The one-armed juggler chases his muse
By Richard Gaw
Chris Barron of Spin Doctors is speaking by phone while waiting in a taxi line in Bath, England, and the reception keeps floating in and out like a musical experimentation. It's a nasty connection, and Barron apologizes for it.
Barron is in the middle of a solo tour in support of his latest album, Angels and One-Armed Jugglers, and in three days, he will be back in New York City to celebrate his 51st birthday near his home on the Upper West Side.
It's a magical title for an album, and appropriate for the carnival-like narrative of Barron's work as a lyricist and songwriter. He has been to the very top of the pop music food chain, and now he's on the road, on temporary leave from the band that he helped make famous.
For Barron, who will be appearing at the Kennett Flash on Feb. 9, this tour is the latest in a 30-year musical career that began when he was a New Jersey teenager in the late 1980s, at which time he wrote the two anthems that would soon launch Spin Doctors -- “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can't Be Wrong.”
Almost four decades later, band's blend of irreverence and wordy pungency hangs over Angels and One-Armed Jugglers. In a cynical era of songwriting by committee, Barron's songs are lyrical rule-breakers that pay homage to several musical genres. The album ranges from old jazz standards to funky beer-hall folk tunes.
“For me, [making this album] was very instinctual, and it allowed me to feel my way through the process,” Barron said. “This album is not a genre calculation of how the songs go together, but because they were all produced at about the same time at the same session, they tended to fall together.
“I’ve never really been that interested in genres. I’m just interested in songs. I think the reason it’s so eclectic is because the songs were chosen more thematically than based on genre.”
“I guess this record is like the tray of oysters on a side table of the soiree they throw the evening before the comet hits the earth,” Barron said. “It's about the cocktail party at the apocalypse, the decline of the American empire and just a bunch of lemmings in neckties going over the edge. But it's very personal, too, and there's a lot of my own sadness in there. Anybody can see the world is a deeply unfair place. It's the responsibility of the artist to give some kind of consolation.”
If there is a pot of gold at the end of the musical rainbow for audiences who see Barron promote Angels and One-Armed Jugglers live, it's seeing the evolution of the artist at a captured moment, made so by the side of the artist that no one sees.
“A lot of people who don't do this for a living have the perception that the major part of a musician's life is in the playing and performing,” he said. “But, just like an athlete, most of the work is being done in the many hours behind the scenes that no one ever watches. For every hour I'm on a stage, there's thousands of hours of practicing and thinking and writing. I love that part of the job, and that's most of job.
“The people who are really successful embrace that, and as time goes on, that part gets sexier and sexier.”
Chris Barron of the Spin Doctors will be performing at the Kennett Flash on Feb. 9. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. The evening will also feature a performance by local singer-songwriter William Rose. Tickets are $20 to $25, and are available at 484-732-8295, or by visiting www.kennettflash.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L.
Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.