Origins of UbuDoll

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I've got a bunch of leftover odds and sods from my telephone conversation with singer-songwriter Jackie Leven that I'll be posting here rather than allowing to fossilize on my hard drive.

The question I absolutely had to ask Leven was how he wound up recording, writing songs, and touring with Pere Ubu's David Thomas. More specifically, I asked him if he'd been a Pere Ubu fan from way back in the day. Leven said:

"I liked them a lot, yeah. But also we ended up on the same record label here, Cooking Vinyl, and David made a lovely album for them called Raygun Suitcase (1995). And my record company boss said to me, 'You do realize we've got Pere Ubu signed now. David is living in Brighton and would be happy if you got in touch.' So I went down to see him there and we just got on really well. People say he's a difficult guy and he is, but we forged a bond based on the understanding that we might give other people shit as we went around the world, but we wouldn't give each other shit. And that has remained true."

Had Thomas in turn been a Doll by Doll fan?

"Uh, I think he kind of lied about it and had a kind of pretense that he knew about the band, but Cooking Vinyl gave him a copy of my album Forbidden Songs of the Dying West (1995), and David loved a track on it called 'Working Alone/A Blessing,' which includes a reading of a James Wright poem, and he loved that. He said [imitating Thomas's signature squawk] 'When I heard that I just burst into tears.'"

Now, I have to be honest here: I am not a huge poetry guy, and this track exemplifies the aspect of Leven's recorded output that I am least well prepared to embrace. To wit: you never know when guy is going to terminate a great song with a hushed and reverent reading of a poem. He does this, for example, in "Paris Blues" (cowritten with Thomas) and "Defending Ancient Springs." And the poem he appends to his heartbreaking song "Working Alone," James Wright's A Blessing (about a tender encounter with some friendly ponies), will probably never do anything for me but make me blush. I am sure this reflects a shortcoming of sensibility on my part, but such are my limits.

I was that much more bemused therefore to learn that the poem was instrumental in bringing Ubu and Doll together. Here I was, congratulating myself on being attuned to some gnostic wavelength shared by Leven and Thomas, when really I'm just at some staticky point on the dial midway between their respective frequencies.

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