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Andersen back then – and with Joni Mitchell


The Universe: The Worlds Of Lord Byron. One of the album’s highlights, Ander-


T


sen’s Hail To The Curled Darling, is an ode to the terrible dandy built on a funky blues vamp, juiced with blues harp and electric twang. Did he have any apprehension in employing a distinctly American style of music in creating a portrait of the great Romantic English poet? “Byron was the Lennon and McCartney of his day. He was the original bad boy of rock ‘n’ roll, with an anything goes mentality. There was no limit to his pallet, so why should I limit mine? The oud was an instrument that Byron might have heard on his travels to Greece and Turkey, along with the saz and bouzouki. So, it made sense to feature those sounds and colours, as well as the violin. The djembe and that style of hand drumming was commonly heard around the Mediterranean and North Africa, so it became an important part of the album’s musical ingredients.”


What was the process of fashioning


Byron’s poems into songs? Did he have to change to any of the bard’s precious words, drop lines, add or drop beats, or fudge meters to make it all hang together?


“Byron’s poetry was the swamp from which the vapours rose! I made my way through the swamps of his work, the end- less vineyards of writing and in the end came up with a couple bottles of wine. I had to shuffle things around, add and drop lines. It was just part of the process. If someone had asked me to do this, I never could have. I don’t even remember how I did it. My whole life was supplanted by Lord Byron! My wife said it was like living with two people.”


Deeply immersed in Byron’s life and work, did he discover any parallels between Lord Byron and himself? “He was the most famous person in England at the time, but he’d caused trouble to the point


he combination of oud and vio- lin perfectly frames Eric’s gruff whisper, along with his wife Inge’s ethereal harmonies, on his 2017 release Mingle With


where his family allegedly draped a blan- ket over his portrait to keep his bad vibes from emanating. So, not really,” Andersen chuckled. “But I almost died in Greece last summer, which is where Byron died, despite the doctors using leeches to try and save him.”


“Byron was a natural songwriter, but he was ignored during his lifetime mostly due to his scandalous lifestyle and wild sex- uality. He even had a relationship with his sister! So [Robert] Burns became the more acceptable song-poet of the day that the British picked up on. Byron was too contro- versial. He openly defended the working class. Although he was nobility, he never had any money. He was never paid any- thing for his poetry, but every girl in Eng- land thought he was writing about her.”


mused. “It blossomed out of the ashes of an Icelandic volcano that erupted in the summer of 1816. Byron was staying with the Shelleys (the Romantic poet Percy and his wife, Mary, the great horror nov- elist) in Switzerland when the volcanic ash blotted out the sun. It was freezing cold. There was no growing season. It felt like the end of the world. They spent their nights sitting around the fireplace, telling ghost stories. Byron allegedly cooked up a vampire story [that would later become Dracula] while Mary Shelley invented Frankenstein.”


“T


In the liner notes to his 2017 album Silent Angel: The Fire And Ashes Of Hein- rich Böll, Eric credits Böll’s son Rene as “a conveyer of hard truths.” He certainly could be talking about himself. While Böll and Cologne are both famous for a “rough and drastic sense of humour,” Andersen’s caustic sarcasm and dry understatement have never been more on point than in the bluesy Thank You Dearest Leader. Address- ing the Holocaust in song is tricky stuff. Any lesser artist might end up trivialising such deep and delicate territory.


he song Darkness por- trays a Phillip K. Dick- type dystopian future. A volcano prompted that poem!” Andersen


Neither the Camus nor the Böll project was an attempt to set the authors’ words to music, but, as Eric explained, were “extrapolations, based on their book titles. Rene Böll took me around [Cologne] so I could walk in his father’s footsteps and take it in from his perspective.”


In the song Silence, Andersen con- fronts how the Germans refused talk about the Jews, especially at home. “It was forbidden in their houses,” he explained. This album feels particularly poignant right now, with fascism on the rise in both Europe and America. One might even con- sider Silent Angel a protest album, whether that was Eric’s intent or not.


Of all the writers Andersen has “col- laborated” with in recent years, whose work does he relate to most? “[William S.] Burroughs,” he instantly replied. “He refuses to die. His writing is never dated.”


So then, is a Burroughs album in the works? Eric momentarily mused about future projects looming on the horizon. Beyond the upcoming release of Songpo- et, director Paul Lamont’s documentary on his life and career (scheduled for Novem- ber 2018), Anderson is considering a mash- up with the “incandescent genius” (French symbolist poet) Arthur Rimbaud, or an ode the Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, whose work perfectly loans itself to musi- cal interpretation.


But what is the link, if any, that con- nects all these writers of such diverse styles, generations and nationality? “They were all anti-authoritarian,” Eric replies. “All of them were resisters. Lorca was exe- cuted by the fascists in 1936 because he was homosexual.”


Somehow these old issues rear their ugly heads year after year and we must steel ourselves against the onslaught of ignorance and hate with new forms of resistance. As Eric (along with Lou Reed) once sang, “You can’t relive the past.” While that is certainly true, we must learn from it and mine its best aspects to inspire a new and brighter now.


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