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You would expect to hear some very high tech music from the guy whos
the webmaster of San Francisco and so its a surprise to hear the
acoustic sounding, piano based songs on his new CD, LET IT FALL recently
released by Berkeley based Clearsong Records.
I use samples of acoustic instruments with midi and digital audio
in my home studio but I dont get involved with much computer manipulation.
My background is in playing acoustic pianos-both jazz cocktail lounge
and acoustic folk/rock which Id done for many years long before
the personal computer existed. Learning to record my music on a personal
computer without a doubt led me to my current and really great day job
working for the city of San Francisco."
A fairly new resident to the Bay Area, Richard moved to San Francisco
after having spent over 15 years leading the life of a "downtown"
artist and musician in New York City.
I lived about half a block from CBGBs Club when Blondie and
The Talking Heads just started playing but I didnt seem to know
what was going on there. Anyway, I had moved to NY because I was interested
in working in experimental theatre and dance not alternative rock!
While in New York, Richard was part of a community of struggling yet vibrant
downtown theatre artists. His credits from that period include grants,
music prizes and awards as well as several musical scores and collaborations
with many legendary experimental theater groups.
I worked with Mabou Mines, The Chelsea Theater Center, La Mama,
and several other avant-garde companies. At the same time, I wrote some
scores for television, mostly for documentaries and even got nominated
for an Emmy which I didnt win."
His work with the experimental companies lead to recommendations to join
the fledgling Musical Theatre Program at New York University where he
received his MFA degree in musical theatre. The program consisted of a
small group of promising writers who were given the opportunity to study
the anatomy of the Broadway musical.
They offered me a fellowship which I accepted and suddenly found
myself sitting in the same small room with some of the great Broadway
authors and directors, talking about the making of commercial musicals
and commenting on my work."
After walking away with the MFA, Richard spent many years working in more
commercially oriented venues, writing and developing his ideas at regional
theaters across the country. His best known show from this period, A FINE
AND PRIVATE PLACE based on the novel by "The Last Unicorn" author
Peter S. Beagle, with book and lyrics by Erik Haagensen, and published
by Samuel French, has been produced at least once a year since the world
premiere at the famous Goodspeed theater in Connecticut.
What I attempted to do was to express complex and ambivalent emotions
through the music. The standard wisdom in musicals is for characters to
sing out their emotions that are very big but, if you think about it,
are usually very simple and I wasnt interested in that. I also dont
have a natural instinct for writing musical comedy. It was pretty obvious
that my work wasnt very commercial so I decided to go into business.
The World Wide Web was in its infancy at that time but he quickly saw
the potential for promoting and selling independent music on the Web.
He taught himself html, found sponsorship from a CD manufacturing company,
offered to create web sites for musicians making their own CDs and then
went looking for an on-line store to sell the musicians' CDs from his
I found CDnow when it was first on the Web and it seemed to be about
the only place at the time that was selling CDs. This was before realaudio
or mp3 or any kind of streaming audio. A 14.4K modem was considered fast.
I put low resolution wav files, pictures, my review of the CD and then
wrote a link to CDnow for immediate purchase.
Along with web site creation, writing and recording the songs for LET
IT FALL continued during this period as well. Then a phone call came from
an old friend working for a publisher in Berkeley desperately needing
someone to quickly complete a half finished web site. He flew out west
and spent several weeks in Berkeley. After getting the web site up and
running, he was offered the full time job that brought him to the Bay
I was hired as the systems administrator and I had little background
and honestly didnt know what I was doing. But I figured things out
quickly. It was stressful job but eventually I had enough experience to
get work doing what I really wanted to do in the first place which was
web site development.
Eventually, Richard landed a job with the city and county of San Francisco
as one of four webmasters. Today, hes part of a 4 person team that
builds and maintains web sites for city wide departments on the citys
web site, sfgov.org , commonly known as Cityspan.
Actually my colleagues are all women so our joke is that Im
THE webmaster. Its been a great experience and Ive become
a competent web application developer which turns out to be very creative
and rewarding work relying on knowledge and intuition. Not all that different
from writing music except that with my songwriting Im always attempting
to find something mysterious or evocative and thats thankfully NOT
part of web programming!
The songs on this CD are clearly very personal with lots dreamlike imagery
in the lyrics and strange twists in the melodies prompting one critic
to describe Richard as the lost love child of Joni Mitchell and
That quote always makes me laugh and it was written in a Connecticut
weekly back in the 70s when I was playing around a lot. This was when
disco was the big thing in music and I was playing jazz piano and acoustic
folk/rock. There was no such thing as a sampler or a digital piano so
I had to play whatever piano was available to me and these were usually
beat up, barely in tune, honky tonk pianos with cigarette burns in the
wood. I used to sing Joni Mitchell songs in a lounge lizard style and
I had gray fedora hat. I probably reminded a lot of people of Tom Waits
as he was at that time. Actually, I greatly admire both these songwriters.
I also love Bill Evans and I listen to Shirley Horn a lot who is probably
my favorite singer. But my own songs arent really jazz. Theyre
much closer to songwriters like Mitchell and early Waits. Its been
said that theres a melancholy, blue feeling in my voice and in almost
all my songs which isnt intended. But I seem to have a line into
the underlying melancholy waters and it naturally appears in my music.
Its not for everyone but its music much truer to who I am
than anything Ive done. My first CD is completed. Now I have to
find the kindred spirits out there who will connect with what Im
Theres been a lot of news and controversy about music on the internet
lately. A few musicians that have made their debut on the web are beginning
to emerge as commercially viable artists throwing off a lot of the old
notions of promotion, marketing and the distribution of music by the mainstream
music industry. Its unpredictable situation full of possibility
for someone with Richards background and skills.
I cant do the traditional promotional activities that the
experts advise. I have some chronic health problems that make it very
difficult for me to commit to performing anymore. I cant travel
much because of my webmaster job and Ive been advised that Im
a bit too old and not commercial enough for the music biz. But I cant
give up my music and I know that theres a sizable audience out there
for me. I think theyre on the web or will be soon and I hope I can
find them that way. Technology has given me unimaginable ways to make
music. Lets hope it gives me the unimaginable ways to sell it.
To get the latest news and information, and to hear complete tracks from
LET IT FALL, visit http://clearsong.com.