June 27, 2012

'It Was The Life Of The Times'

Because it's blowing my dadmind right now, here is an expanded quote from William Duckworth's interview with pioneering minimalist composer Terry Riley, who traded the VW Bus his young family was living in for a loft in SoHo:

RILEY: [My] wife had had a baby and I had to drop out of school for a year or two to work and support us. But I was going to school the next year, so I went over to observe the composition class with Loren, and La Monte [Young] was in it. And that was the beginning of that. That was the big moment for me.

DUCKWORTH: Was La Monte the star of that class, the way he tells it, or is there another side to that story?

RILEY: Oh, La Monte was definitely the focus of the class. He was so radical. I had never come across anyone like that in my life before.

DUCKWORTH: When did you move to New York?

RILEY: I came to New York in 1965. After the In C performances, I went to Mexico on a bus for three months. I was actually looking for something, but I didn't know what. I guess after In C, I was a little bit wondering what the next step was to be, you know. And I guess what I really wanted to do was go back and live in Morocco, because I was interested in Eastern music, and at that time, Moroccan music attracted me the most. I had lived there in the early sixties. In 1961, I went to Morocco and was really impressed with Arabic music. So we went to Mexico. My point was to get to Vera Cruz, put our Volkswagen bus on a boat and have it shipped to Tangier, and live in Morocco on the bus. We drove all the way down to Vera Cruz, but couldn't get a boat; nobody would put our bus on the boat. So we drove all the way up to New York. We were going to try to do the same thing from New York, right? But I started hanging out with La Monte [Young] again and renewing old acquaintances. And Walter De Maria, who was a sculptor, had a friend who was leaving his apartment. THis guy had a fantastic loft on Grand Street. And he said, "Do you want to trade the loft for the bus?" So I did, and that began my four-year stay in New York.

[cut a long part about playing sax, jazz in Paris, and composing Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band(1969)]

DUCKWORTH: You're giving the impression that you were just sort of roaming around, eading a rather nomadic life. Is that accurate?

RILEY: Yes. I was traveling back and forth across the country. I guess in those days I was a beatnik, and then I turned into a hippie.

DUCKWORTH: Did you have any long-range goals, or were you just taking it a day at a time?

RILEY: I was very romantic, you know. I don't think I had long-range goals. I was very rootless.

DUCKWORTH: But weren't you married and with a child?

RILEY: Yes, we had a child and she was traveling with us. I enjoyed being in the company of poets and storytellers and other travelers. That was the life of the times. It was very exciting. Compared to the fifties, which was so dishwater dull, I thought things were really happening. And I was hoping the world would always stay like that!

DUCKWORTH: How were you supporting yourself?

RILEY: Well, my wife had a teaching credential, so wherever we would go she could always substitute or teach. When we were in New York, she taught up in Harlem at Headstart. She taught the whole four years we were in New York and supported us until my Columbia Record started making a little bit of money for us. [from pp 274-6]

I mean, first it was the bus/loft swap, but then it was living in the VW Bus with the kid, in Mexico, and the whole boat thing? And now it's holy smokes, the dude's wife was an itinerant substitute teacher the whole time. Just wow. Meanwhile, here's In C, which started the whole thing.

Buy Duckworth's 1999 experimental music world interview collection, Talking Music [amazon]

1 Comment

Terry Riley is the reason I hate mimimalist music. I realized, after falling asleep (that would be mouth open, snoring softly, drooling asleep) during a performance of "In C", that I was born 40 years too late. Musically speaking.

That said, I would loooove to hear his wife's take on those years. I bet that her take uses the word "Hell".

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