Thursday, January 26, 2006

Songs Of Reticence And Delirium

At some point or other in my adolescent development, I decided I had to have a musical group.

It would be a conceptual group, one that would consist of whoever was around at the time, thus being more of a celebration of the playing than the players.

I dubbed them The Ballets Rude and long before the cassette revolution of outsider musicians evolved, we were busy with our portable Sears machines recording our strange and unearthly output.

For me, it was a whole aesthetic. The name itself suggested a balance between highbrow and lowbrow or composition and improvisation, much, I imagined proudly, like the human experience.

I was constantly trying to persuade my friends to participate in these projects. Lacking the hambone that I was born with, they were often hesitant, musicians and non-musicians alike. My friend George, who played guitar, could always be relied on to join in. Another friend’s sister who played the flute allowed her arm to be twisted once in a while. As the years rolled by, The Ballets Rude featured all kinds of instruments in all sorts of contexts.

For instance, there was the time we played a local park festival with a poet named Sid The Soul Sound Kid. Sid usually improvised his poems quickly and we backed him up the best we could. Afterwards he told us, “That was almost like music!” which caused our flute player to respond indignantly, “What do you mean? That was music!”

This exchange often seemed to occur at our shows.

Or the time we played a downtown ice cream parlor, serenading the brave audience of two with my finely shaded saxophone stylings, a just-learning bass player with a defective amp, and a set of African drums played by hand.

At one point I recall using a set of chattering teeth for percussion.

The headliner, a local folk act well known around town, showed up just as we finished and he fixed us with a puzzled stare.

One night at a local university my girlfriend was attending, I talked a group of musicians involved with other bands on the evening’s bill to become The Ballets Rude for a night. The results startled me. Their willingness to create the music from scratch was entirely successful and I don’t think anyone could tell we’d never played together before. The high point for me was a piano and drum duet I played with a very talented drummer who anticipated where I was going every step of the way. I listened to that tape for years afterward.

But perhaps the most exposure we ever got was due to a half-hour television special we did in 1974.

You might well ask how such a thing was possible.

Well, the next time public television asks you for money, you may want to consider what happened the time they gave carte blanche to a strange sideshow of art damaged youngsters, an event we’ll refer to as…

Next: The Day The Music Fried


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