Andy Friedman is no wannabe musician. But he's taken a common hidden ambition to a new level, with a freaky twist: The freelance New Yorker illustrator and cartoonist (under the pseudonym "Larry Hat") wants to play the blues, but the way he does it is a bit unorthodox. Friedman's $12 CD-sized book, Drawings and Other Failures, is one of two country-blues-inspired "releases" on his own Brooklyn-based City Salvage Records. Together with the label's other artist, guitarist/singer Paul Curreri, he's now on tour, "performing" the book through a combination of stories, poems and slide projections, while Curreri does the same on his guitar. Same difference, says Friedman. Art is art, regardless of the medium. The two bring their bold little Make a Living Tour to the Denver area this week, playing gigs at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Bug Theatre.
The BMoCA gig is the disparate duo's first "art" show. So far, the pair has performed in bars and music halls, bowling alleys and gas stations. But don't expect Friedman to get up on stage and act all artsy. "Nobody wants to hear somebody get up and explain their artworks," he says. "Musicians don't get up and talk about their songs. To me, country blues is not a musical thing -- it's a language. You don't have to play guitar to do it." Visual art, he adds, operates on the same level. "Of course, it also isn't the thing for someone who wants to go out dancing."
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Still, he's excited to play to a true art-loving crowd. "In the back of my head, I do want artists to consider what I do as a contribution to art," he says. "I can't get any art writers to talk about me. They don't consider it art. If I was doing this and I painted myself yellow, say, I might have a different response. But I don't believe in excess. I don't believe in art either as an object or as an exploration in language. I think art is the result of what you do with language and objects. Eighty ways of painting the color red doesn't fascinate me."
Friedman thinks what he's doing is at a gutsier level, and he doesn't really care whether it catches fire or not, as long as someone out there gets it. "I think of it as art about life, and even if I hear the crickets during a performance, it seems like there are always a few people really listening." His favorite show until now, he notes, was at Campbell's Music Hall and Truck Stop in Chester, South Carolina. "It's a gas station, and they serve the best cheeseburger anywhere. They just open up a bay at night for concerts.
"I'm from Long Island, and I love country blues, but just imagine putting yourself right in the thick of it, with these eighty-year-old guys playing mandolin and bass and guitar. And everybody's sitting out there drinking moonshine. I figured Paul was okay -- they like music, but I told myself, if I truly believe what I'm doing comes from a country-blues core, they're gonna be into it. So I had a couple more drinks and I cursed a lot, and they were into it. Imagine these ultra-real people responding to this thing. I felt like I was a honky-tonk band." His secret fantasy unleashed? "I am a honky-tonk band," Friedman declares. "I'm like Ernest Tubb, only seven octaves higher. And I can't play a lick of guitar."
No reason a contemporary-art venue in Boulder, Colorado, should be any different. "BMoCA," he says, "may not serve the best cheeseburger in the world, but I hope to bring a different way of thinking about art to those people." With luck, the response will be just as down-to-earth.