Volume #11, Issue #2 Ė April 1984

Robert Hunter
On Amagamalin St.
By Toni A. Brown

ďOut of thirteen people who come here twenty six stay
Half of them haunt the street, the rest hide away
††††††††††† They call me the Rambling Ghost
††††††††††† Itís my pleasure to be your host
††††††††††† You buy the bottle Iíll drink a toast
††††††††††† To the kind of people you meet on
††††††††††† Amagamalin Street
Trying to beat the heat
Trying to make ends meetĒ
††††††††††† Robert Hunter, Amagamalin St.

Let my inspirations flow. . .

††††††††††† Just an ordinary little yellow houseóon the outside.† But inside. . . seeing him robed, fresh from his shower, so mortal a man.† Yet his immortality is destined through volumes of prose, neatly typed and bound.† And in his songs: meaningful declarations, latent implications, words to live byóor die by. . . words forever.

††††††††††† Robert Hunter is a family man, although I somehow canít picture him making a barbeque.† We were invited to that yellow house, just north of San Francisco.† It was a brand new Spring morning and the crisp air sang of new things coming alive.† Robert and his beautiful wife, Maureen, laid in a brunch reminiscent of New York (lox and bagels), and in an effort to make us feel quite at home.

††††††††††† We talked and rambled on so many subjects, but the most interesting and important topic was Hunterís upcoming album release, Amagamalin St.

Hunter:† I have a new album, called Amagamalin St., which will be out by the end of April.† Iím going into the studio to record part two.† Iím working out the last touches on the arrangements.

Relix:† Who are you playing with on this new release?

Hunter:† I have a fellow called Vaclov Berosini on bass, and Roy Blumenfeld from the Blues Project is playing drums.† John Cipollina is doing all the electric guitar work, and I play acoustic guitar and a bit of harp.

Relix:† Sounds like a rock album.

Hunter:† I guess youíd call it that.† Itís a story.† The first song on the first side is about 16 minutes long.† Itís the entire side.† Itís called ďRoseanne,Ē and itís a story of a fellow who sweet-talks a girl into going across the country with him, and leads her into the life of, first, a fortune-telling gypsy, degenerating into a prostitution scene.† The guy is charming, and this, I think, comes across on the record.† Itís the kind of charm a pimp sort of personality has to have in order to charm somebody to do what he wants done.

††††††††††† The second side shows, after he leaves her on the west coast, some of the attitudes, the things that have happened in his life leading to his degeneration and inevitable fall in the last song, ďRambling Ghost.Ē

††††††††††† The second record deals with a friend of his who figures prominently in the first part.† The fellow in the first record is named Chet, and the whole story is his story, mostly in present tense, and his reminiscences.† The second record examines some of these same characters and situations except from the point of view of a friend of his, Murphy, who is an ethical type.† You will see a different side of Chet from his viewpoint.† I think itís the first rock Ďní roll recorded novelóAmagamalin St.

Relix:† Do you plan to have Cipollina and the same musicians on the next record?

Hunter:† There will be some shifting of personnel to get different flavors.† Iím very pleased with what John Cipollina has done on the first.† Heís given me some of his signature guitar playing.† Itís pretty tough rockiní.

††††††††††† Itís a clean record.† I do feel that it washes everything Iíve ever done in my spotty recording past right down the steps, the first record Iíve done that I think Iím pleased with in all respects.† It came out the way I planned it.† Nothingís ever done that before.

Relix:† But at one point you wanted to go into the studio and record an acoustic album, so how can you say it came out the way you planned it?

Hunter:† Because I heard all of this real big in my head.† I was going to do it all with acoustic guitar and slight overdubbing, but it became quickly apparent that in order to capture my fantasy, solo guitar and voice were not enough.

††††††††††† The musicians were pleased.† They felt they were playing live, and I think the album reflects it.

Relix:† Sounds like youíve been doing a lot of work. . . .

Hunter:† I thrive on a lot of work.† And I have not had the opportunity to do a lot of work in many years, except sitting home writing my books and my poems.

Relix:† Is anything special motivating you now that was lacking before?

Hunter:† There comes a time in your life when you realize that you are at your prime, and if you donít do it now, the statement that you feel you have in you is not going to get done.

Relix:† Do you intend to do anything with the poems youíve written, like turn them into songs, or give them to other musicians, or publish them in any way?

Hunter:† No, because these suites that Iíve written make Terrapin look like a midget, length-wise.† They run variously thirty, forty, fifty pages.† Theyíre too long to consider recording.† Some of them are lyric in essence, although not all, by any means.† In writing what I consider my more serious works, I havenít struck for lyricism.† Iíve been using words in a different way, but suddenly, I felt like working lyrically again.† The ďAmagamalin SuiteĒ is whatís coming out of that.

Relix:† Any chance of publishing any of your suites?

Hunter:† Oh, I assume I will.† I may publish all the suites together.† I have about half a dozen, which would make a fat little book, at some point.

Relix:† You mentioned ďTerrapin Station.Ē† Is there more to it than it being a song?

Hunter:† I do have the complete ďTerrapin Suite.Ē† I must disclaim and repudiate the version on Jack Oí Roses, because I had lost the original ďTerrapin.Ē† The complete thing that I gave to the Dead has been lost for several years, so in doing the Jack Oí Roses album, I tried to reconstruct what I could but it took a very different direction, because I had lost many of my initial ideas.† I finally found it in one of my trunks while I was going through them last year.† I took it out and finished it up.

Relix:† What were some of the differences between the Jack Oí Roses version and the original version?

Hunter:† Well, the original version was written in one breath.† From beginning to end it ran about four or five typed pages, maybe six.† Failing to remember what I had done, I went off on some tangents, a whole change of direction.† The new parts on Jack Oí Roses are appropriately part of ďTerrapin,Ē but as for them being ďTerrapin, Part IIĒ as I originally envisioned it, no.† Itís off in the bushes somewhere.† I donít expect anyone else is ever going to record the finished work.† I may publish it sometime, because Iím pleased with it.

Relix:† What about some of the other things that youíve done?

Hunter:Alligator Moon has given me so much trouble.† Iíve rewritten it dozens of times.† Iím not satisfied with the version I recorded of it or the lyrics.† I kept missing it.† It wasnít what I was driving at.† I think maybe the concept of Alligator Moon was too vague in my mind.† Itís kind of a burnt sienna wash.† What I managed to get from it is only texture and no solidity.† Phantasmal.† It keeps flying away from me.† I think it may be a couple of years before I get Alligator Moon written the way itís supposed to be, and Iíll know it, because I know what I want in that song, or that suite.† But in the meantime, I keep rewriting it and putting it away, looking at it, and no, that wasnít quite what I wanted or had in mind.

Relix:† Alligator Moon, was that the concept for the record that was recorded but never released?

Hunter:† That was a second or third run through of a lyrical idea that I have for Alligator Moon.† It sings well, it sounds good, but basically itís ephemeral.† Thereís nothing to get your teeth into.† Itís one of those concepts that a writer or painter will get, you canít say what it is because what you have written, in the end, is what it is.† Itís something you find out later.† And Iím a real severe critic of my work.† Iíll put it away for a while.† Iíll look at it.† If I didnít get it, Iíll either scrap it or rewrite.† I have several projects that Iíve been working on for years.

Relix:† Did you ever perform Alligator Moon?

Hunter:† Comfort performed it often.† Thereís undoubtedly dozens of taped versions of it circulating around, most of which are probably livelier than the unreleased recorded version.

Relix:† Is there any work that youíre doing currently, just songs of average length?

Hunter:† A couple of tunes for Dave Nelsonís new band with Billy Kreutzmann, Nelsonís tunes are in a simpler pocket.† Amagamalin Street isnít all that far out.† No psychedelic space pilot stuff in there.† Itís the way people talk, and I think the way people do relate.† Iím dealing with the theme of subjugation and brutalization, themes I think are very serious, things that need to be talked about, and I canít say them in a cosmetized way.

Relix:† Your language is becoming more straightforward.

Hunter:† The more I write, the more straight-forward itís getting.† I spent this year examining language and writing the best Iím capable in my strictly written work.† The radically elusive image is dropping out of my vocabulary.† Letís talk about something.† I was talking about space ten years ago.

Relix:† The Amagamalin Street albums are laid out like novels.

Hunter:† I hope the whole Amagamalin Street will be a real place when Iím done with it.

Relix:† And youíll be releasing the albums on Relix Records.† How do you like working with a small, independent label?

Hunter:† For the way I like to work, an independent label is ideal.† My investment is in my work, not in promoting my image, and the work must speak for itself.† Anything to do with a major record label promotion wonít mesh with my writing.† I think independent distribution can.† Plus, I can write my own ticket here.† These two albums are a huge textural project.† If I was going to go to Killer Records, theyíd want to know which were the potential hits, and can the kids dance to it.† I donít deal on that level.

Relix:† How are the Dinosaurs doing?

Hunter:† The Dinosaurs are going to put out an album within the next five years.

Relix:† Does the band have any new songs?

Hunter:† Well, we do mostly original Dinosaur tunes.† Somehow the word got out that we draw from old individual band repertoires, which is not exactly the case.† I do a version of ďFire on the MountainĒ with the band, which is kind of a communal tune.† The Dead do it and Mickey Hart has done it, and other people did it before it came out as a Dead tune.† Barry (Melton) does ďPlease Donít Drop the H-Bomb On Me,Ē and Peter (Albin) does ďBlind Man Stood On the Wing and Cried,Ē and John does ďMona.Ē† But except for the very fact of our existence and who we are, other than that, we donít trade much on the parent band stuff.

Relix:† Are you hoping to do a national tour with the Dinosaurs?

Hunter:† When people will pay us what weíre worth, weíll go on out.† You know, itís a very conservative promoters market, on the east coast.† The offers weíve had have not amused us.† We will continue playing locally, which is to say, the west coast, until promoters notice thereís a demand for us out there, which there is, and agree to pay us what this band is worth.† I canít afford personally to finance a band tour.† Itís a question of faith at this point, for the promoters, that we will draw, and they donít have that.† Thatís fine.† We can wait forever.† Weíve got time.

††††††††††† With the interview concluded, we went on with the day.† Hunter evoked our enthusiasm by reading to us from some of his unpublished work.† His resonant baritone voice brought his words to life, as we sat spellbound, woven in story.† Notably, we were treated to an R-Rated version of Raggedy Remus which was so humorously clever that it lightened the intensity of the imagery.† The man is a master storyteller.† Shakespeare, move over!

††††††††††† The day came to a close, but the animated images of Robert Hunterís work had just truly come to life.

††††††††††† As for Amagamalin Street, it is a finely paced, up-tempo rock album.† It presents Hunter in a different light than any past recordings have.† The lyrics admit cruelty, violence, and harsh reality.† Hunterís passion is showing here.† He creates a smooth narrative, accentuating the fine lyrics, rendering them fully audible.

††††††††††† John Cipollinaís guitar work is purely magic.† His style effectively enhances the flighty, illustrated characters dealt with in the story.

††††††††††† The recording of Amagamalin St. will be released soon.† Be sure to watch RELIX MAGAZINE for availability.

(Note:† Part II of Amgamalin St. will feature Jorma Kaukonen on electric guitar.)

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