Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tripping Daisy: Petals to the Metal (1995)

(As published in the Illinois Entertainer)

Somewhere in the backwoods of the Yucatan, a young boy dreams of making music--not the traditional folk music of the guitar-strumming rancheros so beloved in his village, but the invisible music that the funny-haired white man with the dollars put into his ears, the strange music that he couldn't grab but that made him smile the smile that made the funny-haired man click the camera. He had asked the man, <<¿Como se llama la música?>> When the man answered, the boy knew that he would only be satisfied when the day came that he too could put into the ears of his people the marvelous music called Tree-ping Day-see.

"We were in the northern part of the Yucatan," explains Tim DeLaughter, Tripping Daisy's lead singer and the funny-haired man in the scenario described above. "We'd just finished the record, and we wanted to get our ya-yas out. So we went deep into the bush of the Yucatan to see the Mayan ruins, and we came across this family that lived in a grass hut. The boy came up, and he was trying to sell us some stuff. I put the headphones on him and played him a song, and he immediately knocked them off his head. It kind of scared him."

The song with which DeLaughter frightened the young entrepreneur was "I Got a Girl," the first single from the album that Tripping Daisy had just finished recording, i am an ELASTIC FIRECRACKER.

"I didn't want to scare him," DeLaughter continues. "I thought 'I Got a Girl' was the friendliest song on there. Well, he'd never heard music through headphones before, and it freaked him out. When we put the headphones back on him, he kept making these hand gestures, as if he were trying to catch the music. It was really weird. Then, all of a sudden, he looked up with this smile, as if he'd finally gotten what was going on, and I took a picture of it."

Tripping Daisy reprinted the photo inside the ELASTIC FIRECRACKER CD cover, a cover whose outside photo is even weirder. It shows a skinny old man who appears to be bleeding from all pores like a character in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death."

The old man, it turns out, is Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, the person generally credited with starting what has come to be known as the mail-art--or stamp-art--movement.* As their name suggests, mail artists create works of art that they then reproduce as stamps and sell by the sheet. The bloody Cavellini photo itself originated as a piece of stamp art by E.F. Higgins, who sold DeLaughter the stamp on a sheet with fifteen others in a New York bar.

"It fascinated me that this man was in a bar, selling stamps that he'd made," DeLaughter recalls. "I liked the Cavellini image a lot and became fascinated by the story behind mail art, and after I found out about Cavellini, I looked even more for a reason to put him on the cover."

DeLaughter sees a parallel between the attempts of the mail artists to get the world's attention through unconventional means and Tripping Daisy's attempts to do the same. For although they're signed to Island Records now, and although Bill, their 1993 debut, eventually got picked up by Island's indie subsidiary Red, they began humbly, peddling their powerful and twisted version of rock-and-roll as just one more indie band from Texas.

"It's a constant struggle for anybody who's doing creative things to have success, either financially or from being praised by your peers and others," DeLaughter insists. It's a complaint he develops on one of ELASTIC FIRECRACKER's most purposefully caterwauling songs, "Piranha."

"It seems that the press is always the piranha in my situation. There seems to be this fad among some younger writers to be extremely vicious and rely on the thesaurus to kill bands these days. But the song isn't just against the music press. It's for anybody that's always trying to bring you down when you're trying to do something creative."

Judging from the reaction that ELASTIC FIRECRACKER has gotten since its release last June, Tripping Daisy apparently has little to fear from piranhas. With twenty thousand copies sold in the first month (a pace that will turn the disc gold in two years) and with top-five college-radio for "I Got a Girl," DeLaughter and Company will soon have bigger fish to fry--especially if the record keeps selling.

"We made our choice to go with Island because they were the label that got our vision as far as building the band from the ground up. They did that with Bill by depending on us to tour behind it, which we did for over two years, and they just added three months to our current tour. The more success the record has, the longer the tour gets."

With an arrangement like that, Bob Dylan might not be the only one with a Neverending Tour for long. Besides, if Tripping Daisy's U.S. crowds ever drop off, there's always the Yucatan.


*Actually, Cavellini did not become a "mail artist" until the early 1970s--almost twenty years after the mail-art movement is generally thought to have been founded by Ray Johnson.

1 comment:

  1. I always wondered about the story of the Mexican Boy on the cover of one of Tripping Daisy's promo singles. I have it somewhere in collection. I kept it because it always made me laugh to look at it. After all these, now I get the true story, I love it!!
    Good work.