In spring, 2003, Seattle-based musician – and friend – Jason Webley and I met in Belltown following a performance in which Jason was appearing, Pastor Kaleb’s Sunday Service, at the Jewelbox Theater. Jason was not billed under his name but under a transparent pseudonym, something like Nasoj Yelbewich.
After the services, Jason and I walked up the side of Capitol Hill to Clever Dunne’s Irish House for breakfast. I miked him just before we crossed the freeway and we started talking. Most of our conversation took place while walking – we looped as far afield as Seattle University and then back downtown – but the section seen here this week is mostly set in the restaurant or walking to it.
Over the next four days, I’ll run the first four parts of the interview. There is much more that I have not yet transcribed – these four sections represent about forty-five minutes of tape.
The additional material will eventually be posted here as well, but in the fall. I had hoped to develop a print-based piece from this material previewing the Monsters of Accordion show, but didn’t land the story. The balance of the interview material may from the basis of a story for print in fall as well, and in order to place a potential story, I need to hold the material until any hypothetical piece sees print.
M: You’re going to be playing in Seattle in July.
M: Her name is Viv, actually.
J: Viv! Viv! Why did I – I know her name’s Viv! Why did I do that?
M: My older relatives always took her name and immediately transformed it into “Vi”. Kind of irritated her.
J: You don’t have to tell her about this. You can leave it in the interview but just don’t let her read that part.
[ed. Note to Viv: do not read the previous material.]
Let’s see. So it’s “The Monsters of Accordion.“
M: So this is like a tour?
J: Short tour. This accordion shop owner Kimric Smythe in Oakland runs Kimric’s Oakland Accordion Shop – what is it called – Smythe’s Accordion Center – which is where I have all my accordion work done when I can’t fix it myself. Last summer he invited me down to headline this little event that he has every year, this little accordion festival. And then later in the autumn we did a reprise of that with just a few of my favorites of these other accordion players – and called it The Monsters of Accordion. It was just one show in Oakland. I’ve really been wanting to actually bring it on tour – so this will be the last stop on the five day Monsters of Accordion tour.
It’ll be East Bay, West Bay, Eugene, Portland and then here. That’s why we’re in Seattle on a Sunday.
M: Who else is on the tour?
J: Aaron Seeman. I think he’s like a classical musician and composer.
M: The freeway is going to overwhelm the audio…
J: That’s fine…
(noise as we cross the freeway – joking about music business stuff)
J: I’m going to play this accordion festival in Katadi (?) this summer – it’s this huge accordion festival I guess. They have all this kind of Lawrence Welk-y kind of stuff among other things. It’s kind of daunting. Near Santa Rosa.
M: In California?
J: Yeah. (pause) I’m pretty much gonna not be in Seattle this year.
M: I guess that makes sense, considering the kind of bumpy experience you had last year.
[ed. Jason was arrested and banned from Seattle Center for a year after being very aggressively hassled by event coordinators and security for both the springtime Folklife Festival and Bumbershoot. While Jason wisely counsels forgive and forget in this matter I personally feel inventive ways to deprive the responsible parties of sleep ought to be formulated, preferably involving loss of political and economic power.]
So who else is in this monsters thing besides Eric Seeman?
J: Aaron Seeman. He plays Dead Kennedys covers, note for-note on the accordion; does very good Jello Biafra imitations. He’s only interested in the first album; he can play Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables in its entirety. In the Bay Area, anyway, even if you weren’t a Dead Kennedys fan you have somehow subconsciously have picked up on ‘California Uber Alles.’ We’ll see how it goes over in Seattle.
He’s great. He’s recorded with Mr. Bungle. Very talented – very different energy than me, I think.
Daniel Ari – who is – I think his group is called Bass Line Dada – he’s just GREAT. I fell in love with him. He sings very sweet songs. Very funny, disarming – very immediate, real connection happens between him and the audience. In a way he is kind of similar to me. So remind me to put Aaron between – have Aaron play between us so we don’t get confused.
That’s it. Three monsters.
M: You all play unaccompanied?
J: Yeah. Bringing back that old tradition, of, you know, the guy and his accordion. A show of several solo male performers and their accordions. (laughs)
M: (deadpan) So you’ll have to beat the women off with a stick.
J: (also deadpan) Yes. That we did agree on in the contract. They each get 25 percent.
— (We arrive at Clever Dunne’s and get a table) —
M: So you said, quote, it isn’t going to be a really exciting show
J: It’s going to be really boring.
M: How exactly is it going to be boring? In what specific ways will it be boring?
J: I’m not going to kill myself on stage. There’s not gonna be any kind of parade. No fireworks.
M: No fireworks?
J: No. I don’t know. The last time I played with these two guys though – people in the audience…
He was doing a signing at Rasputin Records in Berkeley. I was walking along the road, and I saw a flyer with a picture of Peter Tork, and it said “Peter Tork appearing on Wednesday at 3 o’clock at Rasputin Records” and it was two thirty. I went into Rasputin and waited around a while – he was a bit late. But sure enough, come about 3:15 or so, this guy in a jean jacket that looks like Peter Tork showed up.
But anyway, I was telling the audience this same thing, and they were wondering “Why is he telling us this?” just like you are right now, and as I said that, someone threw a monkey at me; like a stuffed animal monkey. It was really shocking.
Occasionally the audience will you know heckle you or do something, and usually you know … what to do with the situation. And the first monkey, it really shocked me.
M: So you did the Peter Gabriel song.
Like different old monkeys that had been loved by some child like had completely different histories. It was as if the audience had conspired together to bring their unique, special monkeys and at some given point all throw them at me. There were probably about forty or fifty of these monkeys on the stage.
And um, the concert was over…
—(ed. interruption while we engage in food debate and ordering)—
J: (resuming story) So the show ended – I did various things with these monkeys. Filled the space up. But then the show ended, and no one came up and claimed responsibility for the monkeys, no-one took any of the monkeys; they all just stayed there. They’d been a little bit enigmatic when I first saw them, but then I sort of came to terms with them, I became able deal with them.
But then I really had a hard time dealing with the fact that everyone just left them there. I mean it really, really got to me. I didn’t know what to think of that.
M: So there you are alone on the stage with the monkeys, breaking down sobbing.
J: A very humbling moment.
M: So whatever happened to the monkeys?
J: Well, I don’t want to ruin the Mystery of the Monkeys.
Like a lot of things like that – there’s a lot of things that happen in my life, there’s a lot of things that are just authentically, truly, filled with divine mystery, that keeps unfolding and being mysterious, or kind of drifts away.
These monkeys though, they just belonged to Kimric, the guy that ran the place; at some point he had just started passing them out to the audience. That’s why they suddenly appeared and that’s why when it was over no one had any sense of ownership about them.
That was what was disturbing is that no one felt any ownership of these monkeys, and I felt like, “How could that be? How could the monkeys just exist here now?” and “Are they my monkeys?” and then there was sadness! – There was sadness when it was all said and done I was disappointed that the mystery was gone and that they’re not my monkeys now!
M: Well there’ll be other chances. You know, I’ve heard there’s a rule of comedy – if something’s funny, add a monkey and it will be funnier! (digression not transcribed.) If you’re ever in doubt, just add monkeys.
J: Well, I’m not normally one to exploit a monkey like that. I need some sort of external… But the Peter Tork connection is not completely devoid of divine mystery. I haven’t seen Peter Tork since, though.
M: I haven’t either.
(End part 1)