John DeVore contributed this insightful writing on David Greenberger and “A King in Milwaukee” in this week’s Chattanooga Pulse. Follow this link, or read more below.
David Greenberger looks at getting old
Elder care is a topic that will become increasingly more important in the next decade. It’s important now, of course, but sooner than later more and more Baby Boomers will enter into the final stages of their lives, in numbers far greater than previous generations. As medicine advances, it allows for longer life expectancies.
The world is certainly more advanced than it’s ever been. It’s important that we begin to address the issues created by living longer—how do we care for our elderly and allow them the dignity they deserve? As costs continue to rise, elder care runs the risk of allowing elder abuse for the sake of cutting corners.
In other countries, the elderly are cared for by family—a nursing home is unthinkable. It’s a necessary conversation, one that we will need to have one way or another. It’s easy to cast off the elderly, especially as they begin to lose their mental faculties and communication becomes more difficult.
As one man has found, however, simple conversations are paramount in maintaining quality of life as people age. David Greenberger, known for his zine Duplex Planet as well as his contributions to NPR, has spent his career interviewing and conversing with the elderly, turning their conversations into works of art meant portray the humanity of aging. Greenberger doesn’t see the elderly as fonts of wisdom or experiences, necessarily. Instead, he wants audiences to see them as they are—a mixed convalescence of personality and memory, not far removed from anyone else.
On Thursday, Oct. 18th, The Shaking Ray Levi Society is bringing Greenberger to the Barking Legs Theater, along with a short documentary about his recent work. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and admission is free, although donations are gladly accepted.
The documentary itself focuses on the composition of Greenberger’s most recent album, A King In Milwaukee. This album takes snippets of conversations with elderly people in around Milwaukee and weaves them into original compositions.
Greenberger spent three nonconsecutive months interviewing and recording for the album. He has a significant talent in finding the music in conversation. It’s a not altogether unfamiliar form of composition—most of us have spent hours listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon straining to decipher the phantom conversations behind the music.
The difference is that in A King In Milwaukee these conversations are at the forefront of the recordings, driving the song and the music through a complex and satisfying structure. Greenberger strives to allow the conversations to flow naturally, always believing the stories and broken anecdotes to be true, as they are true to the individuals who tell them.
Often, he’s told by his interviewees that their stories aren’t interesting or that they have nothing important to say. But this nothing is the point—it’s the banality that makes it human. The simplicity of a person is ever so beautiful.
After the interviews, the audience gets to watch the creative process. This should be familiar to anyone that’s every created music in a collaborative setting. It’s driven by ideas and failure, by personalities talking over each other and interrupting and playing instruments through conversation. Creation is very organic in nature.
At the center of it all, however, are the conversations, the “lyrics” such as they are. Everything is built around the words of these people, creating sounds that reflect the people who spoke them.
Attached to the screener I saw was a concert and what is so striking is how different each song is, each relying on repetition of phrases but painting a picture of someone distinct and valuable. There are souls on display in the work of Greenberger.
What’s exciting about this event is that Greenberger is coming to Chattanooga not just to talk and promote his work. He will also be spending three weeks interviewing participants at Chattanooga’s Signal Centers, with the goal of creating an “original 70-minute monologue with music” by partnering with Prime Lens (musicians Bob Stagner, Evan Lipson, and Tyson Rogers).
The importance of giving overlooked individuals in Chattanooga a chance to hear their voices through such a distinctive and powerful lens cannot be overstated. Support local film.