Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Kid Beyond!

I had the great good fortune of watching San Francisco's own Kid Beyond perform at Joe's Pub on Saturday Night for the New York album release party of his CD, Amplivate. Kid Beyond (aka Andrew Chaikin, who I met a few years ago when he unveiled his Scrabble documentary, Word Wars, at the National Puzzlers League convention in Boston) is a stunningly versatile human beat box, and he's so good at it that if that were all he did, he'd deserve a career on the strength of that alone. And that's how he opened the show: with a bare bones man-and-a-mike performance that conveyed an entire hip-hop/techno set that seemed to go in twenty directions and lasted about ten minutes. He does scratches, he does drums (both analog and digital), he does a library of techno sound effects (including reverb and stutter), and the whole thing is so seamless that if you weren't sitting in front of him watching the guy do it, you'd swear it was just a standard techno tune and that there was nothing unusual going on.

But this is the thing. As I told Andrew later---because this was my first time seeing him perform---I watched the first song set and went, "Wow! This guy's the best human beat box ever." (He probably is.) But at that point he hasn't even started. Then he gets into his real act, which is where he samples his own sounds and loops them in real time, so that he winds up performing to a background of his own vocal sound music that runs at least six tracks and often more. Drum, bass, keyboards, scratches---they're all doing something. So my second discovery of the evening was, "Wow! Not only is this guy a great beat-boxer, but he actually constructs interesting music." It switches when it needs to, it has honest-to-god tempo and volume changes ... the man knows how to construct a tune.

But then he started singing, and I thought, "Wow! The guy has a really good voice, too!" And then---I found this most amazing of all---I thought, "And the lyrics are actually worth listening to!" Most loungey/trip-hop chill music (even great stuff like Thievery Corporation) has simply disposable vocals. But Kid Beyond's work is actually thought-provoking, coming out of his own passionate Buddhist beliefs. (He performs with that little string of beads on his right wrist that I think monks have.) He sings about love, and about freedom, and so forth, but in actually original ways. (He sang, for example, about seeing the rain for the first time, but he didn't use the word rain like I was expecting; he said---if memory serves---he felt "a single drop's sting." I love stuff like that: the slightly unusual phrase that makes the whole thing more interesting.)

By the end of the evening, when he closed with "You Shall Be Free," which invites the audience to sing along, I had my final realization of the evening: "This was actually spiritually enlivening!" You've got to see this guy. And as much as I'd like to promote his album to keep him in business, the fact is, I don't see how any album could possibly do justice to his live performance, which everyone must experience. Go to kidbeyond.com and see when and where he's performing next. Then go see him.

In a side note, since we'd talked a few times when we first met (I was hanging out with his friend Laura quite a lot that weekend), I made bold to talk to him after the show. Because he seemed to be a lot like me: a thirty-plus man with a handful of weird obsessions that he's just recently managed to turn into a paying career. And since I haven't quite done that yet, I figured I'd ask. So I told him how great the show was, and then I asked, "How did you get from making beat-box noises to finally making the leap to, 'That's it; I'm going to perform this now?"

Andrew said, "Well, I'm a slow mover. I have a lot of ideas but I don't really go anywhere with them." (Aha! Probably the classic ADD indicator, and proof that we were in the same boat.) "So what I did is I got my friends to kick my ass. Instead of talking about what I wanted to do, I told them, 'Make sure I follow through.' Enough of them did that, and here I am." And as a result, he's touring on the strength of abilities he's had his whole life and only recently began to capitalize on. Thank goodness. I was afraid he was going to say something like, "Buddhism changed my life and if you want focus, just do more meditation."

I've been thinking about his words ever since, and it's become quite clear that I need a writer's group in town, for support and the aforementioned ass-kicking. My friend Cassie from FSU is moving here, so I have some hope I'll be able to meet with her every so often. But does anyone know about any existing groups in Manhattan I might take part in? A place this thick with writers, you'd think there was more going on. But when I Google, I get nothing I can use.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Trip said...

I'm jealous. I'd love to see him live someday. Everyone I know who has seen him perform has raved over it.

For the record, though, "Word Wars" was directed by his brother Eric.

8/28/2006 10:03 AM  
Blogger tmcay said...

I saw Andrew beat-boxing on "30 Seconds of Fame" a few years back, but have never seen one of his looping performances. I've heard they're incredible.

I still think of him as a commercial game designer, which was his chief passion when I met him six years ago. I'm glad he's pursuing his music career, but also glad that he is maintaining enough of an interest in games to attend the NPL cons. He's a great guy.

8/28/2006 11:35 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Thanks for the correction, Trip! The Chaikins must be a talented family.

8/28/2006 12:32 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

He was a game designer? What the heck did he design? Was he one of the guys behind Fluxx?

8/28/2006 12:33 PM  
Blogger Joshua Kosman said...

Before I got to know Andrew myself, I'd heard about him from SF Chron columnist Jon Carroll. More awestruck Chaikin-worship right here.

8/28/2006 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Andrew did have some involvement in "Word Wars" -- he was the narrator (natch) -- T!

8/29/2006 11:23 AM  

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