with Gordon Merrick, July 2002
by Kip Singleton
Gordon Merrick wants you to know what love is. He wants to show you.
He showed me on an afternoon two weeks ago, when I interviewed him in
his charming home on the west side of Buffalo, New York.
Most people know Gordon as Crooner of the Ought Decade,
a title that suits him. But he is a man of many talents, not the least
of which is yo-yoing. When I arrived at his home, Gordon graciously
invited me to see his collection, which features many rare pieces of
yo-yo paraphernalia. As he walked the dog, and went around
the world, he told me that, for him, yo-yoing acts as a kind of
Hatha yoga, a practice that balances his sun and moon. When I
run my fingers over the smooth orb of my yo-yos he said, I
achieve a sense of wholeness. And, as with music, I have had so many
mentors that have helped me hone my skills. Really, for me, yo-yo-ing
and music go hand in hand.
Although we had not met before, I found Gordon to be wonderfully open,
and by the time we moved on to our mocha lattes (which Gordon prepared
himself) we found ourselves giggling companionably.
Here is our interview:
When did Gordon Merrick first come out?
Come out. Well, see thats a loaded question because
. I think
were always coming out on different levels both musically and
physically. It was probably about two years ago when I first began to
consider what was important about the songs I was enjoying and I sort
of justI dont knowI came out both to myself and to
the people whose music I really loved and I started trying to turn that
into something special to me.
What would you say really gets your creative juices flowing?
Basslines. Getting a good bassline tends to bring everything together
in that really sort of, uh, low way.
That bassline sort of way?
Trace, if you would, the arc of your career. Where have you been, where
are you now, where are you going?
Ive been in Buffalo. Im in Buffalo. And then I think Im
going to go to California.
Lets talk a little about one of my favorite songs, I
wanna know what love is. In this song you sing, In my life,
theres been heartache and pain. I dont know if I can face
it again. Given all that youve been through, do you think
you can face it again?
Well, I dont suppose I have much of a choice in the matter. And
in referring to those as my words, I suppose in some ways they are because
were constantly co-opting other peoples words and making
them our own. Its foolish to say those words arent my own
because that would be implying that I dont mean them and
that I dont believe them and I dont feel them
just because I didnt write them. And I know this isnt part
of the question, but I really think it needs to be addressed and its
something thats very important to me because on paper, these songs
are not mine and legally speaking theyre certainly not mine. But
I think they become mine because those words become mine. When
I speak of heartache and pain and the sort of difficulty of having to
face inevitable situations, I think its the desperation that keeps
it going. And its the desperation that makes those words my own.
In that same
song you have the Female Ahs sing backup. What led you into a partnership
with them? Would you say you were drawn to their mellifluous vocals
or perhaps maybe to the synergistic quality of their live performances?
Yes. But I also think that what they do is addit all starts to
sound so masculine after a while. I think that gender is such a wonderfully
permeable space and it needed to be crossed in that song especially
because it just all felt [at first] as if it were too much coming out
of my own gender identification and I didnt think thats
really where I needed to go at that time.
known for your heartfelt renditions of The New Standards
but you also branch out into other genres. Tell us a little about your
less widely celebrated projects.
Funny you asked. I think in a way that theyre all new standards
in that theyre all songs that need to be re-envisioned. I think
theres a real need for what I do. And these other projects are
sort of allowing me the freedom to move outside of the constraints I
set on myself when Im making a recording. But while a lot of people
feel constraints limit you, I think that if anything they expand what
youre capable of doing and [they expand] the tonal qualities and
cultural resonances of what you do. So instead of being limited, I think
more than anything Im freed up by these because Im allowed
to extend these constraints out into other projects, such as the Gordon
and Praise project coming up in the next few months, which [consists
of] renditions of late 60s, early 70s post-Vatican II Catholic music.
Im not a religious man, but I feel there was something unique
going on in the construction and composition of these songs that Id
like to revisit because I was raised Catholic. Thats the project
thats happening nowand then the possibility of working with
a good friend of mine, Sharon Sherman, on a duet ep. Theres a
lot on my plate right now.
In addition to being a singing standard, youre also considered,
in many circles, something of a fashion icon. What is the must-have
accessory for every mans closet?
Yellow shirts, preferably five buttons. You can never have too many
But you can have too many buttons?
Yes. Definitely. Five is more than enough.
Do you like the theme song from Chariots of Fire?
Oh! Very much so. I was once in a rock band and whenever
I could I tried to sneak that into songs. There are very few people
who can really nail down the visualization of what is predominately
a musical experience of joy and excitement and motivation like Vangelis.
He reallyhe really did something special with those five
maybe six notes. Its a beautiful song. It makes me happy.
Its uplifting in the way that your own songs are uplifting but
with a slightly different
Oh, theres no edge to Vangelis. Thats whats really
wonderful about it. I think we put far too much stock in the idea of
edginess, in something that challenges you, as if the more grating the
guitar sound, the more intelligent the guitar player. When in fact I
think the real challenge comes from not challenging and not daring
people to listen to you
.to invite them and I think thats
what Vangelis does very well and thats what Henry Mancini did
very well, early on and so many others
so many others. While the
desire to rock is wonderful, its just not always necessary.
Of all the tall-tales that have circulated around you (and there have
been many), which do you think is the most inaccurate?
That I was the Prom King in highschool. This was a rumor that started
a few years back before I really started recording in earnest, before
I moved out of video art and performance pieces that I was doing at
the time. And for some this reason there was this idea that I was this
former Prom King typeIm not sure, Im not sure exactly
how they justified it but
. there still are residual effects from
this day to day, you know sometimes at shows there will be someone who
will throw a crown on the stage and these kinds of things. But you know,
you learn to deal with these things and theyre not damaging. Its
kind of sad that people feel the need to do this in order to make their
lives more exciting, but ultimately its not damaging.
Whats the recipe for the perfect album, according to Gordon?
Three parts love, two parts desperation, and a whole lot of belief.
CHABLIS BLANCHOTS or a couple of ice-cold 40s?
Ooooooh. Chablis Blanchots.
Gordon Merrick is the creator and producer of many fine albums all available
from Trifecta Press Records (http://www.trifectapress.com).
Kip Singleton is a columnist for Skips a Beat Magazine and is
the author of Big Beat, Big Heart: How the Beat Goes On in Troubled
Times, Quinella Press, 2001.