Music News

Man on the Street

Denver's Andy Polt is homeless; he's spent most of the past seven years living in back alleys, rescue missions, rehearsal spaces, cars and various warm-weather job sites. But he hasn't let his circumstances stand in the way of his musical objectives. Late last year, he released Hard Choir Gospel, six self-produced cassettes featuring a staggering 234 songs. Given this avalanche of material, which spans approximately nine hours, it's hardly a shock to discover that the tunes cover a broad range of topics--from astute glimpses of street life and angry diatribes on the ills of society to bawdy odes like the self-explanatory "I Want to Be Reincarnated as the Panties of Miss America." What's more surprising, however, is the driving force behind Polt's creations: the Almighty.

"God wants his songs," says Polt, a handsome, clean-cut 32-year-old. "So I've got to deliver them and spread the word. And there's a lot of fear that comes with that, man. What if I fail? I mean, you don't want to let God down."

Polt needn't worry about that. After all, he churned out his multi-volume opus in the face of tremendous obstacles--not the least of which was an almost total lack of funds. The so-called "bathroom recordings" of this one-man, Jesus-styled musical ministry, made in part with the use of a micro-cassette player, take minimalism to new levels; they consist mainly of Polt's conversational vocals, which he accompanies by pounding on newspapers. ("I've used the Sunday News and the Post, but lately I've been using Westword," he reveals. "The rain and the heat flattened it real good.") The results are primitive, certainly, but also quite striking. They suggest the inspired oratories of a street preacher agitated by the sound of the Devil's anxious footsteps close on his heels.

By pop standards, Polt's tunes are not the Garden of Eden, but they're marked by rare fervor and unique insight. Simply put, you've never heard anything like them--and the Lord above probably hasn't, either. If Polt is worried that some of his more risque efforts will incur Jehovah's wrath, however, he certainly doesn't show it. "I think God's got a hell of a sense of humor," he says. "See, that just goes to show--you don't have to be some lily-white, perfect person to have Him running through you."

After being asked for an interview, Polt suggests a meeting at his "office," but his digs are far less professional-looking than the term implies. The space turns out to be an open basement stairwell attached to a vacant, deteriorating building near a central Denver pawn shop that Polt uses as his mailing address. (To learn how to get your own copy of Hard Choir Gospel, write to the singer at Polt Records Underground, 845 Lincoln St., Suite 101, Denver 80203.) His headquarters are lacking in both standard finishing touches and feng-shui: The furnishings--a six-foot stone slab that serves as a desk, a pair of mattresses, piles of outdated magazines and empty quart bottles of cheap beer--are arranged haphazardly. To make matters worse, a clean-up crew sent out by the owners of the property is moving piles of rubble and debris in an attempt to make the structure more salable. In the midst of this mayhem, a prospective buyer chats with Polt about the merits of the fading edifice. Unaware that she's essentially standing in Polt's waiting room, she offers an assessment of the area: "The problem with doing business down here," she confides, "is that you've got to run off all the homeless people first."

The frenzied activity at the building soon convinces Polt that the interview should be conducted on foot. Hence, he takes off walking at a pace that would wind a triathlete, bound for a soup kitchen across town. He asks that the name of the charity not be mentioned in print, and he's similarly reticent to publicly reveal other street secrets, such as the names of public facilities that allow vagrants to linger unmolested beneath their air conditioners; he says that doing so would violate the homeless "code of honor." But he still manages to provide a window onto the homeless world.

"People say the guy on the street isn't working, but that's not true," he points out. "You work three times as hard out here. You're either walking or waiting in a line, and it's hard, bro. I'm walking ten miles today just to get a fucking sandwich."

Things weren't always so tough for Polt, whose family settled in an east Denver suburb in 1968. As a child, he and his three siblings enjoyed a typical suburban existence, but Polt's turned sour at the age of nine, when he began trading time on the playground for shoplifting. A few years later, he placed beer-drinking and breaking-and-entering on his list of pastimes. At age fourteen he was busted for burglary, and a year later he was sent to Lookout Mountain Detention Center to get straightened out. His stint there only made him more rebellious, though, and after running away a few times, Polt was carted off to a Denver hospital for psychiatric treatment.

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Marty Jones