Uncommon Folk is a feature in which artists we admire talk about the music and other media that inspired and influenced their own work. Don Lennon's fifth album, Radical, continues in the Lennon tradition of smart, inscrutable lyrics on topics both personal and universal, set to endlessly catchy melting-pot pop arrangements. Radical finds Lennon exploring body image, college students, filmmaker Caveh Zahedi, and the state of indie music in 2006.
Radical, like all of my albums, was written sporadically, over many years and influenced by my own experiences, conversations with friends, books, television, music, food, etc. Things creep in without you realizing it. And one thing that crept in is Bongwater. Someone broke into my car once and the only thing stolen was the Bongwater box set. I was really upset. I hadn’t liked music in a while, and this box set was the first thing to inspire me in years. So I bought it again. I might be the only person in the world who bought the Bongwater box set twice. “Folk Song” is their “Stairway to Heaven.” It shows how much you can do with a song. And it really captures something about the East Village. Like most of their songs, it’s very funny, but there’s a huge amount of cultural criticism in there that’s very serious.
Now, I didn’t realize it at the time I was making it, but a lot of the songs on Radical are loosely related to the topic of school. (I’m glad I didn’t realize it. I would have said, “You can’t have this many songs about school on one album.”) There was a Harvard guy in the 50s named Tom Lehrer who wrote some great funny songs. A lot of them revolve around school. “Bright College Days” is one of my favorites. He liked to portray himself as kind of a dufus, but there’s a lot of truth in a line like: “To the tables down at Mory’s (wherever that may be).” He had the good sense to stop writing songs when it started to bore him and went on to teach math. I can hear him in some of these songs.
By far the most obvious presence on the album is filmmaker Caveh Zahedi. His movies tend to be hyper-autobiographical and usually involve his working through a real life crisis. When I first saw his movie A Little Stiff, I was amazed. At one point I fell out of my chair and just lay on the floor for a while. It seemed like he had figured out a way to put reality onto the screen. As far as I know, his short The World is a Classroom is the best movie ever made about September eleventh. There are little bits of Caveh throughout the album (lyrics about very Zahedian things—teaching, God, sex, masturbation—too many to be a coincidence). So I thought it was fitting to choose a song I wrote about him years ago, “Song for Caveh Zahedi,” to close the album. He says his next movie will be called “How to Legally Overthrow the US Government.” Am I the only one who’s curious about this?
We've raved about Lennon's albums Radical and Routine before.
You can buy them here.
MP3: Don Lennon - Young People Need Guidance
MP3: Don Lennon - Song for Caveh Zahedi
Hear more at his MySpace.