LONESOME, NO MORE Van Dyke Parks w/Clare and the Reasons (Moogfest Pt.1)

LONESOME,
NO MORE Van Dyke Parks w/Clare and the Reasons (Moogfest Pt.1)

 

In the first of our MoogFest artist
profiles this week, the legendary composer/arranger tells why he wants to “feel
the pleasures of performance.”

 

BY MIKE SHANLEY

 

Van
Dyke Parks warms up with a joke. Upon hearing that his interviewer lives in
Pittsburgh, home for some years of his family, as well as his alma mater
Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), he states in all sincerity, “Not
many people know this, but my mother and father were in iron and steel.”

 

Really?

 

“Yes,
my mother ironed and my father stole,” he deadpans. After a polite laugh, he
adds, “What are you doing to me? I
set you up for that!”

 

He may
have arranged for the likes of Brian Wilson and Joanna Newsom, but clearly his
accomplishments haven’t given him the ego or the attitude that would be
expected of 40-plus year, jaded music industry veteran. Parks in fact is
excited to be leaving what he describes as the “monastic business” of studio
work and performing live in small venues across the country, which he is doing
through early October.

 

Although
he has released five albums since 1968, beginning with the beautifully
ambitious Song Cycle, he never toured
to support them, and has only performed occasionally, often with just guitar
and bass accompanying his piano and voice. Now Brooklyn’s Clare and the Reasons
are backing him on a jaunt that will include a set of both older compositions
and new ones from a forthcoming album. At age 67, he clearly relishes the idea.
“I have an agreement with an agent that books you on the road. This is a new
thing,” he says. “I feel very much like I’m in show business. For the first
time.”

 

Clare Maldaur
Manchon, vocalist of Clare and the Reasons, shares his enthusiasm for jumpstarting
his performance career. “I’m so happy that we’re taking part in him being out
in the world and being more public with his music,” she says. “Because I’m
quite convinced that’s what he’s supposed to be doing, because it’s so
special.”

 

Parks
began working in California
in the early 1960s. (He mentions playing The
Jungle Book
‘s “Bare Necessities” as his first union job.) Besides his
numerous arranging sessions, one of the more infamous collaborations is his lyric
writing on Smile, the Beach Boys’ aborted
follow-up to Pet Sounds, which Brian
Wilson finally re-recorded released in 2004.

 

In
1968, Parks released Song Cycle, a
challenging album that incorporated numerous strains of American popular music,
together with the political unrest of the era, all blended in a dreamlike,
echoey production. Like most ambitious projects, it was – and still is –
largely misunderstood.

“When I
played it for the head of Warner Brothers, he said, ‘Song Cycle? Well, where are the songs?’,” Parks recalls. “Years
later, my daughter said, ‘Dad, you should have called it Song Psycho.‘ I said, ‘Yes Elizabeth, but the tuition is paid.'”

 

Still
it continues to generate interest. The 33 1/3 series from Continuum Books,
which publishes chapbooks devoted to individual albums, published an
installment on Song Cycle earlier
this year. Parks also admits, sardonically, “I love the way Warner Brothers
keeps not being able to sell it so
many years later. It’s still in print.”

 

***

 

Clare Maldaur
Manchon and her husband/bandmate Olivier Manchon met Parks while living in Los Angeles and got him to
play piano on their 2007 debut, The Movie.
“They’re lovely people and great musicians,” Parks says. “It’s highly
theatrical, out-of-the-box music, which I enjoy immensely.”

 

Last
fall, the Manchons each received calls from Parks suggesting they all play a
show together in Paris.
They agreed, and although they’ve yet to make it to the French city, they have
played several West Coast dates, as well as dates in Spain
and England.
“I never imagined that someday I would be called the – ta-da! – headliner in Barcelona.
Never thought I would have the good fortune to go there,” Parks says. “Then we
went to the Royal Festival Hall of London and we smoked their shorts there. We
worked hard. If you like watching aerial ballet without a net, it’s like that.
We challenge each other.”

 

Parks
never performed Song Cycle live because
it required a whole orchestra, making a large venue and some serious funding a
necessity.  (Next year, however, he will perform
his sophomore album Discover America in
a theater setting, complete with orchestra.) Recreating them with a smaller group sparked his interest but he wasn’t
sure what to expect for the first shows with Clare and the Reasons. When he
showed up in Seattle with only a bass part written out for the songs, it turned
out that he didn’t even need that. “Olivier told me, ‘No, no, we’ve got it all,
thank you.’ What he had done was gone through my records and just reverse-engineered
the whole thing,” Parks says. “He just wrote it down, absolutely flawlessly.
I’m going to kill him. He’s a genius. I can’t stand it.”

 

Maldaur
Manchon says her husband’s efforts helped to put Parks at ease. “It’s a great
experience for Van Dyke to feel like he doesn’t have to hold down all the parts
of the fort,” she says. “Meaning he can be more of a performer and worry about
delivering the song and the set.”

What
seems most impressive thing is the lack of pretension Parks has in regard to
hitting the road in a van. “I spent the last about 40 years committing myself
almost exclusively to studio work and then the undergarments of film activity
where I would work in scoring, television shows or B movies where I felt I’d
done an A job,” he says. “I put my kids through college and now I’ve realized
that this is one area I haven’t attempted.

 

“I
arrange for a lot of artists, but the truth is, my work is alone. I want to hit
the road and feel the pleasures of performance. I want to go into a room where
there are people. I’m tired of being lonesome,” he says.

 

Van Dyke Parks, along with Clare and the
Reasons, will be performing together this week in Tallahassee, New Orleans,
Athens and Asheville – the latter appearance has CATR taking the stage of the
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium at 10pm followed by VDP at 11 on Friday, Oct. 29, as
part of MoogFest, of which BLURT is
a proud partner. Dates and venues at Parks’ official website.

 

[Photo
Credit for Van Dyke Parks: Roman Cho]

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