The legendary songwriter responded to our article about his collaboration with David Hartt on ‘History (Old Black Joe),’ an installation with music at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
Like many other writers on music, art and other consequent human endeavors, when I strive to make sense of how artists exist in modern times, I turned to Van Dyke Parks. . Why?
I’ll defer to the great Eric Idle of Monty Python, who best answered this question by performing Van Dyke in concert at Largo here in LA a few years ago.
“Van Dyke Parks,” Idle said, “is no genius. fucking genius. “
As someone lucky enough to have known him for over three decades since his first interview in 1988, I agree.
He is also very funny, warm and gracious. After publishing our first article on Stories, he messaged me to elaborate on his feelings about this job.
But while most of most people’s elaborations are rarely memorable, Van Dyke’s always are. This one was delicious, and so essentially him, that we asked if it was okay to post it.
“Rock on,” he replied. It follows.
He refers to it Discover America, the second of seven albums he made on Warner Brothers. With its covers of calypso folk songs and calypso-tinged covers, it was the album that first attracted David Hartt, the creator of Stories, to Van Dyke, and inspired him to invite Van Dyke to compose music for this project.
As we have detailed here, the exhibition is Stories (Old Black Joe,) an installation of two tapestries at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. It will be on display until January 2, 2022.
For this composition, which is a repetitive loop that plays continuously, he used quadraphonic sound – – four sound channels instead of two in stereo – and is happy about it.
“Quad”, he said, is “a naturalist’s nirvana in this study of Caribbean post-colonialism.”
After publishing our first article on this Parks-Harrt collaboration here, we received a text from Van Dyke elaborating on this project. Perhaps responding to what seemed too grandiose in our description of this work, given that I hadn’t seen it yet, he started his post almost as a warning:
VAN DYKE PARKS: “I must warn you that [Histories] is a room with two tapestries, woven from cashmere and silk, in Belgium. Their images are taken from black American artists from Trinidad and the Hudson School of Art.
It is the breadth of the artist that attracted me to this project. [David Hartt] approached me out of the blue, having enjoyed my use of the tropical vernacular.
In his first email, he told me he was impressed with my respect and affection for the culture, my sense of humor – and the basis for commentary that revolves around racial divide – so evident in Discover America.
It all boils down to two tapestries of mysterious significance – and the articulate conduct of a certain David Hartt.
What got me excited is working outside the critical box of normal pop / rock pablum – in the epic novelty of quad sound and providing ambient value – with anecdotal events that underscore the post-racial divide. colonial … with an otic confection.
Without a pattern – and without letting me tie in length or content – I was ad hoc all the way.
It was only my moral compass, and the memory of crossing the southern United States… the only Anglo on a twenty-eight gentleman tour bus of the Esso Steel Band in Trinidad.
It was a eureka odyssey for me – until the bus crash that ended our efforts … Discover America I did, with the resulting album.
Admission to all Hammer exhibitions is free. No reservation is required. From this Tuesday, August 24, the museum will be open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed on Mondays.