Saturday, January 21, 2012

Listening To TPM

I have ripped off the title of a Brook Pridemore song.  Alas, I cannot find a link to it. On the other hand, in my searching I have learned that TPM can refer "The Phantom Menace" and "The Perfect Mix".  And thus is  illustrated the nature of differing scenes. For although on the Interwebs one may find people abbreviating various entities as "TPM," here on the perimeter TPM has referred only, and for years, to Thomas Patrick Maguire.

That link is to a blog entry by Robin Hilton about TPM  for NPR's "All Songs Considered".*  The short review, which comes with a promise of more of TPM's music on "All Songs Considered" makes clear  my own lack of descriptive talent,  for Robin Hilton pretty much hits the nail of "try-and-communicate-an-aural experience-in-words" on the head in summing up TPM's sound, something I have been unable to do when trying to recommend his music: **

"It's basically acoustic grunge, which admittedly falls in my aural sweet spot. It's woozy and unpredictable, but also melodic and infectious."

I also find it interesting  that Hilton does not give that description until after giving the reader a link to "Unemployment Dreams" which (at least in the abstract) is the way I think  it should be done in these days of easy linkage.  The structure is basically "there's this singer someone turned me onto, here's a link, I think he sounds like whatever and is good for this reason, what do you think?"  It' attempts to spark a conversation.  Unfortunately as I write this only about 7 people have taken Hilton up on the offer to give their opinion of his music.  Five of the commenters already know TPM's work-- so for them the review was preaching to the converted, but at least it's an opportunity to point out that, like I am about to, that Hilton has discovered our secret that this guy's music is  worthy of following. I mean that literally as in  following him from show to show over the years to hear what he's doing.  The other 2 commenters got pointed to TPM by the review and seem to dig what they are hearing.  I am happy for TPM that he has new fans, and happy for the new fans that they got to listen to TPM. 

Hilton has also inadvertently revealed another failing of my own approach to music, namely, that since coming upon this scene I have gotten most of my music live.  I have been able, almost daily, to listen to some of the top songwriters in the country without ever having to own an iPod. I have been keeping their CD's  for reference purposes only.  I first heard Diane Cluck and Dave Deporis in the catacomb like basement of the Lit Lounge on a Monday Night during my wait to play at my first Anti-hoot at the Sidewalk. It was years before I got a CD by either of them even though they were and are on the must see their shows when possible list.

There was a virtue to this, I think, insofar as it helped me look at the music I was experiencing in the same way that  music has been experienced by the human race for  most of history-- in small spaces, close to the performer, live,  and without one's brain being prepped for the experience by the public relations juggernaut of a centralized recording and distribution system.  But that kind of thinking can get real snooty real fast.

As I result I have tended to neglect the recorded product of many of the artists I follow. Actually, sometimes I feel I am too busy following them from venue to venue  to sit down and listen to their albums.   But all my Luddite justifications and pretentious primitive principals aside, recording can now also be received unprepped for and uncontrolled by the "captains of consciousness"***.   

Those CD's (and, and increasingly, vinyl) that I collect are not simply reference material to remind me of what I've been hearing at the shows (I paused after writing this to slip in TPM's 2007 album "A Slight Return"-- 1st track Mirrors and Smoke--sample snippets:  . . . cause you're not Nevada, you're not even Kansas so why even bother" and "it seems like the rumors have outsold the bible" ) Recording is a separate and important art form.  

Indeed, I forget  that the reason I was at that first Anti-hoot was that while I was in the midst of listening to and reading as much of Leonard Cohen as possible, Bernard King  handed me the CD  "Old Prospect"  by Cockroach. As as a result Mr. King spun my musical investigations into a whole new world, this very world in which I now write and in which I heard about Thomas Patrick Maguire and then eventually actually heard him sing. 

I hope those who now been introduced TPM via NPR might get to experience him live.  A few months back he played a Justin Remer video release party on Staten Island at Phoebe Blue and Tommy Bones's place.   Now TPM is an ebullient conversationalist who embraces even places like Staten Island with a wide eyed wonder and an enthusiastic joyful gesturing with the hand that's holding the PBR.  But he is a soft singer. The softness draws you in as much as that low "woozy" thrumming of the guitar.  You become entranced.   OWS was still going on and TPM, who is perfectly capable of singing of the brutal aspects of a working class background****,  rendered his "I Am Not An Elitist" in this quiet, intense manner, as if he were rising to lay bare the lies of those on the blogs, on the TV, on the meme-reproducing Facebook postings, who repeat the canard that the extremely hard working people who sympathized with OWS were all looking for government handouts while simultaneously being members of some elite.  In those days my own anger was hair-trigger, and I kept finding myself unable to visit my parents for long, since they constantly had a certain news network on in which commentators would generalize from ugly particulars, which is bad enough but when you are a different particular that logically must come under the falsely created generalized universal, the survival mechanism of anger reacting to the Aristotelian slight can rise up and overwhelm whatever peace of mind you may have thought you  had after a hard day at work. 

But TPM's music is not angry. It is factual. And the room is quiet. He sits leaning over his guitar. The guitar thrumming three low strings. And the room is quiet, and Thomas Patrick's voice is soft, and the guitar is thrumming deeply, and the room is quiet. The room is quiet. And it is factual and the room is quiet:

I am not an elitist
I do not come from wealth
You're deaf to working class complaints
You're listening to privileged bells

So please don't talk about us
And how we are not right
'Cause when the next fake war comes around
You will not have to fight. *****

I love the primitive "and how we are not right."  It is the way a child might phrase it (cf. the title of the new album "The Future's Coming So Fast").   It is the syntax of innocence,  of the child from the hard working and barely middle class. if not the outright impoverished, who is defending his mom and dad and his family and friends.******  

Those last two lines have a certain ambiguity. On the one hand they can be taken as the  complaint of an extremely hard working class who traditionally serves as cannon fodder in the defense of wealth and privilege. But that night, in that room, I heard a sense of "believe me you'll be thanking us for putting this message out there so no one has to fight in the next fake war the government will try to drag us into." *******

So that is how I like listening to TPM.  He never seems to raise his voice all bent over that guitar. Even in a noisy lower East Side venue like the late lamented Banjo Jim's he left it up to audience to choose to pay attention.

But  there is the other way of listening to music which "All Songs Considered" (and Brook Pridemore) has brought me back to.  I shall throw "Pissing Streams" on the CD Player and when this post is posted and this link is offered to the NPR blog I will spend the next hour or so on this snow covered freezing New York City night, grateful to be in a warm apartment and  listening to TPM. 

*(NPR having (in many places, including the perimeter, and for years) been understood to refer to National Public Radio-- Sidenote: In New York I have noticed that people don't usually say I heard it on WYNC, the actually radio station, they say I heard it on NPR even  if its a PRI [look it up] production)  

**And without using cliche's such as "hit the nail on the head"

***This is the title of a book by a teacher of mine from college-- Stuart Ewen-- I have never read it. But it looks very interesting and I have probably been remiss these past decades for not reading it. Is there not a bit of irony that I am sending you to a link at



****** It is somewhat incomprehensible in an emperors new clothes sort of way that millionaires may actually call workers "elitists" and have the power to spread the lie to other workers.  

               "You may say that I am bitter but of this you may be sure
              The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor"-- Leonard Cohen

By the way this in no way implies an endorsement (by me or TPM whose actual views I do not know) of the many douchebags and maniacs who showed up at OWS, and it is for another Philosophic Analyzer piece to discuss the way we can be manipulated by the choice of images that are fed into our preconceived world views to ramp up our anger.

******* Maybe that interpretation was wishful thinking but that is the wonder of live music, it is fleeting and it sparks the neurons in ways that may turn out to unsustainable upon later review. On the other hand listening to the video I think the line still can bear that interpretation and it still is the first  meaning I hear. This may be because of the experience that night and in that room  left an imprint on the interpretative section of my brain.

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