Monday, August 9, 2010
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I've been getting this question a lot lately: "So Jules, what is this Desire Project all about?"
The short story: 8 friends and I have decided to re-cut Bob Dylan's 1976 album Desire.
The details: I bought Bob Dylan's album Desire, on vinyl, in 1996, for maybe $1.50. My friends and I used to drive around Yorktown in an old orange clunker we called the Pumpkin, listening to a mix tape that included Bob Dylan's "Hurricane." The other songs were just fine (the Kinks, American Pie, Jimmy Buffet), but when Hurricane came around we listened to every single word. We discussed what this song might be about (this was before you could whip out a your phone and google it!). We thought it was deep. We were shocked that a white man could sing the word "nigger" and get away with it. In short: we loved Dylan for writing and singing this song. After high school, when we as friends went our separate ways, I think I found Desire, the album that Hurricane was on, in a second-hand book shop in an aging mall in Mohegan Lake. But I can't say for sure. As so often happens with romantic memories, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Wherever this record came from, it made its new home on my childhood turn-table, and stayed there for the next ten years. When I came home from college to visit my family or help out around the house, I would throw it on, now and again, letting the whole album spin numerous times throughout an afternoon. I moved beyond simply enjoying Hurricane, to appreciating the entire record: Dylan's wild story-telling, and learning of instruments that were not particularly popular in '90's pop music: the violin, accordian, mandolin, harmonica.
8 or 9 years ago I started hanging around this bar in Astoria called Gibney's (now Gilbey's). That Happy Hour crew was a wild bunch - hard workers and hard drinkers. Since politics and religion are the two topics to steer clear of in Happy Hour situations, I often found myself in more benign music discussions. We would still argue, but no one felt personally insulted at the end of our passionate conversations. Dr. Ron, the local dentist, and I, found we both shared a love for Dylan's Desire. He taught me a little about Dylan's history, The Band, and often suggested tunes for me to cover. It got to a point where when Ronny and I saw each other, it was just a matter of time before one of us sang to the other random lines from Desire, like "I married Isis on the fifth day of May..." or "One more cup of coffee 'fore I go, to the valley below." Others in the bar would often overhear us, and soon another Desire conversation would begin! My friend, Tadd, in particular, was one such patron who also loved the album. We even hijacked the jukebox a few times and played the thing to death. The cool thing was - nobody minded! It just sparked more conversations about what a great album Desire is.
So last year I finally rescued my old turntable and the record from my childhood bedroom and we set it up in our living room so we could give the old vinyl a spin. Sure, I downloaded it on itunes and burned it to a CD, but that clean sound doesn't pack the same crackling punch that a record hits you with. Of course, the skips were all still there and I listened for them as each verse went by. I also gave some songs that I hadn't previously been very interested in a good, long listen. Joey, a tune that romanticizes mob life, sprang to life in my imagination (all 11 minutes of it!). And Sarah. Oh Sarah - perhaps I couldn't understand this heartbreaker of a waltzing love song at 17 years old the way I can now as a grown woman. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
At this time about a year ago, I decided I'd like to learn a couple of these tunes and put them into my set list for upcoming cover gigs. Tadd and I did just that, but it didn't satisfy me. I needed more, somehow. Then, last winter, I was asked to sing harmony vocals for a Pink Floyd tribute project - the band Stanley Maxwell and my friend Johanna Kodlick were going to perform Floyd's Wish You Were Here album in it's entirety for a charity event. I just thought this was so cool. What an awesome idea: to learn the whole album and perform it live! I can't be sure, but this must a piece of what inspired me to wake up one morning and say to myself, "I should just learn all of Desire and perform it live. That would be sick!" lol. I approached Tadd about it, and immediately he was like, "I'm in!" Gaining confidence that maybe this wasn't such a ridiculous idea, I shopped the idea around to some more musical friends. Everyone I spoke to (there are now 9 of us in total!) was thrilled by the prospect of making this thing happen. We finally got together last week and recorded live 4 of the 9 songs on the record. To be sure, it was a magical night.
We have a bunch more work ahead of us, recording more in September and doing all the things that go along with a project of this nature. I'll be sure to keep you posted, and feel free to write and ask me any questions if you're curious. Here are the wonderful musicians also taking part in this cool project - I'm sure they have their own stories for wanting to do this - feel free to ask them: Fred Gillen, Jr., Matt Turk, Debbie Tuzman, Scott Urgola, Tadd Kroneck, Curtis Schmidt, Steve Kirkman, Eric Puente.