Ariel Pink has long been lauded for his crowded catalog of outlandish compositions, each coming to us from some alternate timeline where any determined youngster with a guitar and 4-track might strike it big in globally-distributed cassette columns, and then the world. Yet with his dizzying proficiency came a certain image—the hermetic auteur working tirelessly and thanklessly to finally break into the industry. His outward appearance began to affirm this anxious ambition, enabled by the hype cycles and capricious bloggers who made him a star.
From a stereo showroom on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Pink (born Ariel Marcus Rosenberg) seems pretty content. After spending the last few days making appearances around New York in the buildup to his record release show that night, Pink looks calm and relaxed, speaking with delight in his surrounding company. Earlier that morning, the songwriter talked about growing old and slowing down, feeling blessed to still be in the game at all these days.
“I’m happy if I write one song. Every time, it’s like a minor victory,” he says over coffee. “I feel like I’m always cheating death. I’m like, ‘Woah, I just made it by the skin of my teeth. One more year in this thing.'”
Now pushing 40, Rosenberg is well-aware of the internet’s fickle taste. Even as an originator of the once-progressive micro-genre known as hypnogogic pop, it’s been a challenge to stay strong in the face of a rapidly changing music landscape, especially one so reliant on instant gratification and eternal reinvention. “You can’t help but see whatever [music sites] are bombarding you with,” he says. “I try not to let that ruin my mind. I know it’s just passing fads and transient promotional schemes.”
Maybe it makes sense, then, that Pink would be drawn to the music of Bobby Jameson. A folk singer from the late ’60s who never quite found a way to distinguish himself, Jameson released three albums and numerous 7″ singles under a wide variety of names—Jameson, Bobby Jameson, Bobby James, Chris Lucey—to modest acclaim, despite ample attention from record labels and industry executives. In his prime, Jameson opened for the Beach Boys, recorded songs co-written Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and even played sessions allegedly arranged and produced by an uncredited Frank Zappa. But even this wealth of celebrity co-signs wasn’t enough to launch Jameson into a career that would resonate beyond the dusty clearance bins of an era flush with vinyl overflow.
After falling into obscurity in the ’70s and ’80s, with many presuming his death, Jameson resurfaced online in 2007 with a thriving blog and YouTube channel, where the musician discusses the many challenges he faced in the industry. Over the course of hundreds of staggeringly detailed blog posts, Jameson chronicles the crushing realities of his struggle to even get paid for records he himself wrote and recorded under his many various stage names. Eternally swindled, Jameson writes bitterly about an industry that was always one step ahead of his aim to make a living as a musician. “This blog is my battleground, and only by sheer determination have I been able to make a single dent in the wall of bullshit known as the music industry and the life I lived in it, and/or as a result of it,” he says in one post.
As an album, however, Pink’s Dedicated To Bobby Jameson has little to do with the late musician. Tracks like “Death Patrol” and “Bubblegum Dreams” continue Pink’s penchant for dense arrangements and sugary pop hooks with a looming sense of melancholy, as the songwriter follows an alleged hero’s journey—at least according to a press release—through “innocent love and the rock-solid edifice of childhood-worn trauma.”
Despite the Hollywood artifice and sleazy po-mo fodder, Dedicated To Bobby Jameson finds something newly sincere in its simplicity. The release’s clear standout, “Another Weekend” is a delicate pop song with a sparseness never before heard from the songwriter. With muted chimes and gently strummed guitar, the spacious mix brings Pink’s once-skittish vocals front and center, now fatly multi-tracked and layered with gorgeous harmonies to finally sound like the ’60s star he always could’ve been. Pressing on through another lazy weekend, Pink shifts from boredom to longing as the track rolls with a waltz-like rhythm, leaning in on every Beatles production trick in the book.
It certainly helps that with the studio touch, Pink’s voice becomes a near match for John Lennon, helping seal “Another Weekend” as one of his strongest songs in recent memory. As hype cycles come and go and their accompanying anxiety wreck havoc on an entire industry of artists, Dedicated To Bobby Jameson proves that beneath the outrage and frustration, Ariel Pink’s still got something special.
For awhile you were making stuff as “Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti,” but with Pom Pom, there was a shift back toward just “Ariel Pink.” How come?
It’s so I don’t get the question anymore. I know it’s just gonna be more of this, but it’s just because people can’t really grasp that Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is a solo project. For one reason or another, everybody’s like “Why did you drop the Haunted Graffiti?” It’s just easier for people to remember Ariel Pink and I’d just prefer them pay attention to that. The Haunted Graffiti part has taken on such a life of its own—people actually think that it’s an entity and I’m sick of it.
They were all really solo records?
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is more of an entity than Ariel Pink. I just happened to have started responding to inquires as Ariel Pink and then I had to basically retract that because there’s no such thing as Ariel Pink, there’s only Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. And then having a band play with me somehow made it more confusing for everyone. They’re like, “Oh, so now you have the Haunted Graffiti.” It’s kinda complicated but kinda not.
The new album is dedicated to Bobby Jameson. How did you come across Jameson’s work?
I read his unpublished autobiography online. Even before I was done with that, I was like, “Oh, I gotta dedicate this record to him.” His blog is a wonderful thing. That’s what inspired me [to read his book], just reading his blog.
The way he wrote it was just really good. The urgency, everything about it. Part of me wanted to name it that so that I could spend time talking about that instead of talking about myself. I learned that in the course of doing these [interviews].
It felt like the it was the internet that brought Jameson back into the public eye in 2007, with his blog posts and YouTube channel. He reappeared out of nowhere, with many people thinking he was dead, and on his blog he talks a lot about how jaded he is about never getting the recognition he deserved, even after collaborating with artists like Frank Zappa and the Rolling Stones. Do you feel a kinship there?
Yeah, I think there’s a little bit of Bobby Jameson in most people. With the name, it’s a perfect example. Across releases, there was never the same name. There was Jameson, Bobby Jameson, Chris Lucey, so it never crystalized in people’s minds that it was even the same person. It was really hard for him to establish himself in any kind of way and I’m sure it was frustrating for him too.
What I found really compelling was the memories he was recalling conjure up a crazy person. You see someone talking to themselves on the street and don’t think, “Oh, they’re going to have a perfect note-for-note recount of this 30 years from now.” But Bobby Jameson does. And I thought that that was a very wild perspective, that his memory was so intact and so perfect it was like it happened yesterday, the feelings were so raw too even though it’s been over 30 years since he was even in the music business.
But it reminds me a lot of myself and a lot of the artists I know. Some of them to this day are still trying to carve out their niche and find an identity for themselves as artists and just not feeling the acknowledgement that they need in order to move on. I feel somewhat lucky that I felt unacknowledged for a long time. It’s like, I definitely haven’t “made it,” but to a lot of people I have. It’s annoying for people to think that because I know exactly what “making it” means in financial terms. In people’s minds, it’s a quality. Like, some people just never get enough attention and they’ll always feel under-acknowledged and then there’s some that feel very close to acknowledged right out of the gates because they identities don’t sit there.
I relate to it in a big way, I felt a lot like Bobby Jameson felt all his life up until I was 26. After that, I felt acknowledged. I was just like, “Oh fuck, that’s all that was?” I just wanted a little love and attention and I didn’t even realize it for the first half of my life. For the first 26 years of my life, I was operating at a lack and I never acknowledged it as such. But I did afterwards and I had to think of other ways of writing songs. I didn’t have the same drive anymore.
What was the first moment you felt acknowledged in that way?
Being in SPIN magazine, reading reviews of my record online, it was like, “Oh, shit! I blew up! Oh my God, I’m like a real thing now!” I was famous at that moment, but whether I was actually that famous was besides the point. I got that attention, but it’s not like I’m chasing it every time now. I’m literally a career artist. My identity is not wrapped up in it and I can take it or leave it in an artistic sense.
Do you feel any pressure or anxiety toward maintaining that attention?
I have to get the attention every time. Do I want the attention? Do I care about the attention? Do I care about releasing records? No. I don’t care about what other people think. But part of my job is to keep the part of me that started doing music for a certain reason alive. To revisit it, I have to inhabit the mindset, I have to get right with myself about why I used to do music. Part of me is like, “Well I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t being myself.”
Has it allowed you freedom in some ways?
Well, it’s allowed me to get over whatever the hell was telling me to do it for 26 years without any acknowledgement. For a long time, I was working for something and it was really just a sense of self that I was desperate to convey against the odds. It’s kinda hard for people to understand I guess because the climate is so different now, but I felt like what I was doing was akin to suicide. Not the band, but, like, that fits too I think.
Suicide spent a long time unrecognized as well.
Exactly. And that’s kinda how I feel I’m seen in this day and age. I feel like I’m a legacy artist, so 10 minutes ago, 10 years ago—like I’ve already had my moment and am now part of this dad rock generation.
Do you think that has to do with the internet the way it is now?
Yeah. I feel like the voice of the last generation, like whatever I’ve contributed has already been assimilated—eaten up, spit out and improved upon. Whether I feel acknowledged from that doesn’t really matter. I really don’t necessarily need acknowledgment in that regard.
There’s a lot of talk with content creators online about the growing gap between artistic creation and actually equivalent monetization—between being the founder of this important “scene” online and receiving the actual financial recognition you deserved.
There’s no “deserving it.” That’s the weird part. I appreciate that because I make my own bread and I sort of had to not limit myself. I was willing to make records and release them for free. Back in the day, I was just super grateful that anybody paid attention to me, so I was just like, “Here, listen to my record!” But now? Now that’s not my job. I hold my records hostage. I don’t wanna release them. I mean, I’m not releasing them anymore, it’s someone else’s responsibility to do it. I don’t need to release them. If they never come out, all the better.
What were you listening to while working on this record, aside from Bobby Jameson stuff?
Nothing. That’s why I don’t like talking about myself. It really kills the magic for a lot of people. It sounds really gross for me to say that I don’t listen to music because I just don’t care about it, it’s kid stuff. I’ve got other interests that keep me going.
What kind of interests?
Like everything else, like politics or whatever else. Science and world events.
Not to bring it back to Jameson, but I know he has a record called Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest, which came out at a time when anti-Vietnam sentiments were pretty much everywhere in rock and folk music. Have you felt obligated to make more overtly “political music” with things the way things are now?
It’s funny that you say that. That record Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest was billed as a Chris Lucey record, not even Bobby Jameson. They invented the character Chris Lucey; the song titles were written before the songs and were printed up for Chris Ducey, who was on the label. Chris Ducey happened to ditch the record label at the last minute and they hired Bobby Jameson to come in and write songs to the song titles as they were as a way to save the label, save the image of the label, save the costs.
They paid him $200 to save the day, and the person on the cover of that record is Brian Jones, of all people. It’s like, “What?” It’s such a “What the fuck?” thing, you know? And I mean, Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest, the irony of that title is definitely not lost on me. I don’t think he ever did any real protest music.
But have I ever thought about writing protest songs? I mean, protesting what? Like for musician’s unions? No, I’ve always been protesting growing up or something like that. Protesting Family Guy on TV by wearing Simpsons shirts.
Do you think you’ll keep making records as long as you can? Or retire from music at some point, or at least take a break?
I take breaks often. I’ll take longer breaks more often. When you don’t hear from me, you’ll know I finally made it. I kind of call it retirement—I spend as long as possible in retirement until I can’t claim that I’m in retirement anymore. Then I start writing music and do the whole record thing again. Ideally, those episodes will be further apart and lasting a lot longer. I’ve thought about like doing other things for money, but I’m a late bloomer with all those sort of things, I don’t know how to make my money make money for me. I want to be able to do whatever I want, you know? So I can’t really complain about what I do now. As far as jobs are concerned, it’s not the worst thing in the world.