The worst of times brings out the best from son
October 30, 2008
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone./Silence the pianos and with muffled drum. Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”
Victor Krummenacher knew of the W.H. Auden poem, and he wanted to read it at his stepfather’s funeral. But he thought it might be too sorrowful, so he consulted his mother.
“I said, ‘It’s a heavy poem,’ ” Krummenacher recalled. “She said, ‘It’s a heavy day. This is not a nice day. This is a sad day.’ I really respected that. Grief has to be observed and it has to be respected and understood and felt for you to get through it. That poem embodies it for me.”
Krummenacher’s father, Hanford Loy Krummenacher, died one year ago, Oct. 31, 2007, and his stepfather, John Walton Best Jr., died three weeks later on Nov. 21.
Best-known as the bass player for the band Camper Van Beethoven,
Krummenacher grieved by bringing his closest musical associates into a studio. A two-day musical wake resulted in Krummenacher’s sixth solo album, “Patriarch’s Blues.” The loss of both of his father figures brought out emotions and brilliance. The album is easy to listen to over and over; the tear-jerkers are mixed with toe-tappers. Every song evokes emotion.
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“I know how good it is,” Krummenacher said. “I know it may be a once-in-a-lifetime record. I just nailed it, and there was no question about it when it was done.”
Krummenacher didn’t have any preconceived ideas for arrangements. The studio was adorned with candles, photos of the dead, and a bottle was passed around. Johnathan Segel contributed to the album’s poignant tone with his violin.
“There was a mood attached, and I was focused on capturing it emotionally,” Krummenacher said. “The studio techs would walk by, and they knew there was something heavy going on in there. They commented, ‘Whatever was going on in there was fairly intense.’ “
Krummenacher’s model for the album was Neil Young’s “Tonight’s The Night,” inspired by two friends’ overdose deaths.
“The thing that made it so successful was that it was not premeditated at all,” Krummenacher said. “I didn’t want to think about it until I was in there doing it. I didn’t want to screw with what I knew it could be. Music, at its best, is fundamentally emotional.”
Nobody is happy to die, Krummenacher explains in the liner notes, hence the angry “Lay My Body Down.” He said he took a good belt of Laphroaig before recording the tune.
“My stepfather was British, and he loved single-malt whiskey, and he’s guilty of influencing my tastes,” Krummenacher said. “For years when I’d come home, there’s a good liquor store where he lived, and basically we’d start with the A’s and work our way through. We’d go home and get lit, and that’s when I got the best stories out of him.”
Auden’s poem was an obvious track to put to music. Krummenacher made a blues arrangement for it.
“It really needed to be the blues,” he said. “The musicians I assembled for it, (pianist) John R. Burr is an amazing talent. I was pushing for something Muddy Waters and ‘Alabama’ John Coltrane. David Immerglück just went off on this Nels Cline guitar tangent. That is a live take from start to finish. No artifice.”
Drummer John Hanes came up with a jazz march on “Hanes Goes Home,” an upbeat instrumental on which Krummenacher doesn’t even play.
“I think it might be an odd thing to say but death’s not the worst thing that can happen to you,” Krummenacher said. “When you really watch someone suffering, death is a merciful thing. Both my father and my stepfather were characters and intense people, and I wanted to portray that sense of intensity. They were fun. They were both drinkers, they both had a really twisted sense of humor. That’s where ‘Coin for the Ferryman’ comes from, and ‘Hanes Goes Home’ is just a New Orleans funeral march. There’s a lot of history from New Orleans that runs through my family. I needed some levity, some lightening.”
Alison Faith is Krummenacher’s partner in another band named after the Robert Altman film “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” She unexpectedly joins the grieving son’s voice on early in the fourth track of “Patriarch’s Blues,”
But Faith’s high notes hits an appropriate chord on “The Cock Crows At Sunrise.” That duet and the following “Motherless Child” demonstrate their rapport.
The violin plays an essential role in the album’s mood.
“Jonathan lost his mother to cancer about 15 years ago, and he’s one of my best friends,” Krummenacher said. “He understood the content and emotionally he just nailed it. Some of the best work I’ve heard out of him comes on this record. He pretty much blew me away.”
It would be trite to call “Patriarch’s Blues” the album of the year: It’s the album of a lifetime.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Krummenacher said. “There’s no question about it. I didn’t plan on it. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I just knew that I needed to make a record.”