Thoughts from My Teriyaki Period
By Marvin Payne
Picasso painted in his “blue” period a good while before his more famous “lines, squiggles, cubes, and the occasional annoyed horse” period, and just shortly after his mostly disregarded “quite recognizable objects” period.
Bob Dylan, of course, began with his “acoustic Gibson guitar with abysmally dead strings” period, then drove Pete Seeger into an ax-wielding mania by shifting rather abruptly into his “Fender Stratocaster with amp turned up to ten” period. Not long afterward, he entered his “introduce the Beatles to hallucinogenics” period, then his very intense one-album-long “trying to sing nice” period. And several more, more than anybody else, in fact.
Artists do this. Go through “creative periods,” I mean. Tom Waits did it, beginning with a one-album “really lovely songs sung by the vocal equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard” period, followed by decades of “songs that are the songwriting equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard sung by the vocal equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard” period. Jerry Garcia did it, beginning with several decades of “Grateful Dead young people’s music” period followed by a very brief “old and in the way period” typified by an album on which he played, of all things, five-string banjo (!) called “Old And In The Way.” (This is not what the banjo was called, but, rather, the album, and, by extension, the artist, himself. The banjo, on the other hand, or, rather, on its headstock, was probably called a Gibson Mastertone.)
I’m thinking about “creative periods” because Steven Kapppp Ppperry (who was pppassing through, with an amazing degree of coincidence, his very brief “teriyaki” period at the same time as was I) was standing in line with me the other day at the Teriyaki Stix counter in BYU’s Cougareat (which is, I think, what they used to call a member of a sort of drill-team-slash-Borg-collective performance team, also at BYU, which, some few rather snobbish people thought, might well have been called, instead, “Young and In the Way” ((speaking of (((or, rather, writing of))) “in the way,” it always seemed that these Cougareats felt that way about their hair, because every time they turned their heads in performances, it was done with an intensity that seemed designed to shake off their identical coifs)) ) and asked me if I could divide my little career into “creative periods”? And if I could, would there be a song that might typify each of said periods? And could he build a radio interview around them? (Steve came dangerously near at this point to slipping from his Teriyaki period into his Interrogative period.)
He was remembering my exhortation here in these pages, er, pixels, maybe eighteen months ago to choose some recurring aspect of your life, like “taxes I have paid,” “teenagers I have survived,” or “computers I have blown to smithereens with rifle fire after they’ve utterly betrayed me” and then writing a personal history according to said recurrences.
(Oh, the particular history I used as an example, “My Life According To The Acquisition And Disposition Of Various Fretted Instruments,” is up for revision – well, really expansion. Over the holidays I sold my Martin mahogany dreadnought guitar ((this would be the model D-15 that I got to be Joseph Smith’s guitar-playing guardian angel)) to a nice guy in Portland who wanted it as a Christmas present for his daughter, and bought myself a little Martin mahogany 000-15S that’s as sweet as honey and as immediate as a kiss. It’s a design typical of turn-of-the-century ((19th to 20th)) Martins. It’s Martin number 8 for me and guitar number 33, of which I have, at present, only 3, I hasten to add. ((For C.F. Martin, it’s about number 1,105,464 since the year 1833, when they made number 1.
(((There are a number of people ((((you know, that should really be “There is a number of people…” but it would sound funny)))) who would find this very interesting. The number being perhaps 43, the odds stand rather against any of them being LDS, although I am assured by the Meridian editors that all Latter-day Saint members, investigators, and sympathizers, as well as several hundred million members of the Roman Catholic church ((((because they’re pretty much with us on “Abortion? No!” and “Priesthood? Yes!”)))) will be reading this column. ((((I feel pressed to exhort you here to remember that when you write your “My Life According To The Progress Of My Orthodonture,” it’s not about the orthodonture so much as about the life experiences you associate with the various stages of your orthodonture that count – which is to say, or, rather, to write, that if you worry about whether or not you’re being too detail-specific, or personal, or boring, you will never write anything, which might not be a bad thing if you presume to be the writer of columns for online magazines for the consumption of the general public (((((Meridian editors say “way, way inclusive and universal general public, along the order of the list of readers of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy ((((((the actual Guide, not the novel about it))))))” ))))), but which would be a very bad thing indeed if you presume, finally, to follow the counsel of the prophets and be the (((((incomparably more important))))) writer of your journal, for the consumption, with gusto, of descendants who love you and want to know every last detail of your feelings and experiences and orthodonture and Martin serial numbers and testimony of the gospel.)))) ))) )) )
[Backstage Graffiti Bonus Fact With Practical Spiritual Implications: Most “mahogany” used in Martin guitars is no longer actual mahogany, but an African wood called “sapele.” Sapele is so much like mahogany that people who are otherwise truthful may call their new Martins “mahogany” without jeopardizing their temple recommends at all. You may, if this question is taken to the highest councils of the Church, tell them I said it’s all right. This very afternoon in a recommend interview, I got past the second counselor in my bishopric without even a second glance.]
So, to satisfy friendship (with SKP) and to provide you with an example of what you might undertake (why do they call them “undertakers”?), I think I can do this.
Creative period #1, my “deadly serious spiritual fanaticism” period:
If I were to associate life experiences with this creative period, I would write about the vision of my dad, the essential image in which was me as not a rock-n-roll musician. I would write about being entirely intoxicated with the idea of consecration of talents and how the making of an album displaying said talents would bring the world to my humble doorstep. And I would write about how if you’re going to drop out of college, your reason for doing so needs at least to sound supremely righteous. I would write about being newly married and thinking that no particular attention need be paid to material security, because a couple of hundred dollars a month pretty much ought to do it. I would write about ignoring the busted heater and instead heating the house by leaving the oven door open and subsequently ignoring the condensed water that clung to the walls like flocked wallpaper. I would choose for Steve’s radio show the song “Ships of Dust.”
Creative period #2, my “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” period:
This period was driven by the discovery that people like to have a good time at concerts, which contravened my earlier notion that what they really wanted was to get dates, dress up, buy tickets, sit there reverently, and introspect. So I became very funny. (One of my band guys, JAC Redford, who had not, by then, entirely left his Creative period #1, once heard me described as “the Mormon comedian.” This he found appalling, but there you are. Materially, I would write about peddling records door-to-door to the BYU kids, which requires, above all else, a sense of humor. The song I would choose for this period would have to be “I Never Knew a Dog Named Marvin,” except that, having reverted in my old age back to deadly serious spiritual fanaticism, I can’t remember how it goes. Also it was never recorded, which is probably a good thing.
Creative period #3, my “Paper Roses” period:
This period is so named because some other Provo musicians, the Osmonds, asked me to write some songs for them. Observing that they were at that very moment the most popular band on the planet, it seemed like a materially responsible thing to do. I roped in Guy Randle, who’d been playing guitar with me, and we set out to write hits. Suddenly it was all about being accessible and familiar. It didn’t really work (although I can’t count the times Merrill Osmond looked me dead in the eyes and solemnly intoned, “Marvin, I think you’ve got a hit on your hands,” which phrase has become for me and my creative partners a proverb for “Maybe we should try something else”) but it got Guy and me to treat songwriting like a job and led to the creation of “The Planemaker, a Magical Story with Songs.” I’d write about driving to Los Angeles a lot, pulling down out of Cajon Pass into the already thick 3:00 am freeway traffic and being astounded at the likelihood that several of these people dozing along over their steering wheels were not actually in the music business and wondering why else anyone would live in Los Angeles. Since Steve wouldn’t have radio time for the whole “Planemaker,” I’d probably choose the song, um, choose the song… um gimme a minute… hmm, I just looked over some recent performance lists and, um, I don’t really ever sing anything from that period. Hmmm.
Creative period #4, my “songs for love” period:
This period kicked in when I made the disconcerting, and liberating, discovery that the world wasn’t lying awake at night waiting for the next Marvin hit. I found myself writing songs now pretty much because I loved people and wanted them to have the songs, wanted them to know how I felt. I would (and did) write about the people, because songs aren’t enough. I’m still in this period. There are a lot, lot, lot of songs from this period I would choose for Steve’s show.
Well, this being “Backstage Graffiti,” I will now stop writing and return to my “Noble Mordecai” period, because my young cousin Esther (that’s “Queen Esther” to you) needs my help in persuading the children of the Church to Liken the Scriptures unto themselves. This is nice. Seeing some of the same crew reminds me that in my last religious film I was a Fiend of the Infernal Pit. Entirely unmusical and in serious need of orthodonture.
Click Here for Marvin’s audio interview with these songs