Death And Woe And Rodeo


By Robbie Imes

The music for the production is played on all different types of pianos (toy pianos, prepared pianos, etc.). Why pianos? And can you tell me about the sound you've created with them?
It is middle class to have a piano. Almost every house in middle class suburbia has a piano in it. And toy pianos are associated with childhood. A prepared piano is avant-garde, which is a breakdown of domesticity or the norm. When the prepared piano was first heard in the 1940s it was seen as an attack on order and decorum. Altered with junk like screws and rubber erasers, it creates a chaos. It's chaotic. I wanted that sound for this.

In recent years you seem to have gravitated towards the stage. Have you thought of creating an original production of your own?
I happen to be doing that at the moment. But my collaborator, who shall remain unnamed, and I are finding it impossible not to fall back on generic stories of the stage. But to ignore them would be annoying for the audience. We're working on it.

Your sometimes morbid lyrics have made some, myself included, relate more closely to you. Coraline, as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events [Lemony Snicket's audiobooks which Merritt also scored] and others, have a darker sensibility to them. What draws you to this type of material?
[Laughs] Thank you. It's either a morbid sense of humor or catatonia.

You've never made a secret of your sexuality, even before "gay" was more mainstream. Do you think it's important for artists to openly express themselves, or was it something you didn't really think about when writing Magnetic Fields songs like "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" or "When My Boy Walks Down The Street"? Were you just writing what you knew?
Writing songs from my experience isn't a particularly entertaining way of expressing myself. When I am finished with a song, a month or two later I don't remember where it came from. I've had my heartbroken, though. That is something I've experienced. Maybe for 'I Thought You Were My Boyfriend.'

Despite your openness, your music has never been labeled as "gay," and you don't fit into a gay stereotype. Do you think that's a good thing?
I don't have response to that. What is gay music?

Well, for example, something that might be associated with the gay community, or even something you would hear in a late night gay club.
I find that the ubiquitous music of the past few months has been the songs like [Rihanna's] the "Umbrella" song and [Britney Spears'] "If You Seek Amy" have been just about all I've heard when the radio is on. When I go into a restaurant to pick up my Vietnamese sandwich, I hear one of those two songs. But I have heard that hip-hop is dead -- and you never hear it anymore. I want men to be allowed to sing again.

Finally, do you have any words of advice for any of our readers aspiring to become artists?
Not really, I don't think. Well, maybe for those aspiring for the stage. For them I'd say don't bother with amplification. When you don't, it's easier to hear. In the theatre, there are good seats and bad. Mostly bad. So, amplification doesn't matter.

Coraline is now playing through June 20 at MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St New York, NY 10014.

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