FAUN FABLES with SINGING SAW SHADOW SHOW and PYRAMID CULTURE at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick), Wednesday (May 10). 9:30 pm. $10. 19+. 416-923-8137. Rating: NNNNN
These days, if artists who choose to accompany themselves with an acoustic guitar play anything but pre-war blues, they're at risk of being labelled freak-folk. That might be fine for Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, CocoRosie and the rest of the twangy upstarts who've just recently discovered their parents' Donovan records, but the thoughtfully conceived and exquisitely crafted Faun Fables projects that Dawn McCarthy dreams up don't seem to fit in with the "weirdo" indulgences typically associated with the freak-folk crowd.
"I think the reason people keep lumping me in with that freak-folk thing is because I played some shows with Devendra, but I don't really feel what I'm doing is part of any movement. Sure, I've listened to some British folk music from the late 60s, but it's probably because I'm at least 10 years older than everyone in that crowd. It's a different generation."
Her latest Faun Fables release, The Transit Rider (Drag City), is a haunting song cycle about someone who falls asleep on a train and awakens with the sinking feeling that she's missed her stop, only to be informed by her fellow passengers that it doesn't exist. The whole strange fairy tale unfolds more like one of Rod Serling's existentially chilling Twilight Zone parables about our perceptions of reality than someone strumming a surreal tune about the secret lives of junebugs and such.
"The inspiration for the songs on The Transit Rider actually came out of moving to New York back in 94," says McCarthy after a costumed performance of the elaborate Transit Rider stage show in San Francisco.
"Living in a big city for the first time definitely made me more aware of the feeling of being disconnected from nature and the strange experience of feeling isolated and alone while surrounded by people in a crowded metropolis.
"But now that you mention it, I do see some connection with some of the existential questions raised in certain episodes of The Twilight Zone. Like that one where the two astronauts wake in a hospital after returning from space to discover that no one knows anything about the third member of the crew - as if his life has been wiped from the historical record. Some of those Twilight Zone programs can be very intense and troubling without ever showing any blood or gore."
Actually, The Transit Rider made me think about the similarities to another episode, A Stop At Willoughby, in which a big-city executive, Gart Williams, unhappy with his job and the rat race, falls asleep on the train ride home and dreams of a simpler time, only to be awoken by the conductor announcing the next stop,Willoughby, a tranquil little village that strangely appears to be stuck in 1880. Only Willoughby isn't on any map.
There's a poem called I No Longer Wish To recited on The Transit Rider - contributed by McCarthy's father, Will McCarthy, upon leaving the financial world - that sounds like it could've been written by the Gart Williams character in that eerie Twilight Zone episode.
"Wow! That's uncanny! People are going to think that I totally ripped off that episode of Twilight Zone for The Transit Rider. I've never seen that one, but from your description, it sounds like there are some intriguing parallels. Wow. I'll have to track that down."