Brian Cassidy interviews David Thomas, June '99 in re Mirror Man

How would you describe Mirror Man?
I don't have to describe it and, more importantly, I don't get paid to describe it. Women and worm boys yak, men create. Mirror Man is rock music. I have ambitions for rock music. I don't see why all the rest of you are content with so little. Nevertheless, you seem to be. Mirror Man is a novel written with a vocabulary of sound and a grammar that is geographical. That's a meaningless bit of shiny paper I came up that I can wave in people's eyes to keep them amused. It's made of air. It's empty yak.

What was the genesis of MM? How did Spoon River play into MM?
The South Bank Centre is a large arts complex in London. They asked me to put together a 4 day festival of anything I wanted. They encouraged me to be ambitious. For awhile I had been moving towards performances that were very tightly integrated. Meadville is an example. The next step was to add more voices and more musicians and seek after greater complexity and depth. The Spoon River Anthology was a book I'd never read - started often, never finished, being a bit melodramatic and overwrought. The format of a series of testimonials, however, fascinated me.

How did you choose the musicians you wanted to work with? What did they each bring to the project that you were looking for?
I choose people I know or who I want to know... so it's like a dating agency that way. Keith and Andy are the core. Chris is one of the best at what he does - maybe the best - and a good friend. Jack is a world class harpist and inventive sax player and an old friend. Peter is somebody I wanted to know. I had no agenda other than to make something that felt like it should be able to do something. Clearly the musicians had to be the sort of men who can get things done. They were.

How did you get Linda Thompson to come out of retirement?
I asked her.

Much of MM has been recorded previously for other projects of yours. Was it any dissatisfaction with previous versions/contexts that had you re-do many songs?
I've never done any of these songs before. But maybe I see things differently. I am a folk musician. In folk music nothing is ever finished.

What did your conducting look like/what did it entail? In other words, what would an audience member have seen you do?
They would see me jerk up & down with the melodeon from time to time. They would have seen me give big nods with attendant body swoops. They would have seen the back of my head and the musicians looking at me like they were listening to me speaking. They would have seen me whisper into people's ears. They would have seen a series of slight hand gestures, smiles, frowns and head shakes.

As you've worked with at least one C. Beefheart musician before, did Beefhearts album Mirror Man play into your MM at all?

You've said that Ubu projects are like big Hollywood productions and your solo works are like smaller art-house films. What separates MM from other solo projects?
The scale of the ambition.

Someone listening to the album doesnt hear the audience until the end of the CD...What was the audience reaction? How did they effect the performance?
It was a theatrical event in a theatrical space. In these situations audiences don't applaud until the end. Mostly they were very quiet and attentive. Spellbound, one critic said.

I really cant tell what is improvised and what is not (a credit to you and musicians)...Can you point out a couple of places that were improv?
I can and I could but I'm not going to.

With MMs theatrical/multi-media aspects, it would have seemed a good candidate to be a See Dee +. Was this a consideration? If so, why did you decide against it?
We didn't videotape anything because I refuse to allow it. So that cuts out those possibilities and the purpose of multimedia is to enhance a performance. The performance would have been diminished by the intrusion.

Could you describe Act Two of MM? How is it different than Act One? Do you have plans to release it? Would it also be a live album?
Act 2 is more concerned with what happens when you stop. There won't be a release until such time as we have another performance. I've determined that it needs some reworking. I see some new things now that the piece has had some time to mature. Will it be live? Only.