Tell us about yourself...
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.
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
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
Stephin's last name is that of the man his mother was married
to when he was born.
ON STEPHIN MERRITT?
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 dont know what effect Stephins
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
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
Back To Top
US ABOUT SOON
(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
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 lions 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.
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
have you been doing for the past ah
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
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.
ON JIMMY BUFFET:
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
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.
ON BEING BLACKLISTED:
What about being Blacklisted for all these years; are you
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'
THIS GENIUS THING:
What about this Genius thing, are you
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
I never finished high school, I signed with Columbia Records
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.
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.
ON THE MUSIC BUSINESS:
So, you've got an attitude about the Music Business, don't
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.
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.