Monday, July 05, 2010

Context - I'm sitting here at the Shell station at Exit 350 on I-75. On my way back from Burning Banjos. The Turk stalled out and wouldn't restart and (praise the deities) I was able to coast down the ramp, make a tight turn into the parking lot, and coast into a parking spot - all with virtually no steering and no brakes at all save for the emergency brake. I'm waiting for Jenny to get here from Atlanta. Avery's watching a DVD in the portable player and I'm composing this note, to be uploaded later. I am a very unhappy camper as I contemplate the prospect of tracking down a trusty mechanic by phone tomorrow, and my mind reels at the potential expense and hassle awaiting me over the next few days.

But Burning Banjos? Ah - 'twas a fine experience. I got to see and hang with so many people from my Nashville days - Jason Litchford, Beat Zenerino, Danny Sulkin, Seth Ritter, Tony Gerber, LeeAnne Allen Carmack, and of course Don Evans. I can't help but feel reflective on the "old days" and perhaps a bit nostalgic.

It was around '85 or so when I made the decision to break up my band, Suburban Baroque, and dive into performance art. I had been experimenting with projections & video (with help from Seth Ritter), props, conceptual sorts of things with Suburban Baroque, and I came to the realization that I was more interested in exploring performative elements than in continuing a band-thing. There were too many inherent compromises and I felt decidedly limited. We were four distinct personalities, with four distinct agendas - not all of which were in sync with my current aspirations.

I also was feeling that we had pretty much taken Suburban Baroque as far as it would go. We were actually at the peak of our game, so maybe from a music-biz standpoint it was foolish to split us up. But I clearly felt that the project had run its course and it was time to move on. (I did, however, take with me some of my more conceptual SB compositions and "repurpose" them into a performance piece a year or so later.)

The catalyst for moving on came in the form of a brief little news item I saw in the arts section of the paper. A local theater, The John Galt West End Theater (the significance of whose name was unknown to be at the time) had issued an open call for independent directors who might want to use their space. So in an act of naive optimism, I contacted them and told them about a nebulous idea I had for an evening of performance art (side note - I had been listening to, and reading about Laurie Anderson's magnum opus, United States 1-4 at the time - and her sheer ambition inspired the hell out of me!).

Well, The Galt found a weekend on their calendar for me 9 months out - and the seeds of "Fringe Dances" were planted. In the ensuing months, I cultivated connections and enlisted collaborators. THe first was the Tennessee Dance Theater - the only professional dance company in Nashville (save for the Ballet) at the time. That relationship proved rewarding. I did music for some of their pieces, and they contributed dancers and choreography for my grand scheme. I enlisted Tony Gerber as a music collaborator, and Curtis McGuirt (C Ra) as a performer. But the most significant collaboration that resulted from Fringe Dances was Jason Litchford...

Rewind a few years - just out of high school I was washing dishes at this goofy concept restaurant - Sailmaker. The wait staff were all costumed as various characters. Jason was a waiter there - dressed as a wizard. I learned later that he was an accomplished magician and his schtick at Sailmaker was doing close up magic for the customers. Anyway, he and I chatted it up in the kitchen and found a bit of a kindred connection. A year or so later I ended up doing some impromptu music for a magic/mime show that he and his friend Steven were doing at Vanderbilt with my brand new Micromoog, and I saw him perform a stunning mime routine as the Buddha, in a fascinating musical theater production of Siddhartha, directed by visionary director Kent Cathcart.

Back to Fringe Dances - as the ideas were coming together, I came up with a concept for a movement theater/video piece, "In the Country of the Blind, the One Eyed Man is King" that dealt with a central character, "The Man", who was so caught up in the TV world, that he was eventually drawn into the TV world himself. The TDT dancers populated the TV world, but as I thought about the role of The Man, I kept seeing Jason, so I called around trying to track him down. Coincidentally he had just moved back to Nashville after a few years doing street theater in San Francisco & Boulder, and studying mime at Samuel Avital's Le Centre du SIlence in Colorado. We talked a bit, and soon he was on board as the primary collaborator for Fringe Dances. He brought his full repertoire of mime, theater, and stage magic into the mix, and though I cringe when I think back on the sheer naiveté of much of the work, Fringe Dances was a success. And in the wake of that success, Jason & I decided to keep it going, and the Mind's Eye Performance Group was on its way.

We had the honor of working with many talented and amazing people with Mind's Eye. Beat Zenerino worked with us on videos and software, Danny Sulkin worked with us on video, also, and for a time was our on-the-road tech director. LeeAnne Allen was one of our first dancers.

But perhaps the one person who catalyzed me artistically in those days was Don Evans. Don was an art professor at Vanderbilt, and would do eclectic and quirky art projects under the auspices of Little Marrowbone Repair Corporation ("a bunch of friends that get together and do stuff"). I knew of Don by reputation, but had never really met him until Fringe Dances. He was in the audience, and afterwards came up and shook mine & Jason's hands with such energy and genuine effusiveness that we knew we had obviously made a connection. Don invited us to come visit him at the university, and offered up his resources to help us develop our work. One of our subsequent productions took place in the beautiful marbled lobby of the art building at Vanderbilt. Don taught us about slides, video, darkroom techniques, performance art history. We "did stuff" at Little Marrowbone happenings out at his farm just outside of Nashville. He loaned us projection equipment until we could get our own. Most of all he just simply provided inspiration and support. And, not inconsequentially, he introduced us (me) to Alternate ROOTS - a connection that has had major ramifications on all aspects of my life to this day.

He's a quirky, gentle and eclectic soul and I'm a bigger person for having known him, and when I heard about his "Burning Banjos" event (the first Little Marrowbone event in almost ten years!), well I simply had to make a pilgrimage and pay homage to those that got me where I am today. And pay homage I did - making glorious improvised noise to accompany a range of pyrotechnics and dance (thanks to LeeAnne's Blue Moves dance company). I hope this isn't the last time I get to "do stuff" with Don & Little Marrowbone.

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