Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
One of the background sounds of the many that Bay Area musician Michael Zapruder throws into his song "Can't We Bring You Home," sounds like metal birds hovering in place. And that sound is then thrumming more like an old adding machine tossing some decimal points and threes onto the ticker tape hanging out of the back end. It then spins itself into something more spidery and unable to be placed and it sounds almost like the metal birds and the adding machines are operating typewriters as quietly and breezily as they can. It's a moment that seems to ring around in my head as I listen to all of "Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope." The thought of being inside an antiquated typewriter and dodging the arms of the letters flipping up to punch the paper - the power of an imagination and a thought playing out a physical and noticeable action, the swing from a resting position to impact on the parchment - is strong when considering the way that Zapruder, the brother of another talented printed word writer and the grandson of Kennedy assassination footage filmster Abraham Zapruder, senses his words working on his head and then leaving his mouth for the first and millionth time. They are whimsical and they dance, crackling with new energy and giving off the sensation that they came from somewhere that he won't remember about, somewhere he doesn't really know exists. Many of them are rooted in keen observations taken out of their original context and then examined as if someone's closure or curiosity depended on it. He writes tales that give his characters new wardrobes and multiple new depths - ones that they might have preferred to live without as they had no idea that they were under such duress or contemplating such things. He's mischievous with these characters, setting them up and painting them into some colorful corners where there are fights and flights there for the taking. Zapruder's like Beck sometimes with his sharp wordplay and the way he frames his non-sequiturs so that they become just the sequiturs that he was looking for. He writes about a "tartar crush on Mayor McCheese" and he writes about "traditional Western strip volleyball" and they're ideas that are whoppers, or mouthfuls, of knotty eccentricities, but they all serve a function in what amount to be much more precise bigger stories about the grip that the outside world either does or does not have on his characters. There's a lot of coy bitterness on "Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope," or perhaps that's just the kind of lithe standard of acceptance that most people deal with these days. The bitterness is at least a flavor they can taste a little bit, it's something that's familiar and reminds them of home. The damning kinds of lines that can be made about and pointed toward the human race at-large don't get much more damning than the one he uses in "Ads For Feelings," when he sings, "Is it better to blow civilization then to force it down on its knees?" And it's a question that probably deserves an answer more than it deserves to be left as a depressing hypothetical riddle. He talks about how "the wholesome has met the loathsome," and what that's going to mean are more proverbial BJs for everyone. And what does that mean? The characters that Zapruder is drawn to writing into existence or into a fuller body are people who could not look you straight in the face and give you an honest answer about it. There's just nothing that can be done about the majority of those knees and mouths out there. There are givers and takers and it all blends it seems. Zapruder's music is a stopping off point for many of these fine looks at faulty fate.