Richard X. Heyman
Photo from Richard X. Heyman's site
Interview by Robert Pally
"Technically speaking you could say I wrote a good portion of my songs on an illegal substance."
2008's Intakes, the seventh album by noted cult singer-songwriter Richard X Heyman, offers a collection of timeless songs that are actually hard to pin down when it comes to the year they have been written. In this humorous interview, Richard explains the relativity theory, why the first song he has written is actually his fourth, why three LP's are not enough for an lonely island and more.
PSF: Smoking a water pipe is apparently less healthy than smoking. So you don't wanna be a good example for the youth?
RXH: I'm the last person you want to ask about setting examples. The original cover for this album was a shot of me hooked up to an intravenous machine filled with cookie dough. It was suggested that maybe that wasn't such a good idea what with obesity on the rise, especially in today's youth. I countered that a really bad example would be set if the cover was a photo of me playing the drums. Some poor impressionable kid might think to him or herself that that would be a cool, or awesome as some would say today, way to make a living, thereby leading that wretched youngster down a path of poverty and dejection.
Then it suddenly hit me – the hookah! That's no ordinary hookah. The hookah you see me sucking on is a priceless Heyman family heirloom. It was used to seal the vow in the wedding ceremony of my great great grandparents who were both nomadic gypsies in the old country of Ollieandstan, where it's said the mountain laurels are quite hardy. They lived in the back of the caravan that transported the wine and were soon christened 'the tipsy gypsies.' Not only for their wine intake, but also because the wheels on their caravan were a bit wobbly. The hookah was confiscated from the czar when their tribe marched through the Jinglejangle Jungle during the second Tambourine Wars in 1874.
My great grandfather, Ezekiel Heyman - the name was shortened from the original Heymanwotzhapnin - was an expert as well as a scholar on rodent migration. He wrote several books on the subject, his most renowned dealing with the mice who traveled back from America on the merchant ships. This breed, known as Mickeytovus Americanus, quickly scattered throughout Europe and particularly thrived in the cheese producing regions such as Cottage, Cheddar and as far south as Kuttha.
I'm proud to say that no illegal substance has ever passed through the hose or chassis of this treasured pipe. Though I will admit, I once attempted to smoke crushed watermelon seeds back when it was deemed fashionable. The finely powdered concoction was packed tightly in the bowl and my lips pursed firmly on the nozzle tip. I lit the match and as the flame was about to ignite my stash, I had a sudden epiphany, or vision I suppose you could say – I saw the entire Heyman clan, including my great uncle Hugh Heyman - his name was shortened to "U" upon his arrival at Ellis Island. Wanting to assimilate, he named all his children after vowels – there were the four girls A, E, I, and O, then finally a son, U Jr. Last but not least another daughter Y, who sometimes ran away from home. There they were, appearing before me, their heads bowed with shame and disgust, and I blew the match out soon after it had badly burned my fingertips. The epiphany took longer than expected.
PSF: How many of your songs have been written under the influence of illegal substances?
RXH: For years, I not only slept but also wrote many songs on a bed in which the tag on the mattress had been cut off. It read plain and clearly, "do not remove tag under penalty of law" and that it was a no-no to remove the tag from the mattress. But I was a callow and callous youth and cut it off in spite, just for the thrill. A rebel with a pair of shears. So technically speaking, you could say I wrote a good portion of my songs on an illegal substance.
Actually, come to think of it, there was this one time I was having dinner at a friend's place and I'm pretty sure the mushrooms he served me were a little funny. I started hallucinating. Everyone I saw turned into Angela Lansbury or at least had Angela Lansbury's face. When I looked in the mirror, I was suddenly transformed into Laurence Harvey but with a better haircut. After staggering home, I got a call from my mother and then had the inexplicable urge to play a game of solitaire. It was all very bizarre. I knew I had to compose a song about this as soon as possible but I was too incapacitated to hold a pen. When I finally got back to so-called normal, I attempted to put it all to music. Now I'm gonna have to go back and find that song, perhaps for my next album. So I guess you could count that, too. At least the inspiration for it. So the answer is a resounding, pretty certain 'yes'!
Wait... I once drank a glass of red wine while writing a song about the 1920's, so within the context of the song, with Prohibition in full swing and all, that could be one metaphysically speaking... I'm sorry I'm just a law-abiding vegetarian health nut. The strongest substance I ingest is chopped-up ginger to settle my stomach. Does that qualify?
PSF: According to the booklet, you are the only one who understands Einstein relativity theory. How come?
RXH: That's a misprint. The liner notes writer was referring to Albert Einstein, Jr. who lived in the shadow of big Al. Albert Jr. -- who for most of his life went around muttering "I'm a genius too!" – not to be outdone by his brilliant father and possibly to confuse everyone, came up with his own theory, the Theory of Relatives, wherein he states that if second cousins twice removed marry any first cousin and their offspring marry each other which is legal in the state of Tennessee, their children would be the grandparents of their own parents. It's a very complicated business but it makes perfect sense to me. The low point for Albert Jr. was the day he was told he had been adopted. Even worse was when he discovered the combined IQ points of his natural birth parents totaled less than half of Albert Sr. He soon got out of the theory business and tried his hand at car manufacturing. After putting into production the Edsel, he found himself out of work. He then landed a job in the burgeoning recording industry as an A&R man for a medium-sized East Coast label where his first act of business was to pass on a young Elvis Presley. For the rest of his life, he seemed resigned and content to be a bagger for the Bohack supermarket chain.
PSF: Is your music relative or absolute?
RXH: I don't understand the question. I think I need to use one of my lifelines. Regis, I mean Robert, let me try the 50/50...
PSF: Do you believe that music can save the world? If yes, from what can it save the world?
RXH: I don't know if music can change or save the world, but I'll tell you how it nearly destroyed the planet. This is a little known fact, but here it is. The vinyl mines, especially those in South Africa, were nearly depleted. So much raw vinyl was dug up and used for albums and 45's that if it hadn't been for the stern good sense of one of the miners, we would never hold another 12-inch again. This brave miner came up with a way to extract vinyl from soy. He migrated to America where he sold the patent for the soybean-to-vinyl conversion to Benson & Hedges who formerly grew tobacco and are now in the vinyl business.
Speaking of mine workers, I'm reminded of the old joke, what is the key of the sound a coal digger makes when he falls down a two hundred foot shaft? Answer: A-flat minor - rim shot please.
Now of course, the elitist audiophile purists will only listen to soy vinyl if it's organic. The joke is on them, though. You see, the organic experience needs an organically formulated stylus. There is one on the black market but it is prohibitively expensive, even for these sonic snobs. I have had the pleasure of hearing a certified organic album with the proper needle, and let me tell you, it is a numbing mindblower. Unfortunately one of the few albums to surface in this format is a 'Sing Along With Mitch' effort, The Broadway Showstoppers but I still had to admit it was breathtaking.
I can't believe the subject of Mitch Miller has come up. I swear, just a couple of nights ago, I had a dream concerning Mitch Miller. I was living in a world where Mitch Miller was never born. The whole sing-along-with-Mitch series never existed. There was a void. People in the dream were in a daze, merely listening to music, not singing along. They sensed something was missing in their lives. I suppose it's not as bad as George Bailey never having been born. People actually died. All those men on that transport. But his nonexistence did generate a lot of work for unemployed musicians all along the main drag of Pottersville. So there is that trade-off.
PSF: If you look to all of your albums is there a kind of a chronology. If yes, in what way?
RXH: I suppose there's a kind of chronology – the kind that has no order.
PSF: Why after such a long time do you come with this old recordings?
RXH: I suffer from a rare but irrelevant malady called "lexdysia." The symptoms – I have no sense of time or chronology. I woke up one morning and started working on these songs, which I believed to be brand new. My wife, who is very patient and pragmatic, didn't have the heart to tell me those songs were thirty years old. It wasn't until I was near the end of the process when I realized these songs had bridges. It slowly dawned on me that my new songs don't contain bridges and that something was amiss. By that time, I had worked too long and hard on these relics to abandon them again. The first time was when I didn't include them on my debut album.
PSF: When did you write your first song and what was it about? Do you still like it?
RXH: It's funny, my first song is actually my fourth. I had written the first three not knowing what a song was. I was a callow and callous youth, especially my fingertips, not to mention I didn't copyright those early ones. But the fourth, that was the one. I mean, the first one I had copyrighted, so in a sense I had a head start on first time songwriters in that I had those three under my belt while coming up with that first one, I mean fourth. Do I remember it? I recall it like a book. That may be due to the fact that it's called "Pride and Prejudice." I hadn't developed my knack for original titles yet and used ones that were tried and true, but it was a nice but slightly pretentious melody with an affected chord structure. I look back on it fondly today. And I have to say it was a step forward from the first three, "Valley of the Dolls," "The Peter Principle" and "Roget's Thesaurus," for which I had trouble finding just the right words.
PSF: What are three albums you would take on a lonely island?
RXH: I would choose whatever could be best utilized in the construction of the raft I would be immediately building to get off this forsaken island. My God, the horror, the horror. This faux paradise where you're only allowed three albums! A land so harsh and barren that a fourth album would be unheard of.
But in all seriousness, I would have to have me some West Side Story and I take it straight up, no chaser, meaning the original Broadway soundtrack recording with Carol Lawrence and that other guy who plays Tony. Greatest music and singing ever on one album. Of course, I'd like a few laughs on that desolate hell on earth, so I'd pick either Allan Sherman's My Son The Folk Singer or a bootleg Lenny Bruce recording called The Law, Language and Lenny Bruce. My third and woefully last and final choice would be a non-musical album, but an album nonetheless. And that would be the photo album of my bar mitzvah. On those rare occasions when I got tired of listening to my two albums for the nine thousandth time, I'd sit back under the old palm tree - there are palm trees, at least, I hope - and reminisce about the good old days back in Plainfield, NJ. A world in which there were limitless albums, good food - anything besides coconuts - and a bevy of thirteen year old girls.
Speaking of favorite albums, these Greatest Albums of All Time lists that appear randomly in rock music magazines never get it right. Any list that doesn't have at least one of the following four records is a sham: The Kinks' Kontroversy, Face To Face, Something Else and The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. And let's not forget The Zombies' Odessey & Oracle and The Incredible String Band's 1000 Layers of the Onion.
It would be helpful to know the climate conditions on the island. If it's hot and tropical, I might want some cool jazz like Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, Oliver Nelson's Stolen Moments or the first album by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. If it's really cold, then I'd go for something hot to heat me up, maybe James Brown Live at the Apollo, Africa by John Coltrane or Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. If it's only a little chilly then I'd go with the warmth of Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon, the Beatles' Rubber Soul - American version, please - or Aaron Copeland's "Appalachian Spring." You know, on second thought, I'll tell you what. Just give me three copies of the single "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen and I'll be content until I'm rescued off Three-Album Island.
PSF: MP3, CD or vinyl. What do you prefer and why?
RXH: Here's the thing. I believe this to be a kind of trick question. I think what you're getting at is the old analog versus digital query. So in that respect I would have to say magnetic tape is the preferred analog listening medium. You certainly don't want to hear a piece of vinyl with sound on it that has been digitally mastered because what you've got then is some plastic with a metal needle scraping across it, spewing out digital sound. Once you've entered the digital realm, I'm content with the CD. If you're fortunate enough to own a good turntable with some 100% recorded, mixed and mastered analog vinyl, then more power to you. I don't have the space in my apartment for a turntable so I'm stopping with the CD. I'm not switching formats again. I don't care where technology takes us.
PSF: You apparently don't like to fly. Have you ever written a song about it. If no, why not?
RXH: My fear of flying is so acute that it even includes talking or writing about it. Just formulating that last sentence has sent me into an anxiety-ridden panic attack. But thanks for asking.
Intakes is available as download at iTunes, Amazon.com, etc.
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|