GARY LUCAS, INTERVIEW
⇔ „V Donově hlase a hudbě byla naprostá svoboda, což mi přišlo bezvýhradně přesvědčivé.“
⇔ Něco se blíží. Mám to na radaru. Pročesali jsme hudební zálivy a nic. Co bylo dříve? Co bylo předtím? Majestátní smutek během Majálesu 1968? Prožitek tragédie, když jsme vezli matku v džípu do nemocnice? A co poté? Přesvědčení, že nejkrásnější věci na světě nejsou vidět ani nejsou hmatatelné. V této sféře je srdce osamělý lovec. Nenarážím na román Carson McCullers, i když i ten je mozaikou příběhů několika zcela odlišných lidí. Je zde tušení souvislostí a proto věřím, že umění může změnit způsob myšlení. Dialog se rozvinul. A na to jsem velmi hrdý. Když hodíte do vody kámen, začnou se šířit vlny. U každého dobrého důvodu proč lhát, existuje lepší, proč říct pravdu.
... Zřejmě tímto nekontrolovaným postupem bylo i setkání s Gary Lucasem bylo jen otázkou času: nevyhnutelné. Proto vznikl tento rozhovor.
1.) When I hear your guitars, I feel the dialogue of generations, ages, civilizations. Why did you choose the guitar? Where did it start?
◊⇔ To tell you the truth, my late father Murray Lucas came to me one day out of the blue when I was a clueless 9 years old and said “Gary, how’d you like to play a musical instrument? How about the guitar?” “Gee Dad, that sounds great!” I mean, they knew I was a precocious musical kid because I used to spend literally 5~6 hours a day in a rocking chair in the basement of our house listening to Top 40 AM radio, and I had been collecting singles and albums for some time. He arranged for me to take possession of a rented practice guitar which was the most obstinate clunky piece of garbage, with the strings abut a half inch off the fret boards. It hurt like hell to play this thing, it tore up my tender 9 year old fingertips. So after a month or so I just chucked it. It wasn’t till my folks came back from a trip to Spain with a beautiful nylon acoustic guitar — which was a total pleasure to play — that I got back in to playing and quickly accelerated my progress.
2.) Today, almost all artists deal exclusively with themselves. I see a fundamental difference for you. It’s as if you’re dealing almost exclusively with other artists, hence people. It is so?
◊ I try and mix it up. I think collaborations are the greatest because often times work emerges that is alot bigger than the parts going into it. In other words, both players bring their skills to the table and emerge with something far cooler than what they might have been capable of coming up with on their own, On the other hand I love to perform solo, as it’s all me on the line and no one to have to lean on or hide behind or accommodate to make it work. I like both modes in other words.
3.) What was Don Van Vliet like?
◊ I never met anyone remotely like him. He definitely had “different channels on the world”. You could call it ESP maybe. A stone genius as a composer / sculptor / painter and poet. Maybe the greatest all~around artist of the last century, but man did he have difficulty with organizing his stuff, and also, relating to other people. He could be really empathetic on a one and one level as “Don Van Vliet” but when other people were around he assumed this imperious “Captain Beefheart” persona and depending on what kind of mood he was in that day — Look Out!! Sometimes he was really just a big overgrown baby, at other times a raging bully hollering at the band members in your face up close and personal — you never knew what persona would emerge on any given day. Considering he lived for years in a trailer park in the Mojave Desert, he didn’t do well in hot weather at all. He basically liked to come out when the sun went down and stay up all night — sometimes for several days on end — and then crash. He was always ON — constantly throwing out shards and sparks of genius observations, poetic imagery, drawings , sketches and paintings, song titles, whistling new musical parts, flinging paint around. A real force of nature. I loved the guy and became very close to him, he dug me as I was devoted to him for 5 years, I thought he is work needed to be much better known considering the entire first and second wave of Punk and New Wave artists cited him as a major influence. I was able to keep up with him mentally and also hip him to art he didn’t know about, such as the writings and paintings of Wyndham Lewis, which further cemented our relationship. I was constantly looking for new opportunities for him, and made alot of things happen for him — for instance, I was able to hook him up with Julian Schnabel and the Mary Boone and Michael Werner galleries, which resulted in him getting real art gallery representation in NYC for the first time. I got him back in Rolling Stone, on Saturday Night Live, on David Letterman twice and on and the cover of Musician Magazine — and got our video for “Ice Cream for Crow” in the MOMA’s permanent video collection when MTV refused to play. I really miss him as when he died I knew I would never meet anyone who made me laugh as hard as he could. He was enormous fun to be around on a good day, and I am honored to have worked with him. Plenty of stories have circulated about his creative methodologies and his occasional really bad behavior, but it doesn’t subtract from his work one iota, which is singular, original and terrifically compelling. Still at the top of my list.
4.) How was Jeff Buckley?
◊ A wunderkind, a dazzling beautiful boy with a face and a voice like an angel who really could tug on the old heartstrings. His voice had a suppleness to it that pretty much equalled to me, his major influence, his father Tim Buckley, who I adored well before I knew there was a Jeff Buckley. We had one amazing year together creatively which I recall mainly with alot of fondness. He had a dark side also but I prefer to dwell on the bright side of our relationship, same as with Don Van Vliet, He was the best creative partner I ever had in the collaboration department. All our 13 songs started as my solo guitar instrumentals, which Jeff then took and created magical melodic top lines and lyrics for which fit my original guitar music like a glove. It was so easy working with him that way! I knew if I gave him his head and left him alone he would come back with lyrics and melodies that were unerring and true and elevated the music to another level entirely different from the same old same old pop formulas, which we both despised. Trust was a key factor here. I try to observe that in all my collaborations, I hate to dictate to people I make music with unless I hear something so terrible I can’t live with it. I encourage my band members to create their own parts on the spot within my own songs, Jeff was the most musical kid — he could sing or play pretty much anything, he could pick up just about any instrument and get beautiful music from it, He had a real poet’s gift for lyrics also: from the heart and enigmatic as well.
◊ His voice was like a virtuoso jazz instrumentalist’s — he could glide and swoop with the best of them, get very deep down in the gutbucket and then soar up to the heavens in one vocal line. People like Jeff and Don dont come around very often to say the least, and I’m honored to have worked with both of them.
5.) Have you (met) you personally experienced Leonard Bernstein?
◊ Yes , Leonard Bernstein attended the rehearsals and performances of his “Mass” in Vienna in spring 1973 when I was playing the lead guitar part with the Yale Symphony Orchestra. It was the European premiere at the Wiener Konzerthaus, I loved watching Lennie’s series of televised “Young People’s Concerts” growing up in the 60’s — he was truly “Music’s Monarch”, as he was described by the NY Times in a banner headline the day after he passed away. I learned through him about Mahler, Bach, Ives and so on — so much great music. He really instilled the Joy of Music in folks, which was the title of one of his popular books. Anyway I met and spoke with him in the garden of the US Ambassador to Austria’s residence in Wien after the first night premiere, and he was exceedingly friendly. I told him I loved playing his music. In fact, “Mass” opens with an shimmering arpeggiated guitar chord high up on the neck: Brrrrrrrrrrrg! and on into the beautiful opening number “Sing God a Simple Song”. Later I got a chance to get down and dirty with some wicked heavy metal type shredding in another sung section called “I Don’t Know”, a number in the “Mass” representing the existential angst of the modern moment. “Man, you were really wailing!” he told me approvingly when I asked if he’d heard my playing there. This made my entire year!! The best praise I’d ever received for my playing (up to that point). I asked him a bunch of questions about his love of rock music, which he’d incorporated into the “Mass”. He grabbed my arm and we took a little stroll around the Ambassador’s garden while I plied him with questions. He noticed I was wearing blue calf~length glitter socks with high stacked silver lame platform shoes. “Oh, the David Bowie look!” he exclaimed, He told me didn’t much care for The Nice’s version of “America” (which I liked), as I recall, and also that he was miffed that Pierre Boulez was getting all the modern music credit during his tenure conducting the NYPO after Bernstein left, as he had gone out of his way to program much modern symphonic music there, I’m told he wrote a letter to Don Van Vliet’s camp expressing admiration for the “Safe as Milk” album when it was released in 1967. I was really sad to hear of his passing — such an outstanding conductor, composer and educator of our time who could never be easily replaced.
6.) I extremely loved (and still is) the creation and expression of Dr. John. He even appeared on the cover of Bat magazine 7 months before his death. How was the cooperation with him?
◊ That was really easy because that occurred on a session for Hal Willner, my friend the beloved producer and mixmaster conceptualist, for his album “Weird Nightmare”, a tribute to the music of Charles Mingus. Mac Rebennack is one of my favorite artists, and I especially love the first album “Gris~Gris:” I over~dubbed some slide for him on the closing track and he was very genial and appreciative!
7.) What are you preparing now?
◊ A new project called Le Beast Concrete just was released this week, a collaboration with producer and beat~master David Sisko. I love it because it puts my guitar playing in a totally fresh context with sounds I’ve never heard before. I can’t really describe the music other than “extraordinary”. It’s kind of science fiction music, actually. Check out our web page here which has music and clips: http://garylucas.com/www/lbc/
8. There are 17 + 19 songs on the last selection double album “The Essential Gary Lucas”, which has an exceptional quality. Which 5 songs do you like the most?
◊ Hmmm, this is a difficult question, I feel like the parent of a brood of children, you wouldn’t ask a mother to choose her favorites now would you? But off the top of my head: “Fata Morgana”, “Lady of Shalott”, “Let’s Go Swimming”, “King Strong” and the Cubanized version of “Out from Under”.
8.) You also play (10 — Janacek’s’ “On an Overgrown Path” No. 15 Allegro, disc 2 + 19 — “largo” from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9
9.) (From the New World), disc 2). Yes, I also know about your album “Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics, Czech Republic” (2012), but I didn’t hear it. Do you love Leoš Janáček and Dvořák so much?
◊ Yes, who doesn’t? Janacek especially — a grossly overlooked and under~rated composer of the highest order, You can hear my Bohemian Classics album on Spotify: ◊ https://open.spotify.com/album/0UPd807uqi4ljE2HzenNGU
◊ And you can view me playing my version of Janacek’s “On An Overgrown Path” live at the United Nations for Holocaust Remembrance Day here: ◊ https://vimeo.com/201390227
10.) In your apartment you have done about 200 online performances for your fans around the world. You alternate acoustic with electric guitar. Do you combine them for yourself or your fans?
◊ Well, both. I love both forms of expression. And I try to mix it up to delight my fans, I dont want them to get bored with my playing, so I try and alternate. Sometimes I play both guitars and my National steel guitar in the same show!
10.) How were your mom and dad?
◊ They were lovely people. I have only loving thoughts about the both of them now they’ve passed away. My mother horribly died of Covid early on in the pandemic. She was in a nursing home in California and the virus swept in there and infected 16 residents. In 10 days she perished. It was so horrible. I got to see her on Facebook Messenger the day before she died and she was really suffering. I tried to say my goodbyes to her and I’m not even sure she could hear anything at that point. It was ghastly.
11.) What connects you with Europe?
◊ I feel that is my spiritual home even though I’m born in Syracuse NY. I just think the general aesthetic appreciation for art and culture is a lot finer tuned there, despite many horrible events of genocide. The Old World sensibility suits me alot better I guess. It’s always been easier for me to an find an audience abroad. Many Europeans picked up on my work right away as soon as I began touring there solo in 1988. I think the traditional cafe culture has a lot to do with it. Traditionally music and art lovers, aesthetes, and intellectuals would mull over and discuss new cultural manifestations over a leisurely meal or drink for hours on end. And these kind of folks comprise a prominent section of my fanbase.
◊ Sadly this too is going the way of all flesh as Europe more and more has started resembling the US in so many ways, especially with the dominant American corporate culture spreading its reach worldwide, and that includes the good old business of music and music making. Digitization has certainly contributed to this as well, as in making, most of the world’s music available at your fingertips for nothing or just a pittance each month, it hasn’t exactly leveled the playing field for artists who don’t have substantial marketing and publicity clout behind them — it’s basically cheapened the music listening experience per se and rendered music into a commodity as commonplace and unexciting as water flowing from a tap. People see music as just another public utility that comes free and they don’t feel they have any ethical obligation to pay its creators for it, if they don’t have to. Don’t even get me started about the pathetically low rate for streaming royalties…
12.) You often recommend literature. Is there any of her on Gary Lucas’s album — “The Edge Of Heaven”, or exclusively from a visit to China?
◊ Sure. Literary references abound. References to T.S. Eliot and James Joyce are quite unashamedly in some of my lyrics for instance. “Ulysses” remains my favorite book of all time.
13.) Is “Skeleton at the Feast” still available? I was interested in the composition “Hitchcocked” by Bernard Herrmann. Sounds like some elements of contemporary home concerts. After “Hugh’s Graveyard Stomp” a dramaturgical twist. What would you say about this song?
◊ It is available on Spotify and also the cd can be obtained through my website Merch section: http://garylucas.com/www/merch/merchMAIN.shtml
◊ There are plans to release a vinyl version of the album next year, stay tuned…
◊ “Hitchocked” is one of my first forays into arranging favorite film music for solo electric guitar. In this case I combined some of the main themes from Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” and “Vertigo” scores, from two of my favorite Hitchcock films. This medley used to be a staple of my early live shows. Later on I did a full band version of the theme from “Psycho” with Gods and Monsters which you can find on my “Coming Clean” album, with Ernie Brooks on bass and Jonathan Kane on drums. /// Thank you very much, Gary! Author: Ben Tais Amundssen (Original interview: BAT IN #37/2021: https://www.flipsnack.com/pindzi/bat-in-september-2021-volume-4-issue-9-37.html