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George Cartwright: Barrier Islands Bird

By Published: September 13, 2010
AAJ: Well I met Tom at the Creative Music Studio. And he didn't start playing the cello until—I don't know, I think he was in his early twenties...We played together there, and when Curlew got started, he wanted to play and I wanted to play. And Tom, he was kind of one of those people that, he just happened to play the cello. So he doesn't, he sort of stands—take all cello players, nothing against them all, they're great—and then over there, there's Tom Cora. And his way, his basic way of playing and the way he would challenge himself in his compositions (which I think were very unappreciated), which were incredible, they're very hard for us to play but he could play them like cutting butter with a hot knife. It was very easy.

AAJ: Your loss of Tom Cora would of course have been traumatic. You must have severely missed him—I mean, obviously you did. On the other hand, was the revolving nature of your cast in any way an inspiration?

GC: People come and go. That's life. For whatever reasons, and then you deal with it. And although sad when people were gone, I looked it as an opportunity to get somebody else in, that I really liked, and take the band in a different direction. I always wanted, when people came into Curlew, after the start, to have them change the banc in some way, rather than just come in the band and take someone's place. And so when Bill [Laswell] left the band and I got Wayne Horvitz
Wayne Horvitz
Wayne Horvitz
to play keyboard bass—I don't believe you could go out and find a band in the vein of Curlew, that has a keyboard bassist. I mean that's insane.

AAJ: Well, there's Ray Manzarek of Doors Wide Open
Doors Wide Open

, who played keyboard in place of bass...

GC: Dangit! I knew there was another band! And he did really good!—And then Wayne didn't want to do it any more, and he said, "Why don't you get Ann Rupel from V-Effect?" And when Ann left the band, after I moved to Memphis, Fred Chalenor came in and he was great. The point being that I wanted people to come in who would change the band. 'Cause I think that change is really a lot of fun. And there was no pressure to stay the same; it wasn't like we were making a lot of money at it.

AAJ: On Beautiful Western Saddle, the poetry by Paul Haines, he's such a great poet. And I wasn't aware that he was the lyricist for Carla Bley
Carla Bley
Carla Bley
's Escalator Over the Hill (JCOA, 1971), another great classic album. Did he participate at all in how you interpreted his poetry musically, or did he just give it to you and let you do what you would with it?

GC: The latter. He would send me stuff, or us stuff, or take stuff from his [video] Third World Two (1981). And we'd just write songs to it, and I think he was really happy about it. Always said he was, and that's another big loss. It's just one of those things where you think, well this is a good idea. So I talked it over with everybody in the band, and everybody contributed a song except Pippin, I think, and spent a lot of time rehearsing and recording.

AAJ: I'll tell you what I like about you: you feel loss deeply. You mourn deeply. That's something I really admire about you.

GC: Thank you.

AAJ: Loss and recovery—is Curlew ever coming back?

GC: You know, I'd like it to. It's just a matter of time and finances. You know, the economy's bad and people are getting clobbered. I'm lucky that I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. There are so many good musicians here that I'm happy with the music I've done since I've been here. It's a way for me to keep going. I'd love to do more Curlew stuff. It's just, pulling together five people together from all over the country and start touring—it's fucking expensive!

AAJ: You new album—Rag (Roaratorio, 2010), with [drummer] Davu Seru—that's great stuff, it's very tight and dynamic. Is this a sign more to come in this vein? It seems like a whole new direction you could go in.

GC: Oh, yeah. I've been going in that direction. In Memphis for five years and here for ten or eleven years. It's really been good for me musically. I can't tell you how many good musicians there are here in the twin cities.

AAJ: Now you're not old but you're not young, either; so I think it's all right for me to ask you this as a final question: how do you see your role in music history? When the dust settles, what do you think will make audiences see you as distinctive? Are you larger than Curlew, or is Curlew larger than you?

GC: Uh, I dunno [laughs]—How's that for an answer? I think what Curlew was—and I don't know, or care—but I think Curlew was really distinctive. And why, or how—and I think about it and you've just got to be standing at the right place, in the right time—with the right people and then just the wind blows through.

AAJ: It's like sailing, I guess—sailing on the Mississippi gulf.

GC: Yeah, it just comes through and you go—it happens and it's done, and you just go, "I'm so glad I didn't screw that up!"

Selected Discography

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