COPENHAGEN – The reason I came to attend the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival this week – which I have been reporting on extensively on this blog – is because it has a special section called “Sound & Vision,” that focuses on music documentaries, as well and another part to it that draws together interesting music groups and visual things – such as the concert by Tindersticks in conjunction with an old documentary, Minute Bodies; or a concert by a Danish band called Shiny Darkly at a film about the career of rock photographer Mick Rock. The man who is the head of both of these musicl sub-categories of the festival is a 32-year-old Dane named Adam Thorsmark. Adam studied film, but is above all a music lover, and has always combined in his career the mix of film and music. In addition to writing music reviews for various publications and other music and film related jobs, it was therefore no surprise that since 2011 he became the head of these music activities at the festival, also known as CPH:DOX.
I had the great luck to find myself being allowed to meet and interview Adam yesterday in the restaurant of the main festival hall. My original idea had been to write a Q&A for this blog from the interview, but suddenly I realized that for a Sound & Vision section of the film festival, it made much more sense to edit the half hour interview down into a podcast. So here is the interview, and please excuse the ambient noise of the restaurant… or perhaps it is a better idea to appreciate it and hear just how lively is this CPH:DOX festival. And to appreciate through the sound of his voice, especially, Adam’s enthusiasm for his job, the official title of which is: Head of Regional Activities & Music.
PARIS – Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the songs I sing most often on my world travels is the now classic Tears for Fears song, “Mad World.” I really don’t know how this came to be a staple of my open mic stage repertoire. Well, except that I like playing it, everyone seems to know it, and it turns out to be one of the few songs that I feel really comfortable playing impromptu when I’ve got other musicians on stage, none of whom I have ever played with.
With the recent absolutely MAD events around the world – such things as the Donald Trump election, Brexit, Italy, who knows what in France, and goodness knows how many surprises to come in the future – I thought it was a good moment to make a video of as many of the “Mad World” videos that I could find of me playing in open mics and open jam sessions around the world. The idea was to join them all together at the lip, and use as the common thread the recording of “Mad World” that I have on my album, released this year, “Out of Jam.” (Which is available now on all the basic downloading sites, such as iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, and who knows how many others!)
I also decided to let slip into the video the occasional “live” sound from the actual recordings at the open mics, where it seems to fit O.K. without too much disruption.
Needless to say, this compilation of “Mad World” moments from early 2010 up until last month in 2016, is only a small sample of the hundreds of times, and dozens of countries in which I have sung the song solo or in a group, due to the fact that I’m usually not the subject of the videos for this blog, but the recorder of the videos. This video represent some of the few occasions in which someone actually did record me – and I have so many other musicians around the world to thank for the times they played “Mad World” or other songs with me, that it would take too long here – and be too boring – to name them all.
So check out the link above, to my “Mad World – Around the (mad) world.”
MEXICO CITY – One of the occasional side shows of open mics around the world is the attendance of unusual people meeting on the level playing field of the amateur stage. Sometimes this comes in the form of professional musicians, actual rock stars, opera stars, or symphony violinists taking to the stage. Sometimes it comes in the form of actors or actresses trying their hand at the similarly thespian art of singing and performing live music instead of inhabiting theatrical roles. Last night at Mexico City’s only open mic, this cameo guest role came in the form of the somewhat eccentric, controversial and talented director of classic rock videos by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Roger Waters and, for me most significantly, “Runaway Train,” by Soul Asylum. Oh, and of course, this rather private man, Tony Kaye, is above all known as the renegade director of the film, American History X. So what the hell was he doing at the Black Horse open mic in Mexico City?
Well, first of all, if you go to Tony Kaye’s Wikipedia page entry, you will find him defined as: “Director, cinematographer, producer, screenwriter, actor, writer, poet, singer/songwriter, painter.” Yes, singer/songwriter. So what could be more natural than for him to show up at an open mic in a town where he is apparently doing some filming? And guess what? I could see from his performances and the lyrics and music of his songs that Tony Kaye is definitely expressing himself in song. This is not just a capricious night out to give a try behind the open mic. In fact, I learned that he had also attended the same open mic the week before. (NOTE: After posting this blog item, I learned through amazing synchronicity in a conversation with someone who knew someone else who is working with Kaye now in Mexico on an advertisement for Mr. Muscle, a Mexican cleaning product like Mr. Clean. So that’s why Kaye is here; directing a commercial. It all makes clean sense now!)
Mounting the stage, he put on a hat that made him look vaguely like the Wicked Witch of the West, and had his by now trademark long white beard, and round spectacles, and definitely had a “presence.” And yet, it was interesting to see this legendary – if not very productive – film director (and ad man) then go on to apologize before his performance: “Thanks for letting me indulge in my hobby here before you,” he said, or something very similar. And he repeated two or three times that, “I’m only an amateur…”
That made me think, nevertheless, that maybe Tony Kaye has not done THAT many open mics or public performances, since I think there is a moment where you stop apologizing and just get on with doing your best. But there was not much of a way of learning the background to it all, for Tony off stage was actually a lot more private than onstage. He sat mostly by himself, and when I tried to venture over and start a conversation, I found it roadblocked most of the time. Is this his nature? Is it because as I learned from the IMDB that Kaye has had a severe speech impediment since childhood? What I really wanted to talk most about was that song, “Runaway Train,” which is one of the few cover songs that I do.
In fact, I was really tempted to sing my version of the song, and to preface it with my usual statement that while most people tend to use a respectable term for covering other musicians music by calling it “interpretation,” for me I say that I always try to cover another performer’s song in EXACTLY the way they do it… and I fuck up completely, but the fuck up ends up being called “interpretation,” and sometimes it is considered slightly original!
Tony Kaye at Black Horse in Mexico City
But in the end, I opted to do “Mad World,” and two of my own songs. Not only did I not quite have the nerve to do “Runaway Train,” but I felt it to be too fawning. I did, however, tell him that for me, that song had never represented the interpretation he had given it in the video, i.e., about teenagers who run away from home. Despite having run away from home myself briefly at age 17, I told him, I always felt the song was much more likely about such a thing as drug addiction, or perhaps addiction to a relationship one cannot break away from. (The band itself refers to it being about depression.)
In any case, it much to my great and huge delight to hear Tony Kaye respond to me very quickly about my observation by answering: “Oh, I put a spin on it.” In other words, he had very creatively interpreted the song his own way – and as it turned out, that was an important interpretation, as it is said to have helped save many relationships as many runaways were subsequently found.
Part of me thinks I should not be writing that on the blog, since I had not intended to “interview” him, but this blog is a conversational thing that I generally write in as if I’m sharing stories with my friends. And I’ve already told a few friends about that conversation. So rightly or wrongly, I quote him there. Maybe, in fact, that is part of the reason he remained so private and closed-mouthed in general throughout the evening. But I think, now having looked up his career in Hollywood and the ad world, that possibly that has more to do with just how this eccentric director happens to be as a person.
I felt slightly embarrassed for Kaye when he got up to do his first song and after a few words of introduction – those apologies – he was entirely drowned out by the cheers of a large number of Mexicans watching an important soccer match with a Mexican team, precisely coinciding with the penalty shootout! When the cheers were explained to Kaye, he said in a very good natured way: “Well, I can’t compete with that, can I?”
In any case, Tony Kaye made the evening for a lot of people last night by showing up to do more of his very personal music, and I continue to feel justified in loving the open mic format.
But I should NOT being talking only about Tony Kaye. The evening at the Black Horse was another classic open mic evening, with a wonderful hosting job done by both Natalia – who did a great rendition of the Mercedes Benz song by Janis Joplin – and by Jairus, whom I had met last year when I attended.
There were many other fun and interesting performers as well, by the way, especially the couple of model-musicians who do music together as well as model together, with the woman on keyboards and the guy on guitar, and both on vocals. They did among other songs, a Pink Floyd….
Anyway, why could there not be MORE open mics in Mexico City!!!???? Perhaps there would be even more meetings with remarkable men…(and women)….
PS, a few hours after posting this blog item, I learned of a fabulous video that shows Jairus McDonald and his band in a recent live recording they did of some of their songs and some covers. The quality of this video, and especially the quality of the sound is spectacular – to say nothing of the quality of the musicianship. This is truly the Jairus I saw in his brief live appearance at the open mic last night, too. Apparently this video is one of a series of such live videos recorded in Mexico City of basically only Latin American bands, and Jairus and his band are the exception. I can see why. Very cool….