Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Big Dig interviews Michael Hurley


Unsung lone wolf howls at Zeitgeist
Michael Brodeur

“He doesn't have an answering machine, and usually picks up after 25-30 rings,” I am told by press liaison Frank van den Elzen. “Hanging in there helps.” Michael Hurley might agree; the 63 year-old folk slinger has been hanging in there for about 40 years, creating some of the strangest and most influential folk ever laid to 8-tracks, and now experiencing an influx of young fans and overdue props. It didn't take long for me to start wondering whether this unsung legend was indeed a legend: The number I was given to reach him in Portland, OR, was disconnected; the URL I was given (, as in his nickname, “Doc Snock”) had vanished; and his albums are as hard to track down as he is. In fact, before Locust Records reissued Hurley's 1964 Folkways release First Songs as Blueberry Wine, curious listeners would have to be industrious enough to request a cassette copy from the Smithsonian to hear the songs.

“Michael's clock ticks at a conveniently slow speed, so sometimes he can be silent on the phone, and then just as you think you lost connection, he'll give you an answer.” Never before had I been given such specific caveats for a phone interview. “It feels a little awkward at first ... Patience is very rewarding in Doc Snock's case.” Two days later, I received my CD/R of Blueberry Wine and put it in my player (where it has stayed) and van den Elzen's advice for how to approach a phone call (should it ever happen) with Hurley was just as useful toward approaching his music. That sense of suspense, of waiting for an answer, is what pulls you through the stark, beautifully irregular little cycles of Hurley's songs. It's difficult to write, or pay much attention to anything else, when his songs are on. His “Tea Song” is a 7-minute soliloquy in which a man distracts himself from lost love by drinking cup after cup of tea-but the slowly unraveling pace, and the desperate howls and hums of the refrain, unleash a sort of unsayable despair. Each line goes down nervously, like another cup of the tea.

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At 10:40 AM, Blogger Wally Bangs said...

Hurley is incredible - a bonafide American eccentric. He played Nashville years ago and some of my friends got to talking to him after the show. When they lamented that they didn't have his earliest albums he told them to give him a tape and he'd be sure to copy them and send it back their way. Months go by and finally a tape arrives in the mail. Instead of the tape they gave him (a high quality one), the tape is a low quality one featuring one of his later records they already owned. Were they upset? Nope. The fact that Hurley remembered a portion of his promise was good enough.


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