The Michigan Daily - WuesZ at. - ThursdayMarch 28, 1996- 7B
Polonsky made it a year of 'musical firsts'
By Heather Phares
Daily Arts Writer
"What do you think ofCeline Dion?"
asks singer/songwriter Jonny Polonsky
0 the middle of a question-and-answer
ssion that is supposed to focus on him
and what makes him tick - but has
drifted inexplicably to, er, French-Ca-
nadian pop divas.
But leave it to Polonsky to make even
the most routine interview quirky. As
irreverent and exuberant on the phone
as he is on his debut album "Hi My
Name Is Jonny," Polonsky has a fresh
take on pop music, recording, touring
and interviewing because he's pretty
OW to them himself.
Interviews, the bane of many a pop
musician's existence, provide Polonsky
with another outlet to amuse himself.
He actually enjoys them - with a few
exceptions. He explained: "Sometimes
they get a bit monotonous, and some
interviewers aren'tall thatgreat. Some-
body basically asked me if I was a loser
once. He didn't come out and say it like
Aat, but he said that there's this com-
onmisconception that Ijust sit around
and record myself, that I'm just this
lonely, bedroom-ridden rockerorwhat-
The media has made a lot out of the
fact that Polonsky wrote, played, re-
corded and produced the album entirely
by himself in his brother's bedroom in
Chicago. That, combined with the ro-
mantic, wistful nature of songs, such as
"Gone Away" and "Love Lovely Love,"
leadto notionsofPolonskyas acreative
recluse, a myth that he's eagerto dispel.
"A lot of the songs on the record are
love songs, and a handful of them are
kind of forlorn, so I'm seen as some
kind of forlorn dude," Polonsky said
with a sigh. "But that's just a handful of
songs I've written out of maybe 30 or
40, at a specific time in my life. I'm a
pretty happy guy."
And if anything can smash the per-
ception of Polonsky as a forlorn dude,
Opening for one of his musical heroes,
ex-Pixies frontman Frank Black, has
been nothing short of a great time for
him. "It's been really fun. The guys that
I've got playing for me are old friends
that I've known for quite awhile and
played with under different circum-
stances over the years, but this is the
first time that we've played my music.
It's a real band, a power trio," he said.
And if Polonsky seems a little too
enthusiastic to be true, consider what he
was doing before he became a critic's
darling and the freshest purveyor of
pure pop: "I worked in an ex-nuclear
power plant in Watertown (Mass.)
xeroxing Army files. It was awful! It
was all just babbling army nonsense,"
he recalled with a shudder.
"Hi My Name is Jonny" reflects
that bouyant feeling of freedom that
Polonsky felt when he finally quit
working at the plant to concentrate on
his music. Songs like "Half Mind"
and "Gone Away" have a bouncy,
immediate quality to them that make
them seem like discoveries on each
listen. While Polonsky's own discov-
ery wasn't so immediate, it's certainly
He gave some of his demo tapes to
Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels,
who gave them to none other than Frank
Black. Impressed, Black helped
Polonsky with a more polished demo.
And, Polonsky explained, "Frank got
me a manager. The tape that I made
with Frank got me signed and got Rick
Rubin's (the president of Black's tand
Polonsky's record label, American) at-
tention." He laughed, "It's always good
to have the big man on your side, to
have the president behind you."
But with songs like Polonsky's, it's
hard to imagine Rubin not backing him.
"Hi My Name is Jonny" bursts with
simple, affecting yet unaffected pop
like "Love Lovely Love" and "I Don't
Know What to Dream at Night." Ironi-
cally, Polonsky occasionally has trouble
coming up with these artless tunes:
"Sometimes the words and everything
just come out really easily, but some
songs take a lot more cajoling. I guess
my biggest problem is with lyrics. A lot
of the songs I write deal with relation-
ships, but now I want to try different
things. Iljust gotta do what I gotta do, as
long as it sounds true to myself," he
Right now, remaining true to himself
means setting up in Chicago to record
his new material as soon as possible -
right after he gets off this tour, as a
matter of fact. "Hopefully by then I'll
have all my equipment that I've or-
dered in town, and all I'll have to do is
rent an apartment and set up. Realisti-
cally, by June I'll be able to start record-
ing. I'll just have to take some time to
learn how to use the gear. Hopefully 1'll
get the record done this summer. That's
my goal," he said with that enthusiasm
that has carried him so far so quickly.
Afterayearof musical firsts.Polonsky's
new projects are bound to be second to
inPl fairly glows with talent.
Lonny Polonsky fairly glows with talent.
Author Curtis to captivate Rackham audience tonight
By Sarah Beldo
For the Daily
Christopher Paul Curtis holds the
perceptions and opinions of the young
in high esteem. "I believe that young
people are often blessed with the best
ears for detecting what rings true or
*hat feels right in a particular piece of
writing. To me the highest accolade
comes when a young reader tells me,' I
really liked your book.' The young
seem to be able to say 'really' with a
clarity, a faith and an honesty that we
as adults have long forgotten. That is
why I write," he said in an interview.
Perhaps it is this conviction about
the honesty of a child's perspective
that moved Curtis to choose a young
,oy as the protagonist for his story of
African American family who trav-
elsto Alabama in the midst of the racial
tension of 1963. "The Watsons Go to
Birmingham - 1963" is Curtis' first
novel, aimed at young adults ages 10
and up. He will be reading selections
from this work at Rackham Amphithe-
atre today at 5p.m. as part of the Bor-
ders/Hopwood reading series.
"The Watsons Go to Birmingham -
1963" is a wryly funny tale of an idio-
syncratic family composed of 10-year-
old Kenny, his hard-working father,
practical mother, humorous sister and
hisl3-year-old brother, an "official ju-
venile delinquent" who is so vain he
freezes his lips to the car mirror while
kissing his own reflection.
The first half of the book is con-
cerned with describing the Watsons'
life in the frigid temperatures of Flint,
Mich., as Kenny navigates through the
wilderness of childhood bullies, myste-
rious new kids at school and fleets of
When the adolescent Byron Arries
his attention-grabbing antics to6 far,
the Watson family decides to make a
trek to Alabama - and, consequently,
to the sordid, segregated south of the
early '60s - to let him spend th sum-
mer with Grandma Sands. It is heire that
Curtis subtly blends the story of the
offbeat Watsons with the true story of
the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist
Church in Birmingham in September
1963, an event that killed four young
girls. Writing through the eyes of the
observant Kenny, Curtis' voice remains
consistently in a state of innocent won-
der, and he never loses his believabil-
ity, even when describing a child's re-
action to a horrific event.
In reading this novel, you can't help
but wonder how much of these humor-
ous situations were drawn from Curtis'
own childhood in Flint. He has said that
I believe that
young people are
often blessed with
the best ears for
-Christopher Paul Curtis
he felt a burning desire to write ever
since he realized that he couldn't talk
his way out of many of his problems.
He abandoned this interest for a time to
pursue a more solid, reliable job after
graduating from high school, when he
took a job hanging doors on cars at
Flint's historic Fisher Body Plant No.l.
He held this job for 13 years. And it
required a push from his wife, who told
Curtis he "better hurry up and start
doing something constructive with his
li fe or else start looking for a new place
to live," to bring him back to his origi-
nal love of the written word.
While attending the Flint campus of
the University, Curtis tested his writing
skills and was pleased with the results,
winning the Avery Hopwood Prize for
major essays and the Jules Hopwood
Prize for an early draft of"1"he Watsons
(o to Birmingham- 1963."
The result of these efforts is an en-
gaging, charming book, both "construc-
ie" enough to please Curtis' wife and
imaginatively humorous enough to en-
tertain a lively audience at Rackham
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