THE ONE YOU LOVE
London. The summer of 1977. The Queen's silver jubilee was being celebrated on the Hampstead heath, in Muswell Hills, and along the Fulham Road. The Clash and the Sex Pistols released their first albums -- maybe as a contribution to the general festivities; or maybe in response to the best-selling U.S. single of the year, Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life." Elvis died (Debby Boone again?) . . . .
And I met Thaddeus Quince.
It was an airline party somewhere in Earl's Court. On arrival, I discovered what Quince would later call "a ferocious party atmosphere": flight attendants galore, some passed out on the floor. . . in consequence of jet lag, no doubt. Toward the back of the flat someone was playing a guitar. Opening an ajar bedroom door, I walked in on an unassuming blond guy cradling a Gibson 12-string much like the one Shawn Phillips held onto in one of his album covers. A frothing bottle of McEwan's stout rested on the side table. And a circle of at least a half a dozen women, casually enthralled, surrounded him. Nice gig. The guy apparently had talent. . . and charm.
I ran into Quince again later that fall in a Kneipe off the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin. We played pinball and drank Schultheiss beer. After we closed down the pub, we hung out back at the Hotel Schweitzerhof where he sang some more of his songs. They were good. As good as any of the stuff that I was hearing on the radio. And that made me pay attention. Because if you were a young American of a certain ilk in that pre-internet age it was all about the music: "your wavelength and my wavelength, baby"—as Van Morrison put it. Or as another Morrison said: "When the music is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends."
Anyway, as I was saying, Quince was good. His lyrics were clever. His vocabulary reached beyond what you would expect from one of those buskers lurking down in the London Underground or at Bahnhof Zoo -- where Quince spent a lot of his time. When I asked him why not work the nightclubs or bars, he mentioned something about being a minstrel. Or maybe it was ministry. Or miserly capitalistic exchange. Hey, it was late, and there had been many beers.
As I was pulling on my heavy coat to leave (for the Nordic winter had started far too early that year)Quince leaned against the door jam and invited me to join his cabal later that January in the Keys. He was planning a Quest for the Holy Grail -- to be subsidized in part by Pan American World Airways. Now I wasn't exactly well-read on the subject of the Holy Grail, but I was pretty sure The Grail had not relocated to Florida; unless, of course, it was the source of the still-undiscovered fountain of youth. "Precisely," Quince said obliquely. He added: "It all starts with sunshine, a tan, bad sneakers and a piña colada. Where it goes from there is beyond human control." And who could argue with that? Especially with a brutal winter knocking at the door. So we agreed to meet up in Boston (where I had a prior engagement with a wicked landlord), then venture forth from there.
Sometimes you make plans during an evening of exuberance and promptly forget it the next day. But there was something about Quince that made me believe if I showed up in the Boston Commons in January at the appointed time beneath a certain tree he'd be there. And he was.
Those weeks on the road with Thaddeus Quince will live with me forever as I was forging what would become a friendship that has lasted nearly 30 years. We laughed, played guitars, sang Estonian folk songs, drank a lot of Kronenbourg beer, listened to the sea surge, and talked Hemingway, Joyce, and Jong with the tribe that had gathered around the campfire down in Bahia Honda Key. Later (as Quince chronicled it on THE WREST in his tune "The Ballad of Duke and Dr. V"), we headed west in response to the classic American call to do so, eventually circling back via the Motor City to London.
Since then contact has been random. Sometimes Quince goes underground for months and then surfaces with a postcard from Tuscany, a letter from Montreal, or a rough cassette tape of new tunes from the Deep South.
Recently, a battered envelope arrived in the local post office with the word "Quince" in the far left corner and no return address. Homeland Security called me in to identify the package. ("Suspicious routing," they claimed during the "interrogation.") Inside was a CD and a note: "V- Think you can manage some liner notes?"
Why not? These are they.
A few of the songs you hear in this collection were written during that time in Florida or a little later during the Quest. Some were a couple of lines or a chorus then. Many of them came years afterwards.
Most of these songs appear in one incarnation or another on Quince's previous albums: COLD WAR, BABY; COMMUNITAS; and THE WREST. But now the tunes have undergone various transfigurations. On THE ONE YOU LOVE, the New Originals reign in a few of their less lethal jam band excesses. "From This Distance" and "Wishful Thinking," for example, no longer shift into interstellar overdrive. Instead, these new arrangements focus in on the anxiety of separation in the first instance and the joy of anticipated (if imaginary) connection in the second. In both cases, Mark Kieme's horn and horn arrangements soar -- always attaining soul through the mastery of craft and cunning.
Then there's legendary rock guitarist Dick Wagner of The Frost and Ursa Major who sits in on five or six tunes. Wagner adds a near-Polynesian feel to John Anthony's "Michigan Lady"; a sensuous swing to "Meet Me (on the Other Side of the World)"; and an Iggy-esque rawness (and—somewhat ironically—rock 'n' roll credibility) to "(If You're Gonna be a) Dreamer." Of particular note are Wagner's country licks on the title track; they inject poignancy and pathos into this tale of creative or perverse accommodation in an age that eschews ambiguity. Meanwhile, Al Bondar demonstrates why the Hammond B-3 organ is an instrument of faith as he assaults and cavorts with the heavens on songs like "The Linger of You" and "This Heart."
While Quince's troubadour personae continues to dominate this album, the previously unrecorded song "By Ivory's Shore (Tape 342)" introduces a political slant to the oeuvre. The significantly parenthetical "Tape 342" refers to the eighteen minutes lost from Richard Nixon's Oval Office recordings. By extension, Quince points to the erasure that occurs when tales of slavery and imperialism are "X-ed out" of the national mythos. The permanent state of denial in which we inevitably reside is necessarily presided over by liars, bandits, and thieves: the elite corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as leaders of the freedom-loving world (to borrow some language attributed to the disgraced, yet comparatively benign, former Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew).
On the whole, then, The One You Love represents a departure for Thaddaeus Quince. More structure. Still untamed. More songs from the edge. The phrasings sound lived in, familiar. Like your favorite old leather jacket. And yet you get the sense that Quince is still looking. Still trying to find what's hidden in, with, or under the words.
So the Quest begun long ago for the Holy Grail, I now understand, was metaphor and more. For Quince the search continues. We, the lucky ones who possess this album (or does it possess us?), have been notified: the invitation to venture farther along the road remains open.
October 14, 2006