What we are up to

My Geppetto #4: Jen Poole talks about Jeffrey Lewis

by Nick Holloway

A series of interviews exploring the influences of some of our favourite artists and clever clogses... who is your Geppetto?

For the fourth in the series, we'll hear from Jennifer Poole, co-organiser of London's most charming and off-kilter pop, folk and blues night, Let’s Go Baboon.

What artist / human / thing(s) are you most influenced by?

^ Comic book artist, musician and 'Lower East Sider' Jeffrey Lewis.

What is it about him that you find intriguing?

There’s something strangely biblical about him – he seems to wander the earth being humble and kind. He throws himself upon the mercy of strangers – sleeping on his fans’ floors and hitchhiking to gigs. He helps his less famous friends and musical idols when they fall on hard times – stuff like raising money for the medical bills of some guy who wrote amazing songs in the 60s but who now doesn’t have two pennies to rub together. When he’s not touring he holes up in an old shack in Maine and painstakingly creates these staggeringly beautiful and honest comic books. I bet he has great karma.

His songs are just like him - warm, witty and profound. And a bit awkward too. Admittedly, he can’t really sing and his voice cracks on the high notes. He looks like Steve Buscemi’s country cousin and freely admits to wearing rainbow tie-dye and being a ‘Dead Head’ for a decade. But what I love is that he takes existential angst as a given and builds on it. He is not hectoring but reminding himself when he sings stuff like: ‘Don’t let the record label take you out to lunch/you’re the one who has to pay at the end of the day/And try not to want people to like you too much/You’ll just need more and more flatteries to recharge your batteries’.

His songs are deliberations on trying to lead a creative life without becoming a self-indulgent prick.

If you were to pick your favourite Lewis song/comic, what would it be? Why?

Comic book ‘Fuff issue 5’ describes the pros and cons of his couch-surfing lifestyle beautifully. On the one hand the band (consisting of brother Jack and pal Dave) make friends all over the world and get the insider view of every city – but on the other they give up the right to room service and a ‘Do not disturb’ sign.

My friend Alex and I caught a glimpse of this when we drove them around on a mini-tour a few years ago. One night the band supported Regina Spector with whom they grew up. We all went for a curry after the gig and at the end she climbed in the back of a huge creepy van with blacked out windows, assisted by two beefy minders. By contrast we were five people and four guitars squished in a Renault Clio. The band just looked at her sadly, saying she seemed lonely.

Best song: I love the songs where he takes self-deprecation to new and hilarious levels. ‘East River’ is probably my favourite overall. The first verse is sweet; the second is clever and trips really neatly off the tongue. The third is just excruciatingly funny. This guy is no John Mayer – you can’t badge this kind of sensitivity and use it to pick up future women. Not normal ones anyway.

And if I had a girl on 11th avenue
I know exactly what she would do
She would wander at night hang around at bars
Find someone who draws better and plays prettier guitar
And then she'd leave me and I'd walk back east alone

9 8 7th avenue
Now I'm crossing Madison
Sobbing on Park Avenue
Feeling bad on Lexington
3 2 1st avenue
Going east with the wind
Cross the FDR to the east river
Throw myself in

Until the scum in the east river would drown me
The phlegm and rotten rats would surround me
The shattered cars at the bottom all around me
Until I was just more scum in the East river

The most underestimated song?

I think 'Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror' makes a lot of fans deeply uncomfortable. It’s a tale of confronting a man on the subway who may be Will Oldham or might just be some tramp with ‘The same sunglasses he wore on stage at the Bowery Ballroom’.

In the song he pleads with Oldham to enlighten him regarding his experience of being a stadium filling indie-rock star and instead gets sexually molested for his trouble. It gets the ‘Deliverance’ sniggering treatment in the press, and consequently people overlook how effing intense and amazing the song is.

The most over-rated?

‘The Last Time I did Acid I Went Insane’ is a song so over-rated by caners that Jeff actually wrote a second song to clarify the situation -he did not nor did he ever want to take acid so put your strawberry tabs AWAYYY.

What work of yours most bears evidence of this influence?

Every gig I’ve ever put on can be traced back to Jeff in some way. When I first met him I wasn’t involved in music at all and my life was a bit lonely and dull. But I met Stuart - the guy who started Let’s Go Baboon - at a Jeff Lewis gig. The band I manage (David Cronenberg’s Wife) hired me because of a shared love of his work.

I met Jeff in New York at a venue he often played at, Sidewalk, which became like a second home for me. Frankly if the man started a cult I would sign-up tomorrow. (I think the folks at Guardian Online would join me in the cult too – they’ve recently given Jeff his own lo-fi ‘News Channel’ - looky here.)


Let’s Go Baboon’s next show is at the Wilmington Arms this Friday (Aug 21) and features Golden Animals (L.A.), She Keeps Bees (New York), The Silver Abduction and more (myspace.com/letsgobaboon).

Jenny is attempting to visit 30 countries before she turns 30 in 3 months’ time, read about it at treepixie.tumblr.com.