Last week, a friend let me know that he'd come across the news of the death of a friend of mine, Richard Shulberg, aka Citizen Kafka (CK). I was very late to this news - four months late. While I wasn't exactly surprised - I knew he'd been ill for several years, and his e-mails had grown more and more sporadic - I was still shocked, as the most recent of those e-mails (the first in at least two years) had arrived just three weeks before his death. In that e-mail, he had written excitedly about an upcoming project that he knew would be of great interest to me. It was therefore off my radar that he could have so little time left.
I had very little clue as to the degree to which CK was well known, or the vastness of his skills, interests and activities - these things only came up (in conversation) in passing in the brief time we spent together - but in the last few days I've had the chance to catch up, and have found information here, here and here, among other places. And of course he worked for many years on WFMU.
I got to know CK after reading about a compilation CD he had produced in the late, great Cool and Strange Music Magazine. After receiving the CD, "Americana: Vox Populi", and being blown away by the slices of life contained in its recordings, I contacted him by e-mail, and began a friendship online. I sent him segments of my collection that seemed to be in keeping with those things he compiled on the CD, and was happily astonished when I received an e-mail telling me that, although he hadn't listened to the collection yet, the notes I wrote about its contents made him more excited to hear it than anything he'd received in ten years. (Most of the material I sent him has made its way into this forum over the last few years, including Merigail Moreland, Star Ads and Camp Bryn Afon.)
I only had the chance to spend two days with CK, during a visit to the East Coast in early 2001, but I was blown away by his knowledge, his stories and his wondrous record collection. One of the CD's he gave me is pictured above. I was taken with the photo on the CD: When I was a child, the tape recorder was my favorite "toy", so I told him, "that could be me in that picture". He corrected me, telling me that, in fact the picture WAS him.
We continued to stay in touch often, until his illness prevented this. I have no recordings of his work to share, but instead, want to include just a few of the recordings that we bonded over, all but one from various CD's that he sent and gave me (including "Americana"). A few of these have been shared on this blog in the past, but I wanted to include them, as they are part of my life because he was part of my life. (A few of these come from CD's where they were cross-faded with other material, leading to some abrupt or segued openings or closings.)
First up is Billy Costello, the original voice of Popeye, with "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing". Next is the incomparable Madame Bolduc, with a record that CK never did get me the name of, followed by a song-poem about Nancy Reagan. Boruk Glasgow follows with one of his poems set to someone else's music.
Then comes Ellis Chadbourne, with two numbers. When I first received CK's disc, I raved most of all about Mr. Chadbourne, whose passion for his music, to me, overcomes (and thensome) and deficits in his technique. CK commented that my singling out of Ellis Chadbourne identified me as someone who really "got" what he himself looked for in the wonderful and the obscure side of collecting. I've found few people in my life who understand what I find so intoxicating and life-affirming about Ellis Chadbourne's music. It was a Chadbourne compilation that CK wrote to me about, in that last e-mail.
Then comes a tune that was shared in a post I wrote just last March. Oddly enough, it was my first post after Citizen Kafka's death, although I didn't know it at the time, and I mentioned him in the post. It's Danny Guglielmi with "Mosquito Festival".
Finally, one of the few things that I sent to CK, and which I haven't previously shared here. In addition, of all the things I sent him, this is one that he particularly loved. It's Harley Luse and the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys with "Spanish Cavalier". This was a Square Dance record, meant to be "called" over, but it is SO much more than that, for me. This is nothing less than a perfect record, played by people who clearly know and love this song, and this style, inside and out. Words fail me in expressing how and why I love this record so much. Citizen Kafka specifically asked for more Harley Luse, which I own, and which I sent him (and which I'll share here, if there is interest). His request for more of Harley and the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys was just another sign of how deeply our tastes ran in common.
I wish I'd had more time with him, either on line or in person, but I'm grateful for the time we did have, and that we each brought the other so much joy through recordings and friendship. I hope he's at peace. Godspeed, CK.
1.) Billy Costello - Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing (MP3)
2.) Madame Bolduc - Unknown Title (MP3)
3.) Gene Marshall - Lovely Nancy (MP3)
4.) Boruk Glasgow - Eddie My Love (MP3)
5.) Ellis Chadbourne - The Last Round Up (MP3)
6.) Ellis Chadbourne - O Holy Night (MP3)
7.) Danny Guglielmi - Mosquito Festival (MP3)
8.) Harley Luse and the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys - Spanish Cavalier (MP3)