Lewis MacAdams is well known as the poet-advocate for the Los Angeles River, having spearheaded efforts for decades to return the river to a more pastoral state.
But who knew he had another life as a musician?
Turns out he’s one half of a collaboration with another veteran of LA’s cultural life, The Dark Bob.
He’s the musician and multimedia artist who first made his mark in the 1970s as half of the performance art duo Bob & Bob (the two members dubbed themselves Dark Bob and Light Bob, although neither of them is actually named Bob).
Gideon Brower sat down with them in the studio where they made the album. Both men agree that the poems morphed into something completely new during the recording process.
Listen to their story, above, or read on for some excerpts from their conversation.
The genre of the music:
Lewis MacAdams: We worked on this thing for six or seven months. We didn’t really know what to call it, except words and music.
Dark Bob: It has something to do with poetry. It has something to do with music. But I haven’t heard anything quite like it.
The song “Old Age, Sickness, Suffering and Death”
LM: We think it will make a great hit single.
DB: The title especially!
LM: It’s really an attempt to laugh at death. And you know, you might as well. Can’t dance.
The process of adapting the poems:
LM: I am in no way a musician. For most of the music I really relied on what The Dark Bob had to say and do.
DB: Sometimes it happened where I could craft music just around his words, and then there were times when Lewis needed to say his feelings one way or another about the feel of where we should go … I’ve done a lot of songs in my life and these didn’t feel like doing songs in an ordinary way. This kind of language forced me into kinds of music and instrumentation that I’ve never had to deal with.
On how the songs were transformed:
LM: There was an excitement about watching these poems take shape in a new form.
DB: I think people are conditioned to letting music give depth to words. A lot of songs can have very dumb lyrics and yet they can mean a great deal because of the chords, the notes, the sounds behind it. The music I think pushes Lewis’s words here and there. The meaning might broaden for the listener because the music might alter the way they experience it.
On the river as a source of inspiration:
LM: I started Friends of the Los Angeles River 27, 28 years ago. Over the years I’ve just accrued a lot of poems about that work and about things that happened along the river. Things that happened in my mind along the river … Part of what I do, I think, is to make the invisible visible. I think we’ve begun to accomplish that with the Los Angeles River.
When I started it, I thought all I had to do was to make people excited about the possibilities of change. I quickly realized that the first thing I had to do was convince people the river even existed.