I was turned on to Soul Coughing this past winter, and a recent viewing of their Screenwriter’s Blues got me to thinking about what I want to accomplish — and about what’s going on here.
Screenwriter’s Blues is the type of thing I’ve always loved. It’s in the same sphere as the sarcastopop of Cake, or Tom Waits’ drier observations, or Jim Morrison in those lucid intervals when he didn’t take himself too seriously, or Zappa when he did take himself seriously, or Beck when he trades in the Dadaism for satire — and I too think this is where I’m unconsciously headed as well. I’ll never be Ben bloody Folds — a technically superb musician who can unite strong songcraft with incisive and poetic lyrics — let alone Leonard goddamn Cohen — but I have always had a bit of a groovy-slash-Beaty aesthetic, and it seemed somehow inevitable that I’d want to apply it to musical verse.
Erstwhile colleagues Bob and Caroline Menzies of the Canadian Drift are responsible for this in large part, having 1) established a local venue for it in the very first place (along with Kristan Anderson and others here who also liked to incorporate music), 2) found a way to capitalize on the current Owen Sound musical culture, and 3) allowed me into the fold to tinker, experiment and spit rhymes.
Point #2 is important. What is going on poetically here is going on under unique conditions, and is the result of a fortuitous and happy critical mass: a meeting of local musicians and writers. Sure, Spoken Word over music is pretty much par for the course. But here it is inescapable, an inevitability. This is a small town with a small literary scene and an immense musical scene. If you want to galvanize an audience here, you have to be part of a band. You have to be a performer, an entertainer, and optimally someone who can integrate the novelty of Spoken Word with the “security” of rock ‘n’ roll. Corin Raymond and C.R. Avery go down like gangbusters in these parts!
So I think that interesting and downright badass things are in the offing — and it has in large part to do with the very unique mix of musical talent and personalities here. Where else could a poet collaborate with the likes of:
- vocal phenom Tara MacKenzie
- sui generis axeman Jake Chegahno
- spiritual ska-rockers Rajasi
- cellist extraordinaire Keira McArthur
- soulful folkies Our Shotgun Wedding
- ultimate journeyman guitarist Pete Devlin
- blues maestro Ted Rusk
… among so many, many others who have backed up the local versifiers? I think what we lack in numbers as poets, we more than make up for in versatility and collaborative potential. And so I think a unique sound might emerge. A rootsy, rock ‘n’ roll poetry, divorced from the usual hip-hop aggro, aware of Beat and hippie antecedents yet contemporary. Maybe it’s a tad provincial. We can cop to that. But it is entertaining, has a particular aesthetic, and has integrity.
It is also lively, alive … and live. What more could you want?