A Life of Miracles: Kerry Livgren and the Art of Storytelling

Mircales Out of Somewhere book coverKerry Livgren has long been one of my favorite guitarists and lyricists. Next to Rush, Kansas was one of the first prog bands I ever heard. I think my first prog concert may have been Kansas (minus Livgren). I was so fascinated by Livgren and his conversion-to-Christianity-story that I wrote a paper about him for Dr. Brad Birzer’s Christian Humanism course in college in the fall of 2015. Besides Livgren’s magnificent lyrics, I also drew heavily from his autobiography, Seeds of Change, for that paper.

Back in August of this year, Livgren self-published, via his Numavox label, a new book entitled Miracles Out of Somewhere. It isn’t a typical memoir or autobiography. It does not follow a chronological structure. Rather it is a collection of 40+ short personal stories that demonstrate examples of miraculous events in Livgren’s life. Most chapters are dedicated to one story, but there are some that contain multiple brief stories centered around one theme.

Stories range from what might be considered coincidences all the way to full-blown “only God could have done this” miracles. I had known about Livgren’s 2009 stroke, but I never knew how serious it was. The doctors told him it was as bad a stroke as a human could have. The initial brain scans after the stroke showed that half his brain tissue died. Brain scans taken two years later showed the majority of that tissue was alive and perfectly healthy. Even the doctor didn’t believe the medical explanation he came up with to explain it to fellow medical professionals. Livgren still struggles with some issues related to the stroke (he had to find a new way to play “Dust in the Wind” for an appearance with Kansas last year), but for the most part he made a miraculous recovery.

The book ends with excerpts from the last few years of his journal entries as his wife dealt with an equally serious health crisis: breast cancer and heart failure caused by the cancer treatment. The surgeries and treatments worked for the cancer, but her heart was initially left in very poor shape. But, just eleven months ago they found out her heart is now completely normal after she almost needed a heart transplant eight months earlier.

Stories range to the more lighthearted as well, such as Kerry’s first time driving the Kansas tour bus after he joined the band in their early days. The steering barely worked, and the brakes were almost non-existent. After cresting a hill they found themselves hurtling towards a freight train, forcing Kerry to stand on the brake pedal with all his weight. The bus stopped a mere three feet from the tracks. Robby Steinhardt caught the whole thing on audio recording, but sadly that tape is gone.

The story about Livgren being reunited with his “Dust in the Wind” guitar a few years back, after selling it decades ago, is also a fun story, as is the one about Kansas’ first LA party with industry bigwigs. Dave Hope decided to jokingly mock a girl with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo, so he shouted “Hey Farrah.” The girl turned around, and she turned out to be Farrah Fawcett.

Miracles out of Somewhere is hard to put down. Livgren’s writing is so inviting. I felt like I was having a conversation with him. Since the stories are arranged in no particular order, the book jumps around a lot. As such it helps to have a basic knowledge of Livgren’s life and the history of Kansas. Even so that isn’t required to make this an enjoyable read. The storytelling is so good that the reader is quickly drawn in and taken back in time.

Livgren’s faith is intimately embedded in these stories, but I wouldn’t call this a religious book. He’s just telling the stories from his perspective, and his faith is inseparable from that perspective. As a Christian myself I can’t help but appreciate that aspect of the stories, but even if you’re not a Christian, don’t let that stop you from reading this book. If you’re a fan of Kansas and Livgren, you’ll enjoy it.

The book itself is just a simple paperback, likely printed by a print shop near Livgren’s home in Kansas (it’s also available as an ebook). Perhaps it lacks from some grammatical editing that a publisher’s editor could’ve added, but we’re talking about a periodic missing apostrophe and a run-on sentence here and there. As it is, the book has the charm of someone writing these stories out as-is and sending them to you. In a way it made Livgren feel closer than if the book was highly polished by a big-name publisher.

For less than $15 (a little more if you live outside the US – for international shipping) this book is a bargain. It’s only $4 for the ebook. With everything going on I found it to be a welcome escape to a seemingly simpler time (no era is ever as simple as it can seem in hindsight). Some of the stories are heavy, but the miracles God has worked in Kerry’s life bring a smile to my face and peace to my heart. If you’re sick of the negativity and want rest for your soul… well, Kerry would be the first one to tell you to turn to Jesus. But after you’ve done that, give Miracles Out of Somewhere a go. It’s a must-read for Kansas fans, and it’ll brighten your day.

Buy a physical copy from Numavox: https://www.numavox.com/cd.htm

Ebook from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Out-Somewhere-Kerry-Livgren-ebook/dp/B08HL9Y9M8/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Kerry+Livgren&qid=1604263632&sr=8-1

Chris Wade, renaissance Man!

Chris Wade is a multi talented and multi-faceted chap who on the one hand produces his own music magazine, whilst on the other writes highly regarded critical analysis of various artists works spanning all genres from film to music, not to mention being the writer of his own range of comedic novels and the brains behind Dodson and Folk, the acid folk project that has spawned 11 albums, and features a multitude of special guests. Since 2012 he has been ploughing his own musical furrow as Dodson and Fogg, with musical excursions into instrumental prog (The Moonlight banquet) collaboration with his brother (Rexford Bedlo) as well as Rainsmoke (with Nigel Planer and Roger Planer) and the last time I spoke to Chris was just after his Dodson and Fogg début had been released. I decided that as four years is a long time in music, and because I like talking to Chris, I would have a chat with him to find out what’s going on in his world and to chat about his new album, The White House on the Hill.

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I first mentioned his role as a one-man acid folk pioneer, and the release of his new album

‘I prefer to call it Maltloaf folk; it’s a new tag that I’m going to start using. This is album number 11, if you don’t count the outtakes.

I hadn’t planned the next album but I moved out to the countryside about 4 months ago and found in the second month of living here I’d started writing the next record, but that won’t be out until next year because of the books I am working on’

Ah yes, the books,

‘I’ve just done a Hawkwind book, a recent fiction book and I’m working on books on Dennis Hopper, George A Romero and Woody Allen. I find when I’m doing the books I just get immersed in the world of the subject, I’m watching all the films, tracking people down and reviewing them’

We started talking about how things have changed since the first Dodson and Fogg album was released back in 2012,

‘Progs totally altered since the first release, since then the industry has changed with all releases, back in November 2012 there wasn’t things like Spotify, 4 years seems like a long time ago for me now’

I first contacted Chris back in 2012 using twitter and since then we’ve been friends on Facebook,

‘This is the thing about Facebook, you don’t see some people that often but you can see how peoples lifes have changed over time’

I wondered if Chris was still an avid user of social media,

‘I’ve got a Facebook set up for the books and the albums, and it showcases the latest work, but it doesn’t really generate sales for books or music, and in that respect it isn’t that useful. Someone was complaining on Facebook recently about mailing lists and emails not being read, I don’t thing it’s fair to criticise your audience on Facebook or social media, but it proves that you can’t rely on social media, I only use it a little bit’

Chris is very prolific and I wondered where the inspiration comes from,

‘I do all this because I don’t want a normal job, the more I do then the more income I get, I don’t push a lot of this to be honest, I like to do projects and that’s how I spend my time, on my projects and with my family. A lot of creative people like to think they are different and special, and I love making music and writing books but to me it’s an everyday job with no lucrative income’

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With the books Chris tends to self publish,

‘My first self published book was before I discovered the server I use now, it was a book about Malcolm McDowell, and since then I’ve learnt over time, some of the earlier books are a bit creaky but it proved to me that learning as I go and self publishing is a valid option. I’d rather put it all out myself, as it gives me complete control’.

Dodson and Fogg are well known for the use of guest stars,

‘I have built up a contact list, for the latest record I used Toyah, I was only aware of her 80’s work, and heard some of her later work with Fripp in the Humans. I liked what she was doing and made contact through her website, she was working somewhere in a studio and I sent her the track (Drinking from the Gun), and it ended up being a co-write as she wrote a third verse and did really interesting things with the track.

I’m always after interesting sounds, I’ve always been after a stuffy brass band sound, I really like the old fashioned brass band, (It must be something about being from Yorkshire as I adore that sound as well) It’s the sad sound of the brass, it’s summit in the blood. I enjoyed working with Ricky Romain on the sitar, I loved mixing the sound in but people were saying I was just doing psych acid folk because of the sitar. I can’t do the same thing all the time, I like to swap things around’.

What about your influences?

‘I don’t tend to have lots now, I can find sometimes if I’m writing a book I can pick up the guitar and something will come to me, at the moment I keep listening to a lot of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, it’s stuff I like and will never stop liking it, it’s my music. I listen to a lot of Madonna, although you won’t see me in a conical bra. I used to really like Donovan but I can’t listen to him any more, you find without noticing that your tastes change over time’.

Do you ever have a theme for your albums?

‘On some of the early ones I did, the first two didn’t have themes, but the third one Sounds of Day and Night (2013) the loose thread was that all the songs were about day and night.

The later albums are more like a diary, showing where I am at any moment in time, for people who buy the later albums say the project has gone in different directions.

I do it for fun, and like to structure the albums like a 1960’s album, around 40 minutes long, it doesn’t ramble, you can listen to it in one sitting and pop it on a tape, I record and structure them in the way that I like to listen to albums.

The first album with a real concept was the one I did with Nigel Planer doing the stories (In a Strange Slumber 2014) and When the Light ran Out (2015) was an idea of home and how that works, both my Mum and my Sister moved away, and it made me think of what home meant. The songs are all personal to me and get emotions out there that you wouldn’t normally get out there, it’s a loose diary of my life’

Talking of home you recently moved to the country,

‘I’ve moved near to a farm into the countryside, I’ve taken up gardening and getting into my photography, it’s a nicer life, though there is that cliché about not making good art if you’re too content. I find it more comfortable that there’s next to nothing out here, an old train line, a farm, it’s far better than having too many people in your face.

Doing this interview is like therapy, I’m telling you stuff I haven’t mentioned before!

(I did mention I was much cheaper than any therapist!)

I like doing these projects because I’ve always wanted to do things I wanted to do and make it work for me. I had no interest in serving customers or trying to flog more things to get an extra 10p.

I just feel like when I was a kid I used to make books and liked the idea of putting a book together and playing drums. My brother and I used to make albums, with the sleeves and my Dad would encourage us by popping them on the shelves next to his Beatles or Kinks tape and encourage us to make more.

I’m a haemophiliac and found it hard to get work, it was difficult to get insurance in conventional jobs, I lost jobs because they couldn’t get insurance for me, when I was a child I wasn’t allowed to do contact sports and preferred to write, draw and play guitar. That’s another revelation to me, you sure this isn’t therapy?

Being creative is worthwhile, it’s important because what would the world be like without music, books, arts? It would be a very dull place indeed. We should encourage kids, my little girl Lily is 2, I wonder what she’ll do, she can draw, she loves music and watching films, it’s great watching them grow up.’

So where next for Dodson and Fogg?

‘If your creative you want to move onto the next thing, I don’t like sitting on work, I want to release it and move on, it might be commercial suicide but that doesn’t bother me, it’s not and never has been about the commercial side.

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In 2012 I spotted a tweet from a singer songwriter about a musical project he was launching, the tweeter was Chris Wade and the project was Dodson and Fogg, and I have watched and listened as Chris has taken his DIY ethos through 10 previous diverse albums, with guests like Celia Humphries, Nik Turner, Nigel Planer, Ricky Romain, Alison O’Donnell, Scarlet Riviera, Judy Dyble and Chloe Herington to name but a few, and over the past four years it’s been a delight to hear Chris muse take him down new and exciting avenues.

This latest release which came out back in August is his first release since moving out to the countryside, but don’t expect him to have gone all back to the country, no sir, what we have hear is another clear progression of the Dodson and Fogg sound, and every time Chris releases another record I worry about whether he’s stretched himself too thin this time, but no every time he comes up trumps.

It’s not cheap being a Dodson and Fogg fan, but when the music is this good, then does it matter how often the records are released?

With a smaller cast list, the focus is primarily on Chris soft vocals, and his superb guitar playing, with guests Georgia Cooke on Flute and John Garners violin adding their soft touches throughout the album to enhance the D&F sound. As Chris mentioned in his interview this time around he got Toyah to guest on this record, and the duet, Drinking from the Gun, where as ever the artist she is Toyah contributed an extra verse, is a superb jazzy duet, where their vocals blend perfectly, whilst the title track that opens the album is a joyously bucolic folk rocker with some fantastically sympathetic violin work throughout. Meanwhile the powerful instrumental Bitten has a real funky groove to it, in fact the album is pretty funky throughout, as Chris gets his funky troubadour hat on Tell Me When Your Ready to Leave, with its Ric Sanders esque jazzy violin, in fact with Chris vocals, this sounds like the current incarnation of Fairport Convention could cover it, and it would slot right into their repertoire.

In fact this is pretty funky album, as Chris growls his way through the heavy funk of The Giant. Whilst the instrumental Bitten has powerful rocking riff that runs through the record like Scarborough through a stick of rock.

The closing 7 minuter Lily and The Moonlight, a wonderfully languid mellow rocker inspired by Chris daughter, is a slow builder, giving time for the song to build and grow and Chris fantastically cool vocals and a wonderfully eloquent guitar led coda closes this fine album in style.

For those worried that Chris is running out of ideas, don’t. This is another eloquent musical statement from one of the most prolific artists around who enriches the musical scene that he sits in.

Ladies and Gentleman, Dodson and Fogg, England’s premier Maltloaf folk band.

 

All photos by Linzi Napier

Thanks to Chris for his time.

Dodson and Fogg albums and Chris’ books are all available from

http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/

 

 

Stories of Genesis vol 1

A few years ago my wife introduced me to the concept of ‘Fan Fiction’. This is where fans of particular TV series write their own stories involving the characters, and share them in on-line forums. They seem to be quite popular, and Jude has written a few tales about Horatio Caine and co from CSI: Miami.

Recently an advert popped up on my Facebook wall for a book that described itself as ‘a new kind of fan fiction’: ‘Stories of Genesis, volume 1’ by Chris James. It contained a collection of five short stories based on characters from songs by Genesis, and, as a long-time fan of the band, I found it a fascinating read.

The first story, inspired by the title track of the 1976 album ‘A Trick of the Tail’, tells of Mr Magrew’s big adventure away from the City of Gold, meeting people unlike himself, who were all without horns and tail, and of his journey home. There’s a nice twist at the end, too, but I won’t spoil it by telling what it is.

Next is ‘The Chat Show Host’, which relates the dreams of Jason Jones (‘JJ’), the eponymous host stuck in provincial TV waiting for his big break, and of Duchess, a fading star hoping to resurrect her career. JJ’s dreams of success hang on his ability to humiliate Duchess live on air, and the story shows how sometimes our plans can be interrupted by events.

My favourite story in this collection is the next one – ‘One Regret’, inspired by ‘Dreaming While You Sleep’ from 1991’s ‘We Can’t Dance’. This is one of the better late-period Genesis songs, in my opinion, and James brings a wonderful depth and poignancy to this tale of guilt and inner torment following a hit-and-run accident.

The longest story is ‘The Final Battle’, taking up more than half of the book’s length, and is the one which most closely follows the ‘plot’ of the song that inspires it, the monumental ‘Supper’s Ready’ from 1972’s ‘Foxtrot’. For those who know the song, you will know how complex the tale is, with its apocalyptic imagery and scriptural allusions. James’ tale, with a strong sci-fi feel to it (his usual genre for writing, it appears), tells of the struggle by an angelic army against the Eternal Sanctuary Man, and gives an interesting modern slant to ancient concepts and themes.

From the longest to the shortest tale in the fifth and final chapter – ‘The Agent Lunges’, inspired by ‘Down & Out’ from 1978’s ‘And then there were Three’. I must confess that this is a strange tale, and almost comes across as an afterthought, but it rounds off the book nicely. Again, no spoilers!

Overall, the stories are engaging without being direct re-tellings of the songs, and a second volume is planned for later in the year. Fans of Genesis’s music and lovers of a good yarn will enjoy these tales: I certainly did.