Announcing: Big Kitty TV!

Big Kitty TV’s episode 1 will soon be premiering: tonight at 9PM EST/8 CST/6 PST and 3AM in France (désolé !)

Big Kitty’s thrilling new excursion into television is perhaps the most exciting and revolutionary moment in world history. Or, perhaps it isn’t. Whatever your opinion may be, this is a savory offering from the Big Kitty universe, including new songs and performances, stories, and a variety of personalities appearing onscreen. We hope you enjoy, and if you do, we ask you to tell a friend you think would enjoy watching to tune in to this grand endeavor. Witness the wonder below, via YouTube.



The cover of BOOK by Big Kitty
This is the cover of Rebecca Or, Promise Punished by Big Kitty
The cover of Elements of Betty by Big Kitty

Three books are now available from Big Kitty – most recently BOOK, a tale of not finding one’s way through life, and the two earlier books REBECCA, OR PROMISE PUNISHED and ELEMENTS OF BETTY.

You can order these books by mail by sending $5 per book plus $5 shipping (from France). Below is a handy pricing chart:

1 title … $10

2 titles … $15

3 titles … $20

Be sure to include a note specifying which titles you wish to receive and make sure the mailing address is correct. Also write if you would like a certain dedication.

If you’re going to come to a concert, you can buy them there! As long as I have some left. And there aren’t very many, actually! But there will definitely be some in Chattanooga on October 27th!

John Lennon’s birthday

Today would be John Lennon’s 83rd birthday. Sure wish he was still walking this Earth. He’s the singer that I most imitated as a kid. I don’t want to write too much about him, there’s already so much there. But I do get sad thinking about how he died.

Are unknown things recorded somewhere? Like, for example, future events? And among future events, the way each one of us will die? Because now that we know how John Lennon died, we can look back at his life with that knowledge overlaid. I think about him as a kid, making up words to rock and roll songs, never knowing what was coming.

New album: Accompanyments 2

Accompanyments 2 will officially come out on 4 August 2023! This is an album of searching, wandering, lonely songs sung in nature. I hope it takes you somewhere.

In anticipation of this release, I hereby announce, there shall be two internet events:

2 August 2023 at 7PM Europe / 6PM UK / 2PM Eastern / 11AM Pacific: A video for “inside the fellows of the moon” one of the twenty-three songs on Accompanyments 2. This video was filmed by the inspiring Naoko Williams, 9 years old. The version of the song is different from the album, being sung extemporaneously every time.  Accompanyments are never the same twice. The video premier will happen on my YouTube channel.

4 August 2023 at 8PM Europe / 7PM UK / 3PM Eastern / 12PM Pacific: An album listening party on my Bandcamp page. If you come, you can listen to the whole album with me and whoever else might show up, and we’ll have a live chat about it as it happens. Note: this album will only be available on Bandcamp.

Accompanyments: Singing, speaking, shouting in the woods

Here’s something that’s hard to admit: after starting a family I wrote a whole lot less music. I always needed to be alone to write, to be in a place without any inhibitions about making weird sounds with my voice and searching for secret words. Even before beginning family life, finding time to be alone was a huge difficulty. I’ve never had a space that was all my own. Probably the best situation I ever had, not in terms of happiness or life fulfillment, but in terms of having regular access to solitude, was during college years in Chattanooga, Tennessee — specifically, the years 2005-2008. The 2006-2007 year was particularly interesting because I was a study abroad student in the city of Brno in the Czech Republic. In the dorms there was a music rehearsal room with a piano. You had to ask for a key at the front desk, which I somehow managed to do in Czech. The room was a semi-basement, a cinderblock rectangle with exposed pipes and one high window. I wrote a few of the songs I still sing today there, like Headed Nowhere.

Since I’ve long wished for another situation like the piano room. I know I could have figured this situation out better than I have so far. But that’s not the point of what I want to share with you here. I want to talk about how that problem led me to different ways of writing songs. In 2020, my family and I moved into a small house in rural France, which is where I’m writing from now. It’s a beautiful place in the mountains, full of hiking trails, stones, moss mud, tree roots, streams, ferns, waterfalls, birds, wildflowers… Our house is small, though, no place to be alone there. So I came up with a different way to write a different kind of song. A kind of song I could write outside, while walking.

Being able to create songs while alone outside constitutes the first impulse towards this type of writing, but there are others that go with it. The desire to improvise was another. I’d often been frustrated by the limitations of the singer-songwriter, and envious of the freedom of a jazz musician, who takes the stage with nothing but an instrument, no texts needing memorization. I would love to do that, begin a concert with an empty mind, not knowing what the music will be or where it will take me. The free jazz approach added another cornerstone to this kind of songwriting.

Also, the move from complex chord patterns to modal harmony in 1960s jazz, that greatly expanded the notes available to soloists, found a link with unaccompanied ballad singing – since I couldn’t really carry a guitar around walking, I would sing unaccompanied, completely free of keys and tonality, able to follow the drama of the voice, finding something between singing and speaking, a bit like Harry Partch. The soundscapes of nature, that R. Murray Schafer mapped out like the composer he is, accompany the voice, pulling it with their own subtle gravities.

A third impulse has to do with my observations of how I’ve written songs in the past: I always thought I did better when I searched for sounds with my mouth rather than writing on paper silently. There’s something special about a song born straight from of the breath that’s harder to capture with the mind and the page. And so we make a full circle back to the need to be alone, because it can feel embarrassing to improvise out loud like that in front of other people. I know there must be some people who can do that, and I would like to count myself among them someday.

Like I mentioned earlier, these songs are a bit like the unaccompanied ballads, but they’ve got lots of room for all the poetic invention you can muster. They could be called “unpopular” songs, because they’re rough-hewn, generally un-melodic, the polar opposite of “easy listening,” and absolutely useless as background music. But walking around outside another name came to mind–Accompanyments–misspelled, with a Y. It’s ironic, because there’s no instrumental accompaniment, except for the sounds of flowing water, birds, insects, dogs barking, cars going by. And there’s nobody accompanying me on the recording–I’m all alone. But if you listen to these recordings, my voice can be your company. It’s almost a new genre of song, a new form, at the same time as it is really not so different than anything that came before.

I’m working on a second collection of these songs–Accompanyments 2–that I’ll be adding to Bandcamp within the next couple of weeks. I go out in the woods, now with a Tascam DR-40X recorder, settle into a nice sonic environment, often with my dog these days, and sing. I do pure improvisation and I do different takes on lyrics I’ve been developing. I’m struggling to figure out how they work, what makes them happen, what makes them interesting. It’s really difficult, because it’s all backwoods walking–there’s no pathway to follow. Every time I listen to other songs or read other books, I think, why can’t these songs include so much of the world as that? Why do my songs feel so small? Then I look back and I wonder if they might not be as vast as I can make them. I add some lines, take some out… What is mine to make, but what I’m experiencing right now?

And isn’t it only halfway made until someone listens? If you who are reading this now listen to these songs when they’re released (like wild animals), will you find something vast there? I hope so, more than anything in the world.


Thinking about Buddy Holly

When I was about 14 years old, in 1998, I bought a record player at Value Plus Pawn in the Midland Shopping Center in Maryville, Tennessee. It was a low-end machine that played records slightly off-speed, but my reason for acquiring a record player was not the higher-quality audio — at the time, I assumed CDs to be superior — it was because records were cheap!

Now that I had a record player, I went through my dad’s stack of LPs, hoping against hope for something along the lines of Rush, Black Sabbath, or Pink Floyd. Instead, I found The Ray Conniff Singers, Alabama, and Neil Diamond. But there was one record I was excited to listen to: a double LP of Buddy Holly singles called A Rock & Roll Collection. Many of Holly’s undeniable songs were etched into those discs, including “Words of Love,” “Not Fade Away,” and “That’ll Be The Day.” Listening to that record cemented Buddy Holly as one of my heroes. And of course, it was sad how such a brilliant guy died so young.

How did he do it? How could one write so many flesh-ripping songs before dying at the age of 22? Whenever I listen to Buddy Holly I tend to ruminate on an alternate reality in which Buddy Holly’s plane didn’t crash. What if he somehow avoided that grisly death that keeps him hermetically sealed in the 1950s? What if his existence had continued beyond that decade? One first looks to the other rock-&-rollers who survived him; so many of those fifties rockers couldn’t stay at the top beyond that decade. But Buddy Holly was too self-sufficient and forward-thinking to have suffered the same fate as Elvis. His need to innovate and expand could have prolonged his career longer than those of Chuck Berry or Little Richard. Surely, he would’ve met the Beatles, who worshipped him and who based their approach to songwriting largely upon his. Would Buddy Holly have been sympathetic to the psychedelic era? Or would he have rejected it, going country like Jerry Lee Lewis ? The latter seems very likely, but wouldn’t it be fantastic to hear Buddy Holly’s take on the acid-driven grotesque lyrics, searching melodies, and experimental arrangements of the psychedelic era? He had already sung “Love is strange.” Perhaps the prominence of the word “strange” indicates a penchant for the off-kilter which Holly might have leaned into when such things came into vogue.

From such reflections it follows to ask: if Buddy Holly were to survive the 1960s, how would he have found his way through the 1970s? Would he have exploded into Elvis-like lavish orchestrations? Or would he have stayed true to his stripped-down, proto-punk sound? Or would he have incorporated new instruments – synthesizers and programmed beats – and followed the dance route that was such an important aspect of early rock and roll?

How about the 1980s? That decade would seem to present the greatest challenges – I’m thinking of Bob Dylan’s Empire Burlesque, Joni Mitchell’s Dog Eat Dog, Neil Young’s Trans and Everybody’s Rockin’. Old-fashioned songsters grappling with new sounds in an effort to stay relevant, but not having an ear for them (except for Trans). Would he have made a comeback record and/or film along the lines of Roy Orbison’s Black and White Night? Perhaps he would’ve been a Traveling Wilbury along with that sunglassed nightingale. What would his MTV videos be like?

Not that any answer is possible, but in the late 1990s, when Bob Dylan won the Grammy for album of the year for Time Out of Mind. he said in his acceptance speech that he felt Buddy Holly was with him while recording that album. Perhaps he was. Maybe Buddy Holly never left – maybe death is not a departure. Maybe Buddy Holly, or elements of him, have been at work through the diverse incarnations of others ever since “The Day The Music Died.” And maybe some of these were not even musicians – officials, caregivers, mathematicians. Maybe Buddy Holly is writing this right now.

Paul McCartney seems to believe that when someone dies they never leave – he’s said as much in interviews. He may feel John is still with him, or his mother Mary. Now I’m no scholar of religion, but this vision of the afterlife doesn’t seem to agree with any of the major ones. Reincarnation, of course, is a well-known part of Buddhism, Hinduism, and others. However in this case the reincarnated spirit wouldn’t necessarily retain aspects of its original corporal form. It seems to resemble most the ancestor worship in some sub-Saharan African religions, in which an ancestral spirit continues to live with its descendants.

In this case, I can’t help but wonder if Buddy Holly wasn’t an expression of a more ancient spirit the antecedents of which may date back far beyond prehistory. In the more strictly material sense, his songs have transmitted some part of him through the years–particularly “Not Fade Away,” which The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead made their own, which Bob Dylan still covers regularly. In all the ways he defined the rock band with the Crickets, and carved the path for the singer-songwriter. That poor kid, who died too young, is plotting out our lives. And he’s not alone. There’s a whole host of ancient spirits out there, everywhere you turn. Before you turn, even. They’re you, they’re me.

A Perpetual State of Disorientation

This is exactly and why not imprecisely nothing more, nothing less than what Hamlet was getting at while Frank was handed his pre-show cocktail, yes, indeed, sir, no, no, no, don’t you remember? Don’t you recall? (What you said to me in the tunnel). The echo reflected in my scones, skull bones, Entertain to not or entertain to, objective is the that. WHAT AM I THERE FOR E I AM. I wasn’t asking you to chant… but if you want to that about do I can what? Happily shaking your body