You always want
what you don't have.
That's the philosophy.
You're shooting for something
that's totally out of reach.
And once I got it,
I probably would not want it...
Or ... destroy it somehow.'
Telephones ring unanswered behind the songs of R. Stevie Moore. Who is back there? Moore doesn't know; he never picks up, because he's recording, playing guitar in the bedroom, and if it was someone offering money or studio time, he would miss it.
The ring before he
answered would have been the last.
Almost is a promise, almost is a complaint, and it has been almost lots of times with Moore. He released two unique albums ("Phonography" and "Delicate Tension") and two EPs ("Four From Phonography" and "Stance") on H.P. Music in the late 1970s. He sang all the vocals, wrote all the songs (save a multi-guitared reading of the "Andy Griffith" theme), played nearly all the instruments, his name flashed in some prominent places, and that was an almost. He released a 45 ("New Wave"/"Same") on California's CMI label. In England, a couple of songs appeared on a two-LP sampler for Recommended Records, a couple more on a sampler EP. Now there may be an album out of Maryland's Wayside Music, which distributes Moore's two compilation cassettes.
Moore has released
64 cassette tapes; in another month there may
be 65. He imagines a day when people will
subscribe to artists instead of magazines. The
new one, "Under The Covers," is a cover-version
compilation. The first one is "R. Stevie Moore
On Graycroft," from 1968.|
In between, his tapes have featured noise, piano improvisations, instrumentals, sound collages, children's songs, explanations of self, avant-garde soundsoup, orchestral dubs, snippets of everything from family patter to defecation, and dozens of close, crafted and distinctive pop songs that could come only from Robert Steven Moore. And lately, the tapes have featured lots of adlibbed minimalism, lots of spur of the moment, instead of prepared pop. "Versatility is directioness," says Moore. "I change too often to what could get me there the quickest."
The response to the records was pleasant,
and never quite what was hoped for. He even gave records away, taking collect calls after 9 p.m. for orders for free copies of "Four From Phonography." People did call; he ran up a $300 phone bill. (You can write
Moore at 429 Vxxxxx
Rd. Upper Montclair, NJ 07xxx)
A new-wave encyclopedia contains an R. Stevie Moore entry. He is mentioned in music magazines, which note his musical resemblance to Todd Rundgren, Frank Zappa, Roy Wood and Thunderclap Newman.
Few know of him but he keeps making music anyway. He is constantly putting together radio shows for WFMU (91.1 FM, at Upsala College in East Orange, N.J.), where he is a disk jockey Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to midnight. He rarely plays anything more than once. He is always dubbing tapes, always recording. He listens
to everything, toasting
and rap records, reggae, noise, classics, Frank
Sinatra, doo-wop, country. This particular
week, he has a new Marilyn Monroe record. "Been
getting back into the Beach Boys and the new,
new, new, new wave stuff like Crispy Ambulance,
Section 25, DNA."|
"He hates Survivor," says the pretty girl on the sofa. "He does like Ozzy (Osbourne)."
"Yeah, it's funny," Moore says. "For comic value. I'll play it on my show and change the speed real quick."
"Chances are, there's going to be some station that blocks it."
Chances are, always, that something will get in the way.
"I'm totally burned out on pop music,"
Moore says. "I adore it, and I'm a victim of it, and I thrive on it. But...you have a generation
of kids who are listening to either the Doors
or the Anti-Nowhere League. Nothing makes sense anymore. That's why I
went through these
different turns of putting thumbs down to
melodic pop and doing minimalist garbage,
knowing I could do either one."
"The whole cake is iced over by my own roots, my own self, being from the South and being a very down-to-earth person shooting for the stars and living in the computer age and blah, blah, blah. I'm so easily impressed by so many things, it's hard to think about what I don't like." Discoveries: Roxy ("visionary"), Sparks ("very important to me, still are because they never really made it"), Syd Barrett ("Pink Floyd outcast supreme"). Part of the problem for Moore has always been that, as he hisses in the outro of the hitbound sounding "Why Can't I Write A Hit?," "the songs are too weird."
"Why can't I write a hit? You always want what you don't have. That's the philosophy. You're shooting for something that's totally out of reach. And once I got it, I probably would not want it as much. Or I would destroy it somehow."
His pop songs,
taking the child's point of view, usually have
to do with love and unhappiness in love.
"Singing and playing pretty chords, or unpretty
chords, and singing about the love-hate
relationship: they go hand in hand," Moore
says. "They are very important in my life.
There's lots of them. I don't have many
friends, and I think sometimes if I did -- you
always want what you don't have -- it wouldn't
be quite what you fantasize it might be."|
The music changed around 1980, got more spare, less personal, less detailed, more current. Partly, it was just forgetting the composing process that used to come so easily. Partly, it was burnout, discovery of the rhythm box and Public Image Ltd. "The most melodic stuff I love, and the most godawful rhythmic stuff I love. I guess I was rebelling against my old self, and I guess I came to an end where I didn't know how much more 10cc I could produce. A lot of the better recording is done when life is not so great. The rut of working and waiting for something to happen."
He managed the Sam Goody's record store in Paramus for a year. He pays dues at home. "For me, it's just an eternal recording session, which can be looked at as a real joy ... It's always been 'almost.' And even if this album comes out
I don't know how it will
be any better than 'Phonography' or 'Clack!',
and it's going to be more 'Clack!' than
Margaux, just back from the A&P, comes in trailing the smell of rain. She is a musical helper (maybe girlfriend) whose white skin and black curls suggest she might have found a comfortable home in a French fashion magazine. She curls up on the couch with sneakers of pink and blue. She says R. Stevie Moore seduced her with his songs.
The boy with the Ricken-
backer six-string, the Kent electric bass ("The cheapest bass you could possibly find") and rhythm box (he records drums elsewhere, stockpiles rhythm tracks) has played live. He has been on "The Uncle Floyd Show" twice. He has played New York City, at Hurrah's. And New York City is not far off; it's the flying-saucer glow behind the hills to the east.
Moore moved up here from Nashville, in the winter of 1978. He went to New York Rocker and met the dBs -- another southern band that had to go to England to put out records -- and he played clubs backed by assembled tapes, and he recorded. "It was the boy and the room," he says, and the first tape, "The North," starts with an instrumental version of the Beach Boys' "In My Room."
"It all comes back to Brian
Wilson, doesn't it?"|
Moore lives in a third-floor apartment of a pleasant wooden house near the railroad trestle where Montclair turns into Clifton. Outside, it is still raining softly. Inside, the evangelist on television has become Wayland & Madame. And on the speakers, "Trial and Error" has become "R. Stevie Moore Reforms the Beatles." It is a project from 1975; his uncle, Harry Palmer, sent him $100 a week to record instrumental versions of Beatles songs. "Clack!" is another project, named for the NYC sound-effects studio where it was recorded. Moore would go in once a week, and when he came out he had an hour-long, eight-track studio distillation of R. Stevie Moore's strange and tuneful vision.
With his amorphous pop vision, and sound-on-sound tape recorders (sometimes four-channel simul-sync to cut the hiss), R. Stevie Moore plays by himself. The world never sees him -- he has played maybe four times since moving north -- but every couple of months a new C60 or C90 cassette appears. He sells them, mail-order, for $8, sent with cryptic notes of "Send Moore money" and "Moore to come." He calls the tapes diaries. He has no ambition to tour. He doesn't like what he's seen; even minimalists are excessive.
C O N T I N U E >