Echoes of a Nervous Breakdown: Music and Spoken Word

Just back from a great performance at “the Echo” club in Echo Park. I’ve never considered myself a big fan of spoken word performance, but lately find myself repeatedly wowed by performers in this genre – and it’s “National Poetry Month.” If you inexplicably find yourself speaking in rhyme, you’ll know why. Mention of poetry brings something like Emily Dickenson to mind; NOT my speed, even if I used to hang out near her museum-home and party on the lawn.

Rich Ferguson is the antidote to every silly fluffy rhyme in poetry. Rich is like the energy that rushes through you when you get off the bus at Port Authority in NYC and find yourself running down the sidewalk barely noticing all the grime and dirt around you, wondering if the guy at the corner up ahead is gonna mug you, and then you look up and notice there are palm trees and you’re in LA; there are gang-bangers on one side of you, a police car on the other side, you’re not sure which to look out for, and suddenly in the midst of that, it suddenly occurs to you what a dazzlingly beautiful day it is. His sidemen were the perfect complement to his high energy trance-like rants; his drummer Butch, currently playing with Lucinda Williams and co-founder of the Eels, knocked out some solid kick-butt grooves and carried another number off with a small hand drum that he played almost like a tabla; the keyboardist Edan Mason created some amazing soundscapes with a bunch of small boxes and vocal controllers, at times evoking pitched digeridoo sounds from his keyboard. Collectively, the group is called “Qualia.” Wikipedia reports: “Believers in qualia are known as qualophiles; non-believers as qualophobes.”

1 Giant Leap  (2019 update: The full film seems available on YouTube now, embedded above)

Rich first came to my attention in the amazing “What About Me? 1 Giant Leap” project.
(2019 update: the website for the project is gone now, but info is on Wikipedia, IMDB, and you can purchase the CDs on Amazon.)

English musicians Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman recorded a bunch of tracks on a laptop computer, and travelled the globe adding the talents of a variety of musicians in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, India, Nepal, Sikkim, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Among the artists were Dennis Hopper, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Stipe, Robbie Williams, Eddi Reader, Tom Robbins, Brian Eno, Baaba Maal, Speech, Asha Bhosle, Neneh Cherry, Anita Roddick, Michael Franti, and Zap Mama.

Musical tracks were intercut with interviews about life and spirituality in all the cultures they visited; the theme was “Unity Through Diversity.” The seamless audio-visual montage was breathtaking and inspiring. People call it a documentary, but it’s more progressive than most films in that genre. At a screening in Topanga Canyon, Rich performed and I first met him there.

Here’s one of the tracks from that show:

RichFerguson: Los Angeles Book of the Dead

The Echo Park show was presented by “The Nervous Breakdown,” an online culture magazine featuring the work of writers and artists from around the world.

Author Janet Fitch, best known for “White Oleander,” read from a punk rock novel set in Echo Park in 1980. Steve Abee, a poet and local teacher, recited a piercing intonation of a selection from his book of poems, “Great Balls of Flowers,” inspired by a student whose parents had both committed suicide. Poet Ellyn Maybe – whose name originated because she was shy at poetry readings and often wrote “maybe reading” next to her name – presented a work from her “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.” Each reading closed with a series of questions from the co-hosts Milo Martin and Lenore Zion such as, “Toilet paper: folded or scrunched up?” (“Never have time to fold it. Scrunched definitely.”) The co-hosts also presented some ruminations regarding genetic capability in asparagus urine odor detection. The show opened and closed with performances by “50 Cent Haircut” – a blues/rock/country hybrid with some great guitar players.

Tongue and Groove at the Hotel Cafe
If spoken word events are your cup of tea, you definitely want to check out Conrad Romo’s monthly “Tongue and Groove” event at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. Past events have featured a bevy of exceptionally moving talented authors and musicians.
The next one is apparently April 25th, from 6-7:30PM, featuring PEN Emerging writers Monica Carter, Natashia Deon, Lorene Garrett, Simone Kang, and Bev Margennis. Check with the Hotel Café before attending though; some of the website postings are out-of-date and the café calendar stops on the 24th. Or call Conrad: 323.937.0136.

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