Pea Soup and Miracle Tonic: Crazy Tales From The Slow Poisoner
And when it comes to all things rock opera, The Slow Poisoner -- or Andrew Garfield, as his parents know him -- knows those rock-opera necessities well. The San Francisco native has been on a one-man rock-opera mission since '96, spreading the word on headless chickens, miracle tonic, and wily women with the help of a kick drum, some sleigh bells, and his guitar. Oh, and some felt.
That's right, some felt. Like, the crafty stuff used to make, well, whatever it is people make with felt. Rocks Off spoke with The Slow Poisoner by email recently to find out how one comes about crafting prop monsters and belting out rock operas for a living, and his answer -- which involves one hell of a back road and a bad batch of pea soup -- was the best thing ever. We'll let him explain.
Since I live in San Francisco and play frequently in Los Angeles, I often travel across the barren wastelands between.
To break up the drive, I'll usually stop at a pea-soup restaurant that's about halfway between the two. One day I ordered a cup of soup but the waitress, either due to mistake, pity, or sinister avarice, bestowed upon my a family-size container with gallons of the green muck, which I downed immediately in its entirety.
A few hours later, making my way towards the mountains that lead over to the Southern California smog, I started feeling really sick - a bad feeling in my gut. I pulled into the next town, which was called Lost Hills.
After puking a vibrant chartreuse bile onto the side of the road, I decided to explore a little, and followed Lost Hills road, which rambled past a rusty playground and a boarded-up beauty salon, and got more and more decrepit until it was nothing but dust and potholes and eventually became too difficult to drive on.
I sat and imagined what could be at the end of the road, and that's when the idea for a roots-rock opera about liquor, ghosts and a traveling salesman occurred to me.
Inspired by his frustration with other rock operas -- even critically adored works like The Who's Tommy or Green Day's American Idiot -- The Slow Poisoner set out to create the easiest-to-follow concept album ever recorded. Where the others had narratives he calls"vague" and "hard to follow," he strove to make his opera, Lost Hills, the polar opposite, a performance that comes complete with felt cut-outs and other relatively awesome shit.
I think more acts are putting out narrative pieces now -- I think every musician should write at least one. Live, I sometimes use felt cutouts to act out the action as I play the songs. Lately I've been employing a giant monster head that swallows me mid-set; once I'm inside I sing about getting chewed upon by teeth as sharp as knives.
Usually when I'm in the bowels of a 7 foot high mouth full of fangs, topped by luminescent eyeballs, I do get the sense that I'm doing exactly what I was put on earth to do. Everyone must heed their calling.