Van Dyke Parks
Los Angeles—When Van Dyke Parks’ album Song Cycle was released, it was hailed as a major step forward in pop history. In terms of sales it was a bomb, and this, strangely, is what the creator is worrying about. The album cost $40,000 to produce and to date under 10,000 copies have been sold—not enough to make expenses.
“It’s depressing from my standpoint,” Parks said the day I visited him in his green and brown house on the top of a mountain in Hollywood. “A totality of purpose was to sell records. That’s the standard I have to have to look at this thing. I gotta be honest about it. My motivation was in large respect economic.”
So Song Cycle was Van Dyke Parks’ “commercial” release. It was, apparently, in his own unique and complex fashion, an attempt to produce something that would sell. It didn’t, and although nearly a year has passed since its release, Parks still believes it will.
“I think the album can sell millions,” he said. “I listened to it today. I don’t listen to it often. Of course when the scenery changes, it enhances something. The scenery was changing and it really sounded great. I really loved it. I think the reason I’m committed to it is not only because I continue to be touched by it—and I know no more clumsily self-effacing person than myself—I think that it’s just fucking great. And I think that the people who don’t buy it just haven’t come to their senses yet.”
Van Dyke Parks is no egotist. He words, in print, betray his meaning and humility.
“It (the album) becomes vital through participation,” he said. “It’s not a possessed thing. I’m lookin’ to continue with it. I haven’t the best voice, but I think the whole situation is tolerable, entirely tolerable. In other words, I’m askin’ for some support as far as the album is concerned.”
It may be only just that Parks request support, for he has built a reputation in music for lending able support to others. He produced records for Harper’s Bizarre and the Mojo Men. He appeared cloaked in the phrase “studio musician” on albums for the Byrds. His presence was noticeable as an arranger for Phil Ochs’ last album, Letter from California. His lyric talent was a part of the Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains” and “Vegetables.”
At 25 years of age, he positions his slender frame in a wooden rocker like an old man, arms on armrests, head hung between hunched shoulder blades, eyes pointed at the rug, as a complex structure of prose comes slowly, almost painfully, tumbling from his lips. He speaks in ornate phrasing from the distant past, of a world in the distant future. He describes his home as a “post-war, middle-class construct” and when he talks of a friend with several college degrees, he says his friend has “an abundance of cultural baggage to wonder about.” He is a man who deals in weighty concepts and in the words of Les Crane (on whose television show he appears periodically), he is “the only man I know who speaks in stream-of-consciousness.”
So it is difficult to follow his talk. Yet, he does not fail to communicate.
Sitting in his furnished home, his wife Durrie at his side, he talks again of his album: “The record is the most fragile manifestation of a profound sociological phenomenon, an immediate relativity to the general. It’s intended to be approached by anyone who can be approached by it. I wouldn’t say that it’s so artful a supplication as Bob Dylan’s most artful resort, John Wesley Harding. Entered by necessity in the way of a super-production. What’d we have to sell? Were we selling my education? In other words, was this a selfish gesture? I wanted to represent as much as I could and in the full exercise of my talents. I can say that I did my best.
“I made the album out of words that represent my most contemporary feelings and that recognize as much as I can my own spiritual extents. More than that, more than have any pre-requisites in the way of reaction, or even expecting to elicit any reaction. I wanted to design the album for continued and responsive participation. I think that I did that well in ways of organizing sound. I have seen no one that I know more susceptible to the extents of the experience of folk. I’d like to go to all the provinces…”
He pauses between phrases and bits of imagery, and the waves of verbalized thought project a patchwork picture of search on a screen. He is a verbal cul de sac, a street that runs cross-town, suddenly disappearing and then reappearing two blocks on, a little confusing, but somehow pointed and continuous.
There is also a continuity in pop music history to be considered. It has been noted that the concept of the pop idol is changing, that the audience that moved rock and roll from the dance floor to the concert stage is now seeking idols less physical and more mental. So whereas Parks’ horned-rim glasses, scholarly vocabulary and fragile intensity made the old style stardom he sought impossible, perhaps now the times are changing so he may find mass acceptance after all. Parks remains concerned with acceptance and rejection, but no longer is he in a time when, as he once said, “I wanted to be a rock and roll star like David Crosby and Jim McGuinn of the Byrds.”
This desire for stardom came to him when he was behind the scenes as a producer and writer, although he had acquired some public recognition in the years before that. He had appeared in nearly 100 network television shows such as “Studio One” and “Alcoa Theater” and was a featured member of a folk group called the Greenwood County Singers. (He had also been a popular clarinet player at Polish weddings while studying classical piano and composition at Carnegie Technical Institute.) It seems logical, then, that such a variant background would keep his mind open to all developments in the performing arts; he does.
He talked about the Moog synthesizers and computers and the public’s reluctance to accept machines which he feels, could assist the cause of music enormously: “It (the synthesizer) is so obviously derivative from the Hammond organ it’s almost laughable. But it’s like the early days of aluminum, and being able to connect. My grandfather told his family it was poisonous, that it poisoned foods, so that’s why they didn’t connect with it, and I think more people should. The machine can be a fantastic thing.”
Billie Eilish Slams 'True Idiots' Criticizing Her Femininity and Style
- 'LET WOMEN EXIST!'