Rock and Roll Is the Question
Mark Spiewak is hard of hearing. You might say he's half deaf, though no doctor has ever diagnosed him as such. He doesn't like doctors, he won't investigate the fancy new hearing aids on the market, and he's sure as hell not going to learn sign language. He just prefers to handle things in his own way.
"I'm kind of like Beethoven," he jokes, bringing his face in closer to pick up what he can of a conversation occurring in the middle of a crowded downtown restaurant.
Spiewak, a native of Kraków, Poland, has a lot to say -- about music, about people, about linear time and science and that special sphere inhabited only by the truly talented. But sometimes he has a hard time finding the correct English words to express his rather complex vision of the universe, which only worsens the communication problem.
Luckily, you don't need perfect grammar to be a new legend of rock and roll, and that is precisely what Spiewak intends to become.
By day, Spiewak is a hardworking, almost normal-looking guy, likely to sport a hand-cut Adidas headband, layers of flannel and boots with steel in the toes -- the unofficial uniform of his occasional vocation as a muscles-for-hire man at a temporary labor service. Most of the time, though, the thirty-year-old émigre is consumed by his duty -- his calling, even -- as the guitar-playing, philosophizing force behind Pearlcopper, a one-man band you've probably never heard of unless you've somehow stumbled onto one of its Web sites (www.geocities.com/pearlcopper/pearl001.html, or www.maxpages.com/pearlcopper_001). If you have navigated those dense digital spaces, you're well aware of Spiewak's self-purported accomplishments as an artist, a producer, a guitarist, an author and a filmmaker. Or, at the very least, his gifts for self-promotion. With an almost evangelistic tone, Spiewak's online manifestos read like scripts for the kind of quasi-religious programs one might find late at night on cable-access television.
"How would that be to watch another coming of a true legend, then watch and experience my original performance, like watching shaman swaggering about the stage with shocking and amazing Rock music filled with apocalyptic sound?" he asks readers of the site, a question referencing the power of Sabbath NesT, his first full-length CD, which he is currently recording and hopes to release by the end of the year and distribute to local record stores and "Internet stores." On NesT, Spiewak plays guitar and handles vocals, while drums and bass effects are supplied by his synthesizer. When completed, Sabbath NesT should contain about sixteen songs -- including the cuts "Sabbath River," "Rage of the Deaf Magician" and "Absolute Clash," all of which include guitar parts and solos that are, as he describes them, among "the most creative of all guitar trips in the history of Rock and Roll."
The music is a trip, that's for certain -- a cartoonish addendum to the notorious noodling of players like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Steve Vai. It isn't quite metal, not quite traditional rock -- rather, it strives for the grand sweeps and movements of an orchestra score, an ear-busting opera intended to simultaneously shock and stimulate its audience. Spiewak's attempts at Olympian guitar wanking make the members of Spinal Tap seem lazy and puts every former air guitarist to shame for not following through on their rock-and-roll dreams the way that he did.
Spiewak came to America to look for rock and roll. Whether he found it or it found him is impossible to say. In either case, it flows through him like xylem.
He left Kraków in 1986 for a self-guided and prolonged tour of Western Europe, where he busked on the immaculate and ancient streets of the continent before hopping the water for what's arguably the most American state of them all, Texas. There he continued playing streets and clubs in Austin, Houston and Dallas. He attended various community colleges and, briefly, the University of Houston, where he studied art, not music.
"My friends were always trying to teach me the common way to play music and pissing me off," he says. "I never listened to them. That's how I developed my own style. Electric guitar is my baby."
After Texas, Spiewak went to New Mexico and bounced back and forth between the Land of Enchantment and Europe, eventually making his way to Denver last March. His studio in Uptown -- in the recently closed Central High School, which now serves as work space for like-minded artists of the neighborhood -- contains samples of his old sketches and drawings. They're intricate works, mostly renderings of monstrous architectural structures. He still makes them, drawing inspiration from observing people and buildings and watching "downtown Denver give birth to life very early every morning." Lately, though, he's been focusing his inner artist's eye on visions of Pearlcopper live performances, a topic that elicits an unusual amount of enthusiasm, even from a believer like Spiewak.
He is currently in the process of choreographing a series of live rock music events -- "Mega-Rock Shows" -- to be staged in various natural environs around Colorado. If he can realize his vision, the first such concert, Sabbath River, will be held on a stage carved out of a chunk of the Rocky Mountains. While Spiewak rides a black stallion around the stage and plays his electric guitar, Native Americans will perform ritual dances while trying to avoid being stomped by Spiewak's Black Beauty. Sabbath River was originally slated for performance on December 31, 1999, but had to be postponed due to lack of funding. It's a small problem, Spiewak contends: He's got the set design sketched out, got the music ready to go, knows some Native Americans he can call up. And though he doesn't yet know how to ride one, he's even got his eye on a specific horse, a black rider that's a regular carriage-puller on the 16th Street Mall. ("I want that horse," he says. "I believe in animal/human spiritual connections. Maybe humans are animals. Anyway, I haven't met the horse's owner, but there's something between me and that horse.") So all he needs are a couple of financial sponsors to kick down $35,000, and the Sabbath River will run through rock's faithful.
"It's a shocking idea," he says. "The only thing I worry is that the horse moves. Is he gonna stand still for the loud, fantastic music? I don't know if his owner would let him hang out in the loud environment."
Conceptually speaking, Demi_Monde_Pipex, the second concert in the series, is still a work in progress, although he's got the major points down. It will take place in a lake -- natural or man-made -- and feature Spiewak playing guitar and riding around on some sort of floating device while huge, luminous puppets shaped like sea creatures rise up out of the water.
"There will be seahorses and fish," he says gleefully. "I want some octopuses, too. There will also be puppets of a man and a woman holding hands and looking at the sky, to give thoughts of universal consciousness."
As is the case with Sabbath River, the only thing preventing the Demi_Monde project from becoming a reality is a lack of funding. It'll happen, though, Spiewak's certain of it. It is meant to happen.
"Someone needs to do another Woodstock, 'cause this country needs it," he says. "Woodstock '99 was a total failure as far as rock and roll goes. We need to have something that's about keeping the faith, everyday life and unusual life. Rock and roll is necessary in the world; it keeps people together. We need the fantastic Mega-Rock Show."
If Spiewak harbors awareness that -- as an unknown player just trying to get his first record finished and distributed -- he might not yet be the guy to unite the masses through a rock-and-roll festival, he doesn't let on. He doesn't need promotion or press, he doesn't need a manager. He just needs some cold, hard cash to bring his dream to life -- and the world will take notice.
"I am an independent rock star," says Spiewak without a hint of irony. "When I think about other players, the best legends -- the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Pink Floyd -- I think of myself creating my own history of rock and roll. It is not about who is the best, who is high and who is low. I call it 'the Garden of Gods,' and I'm in it. What I call people like this, legends, I'm talking about something that is close to spirituality.
"When I saw Jeff Beck at the Fillmore in September, it was very special for me," he continues. "It was the wheel of rock and roll in front of me, a very important event. I looked around, and I saw people looking totally confused -- they were blown up. But I was part of the sphere of the people who give a shit about rock and roll. I am one who is meant to protect it, to preserve it."
The wheel of rock and roll is something Spiewak writes about extensively in his book, titled, simply, The Wheel of Rock and Roll. In it, he cites everything from Einstein's theory of relativity to apocalyptic imagery to scientific discussions on the expansion, compaction and ultimate collapse of the universe to support his theory that rock and roll moves in cycles. "What is the place of human beings in the world, the universe?" he asks. "There is a form of eternal continuation, the idea of things happen all over again, all the time."
So what does rock and roll have to do with all of this?
"Rock and roll is the legend," he answers. "Rock and roll is like this: Imagine two travelers in exile, looking for a place to sleep on a freezing night. They see a tree, and they sleep under it. Nearby, there are two wolves watching over them and protecting them. Rock and roll is like the wolves, protecting the exiles."
The wolf parable is just one that Spiewak promises will turn up again in Endless Fire, a screenplay he's writing. Yet the protective power of the symbolic wolf has been weakened, he contends, and part of what threatens its purity can be found in the current tide of mainstream music. "So many commercial bands, they don't know about rock and roll. They just want money, to have a good time. Also, the way rock is being mixed with other styles, it just pisses me off. Like rock and rap -- it just doesn't work."
Such single-minded devotion to one style might strike some as a detriment to Spiewak's potential as a musical innovator. Because, borrowing from the Wheel of Rock and Roll theory, if music works in cycles, isn't it safe to explore new territory, to follow the form's natural progression before its inevitable return to the Garden of Gods? Spiewak apparently doesn't see it that way.
"I don't like rap, I don't like country. I like rock and roll," he says.
Possibly, though, it's this causal fidelity that eventually just might elevate Spiewak above his guitar-playing peers. For when we talk about legends, be they historic or mythic, aren't we really just relaying tales of obsession? Hercules, for example, probably was not easily distracted while completing those twelve trials, King Arthur surely spent more than a fortnight mulling over that damn sword/stone dilemma, and it's a good bet you couldn't tear Robespierre away from his "to-be-beheaded" list once the French Revolution got cooking. So why shouldn't Spiewak indulge his own passion for rock and roll? And who's to say? Someday, possibly, more than those of Elvis, Chuck Berry or Jimi Hendrix, the image of a Polish guitar wizard mounted on a horse will be the one most likely to evoke rock's elusive heart. Providing, of course, that Spiewak can make the horse stand still long enough.
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