"This not only proves that the Blues spread from the Mississippi Delta to grow into a vital world music, but that a musical formula can work for everyone. Every person who is free, or who wants to be, identifies with the Blues."
Francis Kuipers: Keep Fighting The Blues
Anglo/Dutch guitarist, master of "flat-picking" and composer Francis “Superguitar” Kuipers lives mainly in Italy and The Netherlands. He has collaborated with worldfamous directors and composers including Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass for the films Anima Mundi, Evidence and Naqoyqatsi. From 2005 he has composed the original music scores for Mary, Napoli Napoli Napoli, Go Go Tales with the voice of Grace Jones and 4:44 The Last Day on Earth directed by Abel Ferrara. For a number of years Francis Kuipers performed and recorded in duo with Beat Generation poet Gregory Corso.
From 1992-96 he directed the Music & Sound Department at Fabrica, the school of Multimedia Communications founded by Luciano Benetton and Oliviero Toscani near Treviso. Benetton international radio spots, created by him (with script by Fabrizio Andreella) won the European Grand Prix best radio publicity 1995- 1996. On his travels, Francis Kuipers collected and studied ethnic and experimental music. This activity developed into ongoing research into sound and music, and its numerous functions, and the sound environment, as well as the creation of a unique and extensive archive of sounds. A multi-lingual professional musician, musicologist and radio broadcaster, Francis Kuipers works internationally, often collaborating with major artists. Important travels include: Australasia and Polynesia 61-65; East Africa and the Seychelles Islands 67-69; Nepal 69-70; India 74-75; The Philippines, 87-88 and frequent sojourns in the USA, South America and other parts of the world. Francis Kuipers has conducted numerous radio series on music, principally for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and for the Italian RAI networks. Vedette, Red Records, Durium, Fonit-Cetra, Fabbri Editori, Folkstudio Records, Gypsy Records and Milan Records have published his recorded work. Francis Kuipers has travelled the world for over thirty years, engaged in ethno-musical research, broadcasting, working as a composer and sound designer for film and, above all, performing. Although its roots are in blues and folk, Francis Kuipers' music is extraordinary, apart from his technique, in that it has evolved in a highly original manner, drawing inspiration from all of the music he has been immersed in. "Blindfold Blues" (2014) is a new album of Francis Kuipers with 14 original songs. Kings of Lies is the name of the new band featuring Francis Kuipers, during his many travels, he collected and studied ethnic and experimental music. This resulted in a still ongoing interest and research into sound and music. Dutch / English artist, musician and composer, as well as writer and poet created a unique and comprehensive archive of sounds. At this time, Francis mainly lives and works in Italy and the Netherlands. It is worth mentioning that the music of Kings of Lies is a hybrid of various music styles. The background of the band members, Francis Kuipers - voice, guitar, Franc auf dem Brinke on drums and Sam Tjioe on bass, is very different. The main influence is, of course, that of Francis Kuipers, author of the songs and lyrics. He comes from a tradition of folk and blues. Set in Italy during the late 1970's and early 80's, DISASTER BLUES (2017 is a book written with an insider’s view by Francis Kuipers who recounts an especially crazy music tour called “The Last Beachhead”. Boogie Baker, a talented but washed out musician and proclaimed failure, originally from Sheffield, England, is summoned to Italy to play at a music festival that never comes off. Luckily his faith and determination are limitless. He will need all of it.
Photos courtesy of Francis Kuipers Archive, Piero Cefaloni & Paolo Torella/All rights reserved
How has the Blues and Folk Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
An uncontrollable impulse, combined with a burning curiosity, impelled me to travel to distant lands to study and document the disappearing music and sound environments of disappearing peoples. Certain music formulas, like myths, go on forever. I believe that music from the remote past, when there was also a global culture, and when people knew how to live in harmony with the planet, is a vital key to the future.
Like many musicians of my generation, The Folk Revival immediately swept me up in its dynamism and energy. I was passionately moved by the wave of music from overseas that I felt was part of me but which I had never heard before. I bought my first guitar at the age of fifteen after listening to British Skiffle over the radio. Not long after, I discovered blues geniuses like Robert Johnson, Leadbelly and Fred Mc. Dowell through the pioneering field recordings of John Lomax. Then I heard the songs of Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family, as well as other extraordinarily meaningful and beautiful Folkmusic of European origin from North America. I liked Brownie McGee and blind harmonica player Sonny Terry who often toured Europe, and Big Bill Broonzy who in fact went to live in Amsterdam. The Library of Congress was a valuable resource for lyrics and music. Experimental filmmaker Harry Smith’s fantastic ‘The Anthology of American Folk Music’, a series of 78” records released by Folkways in 1952, transfixed me.
In my late teens, enveloped in a glittering aphrodisiac wind, my spirit soaring like a kite in the wind, I stuck my thumb in the air and hitched to Paris with a backpack and guitar to find inspiration. At night, during my Paris art student days, I had the good fortune to busk the café’s and cinema queues at the same time as great guitar players like ‘Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Jim Loomes and Davey Graham. Apart from introducing music hardly anyone had ever heard before to war-shocked Europe, influencing myself and countless other musicians, Jack also made fashion. It was not long before Paris buskers started wearing Levi suits and cowboy boots like him; some of them even had Stetson hats. Another early influence was Alex Campbell who performed at the club La Contrascarpe, in the Latin Quarter. Drunk or sober, Alex was a wonderfully talented entertainer, with masterful timing; audiences were hypnotized by his singing and stories. I first met him in the café frequented by musicians across the street from the club. Warming up for his show, he was singing Jessy Fuller’s San Francisco bay Blues and playing a nice acoustic Gibson. Decades later, I met him for the last time in Hampstead, London, where he had a gig in a large music pub, and that night his songs were pure Scottish, like the whiskey we were drinking.
For a while, I lived in the sleazy hotel occupying the floors above La Contrascarpe; the lavatory was a communal squatter at the end of the corridor, the lock of my room had been forced and the door didn’t close properly. The long bearded Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs, inventor of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, was a neighbour; wearing a turban wrapped round his head, he painted day and night like a man possessed. Paris in the early 60’s was full of alternative artists and musicians and I found out that Bohemia was not just a perfect life-style; it was a state of mind.
I was yet another art student drawn to music because it was suddenly considered a new experimental art form. Leaving Holland for Manchester University in Britain, I teamed up with singer and banjo-player Harry Boardman and became guitarist and 2nd voice of the Ozark Mountain Trio. The fiddle player never turning up, we soon became a duo. We primarily performed Woody Guthrie songs and Bluegrass by Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flat. The Pete Seeger banjo manual was beginning to make the 5-string banjo known to the world; until then the instrument was almost unheard of outside of the USA. Harry, who lived in Failsworth, later embraced his industrial Northern roots and became one of the greatest Lancashire singers of all time. He’d organised clubs before, and I joined him in starting the legendary The Wayfarer’s Club, a weekly folk session in a pub behind Piccadilly in central Manchester. Terry Whelan, a professional wrestler and superb unaccompanied singer, was also one of the founders.
Most British folksingers at that time, like Harry, Alex Campbell and Bert Jansch, started off playing and singing North American Folksongs. Traditional Folk heavyweights like Ewan MacColl, with links to the Communist Party, instead expounded a hard-core purist line. They believed that folksingers should perform music from their own region only. Diversity, like Alex including ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in his repertoire, was not tolerated. Folkmusic was supposed to preserve local folk traditions, and to prevent popular oral customs and music from dying out, instead of promoting globalisation and self-expression. Despite the heavies, it was not long before club programs featured a new generation of outstanding singer-songwriters who were part of the counterculture movement.
It was a time of loving being alive. Overlapping the end of the Folk Revival, Counterculture was a vibrant anti-authoritarian era. Having survived wars and unspeakable tragedy of all kinds, the majority of adults were depressed, bitter and trained to obey orders; they never had time to nurture dreams. Used to restricted freedom, they insisted that the young conformed to a structure written in stone. Counterculture spread with the speed of an out-of-control bushfire through most Western countries until around the mid-1970s, involving musicians, and all kinds of intellectuals. Among other issues, it fought for women’s rights, sexual revolution and combatted the censorship that was rampant everywhere. Terrified of an alternative reality, governments did everything in their power to obliterate counterculture. Its anti-war stance especially encountered violent antagonism from a range of divisions. Persecuted with the ferocity of Papal troops annihilating Cathars, it wasn’t long before Counterculture was driven underground. Many of its ideas were later appropriated by the media, and turned into fashion trends.
Most people need a faction to hate: dreadlock pot heads, priests, heathens, hippies, surfies, gays, the police, and kids who believe that everything is possible…. Enemies of Counterculture especially despised artists and anyone who rejected what they called ‘a respectable point of view’ and a mainstream ways of looking at things. Non-classical music was considered subversive; visual artists were abhorred because they looked ‘different’ and indulged in the Bohemian lifestyle that I was ardently looking forward to enjoying even more. Respectability, people were fanatical about it. One was presumed to desire respectability, and social prestige above all. From the moment I started thinking, I was filled with the wonder of art and, initially, found it hard to understand why artists were so hated by conservatives. Their faces could convulse alarmingly, or they frothed at the mouth, just hearing the word ‘art’. ‘Decent’ people had a regular ‘decent’ job and a secure future. In an effort to emphasise the utter stupidity of art, and the insanity of my desire to become an artist, I was regularly warned about starving to death in garrets, among other miseries. The account of Vincent Van Gogh going mad and cutting off his ear was incessantly related. A principal reason why artists were resented was because a sprinkling of them became rich and famous. It was common to hear jealous and sneering remarks about Picasso’s paintings, like, “A child could do it better!” or, “He paints worse than a monkey!”
"No one gives you your freedom; you have to take it. The Blues didn’t only drag Afro-Americans out of their misery but many other cultural groups too. It spread from the Mississippi Delta to grow into vital world music. Every person who is free, or who wants to be free, identifies with the Blues." (Photo: Francis and friends, Student Arts Festival 1963)
How started the thought of Disaster Blues? How do you describe Boogie Baker philosophy of life and music?
In the early eighties, travelling hours on a bus with a group show in Italy, I started jotting down notes for the book. Bit by bit, during breaks in music, Disaster Blues unfolded. In my view, the best journey of all is traveling inside one’s mind and one’s imagination to draw out art of some kind. When you drag everything out of yourself and give everything you’ve got, then you’re free. Out of nothing you draw inspiration and something is revealed. The actor Vittorio Gasman, who recited Gregory Corso’s poem ‘The Bomb’, told the story of a great monk of the year 1000 who explained that you have to put in something extra to achieve perfection. “ You go inside it so profoundly you forget you are doing it. You forget it for love.”
“Lord Byron said, ‘Never explain the explanation!’ ”Gregory would sometimes tell the audience, introducing our song ‘The Moose’. He added that he disagreed with Byron because ‘The Moose’ needed explanation. DISASTER BLUES is the explanation of Boogie’s philosophy of life and music. I recommend you order the book before it’s banned for its joyful content.
As that 1970 hit song by the actor Lee Marvin goes: ‘I was born under a wandering star’. I smashed my cage because I wanted to break free from existing schemes and my past and from myself, and because I wanted to stay myself. For years, as a child, I devoured forbidden novels with a torch under the bedclothes at night. I yearned for escape, and to explore the world and to have thrilling journeys like Joseph Conrad and Jason and The Argonauts. In those days, it was possible to travel freely with little hassle. Airports were few; the tourist industry, with its identical architecture, and the air-conditioning on which it depends in tropical regions, was still in planning stage. The ancient tradition of hospitality was alive; foreign visitors were welcomed far and wide. Time and time again, I chose to depart for places without knowing persons there, or knowing what reality I would find. In Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’, the road is a metaphor for life. When it first came out, I devoured the book twice like a starved jackal falling upon the festering carcass of the mythical unicorn.
If you have good ears, use them to listen hard. Sometimes, the only way to guide oneself through dark unknown zones is through following sounds. Unlike light, sounds travel round bends and allow one to voyage in one’s mind without moving. In a zooming shot, the carcase of a unicorn can be seen. We hear the impatient cries of crows and circling vultures. On the close-up of the cadaver the buzzing of flies crawling over its head and eyes grows louder and very intense. Placed inside the skull of the unicorn are microphones much more sensitive than the human ear. Developed at huge expense for spying on dictators in bathrooms, they transmit every nuance of sound to my miniature recorder.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues/Folk from Robert Johnson and Leadbely to Boogie Baker?
Boogie Baker, the main character of my book, has a similar musical background to most blues and jazz orientated musicians of his time. He mentions Robert Johnson and Memphis Slim as an influence. Out of necessity, he worked the acoustic Folk scene at a certain point of his career, but he was little affected by Folk, preferring the eclectic music collection of his eccentric manager Scipione.
“Keep on fighting the blues!” Champion Jack Dupree advised.
My own advice to myself is, “If in doubt, cut it out!”
What moment changed your life the most? You’re an Italian resident, what touched (emotionally) you from Italy?
My 21st birthday when I abandoned my forlorn childhood and left home forever was certainly a life-changing moment; there have been more. Every time I fall in love I believe I am having a life changing moment; maybe a man should always be in love. I have always been a nomad musician and collector of music and sounds that feels at home everywhere, and that feels at home nowhere.
Studying art history, I specialized in The Renaissance. Culture is a main reason why I finally settled in Italy. I don’t regret it and have no plans to leave.
What is the impact of Blues music and Beat movement on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
No one gives you your freedom; you have to take it. The Blues didn’t only drag Afro-Americans out of their misery but many other cultural groups too. It spread from the Mississippi Delta to grow into vital world music. Every person who is free, or who wants to be free, identifies with the Blues. Singing songs of protest and liberation in unity created powerful bonding at Civil Rights rallies and Trade Union meetings; like Gospel Music it had the power to galvanise audiences and to impact them politically.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Whatever I learned I mainly picked up along the way, and from friends. Believing that the system could teach me little, I tried to acquire the best education possible without the passage of establishment institutions. I risked plenty and it was rarely easy; one of the greatest punishments on a person is an absence of money. However, at no stage did I go mad with starvation in an ice-cold garret or suffer a heart attack squatting at the end of a no-star hotel corridor. For some years, I was like a boat without a rudder. Gradually, I met more and more people whom I learned from and who still continue to teach me the ropes. My closest friends, alive or dead, overflow my heart. Many are musicians, painters and writers with great minds, and they are my mentors. A number of life-changing encounters were crucial. There are special moments when everything feels as though it’s happening at the right time, in the right place, as though a preordained event is taking place. I have the prodigious good fortune to have known and worked with extraordinary persons that I admire. I learn from experience, from friends, from projects, from books, music and art. Kafka, Faulkner and Dickens have shaped my way of thinking, in the same way as Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Piero Della Francesca, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charley Parker, Stockhausen, Lester Bowie and Jimmy Hendrix.
The first useful advice that I received that immediately springs to mind is my schoolteacher Kees Oudshoorn telling me, “If you want to remember something, write it down. Make a note of it!”
James Baldwin also gave me excellent simple advice. He was a close friend of painter Yoran Cazac, who illustrated ‘Little Big Man’, Baldwin’s book for children. I stayed with Yoran and Beatrice in Tuscany frequently in the 1970’s and Jimmy often visited. One day, I asked him when he did his writing. I marvelled at his discipline, wondering how he kept it, as his literary output was magnificent and he always seemed to be partying with the rest of us. “Early in the morning,” Jimmy told me. “I rise at dawn to write while everyone else is asleep.”
Saint Augustine advised, “It’s better to lose oneself in passion than to live without passion.”
“Keep on fighting the blues!” Champion Jack Dupree advised.
My own advice to myself is, “If in doubt, cut it out!”
When was your first desire to become involved in the Blues and who were your first idols?
I began learning guitar in the early 60’s during the Skiffle craze. Shortly after, I discovered Woody Guthrie, Country, and Bluegrass and, above all, Folk-Blues, as the Blues was then called by the music industry to attract a white audience. I first heard Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller on 78 records, then Lightning Hopkins, Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGee, Jessie Fuller, Sleepy John Estes, Son House, Blind Blake, amongst others, on reel-to-reel tapes of Library Of Congress recordings by John and Allen Lomax. Blues fans passed tapes hand-to-hand. No European stores sold Blues and it was impossible to hear it over the radios in existence then. Forget the TV of course. Much like today, it hardly ever featured decent music of any kind. Blues guitarists generally taught themselves, listening to recordings over and over again and through frequenting better musicians.
While I was an art student, I began busking the streets of Paris, entertaining cinema-queues and the terraces of café’s. There were outstanding buskers in Paris in those days, like Davey Graham, Alex Campbell and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. At night we used to hang out on Le Place Contrascarpe. Later, for two years I performed acoustically in British Folk Clubs in duo with the masterful folksinger Harry Boardman. He held audiences enthralled with his singing, his stories and his banjo.
"All my life I have enjoyed a reading addiction, spending many hours with my nose stuck in books on art, history and novels, in the same way as people are glued to computer screens. I seem to recall starting to read shortly after birth." (Photo by Paolo Torella)
What has been the relationship between music and poetry in your life?
Apart from being a musician and composer, I am involved in music research. I do not often consciously dwell on poetry. Instead I am concerned with sound, the function of sound and the meaning of sound. Of late, I fix on two areas: the music of prehistory and the music of the future/present. I can spend hours listening to early recordings of tribal music in the hope of catching a message transmitted from the remote past. In the same way, I listen to new recordings of outer space and micro worlds. Soon I will be listening to microscopic worlds. Old worlds disappear with globalization while new worlds reveal themselves. The last time we had one language and a sole global culture like today was in the Stone Age. I believe that music from prehistoric culture contain a key to the future.
According to Gregory Corso, poets, like angels, always have to tell the truth. Gregory’s standards were the highest. In my opinion, I write narrative songs rather than poems. Then I write about sound, and I always have a novel, set in the music world, on the go. I steer clear of beckoning doors and presuming to open doors, as I steer clear of certain literary goings-on. My silence machine might have poetic essence. It contains no music or sound at all. It is both a mobile work of art and a machine that provides a valuable community service. Siting in it, you rotate briefly and observe the world you have just left in a condition of perfect, air-conditioned silence. Perhaps the most sought after human condition is peace and quiet. Imagine this machine where it is needed, in Bombay Railway Station, in Times Square or the centre of Tokyo or Rome. As well as giving people a very pleasurable experience, it draws attention to the urgency of dealing with that seldom mentioned environmental problem: noise pollution. To put beautiful on top of ugly is already poetry and provocation through delight.
How literature affect your inspirations?
All my life I have enjoyed a reading addiction, spending many hours with my nose stuck in books on art, history and novels, in the same way as people are glued to computer screens. I seem to recall starting to read shortly after birth. Books were thought to be harmful for kids. As it was forbidden to read after bedtime, I hid under the covers with a flashlight, voraciously reading one book after another, night after night. For the rest of my life I learned to rely on little sleep, but it probably damaged my eyesight. Books were sometimes even almost impossible to put down!
At first, I especially loved stories of adventure and evasion. I devoured as many escapist books as I could lay my hands on, both good books and rubbish. Later I found out that some of my favourite authors had, in truth, never travelled anywhere except in their minds. I was sent off to an English boarding school when I was very young. People had not yet recovered from the horrors of war. The last thing I want is to go back to any claustrophobic place with no freedom.
Although reading anything outside of the school syllabus was strongly discouraged, I discovered the great classics and that was the start of my love of literature. Books filled me with information and permitted my imagination to roam; they let me find out what it was like to be someone else, and to be somewhere else. Only books made me think, laugh, hope and feel less alone during my early years. Because I abandoned my home and country as soon as I could to travel to exotic places with a guitar and backpack and no money, I have heard it remarked that I must have read too many books for boys.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
My compositions for director Abel Ferrara’s films are Blues and guitar orientated. Abel is also a musician and a lover of blues. It was a special moment when MARY, the film starring Juliet Binoche, won a number of big awards at the 2005 Venice Film Festival. There were also special moments when I jammed with Willie Mabon, with jazz accordion phenomena Antonello Salis and with the visionary Lester Bowie, trumpet player and leader of The Art Ensemble Of Chicago. When I’m on form it’s as if the music plays itself through me. The great Flamenco singer Cameron De la Isla said: “When I’m singing I don’t sing.“ And Cameron got it right.
As for my worst moments….. I once broke three G’s and two high E’s during a packed-house solo gig at Rome’s Folkstudio. Although this occurred decades ago, the horror of the ordeal can still make me shudder. It was often impossible to find decent strings and it wasn’t unusual to get a bad batch. Stage fright and nerves can play strange games, so I occasionally wonder if, in actual fact, the strings weren’t to blame at all that night. Maybe I’d lost control over my picking hand instead. If I did, it never happened before or again. I keep running across persons reminding me of the debacle. I have done countless performances but, regrettably, the string-breaking gig seems to be amongst those remembered best. As the saying goes: you are only as good as your bad night.
What does the BLUES mean to you and what does MUSIC offer you?
Blues is my passion; all my music is visceral and permeated with Blues. I find most music, from any time or place, interesting, as long as it has quality. My tastes are very eclectic, ranging from early ethnic and Classical to electronic and experimental music of all kinds.
Do any of Blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorites?
A good rendition of ‘Stormy Monday’ always sends a jolt up my spine, so does ‘John The Revelator’, by Son House, and ‘Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning’ by Fred Mc Dowell or the Rev Blind Gary Davis. ‘Oh Baby, It Ain’t No Lie’ by Elizabeth Cotton, always moves me. I am also a big fan of Slim Harpo and Hubert Sumlin.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
When I am in the heat of a creative collaboration with Gregory Corso, Godfrey Reggio, Philip Glass, Oliviero Toscani at Fabrica and Abel Ferrara or others with dazzling minds, my life becomes even more interesting. I like to be busy creating music. Love and music combined has the power to raise me to sublime heights. If possible, men and women should always be in love.
"Only Blues can save me when I feel my soul is lost."
What mistake of the MUSIC business do you want to correct? Give one wish for the BLUES
One of the mistakes of the music business is that it has allowed unimaginative entities to infiltrate it at the expense of musical expression and freedom. Despite the mediocre state of the music industry, there is still creativity and good music still emerges. Real music emerges where there is a need for it, even during the greatest tragedy. Music gives people identity and it allows them to survive. It is impossible to restrain it.
I wish there were more Blues venues. I used to love going to New York Blues bars, but most of them have died out. In my experience, there are hardly any clubs left anywhere in the world where a musician can drop in and jam. I am convinced that it is beneficial to sing and dance any time, any place! Even though David danced in the presence of God according to the Bible, it has even become illegal to dance to the jukebox in most countries of the Western world!
In the colonial past, whenever they conquered a foreign civilization and forced it to accept their culture, Westerners as a rule imposed a Taliban-style ban on dance and music. ‘Take away dance and music and you have their souls!’ was their credo. All unfamiliar music was judged to be the work of the devil. What the colonists did to the music of indigenous peoples they considered to be heathen and inferior is exactly what is happening to us here in Europe at present. It is as if some malevolent entity is trying to steal the souls of the Western world through prohibiting music. Outside of homes and licensed premises under close surveillance, playing and dancing to ‘live’ music is now generally discouraged. Not for nothing was the Blues considered to be the devil’s music.
Do you think that your art comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
Only Blues can save me when I feel my soul is lost. Blues provides release and balance. Most likely, music provides us with the only evidence that we have a soul at all. It is probably one of the main motives for forms of Classical music being subsided.
Forced to dress up and listen, immobile, to music they don’t understand but feel is important, seemingly for hours on end, enables the most insensible persons to perceive they have an inner side and, for this reason, a soul. Even thieving brutes with permanent scowls can be spiritually uplifted after a dreadful concert. An amount of watered-down Classical and New Age music is deliberately designed to relax the muscles of the listener. It is also employed to calm cows and to increase milk production. Subsidy rarely comes without a price. Control is exercised over what is played.
"Poetry and music is something that worked for a while at the right time. Maybe it can work again with different music." (Photo: Poster with Gregory Corso & Francis Kuipers)
Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?
I am fearful of making a choice. What’s’ more, many great artists and musicians, who might have interested me tremendously, have been excluded from official history.
Tell me a few things about the story of “Poesia e Musica - Gregory Corso and Francis Kuipers”, how that came about?
I discovered the poem ‘Oh Roma’, the first track on the LP, scrawled in chalk, in Gregory’s unmistakable and florid hand-writing, across a fashion poster near a wine-bar we liked to frequent. It looked as though it had been written recently and in a rush. Knowing Gregory, and presuming it was unlikely that he had a record of the poem, I copied it in my notebook and later suggested to him that we make a song out of it. To introduce ‘The Moose’, which I sing in Italian on the LP, Gregory had me say: “Lord Byron said: Never Explain The Explanation. This song ‘The Moose’, however, needs explanation!”(He was referring to the great English Romantic poet Byron who died in Greece.)
Gregory insisted that we only did quality shows. “First find out what it is, then where it is, then at the end you talk about the money!” He instructed me before I set up a gig for us. Unless it was Allen Ginsberg or some other Beat Generation big shot, Gregory avoided artistic collaboration. People were always trying to involve him in their self-aggrandizing schemes. We were even offered money by rich part-time poets to be on the same bill as us! Gregory had an answer prepared for that: “OK, but on one condition, that we go on first!” That usually ended the affair, as no one dared follow him as the audience would be following him out of the hall.
“Lady Poetry came to me!” Gregory would say. “Allen and the others grew up with books around them, their parents had books in their libraries. They searched out poetry, but Lady Poetry came to me, in prison, to save me!” Abandoned by his mother and thrown out on the street at the age of 16, Gregory had spent part of his younger years in jail. “People do terrible things!” He would say, glancing nervously over his shoulder. It has been pointed out to me that Gregory must have trusted me a great deal to make our historical recording. Legendary Argentinean percussionist Louis Agudo, whom I have also played with, put me in touch with Sergio Veschi of Red Records in Milan who produced the LP.
"Only Blues can save me when I feel my soul is lost. Blues provides release and balance. Most likely, music provides us with the only evidence that we have a soul at all." (Photo: Gregory Corso in Rome with Francis Kuiper and friends. Photo by © by Piero Cefaloni)
What are some of the most memorable tales with Gregory Corso?
Unlike musicians, used to touring and waiting around before gigs, saving their energy for the show, Gregory did not like them. Once he was in front of an appreciative audience, he had a great time but, on the whole, he only accepted gigs when he was desperate for money. The main motive for Gregory’s reluctance to perform was that it took a lot out of him and he was now in his late 60’s. His official public appearances were not just mega events but also poetry marathons. They often went on for hours and hours. His performance started the instant his train arrived at the station or when he descended from a car, and finally ended when he left town. Appearing on the scene, Gregory was immediately besieged, usually by groups of women “Ciao bella donna!” He would exclaim as they dragged him off to a series of bars where he would entertain everyone present with his startling energy and superb wit, between reading poems and even writing them on the spot.
When he finally made it to the theatre and the gig he might be quite exhausted, although he soon recovered. At our jam-packed performance in Pisa, with every city notable and their wives dressed-up in the front row, he joined me on stage half an hour late, staggering in with a bevy of prostitutes from the nearby seaport of Livorno. Having extra seats placed on the stage for the ladies, Gregory included them in the show, having them translate poems he had just written. Once they got used to it, most of the audience enjoyed the show but, judging by the way a number of Pisa residents got up and left with their nose in the air, the broad and vulgar Livorno accents of the ladies evidently upset them.
Habitually not having a fixed abode, Gregory spent a lot of time reading and writing anywhere he could, in parks, in bars, clubs and café’s. One day - he told me - a young man passed by, shyly handing him a handwritten piece of paper containing a poem called The Times They Are A Changing. “It was Bob Dylan before he got famous!” Gregory explained.
What do you miss most nowadays from Gregory? Which memory from Corso makes you smile?
Many memories of Gregory make me smile. Just thinking of his smile makes me smile. “I don’t tell lies because I don’t remember them.” He said once. A few months ago, years after his death, I found a message for me that he must have placed amongst my papers to warm my heart. One of our unrealized projects was an opera on Giordano Bruno, the philosopher who was burned for heresy. We planned to have chorus lines of dancing cardinals etc.
What advice Corso given to you? What kind of a guy was Gregory?
Gregory had the power to light up a room; he could be full of luminous grace, like a winged messenger bringing news of extravagant fun-loving Gods. On occasion, he could also be terrible like a William Blake angel. You can’t mess around with poetry or playing the Blues, you need to get to the truth or they don’t work.
(Photo: Francis Kuipers & Gregory Corso)
Are there any BLUES memories from Gregory Corso, which you’d like to share with us?
You got a good deal paying a ticket to one of our shows. Gregory could emanate charisma like Marlon Brando and he was masterful at handling an audience. He could put you through a gamut of emotions for your money. They could range from wonder, marvel and glee, to horror and even disgust and rage. Gregory touched on big subjects: death, love, every essential human argument, and he delighted in surprise. His appearance was no muscle-relaxing, mainstream event for sure! We never rehearsed. Every show was spontaneous and different; for me it was sometimes like walking on a razor. Gregory stripped peoples’ minds naked and touched their souls. When this became unbearable for them and the atmosphere became explosive he had the ability to suddenly make the entire theatre collapse into relieved laughter. Sometimes, matters could go horribly wrong as well. I can recall times when the audience was hostile and we had a few narrow escapes. Once, we left in a hurry through the lavatory window of a venue in a provincial town. For hours I had to drive my ancient VW through a thrashing rainstorm with police following us with menacing flashing lights. It was pitch dark. I had my face glued to the windscreen, struggling to see the road through the rain and the wipers. Gregory was in the back seat singing Italian opera and waving a bottle of whisky.
What's been your experience of touring in Greece; do you have a message for the Greek fans?
I visited Philip Glass backstage at a big show in an Athens arena once, but I have personally never performed in Greece. I am, of course, pleased to learn that I have Greek fans.
What do you miss most nowadays from the past?
“The past isn't dead; it is not even past," William Faulkner said. I spend days listening to tribal music and early recordings as well as to soundscapes, micro worlds and outer space. It can happen that I find music for gods with names that have been forgotten, that were considered all-powerful and eternal. I gather evidence of a pre-history scourged and eliminated by the flame of religion. The last time we had a global culture was the Stone Age, but then they knew how to live in harmony with nature. It wasn’t something to be just consumed. We all have organic Stone Age music deep within us, telling us who we are, informing us what is real and what we need to do. Music formulas that trigger specific human reactions go back to the start of time. They are eternal, just like myths. Although its roots are in blues and folk, my music increasingly draws its power from the remote past and the future I manage to smell out. I once spoke about this to Tony Scott, Billy Holliday’s piano-player, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. In the words of the poet Horatio: Carpe diem, seize the day.
What are your hopes and fears for the future?
My hope is for much more music, but my fear is that there will be less. I also hope for an unpolluted sonic ambiance, but prospects are grim. Although it is a vital environmental issue, the sound ambiance is rarely mentioned, the subject is so taboo! Ancient civilizations believed music was a gift from the Gods. Rulers and fundamentalists love taking gifts away. In the same way they like to ban pleasure - vital for making music - and block all artistic expression. Music is synonymous with freedom; it exerts a life-giving influence and makes you feel individual and alive. A lack of music produces the opposite effect. Colonisers and missionaries converting an ethnic people always outlawed music. Their credo was: ‘take away music, take away dance, and you have their souls!’ They believed that if people were stopped moving to rhythms, their essence was obliterated. For the last decades this is exactly what is happening in Europe. Outside of discos and premises under special surveillance, dance is already more or less banned everywhere. Any kind of ‘Live’ music and musical innovation is increasingly discouraged. This repression is nothing new of course. Music has always been controlled. For centuries in Europe people weren’t allowed to meet and make music. Percussive music and drums were especially prohibited for their Satanic and pagan connections. All music considered heathen was violently eradicated for being the devil's music! History is repeating itself under a different guise. History also tells us that if blues is stifled it will yet again one day, all at once, spring up again even stronger…
When we talk about the Blues we usually refer to past moments. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?
Missing friends are always in my heart but I try not to dwell on the action-packed Odyssey of my past. In the same way, I prefer not to relive glorious music jams that were not recorded and blue periods. There is plenty of testimony by old-time bluesmen explaining what the blues meant to them and that’s explaining the explanation well enough. Holland where I originally come from is not the bayou of the Mississippi. What I know is that the blues is a musical formula and a path for realization and salvation. Blues provides release; it cures people, especially the musician.
There are fine blues players and bands all over the world. Born from the greatest tragedy, the blues is now everywhere, a truly global music so influential that it is woven into the very texture of our lives. Listen to most kinds of contemporary music and you’ll recognize blues patterns beneath the electronics and dance arrangements. As well as the Pat Boone-like bluesmen there are some incredibly hot and inventive musicians out there. I hear them all the time, particularly on recordings. As far as I’m concerned, authentic blues - no bullshit and lies - is very much alive. I never get fed up playing it.
"An uncontrollable impulse, combined with a burning curiosity, impelled me to travel to distant lands to study and document the disappearing music and sound environments of disappearing peoples. Certain music formulas, like myths, go on forever. I believe that music from the remote past, when there was also a global culture, and when people knew how to live in harmony with the planet, is a vital key to the future."
In your opinion, what is the biggest revolution which can be realized today? What do you think the major changes will be in near or far future of the world?
A theory, propagated by the Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, was that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth. This is the era of lies. Court buffoons were once endured on the condition that they told the real truth but remained amusing. In the same way, outrageous liars are now tolerated as long as they keep on telling lies. One of my songs, ‘The King Of Lies’, tells the story of The King being burned alive in a public square for heresy because he forgot all his lies.
If this is the era of lies, it is also one of lies and lamentation. With the crisis in Europe, there is endless moaning about various dissatisfactions everywhere. Answering the phone, for a while I tried to defend myself by imitating Groucho Marx, saying, “Only good news or money!” Now, it has got so bad that I am tempted not to reply at all. The Vatican State apparently has the same problem. Trying to enjoy a summer vacation, and only desiring to spend some undisturbed days alone in the hostel where he normally lives, it is reported that Pope Francis has attached a notice to his room door saying, ‘Non lamentatevi’.
Like Andre’ Breton, I believe that art should comply with uninhibited inspiration. It is the function of art and music to define humanity and human values and to query, rather than unquestioningly embrace, the dominant culture. In an apocalyptic world, art and music should not be a constant repetition of what has already been done embellished with technological ‘improvements'; instead they should prophesy change and, if it exists, reveal light at the end of the tunnel. New ideas, new alternatives are urgently needed, to stand out against the superficiality, mediocrity and sensationalism of most current culture. True artists, like true fools, say what they think and choose to pursue ethical virtue, not only financial success. Artists are beginning to behave like entertainers, they have to be noticed or die; very few dare to step out of line to question the new God Of Technology. “Atheists and pagans created some of the greatest Christian art, the most convincing Madonna, Annunciations and Resurrections!” Oliviero Toscani once mentioned to me at Fabrica. “Art is meant to smell out the future. Art is meant to provoke!”
The possibilities of art are limitless. Unless life is transformed into art there is nothing. One can be deeply inspired by a statue of a Greek god, Christ, Shiva, Quetzalcoatl, or the image being forged of the God of Technology. It doesn’t depend on the symbol, but on whether it’s great art or not and which great artist made it.
What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?
I am continually striving to become a good musician.
"Only books made me think, laugh, hope and feel less alone during my early years."
From whom have you learned the most secrets about the Blues?
I had the good fortune to make friends with Jim Loomes, a gifted guitarist who had been a student of Alexis Korner in London. We travelled together to Spain and, later, to New Zealand playing in duo. Jim grew into a superb Classical guitarist.
How/where do you get inspiration for your songs and who were your mentors in songwriting?
I am usually busy composing film music that does not require lyrics so my output of original songs is limited and I have no mentors. Most of my songs have never been published. Possibly they are considered unmarketable because they don’t much resemble other songs. Once I have understood the director’s intentions and have read the movie script, inspiration for a score comes to me immediately. Scripts and editing invariably undergo continual transformation until the last minute; consequently my score changes and evolves also.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
As the 1970 hit by actor Lee Marvin goes: ‘I was born under a wandering star.’ I like travel and seek out excitement but I am not attracted to time machines however. My encounter with super technology might well end up like Don Quichote tilting against windmills, or worse. Years ago I might have been more courageous. Maybe, for a brief interval, I would like to travel back in time so I could watch my indomitable paternal grandfather skating as a boy in Friesland. He just took off his clogs, strapped the skates to his socks, and raced off, bent hard against the freezing wind. But is the time trip necessary? Just remembering him describing how he skated, my vision of him on the ice grows almost too strong to bear.
I know where I don’t want to go. For a start, I avoid places where freedom is restricted. I don’t like places where human beings are treated like sheep and accept being guarded by wolves in the guise of shepherds. I want more. Like Oliver Twist asking for more porridge, I chance wanting more. Gregory Corso used to sing a jubilant little song: “Tra la lee, tra la lee, an artist’s life for me!” Gregory and I agreed on many matters, maybe it’s one of the reasons we got on. Terrible events sometimes upset the boat. “He suffers reverse,” William Burroughs said of Gregory Corso. “Like every man who takes chances.”
Why chose “Superguitar” for nickname?
I have a typical Dutch surname that is difficult to pronounce for most non-Dutch people. Nobody in his or her right mind has an unpronounceable name in show business. On one of my first trips to Italy, a one-man music studio in Milan published an EP of mine entitled Superguitar. Afterwards, for better or worse, the nickname stuck. As I cannot always live up to the huge expectations it can generate, I often don’t bother using the name.
"Why would I need a magic wand when I have my music?"
In which songs can someone hear the best of your guitar work?
Z Files and Good Moons, on my CD Anthology, have some nice acoustic guitar. The film GO GO TALES, directed by Abel Ferrara, starring Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento, with great vocals by Grace Jones, is full of good pumping music, as well as MARY, also directed by Abel. The film Abel did in 2011, THE LAST DAY ON EARTH, has a Blues score and I sing Blindfold Blues, with lyrics by Abel, over the credits. Of late, I am playing more and more hard and elementary Blues, going back to the roots.
Where did you pick up your guitar style & what were the first songs you learned? Where did you pick up your slide style?
In the beginning, I was definitely influenced by Jack Elliot’s flat-picking. I also listened to Bluesmen like Muddy Waters and sitar-players Vilayat Khan and Ravi Shankar as well Country musicians and exponents of Free Jazz. Having worked with him on ANIMA MUNDI and NAQOYQATSI, directed by Godfrey Reggio, Philip Glass’ music has also transformed my life.
On acoustic guitar I played heavy gauge strings for many years and I used a rigid tortoiseshell pick. Tortoises becoming protected species I now use a nylon Herco Gold pick and play medium gauge D’Addario Phosphor Bronze strings. On my Fender I use any strings, usually lightweight. Most of my acoustic guitars are Martins, I play them unplugged or through an amp. My favorite guitar is a 1960 Martin 00018 that I purchased second-hand in 1962 in a pawnshop in Auckland, NZ. Remembering it dangling from the ceiling among the other instruments still causes my heart to pound. I have one of the best sounding acoustic guitars in the world too, an EKO jumbo that was custom-built for me some 25 years ago when EKO sponsored me.
I enjoy listening to most slide players but no one really influenced my playing except for Fred Mc Dowell early on. When I use the slide, I just let myself go, always improvising. I wear a short slide on the middle part of my middle finger so I can still fret comfortably. Years ago, I requested a plumber in Spain to saw up an aluminum chair-leg that was the right diameter. A few years ago, I presented the slide I was using to Louisiana Red who was most appreciative telling me that Muddy employed a similar one.
Is there a parts of Corso’s poems that you like most?
Generally, Gregory’s only luggage consisted of a plastic shopping bag. He wrote continually, some poems were published, others he forgot in bars or they were mislaid. I heard that, for a while, there was a lady in New York that gave him a $100 every time he brought her a poem. Who knows what happened to these? There are so many poems by Gregory that move me but here’s the shortest one I know.
A star is as far as the eye can see
And as near as my eye is to me.
Which memory from Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, and Robert Frank makes you smile?
I got to know some of The Beats when they visited Europe. I went to New York for the first time in 1990 when cinematic genius Godfrey Reggio asked me to collaborate with him and Philip Glass on Anima Mundi. I finally met Ginsberg during that period, although Gregory Corso and Bobby Yarra had spoken about him often. Gregory told me Allen was curious about me because he liked our LP. Gregory loved and felt beholden to Allen. Apart from frequent visitations from The Muse and Signora Poesia, Gregory felt he owed much of his success and economic survival to Allen. After Jack Kerouac, Allen was the top Beat celebrity and he kept the Beat Generation going as a movement, organising readings and get-togethers. After a reading, drinking whiskey, Gregory was capable of singing Italian opera all night. He constantly created joyous and outrageous mayhem involving poetesses, artists, freaks and all kinds of persons. Gregory’s energy was contagious and he could be incredibly funny. He also had a habit of falling asleep with a lit cigarette, burning bedclothes and mattresses. Reprimanded by Allen for his bad behaviour in hotels, Gregory was racked by guilt.
In the Chelsea, usually after hanging out with the visionary artist Vali Myers, Gregory and I would visit Herbert Huncke. They were trying to mend a mysterious falling out so there was still some distrust in the air. Gregory definitely did not want me to play poker with Huncke, that’s for sure! Coming from hellish backgrounds, they were both wary and streetwise and did not give their confidence easily.
The Anima Mundi studio was in the building in front of the Blue Note Jazz Club. Mike Porco’s Folk City, high temple of the Folk Revival, was next door to us but it had just closed. My old pal Dave Van Ronk still lived up the road. Godfrey, who has unwavering focus, had the energy of his crew pumped up to maximum workshop heat. When you drag everything out of yourself, give everything you’ve got, then something is revealed. Working on Godfrey’s films can be like a mystical mission. Paola Igliori and Irvine and Roger Richards, the Greek scholar and brilliant owner of legendary Rare Book Room, who Gregory lived with when he was in New York, would drop into the studio now and again. Robert Frank visited a lot. He enjoyed the studio atmosphere, and the old-fashioned steam-deck editing consoles, as well as following what we were doing. Robert’s place was a few streets away and I passed by with Godfrey a few times. What makes me smile at this moment is remembering Robert’s perfect serenity as he sat in his usual spot on the window ledge surrounded by light like an angel. Like all great artists, Robert Frank seeks perfection.
"During Bebop, with Charley Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and other musical giants, the Beats were definitely influenced by the spontaneity and the revolutionary, dynamite energy of the music." (Photo by Paolo Torella)
Some music styles can be fads but the Blues is always with us. Why do think that is?
In my opinion, the Blues didn’t only drag Afro-Americans out of their misery but many other cultural groups too. This not only proves that the Blues spread from the Mississippi Delta to grow into a vital world music, but that a musical formula can work for everyone. Every person who is free, or who wants to be, identifies with the Blues.
Apart from the Blues, I am particularly interested in Stone-age music, music from the remote past, the last time we had a single global culture but managed to live in harmony with the planet. We all have organic global Stone-age music deep within us so I have an idea that it holds a key to the Blues of the future.
How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
I am little qualified to answer this question, as I have virtually nothing to do with the music industry at all. Except for my bigger film scores and a few early LP’s, all my music is largely self-produced and therefore inadequately distributed. Happily, thanks to generous audiences and having the good fortune to have been recognized by a number of geniuses, I usually manage to stay busy making music.
Tell me a few things about your meeting with Champion Jack Dupree and what gift would you have given to him?
My biggest gig with Champion Jack was in Rome in a huge, packed-out Teatro Tenda. Jack was living in Germany then. He grew up in the same New Orleans orphanage as Louis Armstrong. He had had a hard life, most of it on the road, and he was a sweet and generous man with an indomitable spirit and unflinching enthusiasm. In his youth Jack used to be a pugilist, he fought over fifty bouts, even winning the Golden Gloves. A slogan on the sleeve of one of his hand-painted shirts read: Keep Fighting The Blues.
"Music is not only entertainment; it has many different functions. In free and enlightened societies everyone is a musician some of the time." (Photo: Francis and Champion Jack Dupree)
What do you learn about yourself from the blues?
Music exerts a life-giving influence, it is liberating. Like dance, it is able to transmit a very special sense of uniqueness. The blues is a spiritual music, it teaches you about what is inside of you. When you drag out that which is inside of you, that what you drag out can save you. This has been explained better by sages, from Jesus to Mark Twain and Krishnamurti. Making music gives you a chance to become a messenger bringing news from somewhere extra special.
Is it easier to write and play the blues as you get older?
I have moments when I feel I’ve finally succeeded in learning both how to write and play blues, but I don’t remain fooled for long. It can always be better. The first months of each year I summon up my energies to be sure that, like the trees by my house, I burst into life with spring.
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Philip Glass and Francesco De Gregori?
I saw Philip recently, so the most vivid memory I have of him is watching his joy when he showed me a short film of himself and his young children playing music on his cell phone. I admire Philip for his enthusiasm, for his brilliant mind and his astounding memory and discipline, for a start. He became enchanted with music as a young boy because his father ran a record store and – a little known fact - his uncle played drums with the Marx Brothers in Vaudeville. Working on Godfrey’s film projects, Philip and I often spent much time listening to very interesting and little-known music, delving into its secrets. My archive of sounds and music is very extensive as well as unique.
Francesco and I have been friends since the sixties. We met at Rome’s Folkstudio, where he was discovered and went on to become a big star. I go and visit him at his place in the country when he is not touring. We play some music, drink good wine and talk about books; he makes great olive oil. Even as a young kid he was a brilliant songwriter and a classy musician. He invited me to play 32 dates as a special guest on his summer tour of Italy and Switerland in 1989.
Have you embarked on new directions recently with the Kings Of Lies or remained basically the same?
Kings Of Lies is a new direction for me as my voice and the songs are the focus of the band. For years, I didn’t sing much, also because of a throat problem, and concentrated on guitar instrumentals, performing solo or with jazz and ethnic musicians. Kings Of Lies is definitely a partial return to the past for me, and to the Folkmusic revival of the 60’s and 70’s, when I worked the Folk circuit. Basically, our music is Folk Rock, combining elements of country, blues and rock. We perform Protest Songs about contemporary and ancient issues, like fundamentalism, political corruption and, needless to explain, lies. We aim to provoke through human delight. Instead of protesting angrily, our outrage is expressed through irony and wit. Sam, Franc and I formed the Kings Of Lies in Amsterdam and we are based there.
"Music exerts a life-giving influence, it is liberating. Like dance, it is able to transmit a very special sense of uniqueness. The blues is a spiritual music, it teaches you about what is inside of you." (Photo: Kings of Lies featuring Francis Kuipers, Franc auf dem Brinke and Sam Tjioe)
What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs?
Performing an important radio series ‘live’ in duo with Antonello Salis for Italian RAI Radio III was incredible. A number of concerts we did were pretty exciting too. Jamming with Lester Bowie and other members of the Art Ensemble in a small club was a huge adrenalin rush. I enjoyed jams with John Sutherland on harmonica in New Zealand and with Enrico ‘Mad Dog’ Micheletti and bass-player Goran Mimica. Gigs with Gregory were all memorable.
Who are your favorite Blues artists, both old and new? What was the last record you bought?
Son House, Fred Mc Dowell, Memphis Slim, Eddie Lang, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Hubert Sumlin, Slim Harpo, Jimmi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons. The list can go on and on…..The last record I bought was an early recording by Link Wray that I found cut-price at a railway station store.
Do you know why the words of the BEATS are connected to the Blues and Jazz?
During Bebop, with Charley Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and other musical giants, the Beats were definitely influenced by the spontaneity and the revolutionary, dynamite energy of the music. After that innovative stage, I have never much enjoyed poetry with Jazz, as most musicians seem to repeat a dated and predictable procedure. The music distracts me from the words. Poetry and music is something that worked for a while at the right time. Maybe it can work again with different music.
Is “BEAT” a way of life & what does the BEAT generation mean to you?
Ginsberg promoted The Beat Generation so his friends would have a movement that allowed them to survive. Allen organized get-togethers now and then but a number of Beats barely knew each other. I belong to the generation that came between the Beats and the Hippies. I am tough. I recover from disappointment rapidly and I make an effort to steer well clear of compromise, and any form of ‘ism’.
"During Bebop, with Charley Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and other musical giants, the Beats were definitely influenced by the spontaneity and the revolutionary, dynamite energy of the music."
What made you want to work with Jack Kerouac? What would you ask Allen Ginsberg and Jack?
I met Jack briefly in Paris in the 60’s. He was considerably older than me, a celebrity. I was a young and humble busker. It never entered my mind to work with him. I met Allen, Herbert Huncke, Roger Richards, Robert Frank and a number of other Beats years later in New York during the making of ANIMA MUNDI.
If you could change one thing in the world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
Why would I need a magic wand when I have my music? I am not like ancient Greek gods who thought nothing about interfering in world affairs. They were always meddling in human lives and activities. Merely for fun, gods and goddesses created incredible joy on Earth, as well as calamity and destruction, and made men and women lose control, intoxicated by love and lust. Gods even mingled with mortals. A charismatic man with bright eyes might have been Apollo incognito. There are many realities and everything is possible, also improvements of all kinds, like more honesty and quality of life.
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?
Being a part of Kings Of Lies brings with it considerable merriment. We formed the band for our own enjoyment first of all of course. A number of my friends have brilliant minds and are some of the most original and funniest people on the planet who regularly inspire uproarious laughter.
I was trained not to show emotions, and definitely not to cry, even if I was made to walk the plank by pirates. There is some emotive pulsing and sparkling inside of me however. Recently, I was touched, meeting up with old students from Fabrica, the Benetton School of communication near Venice. We have a strong bond as we were there together during the first revolutionary years, when the place was directed by Godfrey Reggio and later Oliviero Toscani. I ran the music and sound department. Our mission was to smell out the future and we had a window out into the world as well as a budget and equipment. Our output was widely imitated. Those were exciting times, we were influencing society in some way and shaping its thinking.
You have traveling all around the world. What are your conclusions?
That is a big question! For a start, it used to take me 6 weeks by ship to get to Australia; now it's a couple of days. I try not to dwell overly on my past, on my fantastic adventures and all the wonderful friends I have made. I am concerned with now and the future. It is said that Beauty generally fades in time. I have lived in and visited many places that would have had unfading beauty if it had not been for the onslaught of tourism and commerce.
Sound and music accompanies us wherever we go, whether we like it or not, just like the score of a film follows the plot and the action of actors, but hardly anyone ever talks about it. It is as though the subject is taboo. sound and music are constant elements in our lives; it affects our behaviour and life style, but it is paid the least conscious attention. The starting place of everything is sound. We hear sound while we are still in the womb and it is the last thing we are conscious of when we die. Increasingly, I am concerned with noise pollution and I believe sound is a last environmental frontier. It is in the interest of everyone with functioning ears to use them to listen hard. What sounds do you want to get rid off, which do you want to keep?
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
There is craft and skill involved in playing Blues but I see it, above all, as a form of art. Don’t take up music unless you have talent, passion, vocation, imagination, blowtorch determination, capacity to skip meals and infinite optimism. You might also need to go for lengthy periods without a fixed abode, just like Gregory, the Baul musicians from Bengal and the poets and architects of ancient Greece. Above all, you can’t bullshit playing the Blues.
Music is not only entertainment; it has many different functions. In free and enlightened societies everyone is a musician some of the time.
‘We hide ourselves in our music to reveal ourselves’ Jim Morrison.
Instead of answering this, I pose you a question. The entire world loves the potato crisp that, in actual fact, is merely some disgusting type of potato soaked in cheap oil. What would the potato crisp be without its crunch?
Francis Kuipers - musician, musicologist, composer for film website
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