"Ecstacy to Frenzy", a new recording by Rodd Keith.
Release date - January 20th, 2004
People familiar with "song-poem" music ("send us your lyrics") will no doubt be familiar with Rodd Keith. And if you're familiar with Rodd Keith you've probably heard "I DIED TODAY", the CD compilation released by Tzadik in 1996, containing a broad overview of Rodd's song poem work. And if you've heard "I DIED TODAY" you probably already know that Rodd Keith was my father.
Since the release of "I DIED TODAY", the song poem phenomenon has been growing in popularity across the nation as new song poem finds continue to pour in, collectors compilations continue to be released and most notably, the documentary film "Off the Charts - The Song Poem Story" (by filmmaker Jamie Meltzer) aired nationwide on PBS. In 1996 song poems pretty much occupied the most obscure corner of the fringe/cult/collectors world. In 2003 the song poem story hit the pages of "Entertainment Weekly", one of our most mainstream pop culture magazines.
It's been immensely gratifying to see Rodd gain the acceptance and acclaim that eluded him during his life and yet incredibly frustrating to me personally that given this enormous body of work I've never heard anything that Rodd did for himself. Everyone who knew Rodd has always stressed the fact that the song poem thing was a mere shadow of his talents, something he did to make money because it was so easy for him. Perhaps something that even stood in the way of him realizing his dreams and his potential. For my entire life I've wished for some indication, however small, that might reflect Rodd's true musical soul. It finally arrived in the mail unexpectedly one day in a large package from a woman named Nita Garfield.
Nita Garfield was a songwriter who in collaboration with a number of other Hollywood songwriters provided hit songs for groups such as The Turtles and The Jackson Five. Nita probably knew Rodd's lifestyle as well as anyone, describing to me in several telephone calls in harrowing detail Rodd's transition from aspiring musician to hallucinogen casualty. But even Rodd's most outlandish behavior was rooted in a fundamental curiosity about life and marked by a strong (if oddly directed) creative urge. One interesting thing that Nita told me was that Rodd considered himself an etymologist. He spent at least six months of his life studying the roots of words and in the process made up his own entire language. Another odd thing that Nita told me was that Rodd kept an apartment in North Hollywood under the name "Shome Howe Jehovason".
In this shipment from Nita was a stack of sheet music, a number of musical manuscripts in Rodd's hand and some songs Rodd wrote. There were also about a dozen reels of tape which looked to be backing tracks to song poem sessions. But there was one tape that seemed different. It was simply labeled "SHOME ON ORGAN". I found out that "Shome" was Rodd's nick name. "Shome Howe Jehovason" means "show'em how, son of God". My uncle, Gerald Eskelin, says that "Rodd was a sweet, lovable guy but he wasn't hooked into reality. He had such a sense of being bigger than everyone else. He used to say he spelled his name with two D's because God only used one".
So I took this tape to be a studio to have it played. I don't think anything could have completely prepared me for what I was about to hear...psychedelic organ (forwards played against backwards), singing in tongues, whistling, counting, belching and faux Brazilian pop (in a made up language) all leading to a crescendo of complete vocal pandemonium and a torrent of dissonant piano onslaughts. All in all a sweeping sonic psychodrama of the highest order.
So this is what Rodd was all about? And what was it all for? I haven't a clue. Well, actually maybe I do. Rodd was known for keeping late night studio sessions, all by himself speaking into the tape recorder playing elaborate word games that were somehow going to be his commercial breakthrough. And I'm also told that he was preparing to document his life story (in some musical or theatrical form?) but had only gotten as far as sketching out some ideas on paper. Maybe this tied into all that. Or maybe he was just hanging out in the studio before a song poem session, got in a mood and decided to roll tape.
Upon listening to this music for a few minutes you'll probably notice that the right channel is playing in reverse. It was my initial assumption that this was intentional since the texture of the right and left channels match so well as to be seamless at first. This was certainly not an unheard of technique at the time (think Hendrix, Beatles et cetera) and in fact, there's at least one song poem that Rodd did that utilized this technique; "I'm Just the Other Woman", presented on the Carnage Press song poem compilation of the same name. But given where this tape goes musically it became a little harder to know for sure. It certainly sounds plausible to my ear but it may well be that these tracks were not meant to be heard in stereo but are simply two mono tracks meant to be heard individually.
I've wanted to share this recording with the world for quite awhile but I couldn't figure out how to properly present it. After considerable thought it finally dawned on me that when listening in stereo it's as if Rodd's entire personality becomes unleashed in the music, everything I've ever heard about him; his loose, carefree spirit, his predilection for creative linguistic engineering, his penchant for jazz harmony and his ability to simply play some beautiful music. Even if it wasn't his intention for the tape to be played this way it remains the quintessential audio expression of the man's psyche. It couldn't be any more perfect.
Just for your information, the track labeled "version two" is the same as version one except that it's played in reverse. This way you can move your stereo balance knob to the right or left to be able to isolate a passage at any given time and hear more clearly the source material as it was originally played. There are some low key snippets of music here (which made me think they were intended for backwards use) that are rather stirring in their own right.
I've also included three of Rodd's most classic song poem efforts, "Beat of the Traps", "Little Rug Bug" and "Ecstacy [sic] to Frenzy". They've each been presented in previous compilations but I thought it appropriate to include them here so that together with the compilation "I DIED TODAY" we have the most complete musical picture of Rodd Keith that we're likely to get.
I still don't know if even this tape captures the full picture of Rodd Keith but it sure is enlightening. My uncle Jerry says there was one other aspect of Rodd's music that was never documented. That was his nightclub act. I can only imagine...
New York City, Fall 2003