Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gabriel Gordon Interview

Those of you who've been reading this blog since the early days might remember me writing once about the value of having a few unrealistic dreams. I'm not really the type of music fan who daydreams about getting autographs and taking pictures with the musicians I love. But what I do fantasize about is interviewing them. To me, reading or listening to a really good interview with any kind of artist, getting a peek into the thought processes and personality of someone who creates things that move you, is totally exhilarating. So I don't need to tell you what a thrill it was when I had the opportunity to interview Gabriel Gordon, a name that will be familiar to most readers of this blog. 

Gabriel has been performing with Natalie Merchant for nearly 15 years now and has a pretty incredible musical resumé, as you will soon find out. He was also gracious enough to let this amateur play the journalist. It was exactly as awesome as I hoped it would be. So without further ado, please enjoy my interview with Gabriel Gordon:

So readers of this blog will know you primarily for your work with Natalie, but can you tell us some other performers you've recorded or toured with over the years? 

Absolutely. My first tour was with Soup Dragons to promote their album Hydrophonic in 1994. After that I recorded with Idina Menzel on her debut release called Still. I toured as a tour manager for Madeleine Peyroux to promote her album Dreamland, and also as a road manager/stage tech for Marry Me Jane. I used to play with Leona Naess back in her Bleecker Street days at the Bitter End leading up to her first record deal. I handed over the job to Jason Darling when I went out on tour with Madeleine Peyroux. I moved to Europe in 2000 and eventually began touring with Andrew Roachford as well as James Kakande. I also opened up several shows for big artists around France and Germany, most notably, George Benson, Van Morrison, Al Jarreau, Tété, Meshell Ndegeocello and Lokua Kanza (whom I had the pleasure of meeting on my first gig with Natalie, on May 2, 1998 for her Saturday Night Live performance - Lokua played the intro guitar part on Kind and Generous on the Ophelia album and made an appearance with Natalie on the show.) I also opened up for the Brazilian Girls on a tour of theirs through the South. Lately I've been working with Wax Poetic (I sing three songs on the new album and also played guitar on a good deal of their new album called On A Ride - https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/on-a-ride/id550017552), Sissy Clemens (she also sings with Wax Poetic but also has her own solo project), Heather Christian and the Arbornauts (just finished recording her new album that will be out next year), Sticklips (great new band from the Hudson Valley of New York), Laura Dayan, Oyasaba, and California.

What influenced your decision to pursue music as a profession?

My father is a guitarist and singer (Ashford Gordon) and I grew up going to rehearsals, recordings and performances with him. It always struck me as perhaps the best job in the world. From the vantage point of a child, I only saw positives. As hard as it is sometimes, I focus on the silver linings.

Can you tell us about some of the solo albums you've released and if you have plans to record more solo material in the near future?

I've actually released 5 solo albums, and recorded 10. Here's my discography:

Global Refugees - 12th Planet (1999) Surprise Truck Records
Frequency - Gabriel Gordon (2000) Surprise Truck Records
Agent 17 - Gabriel Gordon & Genuine Childs (2001) Unreleased
Planetary Man - Gabriel and Ashford Gordon (2002) Surprise Truck Records
Lonesome Autumn Blues - Gabriel Gordon & Deron Johnson (2003) Unreleased
Gypsy Living - Gabriel Gordon (2003)
Trocadero (Europe) - (2004) Surprise Truck (USA)
Overwhelmed - Gabriel Gordon (2006) Soular Records/Universal (Europe)
The Ways of Our Era - Sounds for Your Hounds (2008) Unreleased
Indelible - Gabriel Gordon (2009) Unreleased
To Infinity and Beyond - "8" (2010) Unreleased

I am currently in the midst of recording two new albums of my own, as well as several original projects with others.

Who are some music-makers that you would define as your all-time favorites? And who is making music right now that you really dig?

Joni Mitchell, Chris Whitley, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Buckley, Meshell Ndegeocello, Lewis Taylor and Prince. Today, I'd say Meshell, Heather Christian, Loney Dear, Deron Johnson, Hess is More, Jason Darling and Brazilian Girls.
Are you a vinyl guy? If so, what are some of your favorite records in your collection?

Totally. Sadly, all my albums burned up in a fire, but I'm going to start a new collection! I'm a big Prince fan and had almost every album, single and remix.

That's so sad! My house got burglarized recently and the first thing I looked for when I realized what had happened was my record collection. Thankfully they were untouched, I suppose because old Nat King Cole records aren't as valuable as laptops. But they should be! Let's talk about live performance now. Maybe it sounds dramatic, but I know I've seen a handful of musical performances in my life that totally changed my perception of what music can be or do. What about you? What performances have you seen that totally rocked your world?

Loney, Dear at the Mercury Lounge about a year ago. Emil is astounding live. Prince at an after show party in a little club in the village. He just stood there and played guitar mostly and it was bliss. Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn on a TV broadcast live with Peter Gabriel singing "In Your Eyes". I was basically hypnotized while watching Nusrat sing an impromptu. It was powerful stuff and still is - just thinking about it.

Most people who love music will only ever know what it's like to experience live music as part of the audience, but you've had the chance to be on both sides of the stage. What is your favorite part of performing live?

Being in the moment and feeling the energy from the audience. It's one of the best feelings in the world.

I'm really glad you said that because I think a lot of people who aren't musically talented dream of how great it would feel to perform live. It's gratifying to know it feels as good as we imagine it. Are there any specific memories of your own live performances that stand out in your mind - for better or worse?

I remember falling off the stage once at a place called The Joint in L.A. The stage was small and it was darkly lit. I just took a step and landed 5 feet below on the floor. I got back up and resumed the song to much laughter from the crowd…I also really enjoyed playing at Izzy Young's Folklore Center in Stockholm. He's a real character and told me fabulous stories about Greenwich Village in the 50s and 60s.

Are there things that members of concert audiences do that drive you crazy? I always wonder about that because I am constantly mortified by the behavior of concert-goers, especially since I somehow always end up sitting next to the drunken guy yelling weird things at all the most inappropriate moments. Horrifying.

Nope. I love it when people come to see a concert. 

Oh, fine, take the diplomatic route! How about when you're not performing, what part of the world do you call home? And why have you chosen to live/stay there?

I live in Brooklyn. Being from Central California, I like peace and quiet, but can't let New York City go. It's a very creative place and is continually inspiring.

Of course, since this blog is about Natalie's music, you know I have to ask you a few questions about your work with her. First of all, how did you first meet Natalie and end up as part of her band?

I auditioned for her in New York and she asked me to join her for the Lilith Fair tour. My first gig was SNL in 1998 and I was so nervous. I'm thrilled to join Natalie on stage to this day. I'm still nervous.

What songs that you perform with Natalie do you tend to enjoy the most? Or does that change from night to night?

All of them. Seriously.

How do you keep yourself engaged when you're playing certain songs over and over and over again? How do you keep things interesting?

Easily. All I have to do is remember that I am on a stage playing music for people. Music is fun, or at least it should be!

I love seeing how much affection there is between you and Natalie when you perform together. It makes every performance feel so intimate and comfortable. What aspects of Natalie's work do you appreciate the most?

Her songs are beautiful. You all know that!

Okay, time for some fun and completely superficial questions! First, desert island choices - you can take one film, one book, and one album with you. Which would you choose?

Until the End of the World by Wim Wenders
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Phillip K. Dick
The Year of River Fontana by Loney, Dear

If you had to quit the music business completely tomorrow, what other profession would you choose for yourself?

A drummer. I kid…I would always choose music.

What are some of your guilty pleasures, music-wise?

Frank Zappa. That's not guilty at all actually, but just saying…Zappa...

If there was one song you could make disappear from existence without a trace, what would it be?

Not my place to be the authority there. 

Oh boy, you are a true professional. If guitars went extinct and you had to learn another instrument, which instrument would you choose?

Okay, that's sort of a cheat, but I'll let it pass because banjos are amazing. Thank you so much, Gabriel, for taking the time to let Natalie's fans get to know you better. I'm sure you hear frequently but still not nearly enough how much we enjoy your work and the huge part you play in making Natalie's music so beloved to us. 
Thank You!!!!!!!!


Thank you, as always, to my faithful readers. I hope you enjoyed this special treat. I know I did! And thank you, once again, to Gabriel Gordon. I can't even begin to tell you how much fun I had doing this. I'm very, very grateful.

See you all next time!

Great video of Gabriel and Natalie performing Break Your Heart (oh, and Erik Della Penna too. Sorry, Erik.) -

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Beloved Wife (Take Two)

Beloved Wife (from the album Tigerlily)

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife 

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me  

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife 

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me  

You were the love
for certain of my life
for fifty years simply me beloved wife
with another love I'll never lie again
it's you I can't deny
it's you I can't defy
a depth so deep into my grief
without my beloved soul
I renounce my life
as my right
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife
my beloved wife

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain  

My love is gone
now my suffering begins 

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
surrender all the joy in my life
go with her tonight?  

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain 

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
just turn my face away from the light
go with her tonight?

I'm interrupting my regularly scheduled programming this week to do something I've never done before on this blog - write about a song for a second time. Let me explain:

I've written for fun since I was a kid - poems, essays, short stories, etc. But ever since I was a kid I've rarely been able to revisit my own writing with any sense of pride or enjoyment. I always think something I've written is solid as soon as I've finished it, but within months or even weeks of reading it again, I'm usually embarrassed and think it's terrible. I've just accepted this about myself. I write for the fun of the process, not so much for the end result.

This truth applies to this blog as well. I enjoy writing it, but it's pretty rare that I can go back and read a post from months or years ago and still think it's well done. So generally I avoid it. But there is one post from the early days of this blog that I find particularly cringe-worthy even just thinking about - the post I wrote about Beloved Wife. (Normally, I might provide a link here, but I really don't want to make it easy for you to read it.)

I wrote about Beloved Wife in a completely detached way. I made jokes, I talked about the music more than the words, and when I did touch on the lyrics everything I wrote was utterly inelegant. I think the reason for this is pretty simple - this is what I do in my life. When faced with situations that require me to speak about deeply emotional subjects, I find ways to joke my way out of too much genuine expression. Apparently, even when I write, even in anonymity, this tendency rears its ugly head. I sometimes thought about rewriting the post for Beloved Wife, but never seriously ...until yesterday. Yesterday I received a comment from a reader regarding my post for Beloved Wife. Here is what it said:


I lost my wife 6 months ago to cancer. I can tell you that everything in this song is true. We were married for 15 years and I would give anything (including all of my remaining days) for just one more minute with her in my arms.

It is not a choice to surrender all the joy in one's life. All of the joy in my life died with her.

I only wish I could simply turn away from life and join her. But she made me promise to go on, so I do.

Thank you for discussing this beautiful song.

The truth is, as you well know, I'm unable to write anything more meaningful, or better composed, than this reader's comment. But I at least owe it to him and others who might search the words "Natalie Merchant" and "Beloved Wife" and find this blog to write something more meaningful than what I wrote before. The words to Beloved Wife are straightforward; there are no allusions that cry out for deciphering. There aren't multiple ways to interpret the lyrics. So I'll keep what I have to say simple and very short:

Many of Natalie's songs are moving and many are beautiful, but Beloved Wife feels like more than that. It feels important. It's completely devoid of any effort to find a bright note, a silver lining in all the misery. I respect that. As vital as hope is, this kind of devastation deserves to be laid completely bare, to be protected for a moment from notions of going on with life.  

Beloved Wife has proved itself capable of completely embodying the despair of loss. That is why it's important. Because to hear someone put your feelings into words means someone else understands; that you're not alone. I guess in the end that is where the comfort in the song comes from - shared grief. Comfort in shared experience is not new ground for Natalie - it's her hallmark. But she has never and will never do it better than she does it with Beloved Wife.

I know that none of what I've written here today is as meaningful or as profound as the words of this song, but it's the best I know how to do.

Download Beloved Wife from Itunes - Beloved Wife - Tigerlily