…continued from Part 1
Van Dyke laughs, before considering his Union Chapel show, close on the horizon when we speak. “I look at it as an exorcism, and anyone who feels afflicted should come!” He laughs again. “I do not want to be – I will not be – obscene, in such a place. It would embarrass me terribly to see an empty seat. If people walk out in the course of the performance, that I can understand, but if the place is empty I’ll be just devastated!”
Realistically there is no chance of that of course – so moving on, he considers Englishness, and if that was a factor in his recent attraction to and production of The Shortwave Set‘s second album. “Yes, they were looking in all directions, and I liked that. They were very generous people to trust, because that was a track neither one of us had trod.
“I come into a job of such importance not knowing anything,” he explains, “and I wanted to finish that thought from earlier, the ‘Are you more careful now?’ implication. I have always sweated bullets – I have to work hard. I’m not that talented, I’m admitting this. For example at the Union Chapel I will be accompanied by a violin, a cello, and a bass. Each one of those musicians has perfect pitch; I do not. I’m gonna kill ‘em! These people are too talented!” he laughs again, “but they’re willing to drop their standards. But I do work hard; I get a lot done through effort. I’m amazed that I’m still in touch with my hands, because they seem to be farther from my head every day!”
“I have always sweated bullets – I have to work hard. I’m not that talented, I’m admitting this” – Candid modesty from Van Dyke Parks
He resumes. “So it’s an athletic adventure! I have not included Percy Grainger’s Handel In The Strand, but I intend to do that sometime. I’m feathering the props, as it were, and I’m trying to establish the thought that I can come back. I would like to present the music I’ve done over my lifetime that I approve of, that meets my heightened expectations of myself, and celebrate these new 45s, which I’m going to flog at the ‘merch’ stand.”
His baritone richer, he explains why he refuses to ‘flog merch’, as he puts it. “It’s the collective work of quality people, people looking out not in, people who are masters of collaboration and individual value. It’s all very good the idea of these 45rpm stereo hi-fidelity singles, ‘hi-fidelity’ being the operative word. Those singles can also be downloaded, but as physical objects they can be the objects d’art. It reminds me of where I came from when sound was full and filled with nuance, the apogee of the analogue era – when I was a brunette. And that’s what I’m going to celebrate.”
The implication is that we fall back too much on studio trickery in modern recording, rather than making the most of instruments at our disposal. “Well yes, and for a while I didn’t want to believe it, I was wobbling – and everybody said that analogue, vinyl is beat. This digital brutality and the brittle nature of digital information. But time has borne it out that analogue is the animal, and we’ve been had bad, Dad, with this technological dead end. Nothing beats vinyl! I’m sorry, they’ll have to go back and work on that again. If they want to replace it they’ll have to find a way that can accommodate the subtleties of a grand piano. That’s the truth. It takes more work, but my heart is in the work.”
“Nothing beats vinyl! I’m sorry, they’ll have to go back and work on that again. If they want to replace it they’ll have to find a way that can accommodate the subtleties of a grand piano” – Van Dyke Parks on why analogue is best
He interrupts himself. “I didn’t answer many questions!” he suddenly realises, but his oration has been a constant delight. “If you don’t get at me harshly I’ll kill you! But didn’t you like the fact that you gave me an opportunity to talk about the real importance of the Carthy-Waterson clan, and what they mean to British culture? Because you see, it’s like Phil Ochs said in the song before he died many years ago – a man of great courage, uncorrupted. He said ‘I would be in exile now, but everywhere’s the same. I wanna go home.’ We are in a Mac world. I seek when I go somewhere and I find the Kentucky Fried state of mind, when I’m in that world.”
The stream of consciousness is unabated. “I look for the singular, regional value. I still look beyond the sagging wires, the Gap, the Starbucks. I look beyond that fog. And what is that fog? That fog, I regret to say, is American cultural hegemony. You may call it imperialism if you like. A kind of world that is rocking and rolling, without a mind of its own.” A very slight pause. “I’m sorry to be so dark,” he says. “It’s just sad to me. That’s why I take the effort to speak to the powers that be. If I have my power next time I come I’ll open for the Waterson-Carthy clan.”
A final question occurs – having participated in two Meltdown festivals, would he like to curate one? “Well, I would have to investigate because I don’t know stuff,” he says, perking up considerably. “What I would do would be to investigate those that have blooms where they grew. I would try to come as an enemy alien, outside the framework, with the power of inquiry, and a willingness to pursue.
“I would find those that are still speaking British,” he says determinedly. “I would put the hard ‘C’ in Celtic, even after that awful Norman thing happened! I look for Celtic music, and that’s what I would do in a Meltdown, get something solid out of it. That is how sold I am on the dances, the unexplored rhythms of olden times. It’s just as sexy as anything that came out of that Dark Continent, from the white man’s burdens. The rhythms of the British Isles are really something, as big as anything from New Orleans to me!”
In May 2011 Van Dyke Parks releases a series of six singles, beginning with Dreaming Of Paris, on Bananastan. The series features accompanying artwork for each 7″ from Ed Ruscha, Maus, Charles Ray, Frank Holmes and Sally Parks, his wife. More information on the composer can be found at his website.