Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Translating rock music into poetry for Ted Ibur

So like I was saying, I told my old friend Edward Ibur that I would put together a band to play his book release party. He had the inspired idea of asking musician friends to play cover sets in between readings from his debut novel, Teacher of the Year. The novel is about a public school teacher and is saturated with popular music, so in essence Ted asked his friends to perform the sountrack to his novel.

It was some kind of crazy successful event. He packed out the Duck Room, a good venue for it. People in seats and at tables could follow the readings closely -- I saw some very attentive people following every word -- and the large group of musicians who used to play with Ted (and their fellow travelers) could stand around the edges and tell tales.

I was on the edges with the other musicians, an outstanding group of people like Jim Ibur, Brian Simpson, Darren O'Brien, Marc Chechik, Kip Loui, just listing people I talked to. The Iburs came from that high-achiever mid-County set that created some of our most accomplished and successful local bands. These were impressive people twenty years ago when we were first doing music, and they are impressive people now.

Musically, there were moments that just sucked my breath away. Just staggeringly great. The band Rebecca Ryan fronts with Sean Garcia and Brian Simpson -- just, wow. That performance would have played on any stage of any size in the world, from a corner of a Dublin pub to main stage Bonnaroo. Hats off to these outstanding musicians. Rebecca Ryan, especially. She has really seasoned as a singer and a frontwoman.

My band thing fell through, but I wasn't about to let Ted down. I have published two chapbooks of poetry and kind of like to do spoken word, so I told him and his brother Jim I'd do that instead; I'd cover the songs I'd signed up for as spoken word.

When I got to the event, I could feel the overwhelming reunion vibe in the room and how much people needed to speak to one another rather than be talked to from the stage. There were readings from the novel between sets, so I worried about adding another reading. I approached Jim, who was managing the stage. Should I go on?

"Oh, do your bit," Jim waved me off. "Do the rock singer thing. Eat the mic."

I did the rock singer thing I know so well. I ate the mic.

I explained to the people my predicament, vis a vis loving Ted Ibur and having promised him a band and not having a band. To come through for Ted anyway I had to resort to spoken word, I explained. Then I ate the mic and I read from the work of the American poet Lionel Richie ("Stuck on You"), the English poet Roger Waters (attempting a call-and-response on "Hey! Teachers! Leave those kids alone!") and the North London poet Cathal (Chas) Smith, who wrote the words about our house in the middle of our street for Madness.

What I didn't do, thank God, was carry on and on about Edward Ibur and me, but I had prepared something in my mind just in case it felt called for. What I wanted to say was how perfect it was that my Ted Ibur tribute involved translating pop and rock songs into poetry.

My main creative project today is the arts organization Poetry Scores, which translates poetry into other media. I can trace its creative line straight back to Ted Ibur. Poetry Scores evolved from the field recording collective Hoobellatoo, which evolved from the folk rock band Eleanor Roosevelt, which evolved from the goofy country rock band Enormous Richard, which evolved from ... the arts organization Single Point of Light. Ted and me were mobbed up in Single Point of Light way back in like 1987-9.

How perfect, then, that in paying tribute to one of the guys at the beginning of my road to playing rock music and translating poetry into rock music (and other media), I would translate rock music into poetry.


Teacher of the Year site

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