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Conversations with

on Himself

Tell us about yourself...
I'm the third of four generations of singers. I was born in New York City and raised in The Virgin islands. My paternal Grandmother was a barroom singer named Sally Travis, an orphan girl from Scotland who came to America alone at 18. She died on welfare island at 26, leaving my father Frankie Galvin (see "Tic Tac Toe" in my Photo Gallery) to be raised in part by the Christian Brothers and in part by his paternal Grandmother.

Frankie was a great singer and wonderful tenor (Saxophone) man. He had his own problems with the music business. In his day there was a great deal of mob influence in the business, he had difficulties in that area.

The fourth generation is of course my son Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields etc. I was born in 1945 on 52nd Street in NYC (which at that time was Jazz heaven) to "Jazz baby Singer/Dancer" Lelia Kelly and Frankie "Chu" Galvin. I was raised in St.Thomas, Virgin Islands, by my mother and a succession of black alcoholic stepfathers.

Life for a "poor" white boy in the tough waterfront town of Charlotte Amalie was an intense mixture of beauty and violence. In retrospect, the experience was priceless. I have been loved and nurtured by people of every skin color, sexual orientation and cultural background. I have five extraordinary children with four extraordinary women. I am a singer, a writer and a creative, defiant human being.

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How come each generation has a different last name?
It's because we're all "outsiders" Sally got pregnant by a married Irish politician from The Bronx, who denied that the child was his, an Irish longshoreman named Fagan married Sally so her little one would have a name. Frankie spent his entire life trying to be acknowledged by his father and finally had his name legally changed to Galvin, which was his father's name. Meanwhile, (in my childhood) my name was often the only thing that I had to hold on to. The only thing in the world that was mine. Later on Frankie got on my case to change my name to Galvin but I had no interest in doing that. If I'd been a name changer I would be Scott Fagan Smith Hodge Lindqvist Wilson Sometingorother Mc'Tiernan Galvin.

Stephin's last name is that of the man his mother was married to when he was born.


Is it true that you left Stephin and his mother when he was one year old?
No, I don't know where that story came from, the fact is I have never seen the little knobby noggin in my life, and I wasn't even sure that he existed until very recently.

I am delighted to have become aware of Stephin and his music. I'm amazed at how much alike we sound and further, how unbelievably familiar the song writing is to me considering that we have never met. I'm equally amazed at the many parallels in our lives. It is really extraordinary.
I am happy for his success. I know better than most, how difficult a life in music can be.

I think that Stephin's manager, Claudia Gonson has done a really superb job for him. My career, on the other hand, has been mismanaged by the most preserverent and defiant "idiot savant" I've ever known. That would be me. I wish them every possible success and happiness and look forward to meeting someday.

Has Stephin's success had an effect on your career?

I really don’t know what effect Stephin’s success has had on my career? I gig primarily in the Islands and nothing has changed in that regard. However, It has affected me personally in a number of ways. First, I became aware that he existed which is very important to me. Next, it blew my mind to hear how similar the music is. Then, to see the raves and reviews, the descriptions of him as a genius was very deja vu.

I'm familiar with the term having been "blessed" with it myself over 30 years ago, by Wm. Krasilovsky (Author of "This Business Of Music I and II). The term is a double-edged sword. It can certainly work against one. Ultimately though, the knowledge that someone who (one hopes) ought to know, would use that descriptor, can sustain one through some very difficult times. Stephin's success and the alternative route that he pursued is a real reinforcement for me, for what I know and have been saying for years. His references to me, along with Jasper John's "Scott Fagan Record" are kindnesses, which I deeply appreciate.

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(SOON was the first ever "Rock Opera" produced on Broadway. It attacked and ridiculed the hypocrisy and destructive cruelty of the American Music Business. It opened and closed immediately at The Ritz Theatre on Broadway and 48th Street, in January 1971). (LINK)--> Cast and Reviews Forthcoming
SOON was way ahead of its time, but Joe (My partner Jose Martinez Kookoolis) and I weren't calculating timeliness and "striking at the market."

We were "true believers" in the middle of madness, drawing from our experience and writing from the heart. We were completely naïve in our expectations; we thought that saying what we were seeing would make a positive difference. We never imagined that they could and would actually shut us down and shut us out.

One of the great sadness’ of SOON was the effect that being blacklisted had on Joe. We were both desperately "disadvantaged" street boys. He was from the ghetto in New Haven, CT. I was a poor white boy from a tough black West Indian society. We were in New York to change our lives and the lives of those who depended on and believed in us.

Joe was basically a good and sweet fellow who wanted to write beautiful and important songs. I was the one with the bravado, with the radical commitment to social justice. He followed me into the lion’s den and they ate us up. Joe never wrote another tune and died six years later, leaving his mother and little brother on welfare…an absolute tragedy.

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Is that all you have to say about SOON?
No, SOON was a beautiful piece of work. It was honest to goodness Rock and Roll Theater and deserved a place in the true history of Rock and Roll, The Music Business AND American Opera. I have much more to say about SOON and the music business, but most importantly, SOON was never recorded. 34 years later, I am still trying to get it recorded. Isn't that something?

What have you been doing for the past ah… 34 years?
I've been singing and writing and some of every kind of “skriffle” and “skrunt” in the world. I've been having and raising little ones and living a most interesting and real life.

But you might have been a super star; you could have made millions.

Of course I wish I'd had more money. It would have provided comfort and security for the people who have depended on me for those things. Also, I would have gotten good recording equipment for myself.

Where "super star" is concerned, I would have missed too much of the gritty, profoundly human experiences that I've had instead. I feel like having lived real life on real life's terms has given me much deeper and more valuable life experiences to draw on for my music and my thinking, than I would have had in the isolated and artificial life behind the gates of the rich and paranoid.

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What do you think about Jimmy Buffet
and Kenny Chesney?

I think nothing but good things about them both, I welcome them to the Islands, and wish them every possible success.

That's it?

What about the Parrothead Phenomenon?
I think it's wonderful, they seem so stimulated by the sense of community and the Island sensibility.

These folks seem to be having fun in a most wonderful way, the sense of colorful community is very reminiscent of the Islands and I commend them (and Jimmy) for their good works. I look forward to seeing them in the Islands someday. I hope that my recordings will in some way, add to their joy.

What about being Blacklisted for all these years; are you angry?

Of course I'm angry, but I'm not obsessed with it. I did what I thought was right, they did what they thought was right. It's been very very frustrating for me, but I think that I've seen and learned more of value on the outside than I would have on the inside. The artificial elevated separation from "the mass of humanity" of the "manufactured demigod artist" distorts the reality of the two-way flow sez me, and I'm stickin' to it.

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What about this Genius thing, are you a Genius?
I don't think so, but I suspect I'm some kind of Idiot Savant, heavy on the former, way lighter on the latter.

What's your formal education?

Well, as a child I changed schools many (14) times, repeating the 8th, 9th and the10th and was finally thrown out near the end of my second time through the 10th grade.
I never finished high school, I signed with Columbia Records instead.

Years later in California, I took advanced curriculum courses at UCLA, in chemical dependency counseling and then in Program Design and Management and graduated with an A+ average.

If an area of interest has any human/emotional connection, I get it. No matter how abstract the concept. If on the other hand, the area is mechanical, I find nothing to hold on to and consequently, I overshoot.

What did you do with your UCLA training?

I designed and implemented a non-profit chemical dependency program for artists and individuals in the Music Business called BIZRAP. The design has been running now for nearly 15 years as Musicares through NARAS (The Grammy people) and as MAP (The Musicians Assistance Program - through the Musicians Union) I have used the counseling skills to help some folks, and designed a number of other social action non-profits.

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So you made up with The Music Business?
No, they don't even know and it certainly didn't change anything where my career was concerned. Most artists, writers, producers, and workers in the music business are independent contractors and have no access to detox or treatment because they have no insurance. This was an effort to help them.

As you know, the products of the music business have a tremendous impact on society and many of the people creating the soundtracks to our lives were strung out, depressed, or otherwise toxic. This is of course reflected in the product (or music if you prefer). The Music Business traditionally did nothing to help it's people in these areas. Tragically, the "business" doesn't care as long as the product sells. We provided a program through which people in music could begin to help them selves and one another. And… by extension, all of us.

So, you've got an attitude about the Music Business, don't you?

I believe in music and I believe in people. Not "product" "units" and "consumers"
The Music Business is simply a business that messes with the things that I believe in most. Like too many businesses in too many life areas, it has evolved to exploit it's workers and it's customers. To profit at all costs. It happens though, that music is a thing of the heart and of the spirit, and the people that create it, and the people that love it and even the people that are exposed to it as background noise, deserve better than that.

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What do you mean?
I mean that music belongs to the people that it is important to. Exploitive merchants, bean counters and legal opportunists had, and have no right seize control of it. To impose themselves, their cash registers and their self-serving interests between the people that make music and the people that are inspired by it.
The currently, almost universal exploitive merchant model, is a bad and dishonest one for any product or service (and I could go on about that) but for these merchant minded shmucks to control the artists, the manufacture, the distribution, the promotion of something so extraordinarily delicately human, is outrageous and wrong. And has to, and will change. That's what I mean.

Do you mean that anyone should be able to take any artist's music and do what ever they want with it instead?
No, that's exactly what these guys have been doing all these years. Stealing from an artist is wrong whether you are a huge corporation or an individual, whatever your rationalization. Artists have to have fair income from their works in order to be able to continue to do that work. To meet their expenses and pay their bills like anyone else.
You know what my philosophy is regarding my music and money, it's laid out clearly here on the website.
That is my philosophy as it relates to my work. I'm not interested in imposing it on anyone or every one else, it's just the way that I feel, what I believe. However I do believe in music, and I do believe in you.

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