A Conversation with Van Dyke Parks | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Conversation with Van Dyke Parks 

Van Dyke Parks has written music and lyrics, and acted as an arranger and producer for artists like Ry Cooder, Joanna Newsom and, famously, Brian Wilson. He's also written music for television and film in addition to his solo work. He is touring the Northeast this fall with Clare and the Reasons, playing a set that includes re-imagined work from his 1968 album, Song Cycle. He spoke with City Paper via phone about the tour and Pittsburgh.


You spent some time in Pittsburgh, right? 
I went to Carnegie Tech for two-and-a-half years. 

Did your time at Carnegie shape your music career?
Yes, but not in the ways they intended. They intended to make me legitimate, but what they did was create an illegitimate man -- by my own desire to get back into things like melody, and the physicality that ostinato rhythms can offer. I wanted to be a part of pop music; I wanted to be serious about un-serious music. That's been my distraction all my life.

On this tour, you're revisiting some material from more than 40 years ago; how do you interact with those songs at this point? 
I consider them durable goods, and something that relates to our common human condition now. I think I'll bring validation to these songs. I don't think you have to Charleston or disco your way through life; I don't think you have to be branded generically to find relevance as a songwriter or singer. 

Is this your plan -- to take it on the road now, after so many years of studio work?
This is what I want to do with my life. I can't remember the exact year I saw my last lightning bug, or crocus breaking through the ground. I want to discover America. I want to be there and do that and get east of the Mississippi -- this is all a great adventure for me. Isn't that funny? 

Given your interest in folk tradition, what is your take on contemporary musicians using sampling vis a vis folk traditions -- borrowing, quoting?
I do borrow from the past, as people now borrow from their contemporaries -- I'd rather not do that. My curiosity is: How did I get here? And what should I carry forward? That has to do with kinds of music. How can they migrate forward to another generation? The way I do that is to make a living as an arranger and an orchestrator, and that has helped me migrate to another generation. 


Van Dyke Parks with Clare and the Reasons. 8 p.m. Tue., Sept. 28. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $15 ($12 students/seniors). 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org

Isn't that funny? Van Dyke Parks
  • Isn't that funny? Van Dyke Parks


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