Friday, April 3, 2009

Conspiracy Of Beards: New York Diary, Pt. 1

I read Cat's Cradle in its entirety on yesterday's flight to New York and spent the remaining hour daydreaming ominously about Ice-Nine while passing over what I think was Lake Huron. If you read the book, you'll know what I mean.

My fellow newbie-Beard Larry stepped up to say hello on the same flight. Later, my seatmate, a middle-aged woman traveling with her husband and her mother, asked me if my friend and I were traveling to New York on business. No, I replied, I'm in a choir called the Conspiracy Of Beards. "What a name!", she exclaimed. "Yeah, we're a men's chorus who do Leonard Cohen songs." Her mother, who looked to be in her 70s, lit up. "That's so great!" Leonard crosses all age boundaries.

We convened at the 14th St. PATH station and took the train to WFMU in Jersey City, where we did a live-on-the-radio spot on Billy Jam's show. I remember Billy Jam from the Bay Area where he was a hip-hop DJ on the radio back in the 80s. He's still playing hip-hop, but he also has crazy men's choirs belting it out live in the studio, or at least this one. The station was a homey little hipster haven full of astonishing oil paintings of famous villains like Donald Rumsfeld, Osama bin Laden, and Phil Spector; great kitschy old album covers; back issues of zines like Roctober, XLR8R and Motorbooty; and (buried somewhere deep in their library) some of our label's Content Providers and X-tal CDs. Call 'em up and request them sometime.

Much stretching of limbs and limbering of voices in the green room as we warmed up by doing vocal imitations of the Asteroids game in the room, then did lots of songs before our director Daryl Henline showed up and put us through our paces. Daryl is great at kicking your ass and putting you at ease in the same moment, a true example of leadership. There is a version of "The Window" we do that is arranged for octet and solo voice, with the rest of the group bursting in on the choruses. In rehearsal, it was exquisite.

Time to go on. We strolled upstairs into the performance room while Billy and his assistant watched from the other side of a window. We rolled through "First We Take Manhattan", hit a snag when "So Long Marianne" morphed into "The Window" in the first few bars, and got our groove back with "Famous Blue Raincoat", "If It Be Your Will", "A Singer Must Die", and the amazingly arranged (kudos to Ruben Fonseca for this...various choir members write arrangements for the group, each with his own makes for fun and challenging singing) "Is This What You Wanted?" I really think the Beards need to do a good studio recording of that last one. It's a hit, man!

It's amazing to be part of this THING that happens when the hard work pays off and this diverse group of imperfect voices suddenly meshes into a powerful musical force. I was a fan of the Beards before I joined, and I am a fan now. It's a thrill to be here doing this.

On the PATH train back to New York, the boys collected in one end of the car and sang "Chelsea Hotel #2". I grabbed the camera and shot a crude movie of us performing, until the conductor yelled at me, "Hey you! Didntcha HEAR ME! You can't take pictures on the train! Put it away or I'll call a cop!" Fortunately the song was already over. I think I caught an awesome moment. Hooray for spontaneity.

This evening, it's off to the Stain Bar in Brooklyn, where we will be doing our first live show of the weekend. I think it's going to be great; WFMU was the perfect warmup. Wish me luck. Gotta run.

1 comment:

Davis Jones said...

Hey, Baby! I miss you and I am so thrilled that you are out there spreading your joyology and your beautiful voice all over NYC.

The Conspiracy of Beards rock!

Can't wait to see the video!