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What Fairpoint, Ohio Has Done with Linford Detweiler
September 1, 2000
Trinity House Theatre, Detroit, MI
By Jessica Aguilar Walker

As an individual, Linford Detweiler's music draws from many sources within the collective midwestern psyche. In his solo piano, there is evidence of western steakhouse jukebox honky-tonk, cocktail jazz and ballet recital. Yet, for the most part, it is not unlike those endless, paternalistic hymns one squirmed their way through locked in a church pew as a child. His musical genius takes all that one was emotionally allergic to as an adolescent and endears it to the nostalgia of one's own thoughts and experiences.

What would explain this phenomenon of nostalgia? Linford has done this for himself. "Nervous as all get out," the willowy performer took all of two hours to explain with poetry, prose and a tinny, oak veneer upright piano his life story. This was a rare occurrence--the first--for a man who keeps so well to himself.

The 14-song evening began with "Run Dark Olive," a contemporary piece from his solo piano album, I Don't Think There Is No Need to Bring Nothin' (Music for First Kind Sight). In an atmosphere that could lead one to believe they were spying on him in his living room, Detweiler took the less-than-hundred member audience through "Is It too Late to Start" and "First Kind Sight" into a loose yet hopeful spoken ballad of self-discovery. Perhaps the rarest was a first-known, live performance of "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning," a hymn layered with purpose-filled prose about the childhood desire to become a missionary, witnessed before only on the Over the Rhine video exposé "Serpents and Gloves."

After the plush and rolling "I Should Have Kept Going," began a deeper connection with the audience--more words. Detweiler admitted to writing regularly, and said that as of late he has been identifying with  the letters of Vincent Van Gogh. He hued Van Gogh's textured colors with words in his  "Vincent poem #1," where he found the will to live in nature and, inspired by indulgent night walks with the dog in a cemetery, a poem entitled "One More Canvas While We Were Still."  He then went on to play "Weak in the Knees Across the Sky," another from "I Don't Think..." The humorous, bare boned, sin sultry backup singers, "Jack's Valentine" (from Over the Rhine's Good Dog, Bad Dog, 1996) was next spliced with tomfoolery about the painters (Van Gogh, Monet, Degas) the song mentions toward the end.

There are subtle hints of a pastoral background in a great deal of Detweiler's work as he is one of six siblings from a Fairpoint, OH minister's family. Personably, Detweiler leads into more writing with a storytelling of adolescent memories, including a story about a one-piece sequined-wearing, baton-twirling, high school girlfriend he brought home only to take her for a tick-infested motorbike ride in the Minnesota wilderness. He then read of first memory--to be close to the trumpet--as well as practicing piano to avoid doing evening dishes, and how it was engraved into his psyche at a young age that the sole purpose in life was to become a missionary.  At the time when the volatile King David was his inspiration, he went fishing with his brothers only because he loved them and enjoyed the colorful names for the fish. Through his essay and prose, it became evident that Detweiler has come to the place, maybe long before the rest of us, where he is truly grateful for all that has brought him to this moment in life.

The evening closed with the most passionate solo work of all-­another spoken-word-over-bluesy-piano piece in which he detailed the fascination with a "life-long fling" he intends to have with wife, Karen Berquist. The intensity of feeling not expressed in words he channeled through the intimate dynamics of his fingers on the keys. With a nod and a smile, an encore called him to bring his wife to the stage for a rendition of Over the Rhine's "Latter Days," while throughout, Karen glanced admiringly at him.

Out from the shadow of Over the Rhine, Linford Detweiler took one steamy September night at Detroit's quaint Trinity House Theatre to give us a glimpse into the musical outgrowth of his individuality. Covering every corner of a life infused with music and mystery, Detweiler communicated hope, faith and an intent to suck the marrow from life. In all, the stunning simplicity of a beatnik ballerina on a broken-hearted upright was pleasant and historical--if not just for the tiny audience, for Detweiler himself.


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