For me, the most exciting part of the article-writing process is sending the finished piece to the subject and seeing what they thought of it. After writing my article about Bob Forrest and his upcoming Joe’s Pub show a week or so back, I was pleased to get some great feedback from Ian Brennan on Bob’s team. After a little bit of e-mailing and some Googling, I realized that Ian himself was an accomplished writer, producer and speaker with a Grammy to his name.
In support of his new book Sister Maple Syrup Eyes, Ian will be appearing at the Bluestockings Bookstore (172 Allen Street) on Sunday, October 11th. Ian kindly took the time to answer some questions about his three career paths, which may initially seem very different from one another, but all stem from a mindset full of open-mindedness and patience. More info about Ian can be found at his website: www.ianbrennan.com.
Do you identify most as a music producer, an author, or a workshop-leader?
Ian Brennan: For me, all three are linked and feed each other. In a nutshell, as strange as it sounds: I am a Grammy-winning music producer, author of four books, and a violence prevention “expert,” having taught for the past 22+ years at such organizations as UC Berkeley and the Betty Ford Center. Anger management can sure come in handy, though, when working with some artists and the various peripheral people in show business!
Of all your professional accomplishments, do you have one that you’re most proud of?
I: I try not to think about myself, at all, as much as possible. You’re only as good as your last action or project or words out of your mouth, anyway. And, on top of that, people in general have very short attention spans and memory. They have so many more important things to think about than “you.” The objective just has to be to build-up a body of work, for its own sake, that hopefully helps tip the scales in some small way towards the ‘right” direction — greater humanity and empathy for one another.
Did winning a Grammy change your life in any way?
I: Well, I’d been nominated twice before, and as they say, winning is sweeter. But in the end, awards are just popularity contests and largely are based on chance— i.e., who else you’re up against that year, what position your name is listed on the ballot. With Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, we were up against Springsteen that year in the tiny Folk category. We didn’t have a prayer! Most of my favorite artists have never won any such an award anyway — The Replacements, Nick Drake, Public Enemy, etc. The real thrill for me is the act of recording and when someone plays a new song for the first time and just nails an emotion and/or mood. That’s the drug!
Have you ever been confused for the Glee writer Ian Brennan?
I: Almost every day! I regularly get heartfelt and heart-breaking emails from lonely teen choir-members all over the world advocating for themselves to be on the show. The funniest thing is that I don’t even watch television — and haven’t regularly since when i got super-“serious” about the guitar at age 13.
What do you wish more people knew about “violence prevention?”
I: That it is in fact usually possible to prevent violence. There very rarely are not warnings, and there almost always are tragically unheeded close calls leading up to an event. Almost every “violent individual” remains ambivalent, largely due to fear, about their own course of action and therefore the possibility of deterring them exists to some degree. As long as someone is still talking, and not acting, there remains hope. It is usually much better when a person says, “I’m going to kick your ass,” then for them to fall silent.
What’s to be expected from your book event on October 11th?
I: Well, this particular book, Sister Maple Syrup Eyes, was 25-plus years in the making. Writing is rewriting, as they say. The great thing about “teaching” is that I learn from the process. Maybe even more so than the participants. But any time people are gathered together, even if it’s just a handful of folks, there is an opportunity for sharing and growth. Doing tours of book stores, though, is a dangerous thing for a book lover/addict like myself, since you usually end-up spending more than you sell!
Do you have any music-related projects in the works?
I: Yes, I just finished a record in Transylvania, literally a few miles from Dracula’s castle – for real. October sees the release of Bob Forrest from Thelonious Monster’s official solo debut, as well as The Good Ones’ – from Rwanda — long-overdue follow-up album. And next year, the Malawi Mouse Boys will release their third record. There is also this amazing collaboration between Sainkho Namthcylak, the world’s leading female Tuvan throat singer, and the rhythm section of Tinariwen, that sounds quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard. And next February sees the publication of my fourth book, How Music Dies (Or Lives), about the threats posed by the corporatization of music and media. And it has an amazing foreword by Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney.
Finally, Ian, any last words for the kids?
I: Try to listen to at least one song a day in a “foreign” language and the world will become a slightly better place.
-by Darren Paltrowitz