Cranberry Sauce: Praising, Not Burying Saul MacGarvey

 

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I learned the word hoodwink from my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Bobby Hand. He might take pride in knowing that. I always thought about it in that way politicians pull the wool over people’s eyes when they make false promises. I took pride in thinking I was too smart to be hoodwinked myself until I had a run in with Saul MacGarvey. Saul is actually the innocent party in all this. As you’re about to read, he is the subject of an informative and entertaining interview. I was suspicious when Saul’s people contacted me out of the blue but it’s flattering when anyone takes an interest in the Portland Orbit. Jeff Dodge, my Portland connection to Saul, was evasive when I asked him the name of  Saul’s band. Anybody else would wonder why I didn’t ask Saul himself but between trying to decipher the cryptic nature of this project and actually getting in touch with Saul, I forgot! It wasn’t until I began gathering images and links to include with the interview that I found out this was a Jeff Dodge and the Peasant Revolution Band release. And that, is how, I got hoodwinked. Saul MacGarvey’s identity is a mystery but it doesn’t matter, I had a great time talking to him and despite technical issues that created transcription challenges, I had plenty of laugh out loud moments listening to this recording over and over again. This may not be the last word on my getting hoodwinked but I figure I should let it go for a moment and get to the interview.

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Guest hosting The Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour

Portland Orbit:  Okay we’re starting, I mean, sorry, it’s David, it’s David from (laughs) the Portland Orbit. You’ve got to excuse me because we’re had our Christmas party. We’re so busy that we are just now getting around to having our Christmas party. So that’s what we’ve been up to but Saul we know how busy you are.

Saul: It’s a bit late for Christmas, isn’t it?

PO: Yeah, well, I know exactly, we’ve been very busy and you know 12 days of Christmas and all that so that’s where we were—

Saul: I could play that for you if you want.

PO: Oh wonderful Saul. I know you guys had reached out to me it’s been a bit of a mystery but you’ve reached out to me for an interview and so I’m glad that I was able to track you down I have to admit that I didn’t know much about what you were doing and I’m going right into my first question. Okay, are you ready?

Saul: Chorde was a big fan of the Portland Orbit so we thought we’d do that.

PO: Oh great!

Saul: Yeah, go ahead, fire away.

PO: Okay, okay, wait a minute. (Pause for technical difficulties.) Here we go, this is great. From what I’m so familiar with for the music I felt like, it seemed you’re inspired by the Beatles with your Beatle influences on your album and I’m wondering how did you connect with the band?

Saul: What you seem to be saying right there, I disagree with that characterization but continue on.

PO: Well then, maybe the question is, because you cut me off, but my follow-up question which was sort of like, it was a two-part question, two questions in one, which is complicated, but did you connect with the band The Beatles when you first heard them?

Saul: Well, for one thing we’re entirely from different eras, you know, just because we grew up in Liverpool, we were born during the bombing, you know, the war going on. They supposedly had similar things but I don’t really know their history. I was always more of a Stones guy, you know.

PO: A what guy?

Saul: The Rolling Stones.

PO: Not Gerry and the Pacemakers?

Saul: Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. I’m also a bit big fan of The Turtles, very influential and the Thompson Twins were also a big influence on our work.

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Saul with the Thompson Twins!

PO: (Hearty laugh) I can imagine twins, anything with twins. This Tom Lemon collaboration that you’ve got going on, were you trying to do the—

Saul: Ronnie Lemon. It’s not Tom. Tom, that’s his Dad.

PO: What’s that? It’s not Tom Lemon? Okay, wait a minute Ronnie, Ronnie Lemon. Okay, I’m sorry I don’t know where I got that. But I mean are you guys doing the songwriting team thing?

Saul: We’re kind of taking a break from it it’s been a lot of pressure so we’re going to release this album and take a little break, maybe get back to it a little later.

PO: Well, actually how did you decide which name was going to go first though?

Saul: Well, this album is very much about me and my life’s legacy. Some of these songs I wrote by myself when I was first teaching myself how to play the guitar. I didn’t have any lessons, you know, no one showed me how to do anything. That’s why I ended up left-handed with it. I can even play dobro with my toes, you know. Back then it was about doing skiffle, you know.

PO: Okay, what was it about Ronnie though? What was it about Ronnie then?

Saul: Ronnie and I met probably about nine—we were young lads growing up in Liverpool. We met playing the game Connect Four. I believe you call it over there, Connect Four. We met in a Connect Four tournament.

PO: (Laughs)

Saul: We were fast friends after I beat him.

PO: Your album, it feels a lot like the I Am Sam soundtrack. I’m not sure if you’re familiar but that was a movie where Sean Penn plays a mentally challenged Beatles obsessive and so the album is full of performers playing Beatles tunes. Have you heard of this movie?

Saul: I have not, had no idea such a thing—but again I don’t see what all these Beatles comparisons have anything to do with this work. This is from my own personal life, you know it talks about the bombings, it talks about growing up in Liverpool. My friends introduced Chorde Benjamin to Ron Lemon and shortly after the Connect Four tournament we discovered that Chorde could make music out of a pickle, not a piccolo, but an actual pickle. First, we thought we’d change the skiffle group to feature the pickle on the solos.

PO: Oh man!

Saul: We got our feet in the fire there and so this is just an album about our ride and our, you know, going on the Boolivan Show and our exposure in the Americas that we got and all of that, the love, the pain, ending in some great new tracks and old tracks you know. I don’t see why that should have anything to do with stuff about the Beatles, whatever you call them, you know, I was just never into them, I don’t know.

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Saul on TV!

PO: Okay, well I mean, a lot of people are and it’s—

Saul: So Paul’s probably caught wind of us doing this new thing and, all lies, and he’s probably jealous, him and that Yoko, they’re probably, you know, desperate to cling to rellavancy and trying to cash in on our project. Yes?

PO: (Laughs) I couldn’t begin to understand what they’re thinking about but, okay—

Saul: He’s a knight, you know, he’s a knighted one. He might even be replacing one of the Princes I hear. Sounds like they’re doing a little trade.

PO: Pick up some extra work at the palace, yes. I don’t know, I was really curious about your skiffle comments because it seemed to me that skiffle is just, in part, an idea of how kids could just play music without, you know, having to have practically any gear at all if you’re talking about making music from a pickle.

Saul: Yes, it was very difficult through the war, you know. I’m from a different generation and the Falkland Islands War was very difficult to get through. We had noble heroes. We were very poor growing up. We were, well, you know, we were in the lines, we were on the dole. It was very depressing and so we would have to use rocks and sticks to make sounds and that, you know.

PO: Yeah, just like a piece of string, tie a piece of string to—

Saul: Some people think it was invented 30 or 40 years before we discovered it but I guess what we did with it, with the pickle and everything was kind of—it’s what we kept doing. We try to reinvent ourselves. It’s very important to do that, you know. Like when I had to replace, I mean when I spotted Saul. It was very, the psychedelic era, a lot of disinformation got out there, you know? What was your question?

PO: I actually, well I was talking about skiffle but I mean I get it, it just something that struck me just the idea that most people would be intimidated or think you have to have a lot of equipment to form a band or whatever but it sounded like kids were just getting up and trying to make whatever music they could to express themselves.

Saul: Sometimes we’d have to compete with rouges, it helps, it was a blunt object that could be used as a weapon. Very tough, you know. It was really difficult when we started to move into sponges and pillows. We wanted to get a softer sound. It was no good. Moving in our junior year we had to fight off for our spots and rosters with pillows.

PO: But that sounds like the origins of soft rock then that came out of California. That’s amazing! I hadn’t even thought about that.

Saul: Brian Wilson, we were probably very influential on him.

PO: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Saul: I feel like, you know, it totally makes sense today. I don’t know if he would’ve admitted to that back then but, you know.

PO: That’s, gosh, I had never even thought about that parallel at all either. I wanted to ask you about the walrus and is it a metaphor?

Saul: Well, you know, I suppose for that Beatles group it was. You know we don’t really have any cute animals on this album necessarily. This is much more about love and peace and understanding and the love Ron and I shared for each other before he got shot, you know.

PO: Okay, yeah, I, yeah, I didn’t want to go there at all but I did, I mean—

Saul: You know, Ronnie getting shot, you could compare that to a walrus getting washed out into the sea. I guess there are some similarities there.

PO: Yeah. Ah, yeah. Yeah.

Saul: Ron got shot in the toe so he got back up, limped onto the shore.

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Saul’s short film deemed a critical and commercial failure.

PO: (Laughs) Well, I was curious about the rest of the band, Chorde and Mack-O, Mackie? And Ron, of course.

Saul: Chorde was my old mate. He was a couple of years younger than us and we met at the Connect Four tournament with Ronnie. He had my back. He was kind of my coach, my cheerleader and then when I beat Ronnie it was like, you know, hey will you join my band? And I said yes, l will. Can Chorde come along? And Ron didn’t—he rejected him out right. That scrawny little thing? I don’t think so. What does he do? And Chorde didn’t do anything at that time. It was another year or so, oh I can play this pickle, you know. That’s sort of how that all came together. Our drummer was a wonderful lad that we used to have. He was kind of stealing all the ladies and that was a bit of a problem so we fired his ass. We got Mack-O. He was cute but he wasn’t as cute as us so we were all able to get the women and the birds.

PO: Because the other drummer before Mack-O wasn’t the best drummer, right? That’s why he needed to go.

Saul: The wonder boy could really, really keep a beat but he was getting all the bird’s attention.

PO: Okay, I just, yeah, I just wanted to make sure I got that.

Saul: Who wants that around, good looking smiling guy. He’d go with three women and they wouldn’t bother with us. They’d all be with him by the end.

PO: Yeah, I was asking about Chorde and Mack-O and about where the names came from.

Saul: Mack-O should be pretty obvious. He came with a mac and he never took it off. The truth, I don’t really know what’s under there. (Laughs) No, he’d shower with that mac on. Mack-O.

PO: He had his mac on!

Saul: Loves his mac, his mother got him in the habit of it when he was really young and he’s much older than all of us but like, you know he’d wear the mac to the shower, anywhere because it rained and he was sickly child so they were very worried about him catching a cold so he always kept the mac on. On the other hand, I, you know, I’m not sure it just seems very convenient that he would be our lead guitar player and his name is Chorde, it just, you know—

PO: Oh, yeah, that’s—so it’s a nickname then? Nickname?

Saul: No. He was born with it. They named him that. He spells it with an e on the end too. It’s unique that way.

PO: Okay, name, it’s kind of a—you got to have a gimmick and all so that’s good.

Saul: His parents were academics who knew nothing about music, you know, it was very outside their world.

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Another handsome drummer axed!

PO: How did you feel about the death of Ron Nasty?

Saul: Ah, from the Rutles.

PO: Yeah the Prefab Four, the Prefab Four and then the Rutles. Yeah.

Saul: I’m a big fan of their work. Nasty was influential in a lot of Ron Lemon’s song writing, for sure, yeah. You’d have to ask Ron about that. He’s hard to get in touch with since he’s isolated himself with that guru, Raku. Yeah. It’s not like her sitting on my guitar was, you know, gonna—it just made me mad. Get out of here. Why are you sitting on my guitar? You’re making it all out of tune.

PO: (Laughs) Not a good piece of furniture.

Saul: Not cool at all.

PO: Did you have anything that you wanted to add? I know, actually, I’m gonna repeat that because I appreciate this so much Saul and I know that the people that I talked to were saying 10-15 minutes. I try to limit, you know, my interviews to three questions which is impossible with a guy like you.

Saul: I fully understand. My management told me this would only be like two minutes but Chorde has spoken so highly of the Portland Orbit that we wanted to give you a fair shot and tell our story. Really this is about my story, you know, it always is at the end of the day and, you know, I guess if I had anything to add to it it’s just that it chronicles our journey as a band and, you know, kind of—when I first replaced—got involved with the band you know they’re sort of two phases of it really and those, the young phase where I was very disengaged and unmusical and then there’s the after the drugs came into it, you know I changed my perspective and some people joked that I changed my face and stuff but you know, a lot of that second phase, really, it brought us into, well, it’s a lot about the world we live in today and the various systems of power and influence according to the majesty of the royal crown is talked about a lot in there, you know. The prestige of the BBC and, you know, what it means to be of kind of a royal bloodline and how important and influential that is on the world, you know, a little bit of blood goes a long way, as they say. It’s got blood all over the place. It’s got blood in the Americas there, you know.

PO: Yeah, you reminded me—

Saul: Fake blood. (Laughs)

PO: Yeah, I’ve kind of gotten away, you know, a lot of the other things that I was hearing about the dribs and drabs that I was getting about this whole project kind of took me away from the music so I’m really appreciating you, because this is a huge album, a huge project and—

Saul: Love and blood lines that’s what it is for me. It’s all about love and bloodlines.

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# # #

Bonus Interview!

P.O. Okay, well, love and bloodlines and what about the future of Scotland? Did you have any thoughts on that? I know you spent a lot of time or you’re going to spend a lot of time in Scotland.

Saul: Me and Cinda, have a little castle, some people call it a cottage up there in the Highlands. It’s very important to get away from Ronnie and Raku and Chorde, you know, Chorde, he has his own projects to do and, yeah, I just want what’s best for all of them. But Cinda and I, no, you know, we’ve dabbled with Scottish politics I suppose, a little bit. The marijuana laws are horribly regressive, you know, we’ve had to get legal help about that at times when we’re traveling back and forth. I have to have lawyers with me. They’re checking our luggage, passports—

PO:  Yeah.

Saul: Certain—

PO: Cavities?

Saul: Thanks to my bloodline it’s sort of a short conversation.

PO:  (Laughs.) All right, well, that is amazing. Thank you so much.

Saul: I’ll have to tell the whole joke about the nickname Billy someday too. There’s a lot of disinformation out there, so I just won’t want you to, especially this Beatles garbage. I hate them. I’m a Stones person.

PO: Okay, well, that surprises me but I get it, maybe it was just too much but, you know, you were still kind of subconsciously reflecting out what you were getting in from them even though you liked the Stones more.

Saul:  I couldn’t name one song if you asked me. I don’t, you know, I mean how little their music meant to me. The Rutles were far better from my perspective.

PO: Yeah, okay, and it sounds like you didn’t catch the Rain tour. I mean, there’s  numerous Beatle impersonator bands.

SauI: I don’t, yeah, you know, there’s some good Stones cover bands that I really enjoy and a wonderful U2 band called boob tube in Ireland. They’re wonderful, wonderful lads, but, yeah, I don’t know this Beatles thing I wish people would kind of drop it.

PO: You can still get confused. I watched much of a rooftop Beatles concert before I realized, now I realize then this is Them Beatles reenacting the rooftop Beatles concert so I was blown away by that. I was totally fooled.

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Saul and Ronnie raise the roof!

Saul: Yeah, well, you know when we were getting on with Ford Harkin and we decided we couldn’t use him anymore to produce it was his idea that we should throw one last set together and Mack-O said, “let’s go on the roof.” We did, but you know, I didn’t know that the Beatles did that actually until you mentioned that. It was a stupid idea because it was pouring down rain. We got all wet.

PO: Who got electrocuted? Anybody get electrocuted? That sounds dangerous. Struck by lightning?

Saul: Well, it was just a lot of water. It was pissing.

PO: You have to check the weather before you schedule a concert outdoors.

Saul: Well, you know, it was the heat of the moment it was quite epic, we were fookin’ done with Harkin here. It was time to do something wild and spontaneous so we did. Actually one of the tracks might have made the album, “World Gone Mad” is actually–

PO: Right from the roof!

Saul: Yeah, people got so excited they decided to put it on a satellite feed across the world so we did that, opened it with the Canadian national anthem to start and it started raining.

PO: Ugh.

Saul: We were live so we played through.

PO: You see Mack-O never—he wouldn’t care because he had the mac.

Saul: Mack-O stayed remarkably dry. His mother raised him well. It was one time the mac really protected him.

 

 

It’s February: Find Your Pit of Despair

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The awful road.

One January morning walking around my SW neighborhood for reasons better left unsaid I headed up the unfinished gravel road. There’s a rut so bad cars can’t pass through without risking axel damage. At the top of this “street,” the empty lot behind a chain link fence beckoned. I wandered up the driveway towards a pile of concrete slabs and turned to look at the pit. It was wide, and deep, ten feet would be an exaggeration but it struck me as a good sized hole. At the bottom were kitchen cabinets and a wire shelving unit. I was shocked to see two throw pillows also tossed in the mud. The sight complimented my bleak mood.

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The Pit of Despair

After photographing the pit I created a black and white image that I posted on Instagram. I called it, “The Pit of Despair.” The dump site that emerged grated on me but the pit put things in perspective. No matter how low things get pits of despair will be there exhaling their misery and exposing their void. I tried imagining the house that may have filled that space before it crumbled and was carted away. Now this giant divot would never be anything more than a pit or an opportunistic junk refuge. Dirt wouldn’t retain water to make a swimming hole.

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Time to reface!

As I write this, January ticks into the next month. Thoughts I had never considered have grown into a February philosophy. It started with a Portland Monthly article I read in an emergency room waiting room. I spent hours there wondering if things would be okay while finding out February was not the month I thought it was. Yes there’s Valentines Day but that has its misery and President’s Day is a holiday spent wondering what you’re supposed to be celebrating. I discovered February’s wintery discontent of grime, gray and grind.

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Let the puddles begin.

Rich Reese helped me recognize there’s a February Survival Philosophy. It’s all in the article but despite any possible positive moments during this month, it’s still a dreaded time. We have to be grateful it ends early. It could have been those feelings of being stuck in an emergency room when I encountered thoughts that added to the gravitas. Reece’s advice boiled down to enduring the nastiness and not making hasty, irrational decisions as a result and not letting the season make you snappy. Consider that someone’s funk can be rooted in their own brand of “Februaryitis.” It’s nothing personal. Maybe they haven’t done the same soul searching that would bring them to the wisdom of Rich Reece.

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Remember your happy place.

In the middle this deep thinking, I came across an article from a copy of a magazine called Yoga Journal that I found in a Multnomah Village recycling bin. The article recommended people find a place to center themselves offering examples like sitting on a rock in nature. I know what you’re thinking, the Portland Orbit has resorted to writing second rate Yoga Journal style articles to boost circulation. Regardless, I like this idea but I prefer one sacred spot. I had a place where I sought refuge a long time ago, a giant tree on the edge of a golf course. It was a place of calm when life got heavy. Last summer I painted a picture at a Larry Yes Free Painting Event downtown. From my imagination, a psychedelic tree on the edge of a field emerged, it could have been a subconscious nod to this place I’d known. Sure your spot should bring tranquility. My Pit of Despair is the opposite but if I don’t find myself at the bottom of it, I’m doing all right and it merits repeated visits.

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Loose shoes.

Every day doesn’t have to be a battle but February can exacerbate feelings of living in survival mode. Last year I instituted a February tradition that I hope to continue provided I make it through the month. I celebrated the month’s end by buying a pair of cheap dress shoes, shoes I’d have no problem letting get beat up. After a year they are scuffed, torn and frayed. They reflect the kind of year its been. Chinese tariffs could kill this tradition or its death could come from my disinterest in shopping. I have yet to find a name for my pretend holiday. I just know the end of the month is worth celebrating. Please consider this public service announcement. Take “Februaritis” seriously and reward yourself if you can hang on until March.

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Rich Reece:  Life’s  a blur.