This is the last of four initial parts of a long Jason Webley interview conducted by Mike Whybark in spring, 2003.
The first part mostly discussed Jason’s plans for the July 20 Monsters of Accordion show and tour; the second followed that up and veered into some technical minutia about microphones. In section three, we examined busking for a moment or two.
Today it starts getting good. Unfortunately, it’s near the end of the tape, and on my microcassette tape recorder, at the end of the tape, the recording speed varies and sometimes the recorded voice begins to break up. This happened on this tape and is denoted as “[tape flaw]” in the final paragraphs.
[Responding to a question about busking, Jason highlighted three songs he uses in street performing situations: “Old Man Time, Last Song, Drinking Song, and sometimes that damn Aardvark thing.”
“That damn Aardvark thing” is one of Jason’s most absurd songs, in which the audience invariably joins in singing the barked chorus, “aardvark, aardvark.” The basic tune of the song is taken from the Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss, familiar to LITERALLY EVERYONE as the space-station docking sequence theme from Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s film, 2001.
Invariably at Jason’s concerts, requests for the song are shouted. Sometimes he plays the song immediately; other times it’s clear that he’d rather not. At any rate, as his comment notes, his feelings for the song are mixed.
I took his bait.]
M: “that damn Aardvark thing.” Let’s talk about “that damn Aardvark thing”, and additionally your ambivalence at “teaching monkeys how to sing.” Beginning, I think it’s on Against the Night, that’s a consistent theme in I think almost all your music from then on, there’s sort of this ambivalence about what I perceive as your awareness of your being able to accomplish certain performance goals. I don’t think I have a specific question, but I’m interested to hear you talk bout it. Where does that come from?
J: Yeah, where does it come from? There’s that one line from “Captain, Where Are We Going Now? [ed. – links to a Jason-hosted real-audio file]” – that is what you’re talking about.
But I’m wondering where – you hear some echo of that in almost everything since then?
M: Sure. “Follow the Carrot”; the “Webley of Destruction” incident…
[ed. These are references to some performance themes Jason has played with – one in which audiences were incited to “Follow the Carrot” and at the same time mocked for engaging in herd behavior; and another incident in which after a show Jason pulled a toy gun out of his pocket in a park after leading his audience from a show down the street. The gun was not obviously a toy; that is, it was not bright orange or of outlandish design. As he began to proceed with his performance involving the toy, the police showed up, thankfully not seeing the gun but consternating not a few of the people in the park.]
J: That wasn’t my [book? Gun? Inaudible]
M: There’s a desire to sort of engage the audience into this kind of call-and-response behavior at the same time as –
J: – making them –
M: – to present a critique of it. There’s like, a tension between the two things. I mean, it seems to me to be a really consistent theme in your work.
J: Yeah, yeah. I guess I want to have the cake and eat it too. I want to –
M: – the carrot cake.
J: I don’t know. It could be my big flaw. [tape flaw] being this character, being this super thing and like spending all this energy trying to make that thing be really important and integral and necessary to people’s lives and appreciated and loved – and then to say – you don’t need that. You don’t need that thing. At the same time, that’s kind of it. It’s sort of like. . .
That’s all I have to say about that. It’s true, I think a lot about it.
M: Do you fret about it? Like, do you worry about it like a contradictory thing?
J: Not really. Oh I don’t think it’s contradictory at all. I mean it feels contradictory when you talk about it – in application, it’s easy. It’s exactly what it is. It’s beautiful. I mean I hope that people feel that way about it.
I don’t feel any kind of contradiction – heh – [grinning] in teaching people how to sing songs about not singing along.
M: Here’s another thing, this is kind of a less aesthetically unfocused question. I’ve seen you, at shows, engage with the street performer instructional mode, where you like, you know, tell the audience to do certain things, the audience immediately picks it up, gets it, and takes it someplace the audience is going to take it, you know, creates spontaneously based on your suggestion.
More than once, when I’ve seen you playing especially with new musicians, people you haven’t done a show with before, when you do that, and the audience not only takes your suggestion but expands on it, the people on stage, you can see them react: “Oh my god, how did he do that?”
I mean, I kind of feel that way sometimes as an audience member. I’m like “How did that happen exactly?”
There’s this very economic kind of presentation of the information to the audience and the audience is completely willing to follow your suggestion.
I’m curious about the relationship of that and performance – theatrical performance – to the experience of learning or developing or hearing about those techniques in the context of street performing. Did you learn how to do it in street performing?
J: I don’t know. What you’re talking about is interesting, but that actual question is not. I mean, you’re “where did I learn these things?”
I’m interested in the phenomenon. What happens there. I mean, “Why is it that this small miracle happens?”
Actually I’m not that interested in the why. I’m interested in that it happens. That’s wonderful that that’s what you see. Often from where I’m standing, it’s actually hard for me to see. But it is something that makes me really happy.
What it shows is, it shows some kind of trust. There’s some sort of trust happening.
To follow – it’s dangerous.
I mean that’s my whole, where the whole game comes in – I mean our whole country just followed along on some… [inaudible]
and when is that good and when is that EVIL! And it’s not always so binary.
So if, um, you can acknowledge that, acknowledge that whole leader-follower thing to some extent, look at it a little bit, and with that consciousness then still go into a situation together, it’s beautiful and it shows some kind of trust.
[Jason and I talked for another two or three hours. I have another ninety minutes of tape which I have yet to transcribe. Hopefully I will be able to place a piece deriving from the interview in a print publication in the fall, as Jason returns to Seattle. The balance of the interview will be published here as a transcript once any articles deriving from it see print.]