Glamour Profession: The Ongoing Skip Heller
74 pages; DVD included SkipHeller.com
Skip Heller, a gifted guitarist and one of the more intriguing figures flying under the radar of the American music scene he loves so well, has been up to many things. Writing music for cartoons has been among them. Writing different kinds of music, with different musical influences and aggregations has been another. Touring around playing with organ trioslargely influenced from his hometown of Philadelphiais another.
And last year it was a book. Yes, he only turned thirty last year. No matter. Glamour Profession: The Ongoing Skip Heller isn't trying to blow you away or tout itself as having some secret. The book is 74 pages long, and part of that is an introduction by Neal McCabe and a reprint of an interview with Heller. It's more of an explanation of what Heller has been through, what he goes through, and why. He explains his influences and his reasons for being the self-described "Jazz Troubadour from Planet Bar Band. He also vents a bit.
The book is a good, entertaining read. And what the hell, crammed in it is a DVD of Heller's organ trio music that is typically cool. Some might think it pretentious, or a gimmicklinear notes expanded to a new realm. But it isn't really. It's another appealing thing from Heller. And in a short form, it explains him well.
In a large part, it's a collection of thoughts from the open and intriguing mind of Skip Heller, who has been playing energetic, soulful, thoughtfuland unabashedly entertainingmusic for years. It's a journal, of sorts. Maybe not journalism, but don't think Heller couldn't do that if he wanted to. Heller is bright, observant and eloquent in a way that can make you think, and chuckle, often in the same sentence. For those who haven't conversed with Heller, which is a trip, this book will more than suffice. It's a journal of a guy who really gives a shit about music and prevails in spite of troubles in the music business, in the country, and in the world.
His opening salvo in the chapter "Forewarned is good enough advice for anyone even if the rest faltered. "I believe whatever you decide you're going to make your life into, it should be a thing 24/7, with every microbe of intestinal fortitude you can muster. You should be doing it with unconditional love, creativity, and with a defiance towards any obstacle that may present itself.
Along the way, he gives opinions, tells stories, and explains why certain musicians and recordings are important to him. It's not all music. He talks about certain comedians and how they ring true, and why people like Mark Twain, Groucho Marx and Rod Sterling are cool. He likes Pete Seeger not just for the tunes, but also because of his balls. They aren't just observations, there is stuff behind it. He knows why he feels music of the Ramones, Stevie Wonder and Mingus and is both articulate and visceral in his praise. His revulsion for the Religious Right and certain leaders of this country for their deceit and the arrogance with which they have gone about their underhandedness and intolerance is put forth with similar passion. He doesn't mince words.
"National Sofa: Tales From the Great Wherever, the chapter on traveling the country from gig to gig, small towns and large, is a gas. It's engaging as well as eye-opening, and sometimes hilarious. (I don't know if I can sleep on friends' futons any more... Never mind.)
Through it all, Heller's dedication to creating good music for the people is admirable. He puts his blood sweat and tears into his lifestyle and art, even though it means sleeping on floors and couches so that he can afford the trips; afford to awaken his creativity when its time to hit and put a spark in his audience. I suspect there are few tears, however, because Heller seems to find a way to keep it light, be optimistic and keep a grin while he forges on.
His love of jazz, "always America's alternative music, also does the heart good. "Jazz makes your brain work harder and it keeps you engaged. It makes you think about all the different moves. If you can put on A Love Supreme and hear what is really being expressed in the music, you're going to be pretty fucking hard to lie to.
Glamour Profession is a good read. Heller doesn't take himself too seriously. But the book has more splashes of thought provoking prose than a lot of books you might come across of greater length.
The music? Good stuff. It contains tunes in Heller's recent book like "President 'Guitar' Watson, "Isn't This a Time, "The Lonesome Death of Emily Remler, "Letter Home to My Wife, and "McMansion on the Hill. Ten tunes in all. Enjoyable. Dig it.