Q. Your concept of connecting music and art is very unique. Can you tell me about the process?
A.Connecting art and music is something that always seemed quite natural to me. As a songwriter, one of my goals and objectives when writing lyrics is to create images and pictures in the listener's mind. To give the listener the opportunity to place themselves inside the music and create their own "three minute movie". I have always been influenced and inspired by the visual arts. I use art as a catalyst, a starting point, a spark of inspiration, to write music that connects to the art on different levels. I don't limit myself to just describing the painting. I take a significant amount of artistic and poetic license while writing the music.
Q. Who are some of your major musical influences?
A. I have a long list. I have given this some thought. I read somewhere that amateurs borrow and professionals steal... Stephen Foster, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, The Beatles, Bert Jansch, Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, James Taylor and John Lennon. I started out playing classical guitar.
Q. You have just released a new CD, "All the Colors of the World". How did the project with Norman Rockwell paintings get started?
A. A number of years ago I visited The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Like most people, I had seen Rockwell's paintings in the context and format of The Saturday Evening Post and in coffee table art books. Seeing his work in person and seeing the scale of the actual paintings was incredible. The paintings came to life. People who have not seen Rockwell's work in person are often surprised by how large some of his paintings are. I was also impressed and affected by the somewhat controversial subject matter and social statements that were inherent in a lot of his work. He has a lot to say about social issues like racism, globalism and international relations. His painting, "Golden Rule", is on display at The United Nations in New York City. On a more personal human level, his work deals with some very deep levels of relationships, emotions, hopes, dreams and expectations. He was an amazing artist and person.
After seeing his paintings at the museum I became totally absorbed. I was in a daze for weeks and in complete awe of what Rockwell had accomplished in his work. Songwriters always have their "antennas" up. You're always looking for that "catch phrase" in a conversation you may overhear... or something you may see and hear in a movie... read in a book or magazine... or read in a poem. You're always looking for inspiration. Songs often start with just an idea, a concept or a title.
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In Rockwell's paintings I saw an opportunity to write some good music. The idea of a collection of songs seemed natural. At the time I was doing a lot of co-writing with a good friend, Joe Manning. Joe is a very talented songwriter, author and poet. I presented the idea to him and he was really into it. We started looking more closely at Rockwell's work and began to select paintings that encompassed a wide range of topics and human relationships and we started writing.
Q. How did Arlo Guthrie and The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge become involved?
A. The first song that Joe and I completed was "Norman Always Knew". We set up a meeting with some of the people at The Norman Rockwell Museum and they really liked the song. They contacted Arlo Guthrie and he liked it as well. Arlo recorded it and released it on his own label. Incidentally, Arlo has a pair of Norman Rockwell's shoes. I don't know the details on how he got Norman's shoes. I think there should be an investigation and get the truth about the shoes. Subsequently, Arlo performed "Norman Always Knew" in concert at Tanglewood on the Fourth of July. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet him and his family and spend some time with him hanging out at Alice's Church. It was all very cool. It was an honor to work with Arlo. He's a great person.
The songs just kept on coming and evolved into a collection of eighteen songs. At one point, some of the people at The Norman Rockwell Museum were interested in putting together a live, multi-media stage show with the music, a script, a narrator, actors and a video presentation of Rockwell's paintings reproduced on a giant screen. We envisioned the Rockwell images morphing into scenes of people in real life settings, various places of interest, nature scenes and we planned on including some historical footage. The idea was to produce a very evocative and creative video with the music as part of the sound track. Unfortunately the idea never came together. I am hopeful that there are some creative people out there who will become interested in developing this concept with me. I think the opportunity to produce a show that would be effective and appropriate for Public Television is there. Possibly an interesting DVD. Maybe a theatrical presentation. We have the music and the incredible paintings of Norman Rockwell.
Q. You recorded a collection of original songs about baseball titled "I Love Baseball". The CD is in the audio collection in The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. How did this come about?
A. I love all sports. At the risk of being sacrilegious, if God had invented a game it would have been baseball. Again, I got the idea of writing some songs about baseball and presented the idea to Joe Manning. I think we wrote three or four songs, recorded demos and mailed them to baseball historian Thomas R. Heitz at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was very interested in what we were doing. The people at the Hall of Fame loved the songs and encouraged us to keep at it. We ended up writing and recording fifteen songs. We included a cool version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". As a courtesy, The Baseball Hall of Fame gave me a lifetime pass to the museum. That was a real thrill. I am a serious baseball fan. It beats making a lot of money.
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Q. I understand that you are currently working on a new project and CD. "An Edward Hopper Dream". It sounds interesting. What can you tell me about it?
A. Yes, I am really into this project. A collection of eighteen songs inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper. Very different from "All the Colors of the World". A little touch of jazz and blues influence. At times, a little bit dark, dreamlike and surreal. Edward Hopper's body of work is fascinating. Many of his paintings lend themselves to interpretation. When I immersed myself into his work he got into my head. His paintings affect you in a strange way. I started writing the songs a few years ago and I just couldn't stop. When I wrote the title song "An Edward Hopper Dream", inspired by the Edward Hopper painting "Nighthawks", it was carved in stone, I had to record the collection of songs. I am feeling confident that the songs connect. I have received very positive feedback from everyone who has heard the studio tracks.
I am recording the CD with Burt Teague who is a great guitarist, producer and a great friend. We are about half-way done recording the CD. We are working toward a release date of summer, 2005. All of the songs are written. I am working with some great studio players. It is going to be excellent.
Q. What else are you working on?
A. I am also recording another CD at this time with Burt Teague. It's a collection of fifteen songs with just me playing acoustic guitar and singing. The title cut is "Get Out of This Life Alive". It is a real minimalist approach to a somewhat eclectic collection of songs. Recording without a studio band is interesting. I am "hanging out there" all alone. It is a challenge. I think the songs are really very good. I hope I can make it work.
Q. What about live appearances? Any plans to perform?
A. We have had some offers. There are some tentative plans in the works. Nothing specific booked at this time. I have had the opportunity to work with some great musicians. Some of them have become good friends. We are talking about putting together a live concert, multi-media stage presentation with the music from "All the Colors of the World". I would be interested in putting together a tour performing at some intimate, artsy, community and college theaters. It would be great.
Q. What else is on the horizon?
A. I have a lot of unrecorded material in a variety of musical styles. Probably at least fifty to seventy-five songs that I think are very good. I have written a collection of rock songs that I really love. I have been listening to the demos. The songs need to be recorded soon. I am planning on starting another CD in the next few months. Generally, I am very focused, motivated and productive when I get interested in something. I am on a mission. I am constantly writing new music. Sometimes I think it's all about mortality.
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