Saturday, December 19, 2009

TOM BORAM: Swimming Up the Spirit Vacuum

Baltimore's Tom Boram: social worker and respectable neighborhood husband by day, freakbeat multi-instrumentalist when the sun goes down. As one-third of space-prance trio Leprechaun Catering with Jason Willett & Dan Breen, one-half of foodsperimental snazz excursion SNACKS with Dan Breen, or some mysterious fraction of two ingenious, oppositely purposed cover bands (The Louie Louise and Baltimore Afrobeat Society), Tom is a highly inventive performer and cultural participant. The editor of the Baltimore City Paper once called him a "crazy straw." He wears stripes, smokes pipes, and lives in Waverly with his wife, artist Jackie Milad.

What do you do? What are you doing the most lately?

I guess I can say "I do this, I do this too, I do this..." but I don't want to be a buffet. Maybe I might like buffets, but I don't want to operate one. I'm trying to make a big weird casserole or build a genius sex kitten out of spare parts like in "Weird Science". I don't want to offer my peas, my banana pudding or my sex kittens in separate containers. I think I'm a "musician" by default because I'm only about 50% auto didactic with music compared to 90-100% with everything else I regularly engage in. I mean, for someone playing music as long as I have, I'm far from virtuosic, and I barely register as practiced, but it's my lens and the springboard for everything else I do.

Lately I've been making a (relatively) ambitious film with my Snacks constituent Dan Breen. We're co-starring, co-directing, co-scoring, co-editing, co-sound-designing, co-art-designing, co-gripping, co-gophering, co-hatchetmen etc etc. I'm not as interested lately in playing "music" at "shows". I'd rather commit my energy to the aesthetic and technical yoga required to completing this single project that yolks all or most of my interests and philosophies.

How long have you done these things? How have the things changed?
Well that's the thing. If I'm a "musician", I've been playing piano as long as I can remember anything. I'm 35 years old. I sang in church choirs, played trombone in my childhood. I've been playing guitar for 22 years. Guitars and 12-tone keyboards pianos feel as much a part of my body as my ass. But, for all my conventional instrumental background I spend as much, if not more time making "music" with knobby, buttony, patch-cabley machines...and, God help me, computers. I strive constantly for the sensation of being self-taught, so I've been seeking electronics and esoteric instruments to keep me padded in a state of relative naive discovery in spite of my long music background. In my film, or performance, theatre, dance, foodie forays, I do it for better or worse without tuition.

I just got back from Europe, and after having a lot of conversations with experimental musicians there, I see even more clearly how the "classical" sense of music/art informs everything there, including much the "avant garde". Generalizing, I think that in Europe artists/musicians hold to the classic model of "virtuoso", one who specializes and refines their most obvious talent as a career. America, being a bastard young of Europe has a good bit of this same mentality but is slightly more permissive to mutants, and to rich sensibilites that come housed in less "baked" technical constructions - what Euros term "art brut".

What's changed in me is that technology (both current and obsolete) and multi-media platforms have allowed me to express my "music"-filtered but non-music ideas. I would need a very unusually formatted band or concert to even want to see live music these days. I like elements of drama, or theatre, or sculpture, or absurdity to creep into live music performance. Cross platform creating is very interesting to me now hence all the jabber about buffet vs casserole.

L to R: Tom Boram, Dan Breen. Photo courtesy Tom, 2009.

Why do you do these things? What's it like when you are unable to do these things?
There is a strange combination of pleasure and spiritual growth made possible through art doing. When I feel myself growing I'm satisfied that the universe is dynamic and exciting. When I feel pleasure I'm satisfied that the universe rewards effort and consideration. When I'm not growing, obviously I'm very depressed and feel on the fritz with creation. The total lack of a single creative outlet would result in suicide. God forbid this very unlikely possibility.

When was That Moment in your life that told you you would become what you are?
When I was 19, and on a break from college, I set out one night from my parent's house in the woods outside of Bmore on about 3 grams of psilocybin mushrooms. It was cold and clear, but the past week's 18 inches of snow were still on the ground. I soon realized that I was going to trip in a far more profound way than i ever had, in spite of tons of psychedelic trips. I went into my first ever "white out". Being alone without friends to ground me, I completely recessed into my mind - all sense of ego, proportion and orientation completely erased.

I went through a death experience, living a micro lifetime with no identity in a place where form can be anything it wants and change at any rate it wants. I was in this state for hours. As I was starting to come down i got the impression that I was a fetus, being born into a "new" person. A bit like the star chamber sequence in 2001, where the fetus hovers above the earth, after having its soul chewed up and fractalized by unbelievable technology. Eventually, my psilocybin paralysis wore off enough for me make an active decision, and I pulled my "embryonic sack" apart to discover that I was in fact in my bed. I had somehow gotten back up to my room from out in the snow, took off all my clothes and climbed into bed. I was amazed - I had been merely my familiar young adult self all night, tripping and naked crouching like a fetus in a blanket womb, not a dead mind swimming up the spirit vacuum into someone's uterus.

I was happy that I had not been dead, but I felt invigorated that I had felt so vividly the sensation of dying.

Set of GASA. Doppelganger club's house band.
L to R: Spoon Popkin, a lion, Virginia Warwick, April Camlin.
Lower left-hand corner features Tom & Eric Franklin's forehead. Photo by Lex, 2009

How has your life changed to accommodate That Moment's effect on you?

It made me realize the importance of growth and evolution. For a person to not actively pursue their total reality is a real shame. The things inside of us are unspeakably fantastic and terrifying.

How has your work affected your life in return?
My creativity is to my life what the word "fart" is to the "thing" fart.

How does your location affect what you do and who you are these days?
I'm a born and bred Baltimorean. I find Baltimore to be an interesting yoga. It's pretty pleasant, it has history and character(s). It's also brutal, bleak and capable of lending up some serious ignoramuses from across its demographic carousel. Occasionally it feels incredibly provincial and too small, lacking diversity. I enjoy the love/hate I feel towards Baltimore, though. You really need to be intimate with a thing to see a depth of variety, the wonder and the loathing. This is a great meditation for me, seeing the duality of my home. It's a fine place, to be sure, with a discriminating artist scene to keep things fresh and it can inspire with the occasional display of the truly bizarre. I met my delightful wife Jackie in Baltimore, so it's given me some great gifts.

SNACKS @ True Vine, 2005. Dan Breen is on the right there, amplifying a pretzel slurpee. Photo by Lex

What do you think of the future?
I'm glad that America is sliding off, 'cause i think that will allow more alien cultural and technological things to influence and morph the "western" mainstream. I look forward to learning much from the junk/pop imports that will flood the waning "First World" from Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, as well as the genuine innovations that will come nestled amongst these pop land mines. I'm not dystopian or utopian. I view technology as a continuum - pretending to make life easier while keeping it more or less at the same amount of inconvenience, but succeeding at least in creating new contexts. For me and for creative people generally, I think new ideas and formats are always exciting, and new ideas will be aplenty, exponentially dividing. On the down side, abominations will not restrain themselves from trampling decency aboard new technology. Also, the obsolescence of once new and/or great movements and/or technology is always sad.

See David Bowie's "Oh You Pretty things" for an approximation of my feelings about the future. The future is the present, but splintered and origami'd.

Tom, after SNACKS set, karaokeing "Jump". Or "Panama." L to R: Jake Freeman, Tom, Reba. Photo by Lex, 2005

What has David Lee Roth meant in your life?
David Lee Roth is completely utopian 80s magic. The video for "Jump" signified millennial joy to my 10 year old brain. Clearly a video whose production costs were far disproportionate to the amount made by the song it represented --- just a bunch of strangely attired California nouveau rich, top lit, dancing around like hyenas and pretending to play a Van Halen song. But I think the meaninglessness and shiny hubris of that song and video is iconic. MTV was naive joy and cardboard futurism in 1984 and that vid played big on the hour throughout.

No comments: