cougar of course, and then suddenly i really heard it>

life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.

thats beautiful!
and so sad!

and true, and wonderful, and clever, especially the wordplay of the two meanings of "to live".
and i have sung along to this song for years, it was a childhood favorite when it came out (with all the cool picture frames bubbling in and out in the video...and cougars freezeframed punch!) but i never thought about what he was saying..i just let the delight of the syllables alone fuel my love for the song.

and ive had this experience several times, the sudden revelation of whats actually being said. theres some people that this doesnt happen with...like dylan, im listening to dylans lyrics the first time through, cause ive just been conditioned to know that thats what to listen for. but then a hall & oates song comes on and for all i know im singing along to the words of mein kampf.

sometimes i get it...ive been an advocate of billy joel actually having some pretty amazing insights into human loneliness and insecurity for a long time ("the stranger", "shes always a woman", and especially "an innocent man"), once i got really mad at my dad because he asked me if i knew what the lyrics to "born in the usa" were about (this is when it came out, 1984). i was irritated by the question and in a smart ass mood (yeah, i was 8) so i said "life liberty and the american way"...to which he laughed and then with my sister started to make fun of me because of course the song is in many ways about the exact opposite, its a fucking cynical song. but i knew that! that was the thing, i had actually gotten that, even at 8, but was just being a smart ass. but my reputation as a close listener was smashed. oh well. dad, lara, i forgive you.

but then much of the rest of time, yeah.
and so when i write songs, why should i expect any more of my audience than i can actually give?
especially in a theatrical setting, where you get to hear it once, just once?
words are hard, hard to hear.
do you ever think about it? do you get it, do you get it?

oh, i gotta go dry my hair.

30 January 2007

totally, totally fucking stuck writing the first song of clown bible. no fucking (good) ideas except for this really obnoxious jump jazz line that keeps running through my head, "well i love this god of mine", a squirrel nut zippers anthem. hot hot. but is that the musical i want to write? is that the opening i want?

good musical openings:
the music man (best ever. all rhythmic talk. on a train. yeah.)
west side story (10 minute instrumnetal overture? good.)
miss saigon (fast minor 9 chords and that sense of backstage urgency. good.)
fiddler (lays it all out. plus like twelve great melodies in a row.)
oklahoma (oh, klahoma!)
cabaret (trilingual, nice 6 chords)
chorus line (that insistent jazz chord vamp, god i hope i get it? mm!)
guys and dolls (nice fugue, male voices. though its not a fugue, its a round. thats always pissed me off)

in the middle
jesus christ superstar (its just that first line..."my mind is clearer now'...totally starting the show in the middle of a psychological epiphany. thats cool.)

bad musical openings:
cats (kill me)
all the ones that just start with some mild boring song. which is a surprising ton: sound of music, my fair lady...eh surely something else. wait, i dont even remember how my fair lady starts. why cant the english? hm.

well this hasnt helped. the thing is, its clowns, were all clowns, and how do clowns sing? its a hard queston. clown training has been pretty eye open amazing; ive got a lot of freinds who have done the physical theater school thing, and they all went on about how clown training is the most intense theater traning there is. its not about bending balloons. its not about polka dots. the true clown, the classic clown, is serious business: man at his most exposed, vulnerable, innocent. all the world against him and yet he perserveres in spite of/through his foolishness. an open heart, the holy fool. the holy fool again! the unnumbered card, outside the deck.

honestly a lot of the training seems real similar to buddhist meditation training to me. theres a lot of stop the mind, stop doing things, stop performing and just BE. mind wants to tick tick tick and when you let it youre not so beautiful up there!
you can really see it, you can. you can see when someone is not seeing. when they are thinking too much...

the mind running is not so beautiful as the heart beating is.

za told me once about some college basketball coach of hers who viewed coaching as a meditative art, because he was mindless while doing it. lost in the moment. i can dig that...i can dig that my best piano playing happens when i turn it all off too. i dont know where my clown is headed...i feel like ive got my mind off and i can be real honest and true, but whats going to happen when i have to start doing things? its one thing to look someone clean in the eye and see them and be seen, but its another to do that while palming an egg. and another to do it while singing...what a non self conscious thing singing so often is!

but: friday night went to see some lovely georgian singing groups. the trio of men, what an example in performance they were: two of them smiling, and moving their heads with the music, and indicating, and gesturing. subtle, but there. and a bit fake. not that they werent really feeling it, but that insistence on letting us know...this is actually an issue for me, this trust, you have to trust that the audience will get it, you dont have to show them. trust, they are smart and deep. they are...they are? they are. not smart, thats not even the point, its instinctual, theyll know, if youre honest theyll know and feel it with their gut. no mind, just nerves. you cant let someone know that youre seducing them until theyre already seduced. you have to trust thatll happen.

the first two didnt trust it. they were fine, and certainly wonderful singers, but they faked it a little. and maybe people liked them. but for me, it was the third, ah the third.

he stood,
he sang.
thats all.
and he was beautiful.

stand and sing, its the heart not the mind.

i want this first song to be all that, effortless and vulnerable and beautiful exposed joy and terror in the face of god, all of the human heart staring deep into the void and letting us see that fear and wonder.
and also with a good backbeat so we can have some cartwheeling.

ok i have an idea!!!!!!

02 January 2007

how many times do i have to open and unopen these goddamn newly painted windows!!
when they gonna stop sticking?
aw god, god damn!!!