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

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Satan confirms quote about Suicide being on Sandusky watch

It was especially odd to see Satan at the Firecracker Press' 10th anniversary party yesterday.

I don't carry the internet around on my phone, so before leaving the house I typical check in on my social media networks for news and gossip. As I was leaving for Cherokee Street yesterday, everywhere I looked I found the headline, "Lawyer says Sandusky on suicide watch."

I gave that some thought. For a moment, I saw it from the other side.

So I wisecracked on Twitter, "Satan says Suicide is on Sandusky watch."

That sounded more like it.

Once I found myself in the company of actual people, I tried this line out on people. I embellished it in grotesque ways I'll choose not to publish at this time. I got a few grim laughs.

Then Satan himself appeared.

What in the Sam Hell? When do you have a fake Satan quote on the tip of your tongue and find the Source himself to check your facts with?

So I pulled Satan to the side, ran through it all, and asked him to confirm the quote.

Satan nodded, gravely, in the affirmative.


Photo courtesy of Firecracker Press. The guy in the Satan costume is, inevitably, an intern.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Steady Edward Ibur releases debut novel with live music June 23

Steve Pick did a nice interview-based feature for the St. Louis Magazine blog on Edward Scott Ibur's debut novel Teacher of the Year. The novel will be released at a creative event on Saturday, June 23 at The Duck Room, where bands will cover songs mentioned or thematized in the novel. The man reading the book on tape also will perform snippets of the novel.

Edward -- better-known to most as Ted, though I always liked to refer to him affectionately by his full name -- asked me to contribute to this event, and I signed on under the band name Three Fried Men. I picked three songs that I thought would be fun and easy to sing: "Stuck on You" (Lionel Ritchie), "Our House" (Madness) and "Another Brick in the Wall" (Pink Floyd). Thus far I have Dan Cross, Tim McAvin and Heidi Dean joining me in this version of Three Fried Men. We hope to go on early in an event that starts early, at 7 p.m.

I was really happy to be asked to support this effort. I owe a lot to Edward Ibur, though he probably isn't aware that I remember things that way. In the late 1980s, he was a formative member of an arts collective called Single Point of Light that I co-founded with Sean Hilditch, a transfer student at Washington University from a little town in England called Stratford-on-Avon. Edward, Bob Putnam (then the owner of a bookstore, not a rock club) and Theresa Everline rallied around Sean and myself and we did some pretty cool things together.

One highlight was the event Focus on the Fourth, as in June 4th, 1989, the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. We put together an amazing lineup that included the likes of Stanley Elkin (R.I.P.), William H. Gass and Gerald Early, and we raised some coin for a Chinese student group that made for us a beautiful thank-you banner in Chinese characters that I cherish to this day. Edward was friendly with Lorin Cuoco, then a reporter for KWMU, and she reported a radio feature. You tend to remember your first appearance on NPR.

Single Point of Light became so good at booking benefits that I started a band, Enormous Richard, to play one of these benefits. The same Steve Pick who previewed Edward's first novel in 2012 for St. Louis Magazine reviewed my first band's first gig in 1989 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That review gave us the nerve to keep doing it. We eventually ran away from graduate school to keep doing it. Enormous Richard eventually turned into another band, Eleanor Roosevelt, which evolved into a field recording project (Hoobellatoo) that became the passion of my artistic life, the arts organization Poetry Scores.

So I can trace the main creative thing that sustains me today directly back to Edward Ibur. It's entirely possible that my life would be vastly poorer in the creative areas that mean the most to me were it not for him. I am totally looking forward to supporting him as he celebrates the publication of his first novel, which I'm sure is as important to him as Poetry Scores is to me.

Now, I have to tell a story on Edward. I warned him this was coming.

He sent me an advance copy of his novel as a member of the media. The opening of the book really struck me:

Monday, June 2, 2008

"Wow, this is amazing!" Elizabeth announced in a can-you-believe-that voice, the kind she uses when chatting with her mother over coffee. Since she was also flipping through the pages of a magazine while we were having sex, I correctly assumed the amazing had nothing to do with me. For the twenty-third straight year, we celebrated the beginning of summer with afternoon screwing.

When Edward contacted me about his novel, we were nearly twenty years out of touch. This was not the opening of a novel I would have expected from the Edward Ibur I knew! On a personal level, the Edward I knew was frank and funny and fully in touch with the sensual aspects of existence. But he was much more hesitant about going public with such stuff.

It gets funny from here, or it should if I can tell it right.

Edward got caught up, briefly, in Single Point of Light turning into Enormous Richard. I am quite sure it was not brief enough for him. The first version of the band was called "Enormous Richard and the Love Turkeys," and we did a few painfully awkward gigs at a Mexican restaurant, a backyard party in Granite City, and the parking lot of what was supposed to be the World's Largest Tupperware Party that turned out not to be very big.

Our early set list was equal parts blasphemy, political satire, and sexual humor. Once Edward -- The Love Turkeys' bongo player -- began to understand what I was singing in the songs he was bongoing to, he began to get visibly uneasy about "the band". I had been emptying rooms with blasphemous material for years, so I assumed it was the satirical Christian material that was bothering him. But I was wrong.

I remember setting up for the last Love Turkeys gig, before Edward Ibur went one way and Enormous Richard went the other. Edward began to voice the misgivings about material that would soon send him on his way. I recall speaking up for the need to question Christianity like any other dominant cultural paradigm, something like that, but Ted waved me off.

"It's more 'Steady Dick,'" I recall him saying. "Do we have to play 'Steady Dick'?"

"Steady Dick" is an extended pun based on something a bad guy from my high school told me when I bumped into him at a record store one day. This guy said he recently had fathered a child, and though he wasn't too crazy about that, he had endeavored "to give the mother steady dick until the kid is old enough to take care of herself."

However crudely put, for a bad guy this amounted to almost a noble sentiment. It stuck with me, and I got a song out of it.

I recall trying to defend the song for its clever puns, its list of Dicks (Deadeye Dick, Moby Dick, Dick Tracy) but Edward wanted nothing to do with a band that stood forth and sang such overtly sexual material. It was a long, long, long way from the Edward Ibur I knew in The Love Turkeys to something like ...

Since she was also flipping through the pages of a magazine while we were having sex, I correctly assumed the amazing had nothing to do with me. For the twenty-third straight year, we celebrated the beginning of summer with afternoon screwing.

As I told Edward, I deeply admire someone who becomes more daring, less restrained, with age. I deeply admire this guy, and I really look forward to supporting him at his book release party!