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Hi. I’m Chris Stroffolino, and I’m the lead singer /songwriter for the band CONTINUOUS PEASANT.
Growing up in Reading, PA, I got turned on to music through listening to the radio. In fact, my parents were so jealous of the time I spent glued to the radio that the worst punishment they could devise for me was to take it away. The radio became, as it were, a third parent, and certainly a way better one back in the ‘70s, when a lot of the lyrics where more socially progressive than my parents’ attitudes, and pointed a way out of small town restrictions. But with the ‘80s came a decline in quality for both top 40 and ‘free format’ FM stations, and I soon became a radio orphan.
Around this time, I fortunately discovered college radio and eventually even became a DJ. I moved to Philadelphia, where I became an active part of the underground punk scene of the late ‘80s, co-founding an anarchist-squat performance-warehouse-space in West Philly, while busking on my electric piano in Rittenhouse Square, and making a name for myself on the poetry scene. Even though I was starting to get my poetry published, it never really occurred to me to try to record my own songs. Poetry was cheaper; I could travel lighter. Besides, there was so much great music being made, so many great shows to go to, that I didn’t feel as needed by the music scene as I did by the poetry scene.
Besides, I thought that taking my music to ‘market’ would somehow destroy the freedom of expression I found by playing it in more informal settings. I was out there in the park busking more to meet girls than to make money. Yet, by 1992, the squat and indie scenes were starting to fall apart (some say this was due to the commercial success of a few bands, mostly from Seattle, but I don’t blame them). On a personal level, I began to default on my student loans, so I went to grad school for poetry, and eventually received a Ph.D. in Shakespeare, and like many others, put my music aside for awhile as I tried to make it in the ‘straight’ world. It didn’t really seem like selling out, though—I had always thought the coolest teachers were like rockstars…
Of course, even after I had published several books of poetry, making even a modest living as a poet/teacher proved as hard as making a living as a musician, and in 1998, my old friend DAVID BERMAN asked me to join the SILVER JEWS and that experience “lit a fire under my butt!” Although I continued to publish poetry and teach freelance, my work with David and STEPHEN MALKMUS, my favorite ‘90s indie-rock guitarist, made me realize that it would be possible for me to take my own songs public. I also felt an increasing necessity to do so, especially as even college radio playlists were beginning to favor slick ‘alternative’ music. As I became aware of this void in the ‘indie’ music scene, I felt compelled to fill it by becoming involved in it, not just as a sideman, but as a songwriter.
This brief account of my journey may seem self-indulgent, but I’ve discovered some things about the ‘entertainment’ or ‘culture’ industries in my journey that I’d like to share in future blogs. One is that many of the poets now look at me with suspicion since I released my debut album in 2002. Comments I’ve gotten from poets in the past few years have caused me to imagine me how BOB DYLAN must’ve felt in 1964-65, when the folkies started condemning him for writing personal songs and going electric. On the other hand, poetry is seemingly off the radar these days, including for many people in the indie music scene, so there’s resistance coming at me from both sides. I guess that just means I’m doing something right, and that music and poetry can still shake things up!
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