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Isabelle Corbisier - Vagabond Chronicles

 

ImageFriedrich Nietzsche told us in his "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth" piece that the "biggest events" must be BIG on both sides, one side being the artist himself in his ability to create and carry his art to the other side (being the fans, the audience, anyone), the latter side possessing in turn the ability to receive and recognize the talent and uniqueness of the artist and give it back somehow to the artist. Tuxedomoon are undoubtedly a good illustration for Nietzsche's observation as they have decades of great music behind them and not only inspired their initial circle of friends, fans, insiders and outsiders but continue to be creative and generate new circles of people enjoying their art.

 

Isabelle Corbisier dedicated years of her life to research TM legacy and give it back to us: fans, soul mates and, most importantly, the forthcoming generations. Her book about Tuxedomoon carves into stone the story of one of the most dramatic and inspired acts not only of the 20th century but also of the 21st century's history of popular music. I don't know how I should describe her. Her job is to be a lawyer, a University teacher, and her passion is for cinema but, within our small TM community, we all know her for being a TM activist and the spark that initiated many things. The band paid her tribute in the "Seismic Riffs" DVD where you can spot her in their company when they were recording their "Cabin in the Sky" album. Hence she became familiar to any TM fan around. She also contributed to our Plastelin magazine, so we are very proud to count her amongst the full-fledged members of our small team.

 

Mileta Okiljevic (Plastelin): Isabelle, where does your idea of writing a book about Tuxedomoon come from?
Isabelle Corbisier: In 1997, I started to work in Luxembourg, a city that I found deadly boring at first (luckily it has changed a lot since then). So I started going to the cinema every night and started to write movie reviews for some media in Belgium. As road movies and films centered on wandering stories have always been my faves, I slowly came up with the idea to write a book - as writing is what I'm good at - using a "wandering story" angle. Then I thought it'd be good to write it based on the lives of some artists. Then, in early 2001, I ran into a guy in Brussels who had known Steven Brown - of Tuxedomoon - in the eighties, when the band lived in Brussels. I suddenly remembered that I had been a huge fan of Tuxedomoon for a short but intense period in the early eighties. I learned that they since then lived scattered around the globe. I remembered the romanticism of the story of their "exile" in Europe. I immediately knew that they were the wandering artists about whom I wanted to write a book. I had no clue of where they actually were but then the internet came at my rescue as I found Blaine Reininger quite easily and we communicated by email for a little while. He invited me to one of their gigs in Italy in July 2001. I went and secured their cooperation to my project there. In August 2001, I spent two weeks in Cagli, Italy, where I conducted my first round of interviews with them while they were working on the pieces that would later form their "Cabin In The Sky" album, released in 2004 by Brussels based label Crammed Discs.

 

How long did it take you to research and write this 476-page book?
- It took me 6 years and a half. I did absolutely everything by myself, including the layout. The cover is the work of Oleg Kuptsov, a Russian designer also owning the Neo Acustica label, that issued a few Tuxedomoon-related releases.

 

What was it about this band that grabbed you in such a way that you would dedicate so much time in writing a book about them?
- I'm not a Tuxedomoon fan (anymore); I'm not a fan of anyone. I admire them very much though and was fascinated by their wandering story. Recently someone in Amsterdam told me that I was a Tuxedomoon FREAK. After giving it some thought, I believe that this person depicted me quite accurately. Reading the last chapter of my book, you get to discover why I had this obsession about them, that remained buried deep down for many years with me totally unaware of it since 1983. It resurfaced again in 2001 and changed the course of my life. Writing this book was a quite cathartic experience. I never believed in shrinks but I believe in sublimating one's obsessions.

 

How did you conduct your research for that book?
- My wandering story angle necessitated long interviews and I always met every actor twice as generally I could not obtain the level of trust needed upon the first meeting. I did travel a lot to meet with all the actors involved. For instance I went to San Francisco to meet with Winston Tong, Patrick Roques, Michael Belfer, Gregory Cruikshank and others. I went to Mexico where I stayed for some time at Steven Brown's house in Oaxaca. Went to New York City to see Peter Principle. Went to Lausanne to meet up with the late world-acclaimed choreographer Maurice Béjart, Florence to meet the people from Matson and choreographer Julie Ann Anzilotti. Went to Rome to interview Roberto Nanni. Went to Paris, Amsterdam, London... And I just name a few destinations here.... Again the internet helped in finding some of the actors. For instance I found Niki Mono after years of trying to find her - no one could tell me precisely what had become of her - by chance on the internet: she then lived... in Teneriffe and had been involved with Greenpeace for years. I also found Actuel magazine journalist Elisabeth D through the internet: she was then living on a volcano... in Java.

 

Did the band support you in your work and what were their reactions to your book?
- I did get all the spiritual/moral support one could dream of from the band. They promised that they would cooperate and they always did. Some of them became real friends even before they were certain that this book would become reality as it took time to be made, having myself to share a life between my life-earning job and the research process for that book. Of course all the traveling and costs involved were supported by me as I wanted this work to be independent and, besides, the members of Tuxedomoon are certainly not rich. But even so Carlos Becerra, their tour manager, often found ways to have me staying at the band's hotel as I accompanied them on some of their tours. Also lots of fans found me cheap or free accommodations on my journeys, especially in Italy. The band's reactions to my book are quite nice I believe. Of course for them it's kind of difficult to be "exposed" as some of my interviews with them touched delicate or intimate matters. It's hard for them to read it really but they are grateful and still supportive now. I remember that Steven Brown once told me that he tried to read it but could not go beyond a couple of chapters as he experienced the read as "some deep primal psychotherapy". Then he added: "But that means that your book really works!

 

Can you describe how you got to release that book considering that you always stated your desire to keep entire control over the process and on the final product?
- Thanks to Andy Wilson, an author from the UK who recently published a book about German krautrock act Faust, I became familiar with the pod-publishing process which, I found out, corresponded exactly to my needs. I knew that no publisher would accept my book the way it is, with its length, complicated two-column layout and many photos. With a publisher I would have had to shorten it to half of its length and renounce to a lot of my ideas. Besides I would have had to abandon all of my rights to someone who would have done nothing actually for this book to exist! So pod-publishing was like the fairy coming at my rescue. Through this process, you just have recourse to a printer, in this case Lightning Source, that holds the files ready to print the book. An add is then placed on most of the big book selling websites (Amazon and the like) for people to order the book. Once someone orders the book and pays for it online, then the book is actually printed (hence the acronym "pod" that stands for "print on demand") - only five working days are needed to complete the process - and sent out to its purchaser. In completing this process, I had recourse to a broker in the UK, Mute (www.metamute.org). Those people were pioneers of the pod-publishing process with a clear political orientation: pod-publishing is the DIY (Do It Yourself) of the publishing world and besides enables independent authors to be freed of the tyranny of publishers that nowadays seem only interested in releasing fast money making works. Now my book is available for everyone and I retained all of my rights on my work.

 

ImageDid you get some help in providing this book's great look?
- All the inside of the book was done by myself and a member of my family who was familiar with the use of publishing software's. The book has a two-column layout + many pictures. The original files were two separate word files (one for the main text and one for the side bar) that held indications for the positioning of photos and documents. Then those files were merged and photos were added to form the document as it looks in the book. The cover is the work of Oleg Kuptsov, the designer already referred to above.

 

How did you come up with the title of the book?
- The title has two parts, "Music For Vagabonds" and "The Tuxedomoon Chronicles". "Music for Vagabonds" was obvious considering my wandering story angle and the fact that Tuxedomoon's members are, indeed, nomads through geography, time and their art. "Music for Vagabonds" is also some kind of mock reference to Brian Eno's ambient concept albums like "Music For Airports", for instance. The word "Chronicles" is meant to refer, with a certain amount of humor about it, to the name that was given in the Middle Ages to writers who accompanied famous people from those days on their journeys in order to write and "chronicle" their story. When I found myself on tour or on some extended stays with some of them, I often wrote journals and so realized that I had become a "chronicler" of those guys' stories.

 

How can people purchase your book?
- Pod-publishing essentially results in commercialization through the internet. So people all over the world can order it on the various Amazon websites: www.amazon.com (USA), amazon.co.uk (UK), amazon.ca (Canada), amazon.fr (France), amazon.de (Germany), amazon.co.jp (Japan). Slowly it is becoming available on other, more local, websites. So I just would advise people to Google on the following terms: vagabonds corbisier tuxedomoon, and they will eventually come up with other possibilities. If you decide to go with Amazon, of course you do not need to be located in the country of origin of one of Amazon's national websites. I know of people located in Greece or South Africa who ordered on the American Amazon website and they received their book without any problem.

 

What are your favorite TM song, album and memorabilia?
- My favorite TM song: "(Special Treatment For the) Family Man" as it was the first TM song I ever heard on some University free radio in the early eighties. I was driving my tiny student car when I heard this and almost got an accident as hearing this song struck me so much that I felt very dizzy for a few seconds... My favorite TM album: "Desire" as it totally corresponded to my teenage Zeitgeist when it was released. My favorite TM memorabilia: a poster, with design by Roy Liechtenstein, for a "Rock in Loft" night in Paris in 1981, with Tuxedomoon, Snakefinger and Indoor Life as featured artists. The event was promoted a.o. by famous French magazine named Actuel. I just love the way it looks (there's a photo of it in my book). Recently I was struck to find out that this had become a collector that gets sold for fortunes on some specialized websites.

 

I noticed something about TM's recent gigs in Serbia. The first time they played there in 2000, 80% of the audience was made of their "old" fans. But the next time they played here, around 60% of the audience was youngsters. How would explain that?
- I believe that there is something about the cult bands from the eighties that is fascinating to young people. I mean it was only 20 years ago and yet it was a wholly different world then: people traveled by train with a totally different notion about traveling and the internet had not yet totally transformed people's ways of communicating. In addition the zeitgeist in those days, with the polarity between the Eastern (communist) countries and the Western ones made up for a totally different atmosphere. Yet TM, as "Americans in exile" foreshadowed a phenomenon that is again taking place today as American artists are, again, eventually trying to get away from Bush's America as Tuxedomoon left Reagan's America. I noticed also, when talking to some of the youngsters I met at TM's recent gigs, that they couldn't believe it that they would ever get to see this band that, to them, is totally "cult". Precisely their cult was revived by the fact that DJ Hell and Nouvelle Vague did either tour with them or cover one of their songs. Finally TM is often depicted as pioneers of what is nowadays depicted as "gothic" or techno, namely two cultural trends to which many youngsters can very much relate.

 

Do you have similar plans for other artists?
- I'm afraid not. This was really a labour of love and a passion I had that carried me through the difficulties of accomplishing this independent piece of work. I also felt that it was unfair for artists of the caliber of Tuxedomoon not to have a serious book written about them. I realized that most rock journalists I was running into were invariably telling me that it was a great idea to write about TM but, however, it was quite clear that none of them would have ever considered writing such a book themselves. Why? My theory about it is that Tuxedomoon was never perceived as "hip" enough to raise the profile of a journalist who would write about them. That also made me feels quite angry and re-enforced my motivation to do that work. Again the DIY motto comes to mind: if no one does it, then you have to do it yourself. But now the adventure has come to a happy ending and I really need to concentrate on my life-earning career as a University teacher...

 

Author: Mileta Okiljevic

 
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