How do you look at your musical heritage after all these years?
I am amazed at the interest being shown in pbswine music. I was just in Key West (in Southern Florida, USA) and a used record
store there had all the albums for $50 and $60 apiece! Throughout the 1980's I feared that all the music had disappeared down a black
hole--it only existed in the "dead language" of vinyl and everyone was throwing away their record players for CD players.
I thought that even if someone wanted to listen to the songs, pretty soon no one would have the proper record player to do it.
My son Dave (who has his own group called Shy Camp and a record out on Harriet Records) talked me into playing at the
Terrastock festival last April. I hadn't played anywhere since 1976, but managed not to forget too many words or embarrass Dave
terribly. I was surprised to find that so many younger people still listened to pbswine and that other performers at the show were fans.
Damon & Naomi were kind enough to ask me to play some shows on their tour. That was a lot of fun. They are wonderful people
and wonderful performers. I will be playing at Terrastock 2 in San Francisco this April, along with them and a lot of the groups on the
Magic Eye record.
Would you record the songs the same way again?
Doing them now in an "unplugged" way, they are different and I like them that way. Damon & Naomi and I, along with my son
Dave, and Carl Edwards, the folk singer, re-recorded "Another Time," "translucent carriages" and part of "Miss Morse" for the Reprise
CD. They are certainly different from the originals (especially Miss Morse-- "dit dit dah dit, dit dit dah, dah dit dah dit, dah dit dah" as a
Gregorian chant). I think in the 60's we were trying to do the songs very simply, and I wouldn't change that--just maybe do them simply
What are your personal favorites among your songs?
What is the high pitched buzz at the end of Ring Thing [from Balaklava]?
A. What's going on there is we rewound the entire master tape at high speed, so you're listening to the whole record, backwards to the
beginning. On the vinyl, there's an outgroove where the rewind stops and the record starts over again with "I am trumpeter Landfrey...",
as if the record continues infinitely (sort of like the Vietnam War seemed to be doing at the time). By the way that actually IS trumpeter
Landfrey, who blew the Charge of the Light Brigade--recorded in 1886.
Talk about the atmospheric album covers (Bosch, Breughel).
We got to pick all our own covers (except City of Gold, Familiar Songs and Sunforest). I just thought Bosch's Garden of earthly
Delights' Hell panel was terrific and nobody seemed to know about it back in 1967. The poster of it that came with the original pressings
of One Nation Underground used to show up everywhere--saw a picture of one in Steve Stills' apartment. The Breughel "Triumph of
Death" was the same way. It seemed fitting for the Balakalva album--it was a snapshot of Vietnam. William Burroughs used it for the
cover of one of his later books.
Do you still have time to be an attorney with all the new interest in the music/performing, etc.?
No. Well, actually, the law takes precedence because there are so many people who depend on you over a long period of time,
especially with civil rights cases, discrimination cases. We are always outnumbered by very high paid lawyers for the giant companies.
So we have to work harder (and better). I fit in the music here and there. Fortunately, I find both the music and the law to be extremely
interesting and fun.
Haven't you recently turned 50?
Yes, last March 8th. It snuck up on me. I lurched suddenly from 30 something to 50. I've begun to notice things like--books I had in
high school are all yellow and old looking. Or it's the 75th annual Academy Awards, and I remember the 30th. But I think, really, that
I'm getting a different perspective on loss and the passing of time and how little of it anyone has, and how much people forget about the
past. There may be a song in there somewhere.
How does it feel to be on stage again?
I thought I would be scared shitless (in C, S & N's immortal phrase at Woodstock), but once I got up there it was just fun--really intense,
but fun. Of course, my son Dave is always there with me and that helps a lot.
Are there any future recording plans?
Since Terrastock, I've had offers to record from Dutch, Japanese, French and US companies. I have a dozen and a half new songs
that I'd like to put on CD, especially with Damon & Naomi, Dave, Carl and others helping out. So that may happen in the next year or
How does it feel to hear new artists like Damon & Naomi, Flying Saucer Attack and others playing your songs?
I was very happy with the high level of playing on For the Dead in Space. It is strange to hear your songs coming out of a radio or a speaker. I remember back in the 60's, every time one of our songs came on the radio while we were touring we would pull the car over and sit there spellbound by ourselves. I think every new group reacts something like that--"Hey, mister, that's me up on that jukebox." It is especially gratifying to hear the songs done so well--all the people on For the Dead in Space, This Mortal Coil doing the jeweler. I recently read an interview with Bernie Taupin (of "and Elton John"), where he said that they were inspired to write their song rocket man after hearing ours. It's nice that people are actually listening out there.
I'm not sure how the groups from the Magic Eye record
heard our music. Most of the groups, I think, heard the first two records--the ones out on CD. I was surprised, though, to find that Damon & Naomi,
and Bevis Frond and others actually had the old LP's.
How do you see the music industry today?
It is certainly a lot harder to sign up with a large record label these days. With ESP-Disk in 1967, we just sent them a tape and a funny
letter and they sent us a telegram saying, "Come up to New York and make a record." I doubt that happen much anymore. It's such a
bottom line business now--how much money will the record make and how soon. In the 60's, records spoke with honesty and authority
to the people who listened to them. Now, many times, the only authority in the record is the authority of money. That's not enough.
What about the musicians and their music today?
A lot of people are doing really fine work, but mostly on independent labels. Damon & Naomi, formerly the majority of Galaxie 500, have
three fine CDS out--More Sad Hits, The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi [they were having fun with using that title--it's named after
"The Wondrous World of Sonny and Cher"], and a new one that is going to be called, I think, The Playback Singers. I play one of their
songs whenever I perform.
Just for fun, what would be your top-10?
Any record made in 1967 or 1968. OK, that's probably too wide. Dylan's early rock work, Jackson Browne's The Pretender, Joni
Mitchell's Hissing of Summer Lawns, Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, Springstein's Born in the USA are up there. And I think a lot of the records
I talked about in answer to your previous question will be in the running over time.
Is there a PBS guitar book out?
Not that I know about. The website at http://www.geocities.com/Paris/LeftBank/2607, as you know, has all the lyrics. As a general
rule, all the songs on One Nation Underground and Balaklava are in D and C. All the songs on Use of Ashes are in A and Dm.
Tell us about your time in Holland.
My wife, Elisabeth, was Dutch and she and I lived in the Netherlands for several months in 1969. We lived in Vreeland, over near Hilversum. It was a little semi-detached house, next to a misty lake, surrounded by rose bushes and swans. There was a 15th century bridge on part of the lake. And across the field, about a hundred feet away, was a Nazi bunker, barbed wire, swastikas and all. The government, I guess, left it there as a reminder. So it was a place of strange, mixed emotions. I wrote all the songs for Use of Ashes there: The Jeweler, Rocket Man, Riegal. I think the emotions of the place are inside the songs. We thought for awhile of moving to Holland, but it was impossible to do. I think the Netherlands is the best country in the world for human beings. I'm not kidding, either.
|With these kind words about my home-land, I thank Tom Rapp for this interview.|
(c) 1997 The Pearls Before Swine Connection