I first encountered Toledo, Ohio-based poet Dan McGuire’s writing on The Way Things Work
, debut CD by the Unknown Instructors
, the spoken-word-and-improv project he initiated with ex-Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Baiza and the former Minutemen/fIREHOSE riddim section of Mike Watt on bass and George Hurley on drums. McGuire’s verse is loaded with detailed imagery that brilliantly evokes familiar scenes and situations, like this one from “This Is Where You Find It” (which appeared twice on The Way Things Work
, once performed by Saccharine Trust frontman Jack Brewer and once by its author): Ordering a Rolling Rock I locate
My friends in the sea of hairy heads
Banging as one by devil salutes thrust
High, worshiping four numbskulls
Who work at Pizza Hut, the gas station,
Record store and not at all, respectively,
Together transcending time and space
On what barely qualifies as a stage.
Last year, Prestidigitation Records released Jamnation
, a CD of McGuire poems backed (actually dubbed over) tracks of blistering heavy psychedelia by artists both old (‘70s Americans the JPT Scare Band
) and new (Denmark's Gas Giant
, Holland's ILD HU, Japan’s Eternal Elysium
). If anything, it’s even more intense than the Instructors, but sounds every bit as organic – quite a feat, given the method of its creation. Currently, McGuire is at work on Phosphene River
, another “collaborative compilation” on which the poet performs with like-minded musos Fuzzhead, the Heads, Acid Mothers Temple speed guru Kawabata Makoto, Mammatus, Plastic Crimewave Sound, Residual Echoes, and White Hills.
After I reviewed
the second Unknown Instructors CD, The Master’s Voice
, for the I-94 Bar
, I got in touch with Dan via his Myspace page
and the following dialogue ensued. (I’m leaning
, Dan’s standing straight.)
DM: I'd like to ask you something if I could, since I rarely talk to anybody who reviews our stuff. Do you think it's the subject matter or the overall conceit of spoken poetry that leads people to the Beat/Bukowski comparisons? The only reason I ask is that 90% of the time that's the referent that is named, but honestly, I don't like Bukowski's poems (they strike me as arbitrarily chopped up prose) or the Beats, other than Ginsberg in very small doses, and neither have had any substantial influence on me.
I know these comparisons are inevitable, but I was curious to see if you could give me some insight as to what lead you to them.
KS: Short answer to your question: Intellectual sloth. We project what we wanna hear on the artifact.
Somewhat longer answer: I think the reason for the Beat/Buk comparisons (mine included) is that people who review music are generally not knowledgeable of poetry or indeed of any litterchur at all outside a very narrowly delimited set of authors (Buk/Burroughs/Hubert Selby) that they probably only know because Lester Bangs namedropped 'em.
I guess I feel the same way when some kid tells me I play gtr like Hendrix when what I'm shooting for is Ron Asheton, Eddie Hazel, Sonny Sharrock. But beauty is in the ear of the behearer, I s'pose.
DM: Right, right, right; I'm shooting for James Wright, Philip Levine, Walt Whitman cross-bred with Charles Baudelaire, etc., etc. I think the iconic nature of the Beats and Bukowski makes them the easiest, handiest referent. Probably the same with the Hendrix thing; I imagine most kids would say "Sonny who?" if you told them what you're really aiming for.
KS: It's cultural shorthand. Lazy man's way of communicating. The finer distinctions are for geeks or connoisseurs, depending on your perspective. I can hear Whitman in some of your meter; I think Van Vliet (consciously or un-) was tapped into the same metric stream. Not familiar with the other two cats.
DM: Yes, the same metric stream indeed. I love Captain Beefheart and that is an influence I will cop to 100%. Unfortunately, I can't sing a note, so I just stick to chirping...I think it's good to know your limitations. The other two cats are from Martin’s Ferry, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, respectively. They write about working class people and sights and sounds I can relate to.
KS: You're in Ohio...how'd you happen to hook up with those Pedro cats?
DM: I met Mike at a fIREHOSE gig many, many years ago and we remained friends. I sent him poems over the years since he's very knowledgeable about literature (probably more so than I am and I have a master's in English). I had been recording my poems with local musicians but they just didn't seem to get what I was after. For instance, I'd say "just jam" and they'd say "what do you mean?" So I asked Mike if he'd want to do something and he said sure, then I asked George and Joe and they said sure too.
Moreover, I always thought these three should have gotten together, and they almost did at one point, so when I saw the opportunity to be a catalyst for that I sprung on it. Joe and I are pretty tight…after we did the first record, he and Jack Brewer asked me to tag along with them when Saccharine played at ATP in England, which I did, plus Joe and I do the editing, mixing, sequencing for the records, so we spend a lot of time together doing that.
The big idea for me was/is to fuse two things that I love dearly, poetry and ass-blistering rock music, so what monikers people choose to hang on it is really only of peripheral interest to me. I'm not looking to impress fact that it is poetry, set down in lines, with metrical consideration. I'm infinitely more concerned that it rocks.
These collaborative compilations I do are all along the lines of the ass-blistering genre, which is my favorite kind of stuff but isn't always possible with the Unknown Instructors, given their highly jazzy sensibilities.
KS: I hear ya, but I think you got Baiza to leave more blood on the floor this time.
DM: Yes; I quite literally forced him to pull the thumb out and go nuts. He was reluctant but eventually was persuaded. I essentially told him that I put together what I consider the best rhythm section in the world for the sole purpose of him going berserk over the top, which for the most part I think he did this time. In other words, the goal was to err on the side of heavier rock stuff as opposed to jazzbo noodling.
KS: In any event, it worked.