Friday, December 03, 2004

Perchance to Dream

Had the weirdest experience yesterday, early morning...

While lying in bed in that suspended state of reverie between dreams and waking, I flashed on a recording session with Kevin Coyne I took part in in Dusseldorf in 1997. For those unfamiliar with the man's work, Kevin was one of the great unheralded geniuses of contemporary music, a mad English singer/songwriter/poet/painter and larger than life diamond geezer, once dubbed "the British Beefheart" (he was much more than that), once bruited as a replacement for Jim Morrison in the Doors, a favorite of the influential UK radio host John Peel who issued albums by Kevin's first band Siren in the late 60's on Peel's own label Dandelion. I first heard Kevin in all his bluesy whimsical glory after I sent my parents on a mission in the spring of 1969 on one of their regular trips to London to bring back for me my boy Syd Barrett's first solo album "The Madcap Laughs", and the clerk in the shop on Oxford Street pressed a copy of Siren's first album on them to also take home for their Anglophile son (he also talked them into bringing me back a copy of Black Sabbath's debut...guess which album I wound up fact, I think I'll burn the first Siren album into ITunes right now).

Many years later I came to collaborate with Kevin after the booker in a club in Belgium I was playing solo casually mentioned that in his estimation he thought the two of us would be a good fit playing together; I jumped at the suggestion and took Kevin's phone number from him (Kevin had relocated to Nurnberg Germany), called the man up, and we hit it off instantly,.. it is thus on such impulse that many of my best collaborations are born (the producver Hal Willner similarly casually suggested to me a collaboration with Tim Buckley's son Jeff for a tribute he was putting together for Tim's music, the rest is history...)

Anyway I arrived at the studio in Dusseldorf some months later with two full instrumentals I had composed with Kevin's voice in mind, and finally met face to face with this rather ruddy, Dickensian looking gent with a twinkle in his eye and his young German band of rock-jazz adepts, and we were off. I quickly taught the band their parts and we cut two backing tracks like one two three...and then without so much as a break Kevin strode into the vocal booth and completely and spontaneously off the cuff extemporized the full lyrics and melodies to "Wonderland" and "English Rose"! And--what songs they were--they were perfect!(Well, I did suggest that he change the title of the first from "Disneyland" for fear of possible copyright infringement...the chorus "I'm goin' to Disneyland" actually referred to something else there again, I'll leave you to track down a copy of the amazing double Kevin Coyne CD "Knocking On Your Brain" on which these songs appear to find out just what that was...)

Kevin had the amazing ability to come up with the goods, each time, on the spot, with no interference of right/left brain mediation to inhibit the flow, it just poured out of him...and he wrote whole albums this way, well over 40 I believe at last count. My favorite later album besides "Knocking On Your Brain" is "The Adventures of Crazy Frank". And I rank these 2 songs as on a par with my work with Jeff, they were that good. In fact, we cut another 5 unreleased songs in 2000 in a studio in Nurnberg when I stopped over to stay with Kevin and his wife for a couple days off in the midst of a lengthy solo tour...and there are some real gems among them.

Anyway I was lying in bed yesterday morning in a hazy dreamy state, ruminating on the details of this first encounter in Dusseldorf, and finally fully woke, around 8:30am, shuffled out of bed, went over to my computer to get my email from the night before, and discovered in the form of a terse message from my friend, the English music writer Mike Barnes, that Kevin Coyne had passed away that very day.

I was staggered by this...and my wife, also surprised, remarked to me that I had mentioned my working with Kevin to her in a very recent conversation.

Kevin had been knocking on my brain.

And I will add that I have been sorely grieved by his loss--he was, besides being one of the greatest writing partners I've ever worked with, a really really warm, sympathetic, and down to earth guy, with no use whatsoever for the petty posing and snobberies of so many of the characters I've met up with in this business of music. I will miss him dearly. Along with the recent loss of Kevin's good friend and champion John Peel, this has been a very sad time for music indeed.

Postcript: I had lunch later in the afternoon yesterday at Doma with my friend John Cameron Mitchell, the creator and star of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"--an extremely gifted actor (he was superb as Laura Bush in a recent benefit production of Tony Kushner's new play here at Cooper Union), and an extremely nice guy--and his natural grace and good humor did much to dispel the rather dark cloud hanging over my head by the untimely death of my friend Kevin.



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