69 Love Songs Interview ~ Magnetic Fields
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The Three Terrors: LD Beghtol, Stephin Merritt and Dudley Klute:

What do Abba, Serge Gainsborough and disastrous French pop shows have in common? Absolutely nothing, as that would be absurd. But then, perhaps, The Three Terrors are absurd.


Magnetic Fields

A performance only project, occurring at sporadic intervals throughout the year, and with little or no signs of official release, The Three Terrors is the 30s film loving Hollywood love child of LD Beghtol, Stephin Merritt and Dudley Klute. A child born out of the soirèes and downtown celebrations of dead-celebrity anniversaries and priceless hours of talk about surrealism and The Carter Family, The Three Terrors plays like a sackful of xmas presents delivered on a cold and traditionally snowy xmas morning. With set lists including everything from the theme to The Blob to the exhaustingly beautiful, Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka this is something that cannot fail to charm even the hardest of retro sceptics.

LD Beghtol, prodigious star of The Three Terrors, The Magnetic Fields, Moth Wranglers and Flare, took time out to speak to Crud about the project..

Crud: How did the whole thing come together, and where is it all going? How did you get to know Stephin and Dudley in the first place?

LD BeightolLD Beghtol: God. What a story. In 1997 I was the art director for THE LONG ISLAND VOICE, which was a start-up of a sister publication to the venerable VILLAGE VOICE, which meant I was stranded on Long Island, New York six or seven days a week for what usually ended up being 15-hour days. Perfectly hideous. Anyway, a young writer friend there was dating Claudia ( The Magnetic Fields' manager/drummer/pianist/ vocalist ) and was playing the rough mixes of what became the first Flare album, BOTTOM, for her as we were doing them. Although I really only had a minute amount of spare time to actually make them, Claudia liked what she heard and played them for Stephin (Merritt). Eventually Stephin requested an audience - which consisted of one of the most excruciating dinners of my life, since Stephin's actually pretty shy and very reserved until you get to know him well. It's all very flattering to meet one of your idols, but I have to say it was also sort of demoralizing at first because the evening consisted of Claudia and me chattering away, trying to keep some conversation going, and Stephin and my guitarist at the time staring down at their plates, being terminal shyboys... Ugh!

But eventually we became friends and have spent the last four years talking endless about tremolo pedals and Marx instruments and The Carter Family and surrealism and good lyrics vs bad lyrics and all sorts of crap. Then came 69 LOVE SONGS and that changed everyone's lives. Mostly for the good, I think!

Crud: And Dudley?

LD: I met Dudley through Stephin; they were casual acquaintances at this bar in the East Village we all used to frequent. As it happened a "Best-of" CD of Dudley's old Belgian band, Kid Montana, was on the juke box and we all fell in love with his gorgeous 1985 picture on the cover - and his voice and wit and charm. Flare covers Dudley's fabulous song "(Anywhere) like the moon" on our CIRCA ep. Anyway, the three of us then just sort of fell in together. Dudley and Stephin both have a mammoth knowledge of arcane pop, so I've learned heaps through them about Scott Walker and the Shangri-las and such. And we all like obscure 80s electropop and new wave, so we quickly became inseparable - or insufferable - if you don't like that sort of stuff. Fortunately for the three of us, our pal Gail did…

As luck would have it, Gail O'Hara was at this time the music editor for TIME OUT NEW YORK, a magazine Beghtol also finds time to write for. Gail is also publisher and editor of what LD enthuses is the "divine" CHICKFACTOR 'zine, as well as being the official Magnetic Fields photographress and documentarian. She's also apparently the 'coolest girl in New York;' Belle & Sebastian even wrote a song about her, so there you have it. So how does all this fit together?

LD: Gail organizes several soirées every year, usually around dead celebrities' birthdays, or holidays, or around themes, etc, and in April of 1999 she asked Stephin, Dudley and me to open for her pal, April March, who Gail had booked to do two shows one Sunday evening at Tonic in New York. It was Dudley who named us The Three Terrors. He's great with that sort of stuff. I don't know that we ever actually agreed to do it, but there we were doing a French pop show.

There's an old saying that goes: never work with children, animals or French Pop-shows, as what can be darkly entertaining for French bands and for French audiences becomes somewhat of a minefield for those with language problems (or with a problem with the French language at least). Eddie Izzard found this. The Beatles found this. Perhaps even the Bromley born, Edith Piaf found this. Cross-cultural performances like this appear to have that uncanny and unrepentant knack of transforming all that is tragic into all that is comic, and all that is comic into all that is tragically flawed. Even if it does still happen to be a grimly entertaining spectacle for the rest of us. But as sure as eggs is eggs, or eggs is oeurfs, entertainment is significantly better intended when it's the artist controlling the audience and not necessarily when it's his or her inexpert control of the language that is controlling the entertainment. After all, what made people like Napoleon so popular on the home front? That's right. It was his amusing if inexpert control of the language. The Beatles found this. The Three Terrors found this...

LD: We were utterly unrehearsed and the first set was a total disaster - as was witnessed by most of our friends. We did some of our own songs, plus various covers, and generally made asses of ourselves. Utterly mortifying. The second set was perfect, however, and someone filmed it - if it ever turns up you can hear treats like Dudley singing Serge Gainsbourg's "Norma Jean Baker," Stephin doing Abba, and all of us doing the Moth Wranglers song "I Hate My Life and I Want To Die" as rendered into impeccable French by Monsieur Klute!

For folks like Napoleon at least, the performance of songs like "I Hate My Life and I Want To Die" did indeed anticipate some kind of failure. But not so for The Three Terrors. The only thing faintly tragic was that the fact it lured a somewhat wary Stephin Merritt back into the glare of the spotlight.

LD: Stephin usually hates to perform live. But with The Three Terrors it's more like acting, in that we are doing characters. Since most of the songs are covers so he can sort of let go. Plus the arrangements are very, very experimental, so it's kind of like workshopping ideas that he and I can perhaps use elsewhere in our own recordings. The Three Terrors is a load of work, but we'll continue to do it as long as we're having fun - say about one a year!

Stephin MerritAnd so it was that we digressed onto the 69 LOVE SONGS, that remarkable tome of genius brought forth by The Magnetic Fields. Rated highly across the board, and registering in several eminent end-of-year polls as one of the finest albums of 2000 (ROLLING STONE, included) 69 LOVE SONGS saw the brash, mercurial wit and conceit of Merritt join forces with the brash, mercurial wit and conceit of Messrs Beghtol and Klute. At around three hours in duration, and of course 69 songs in length, the broad success of the 69 LOVE SONGS seems even in hindsight to be largely impossible. Even at half the length The Beatles so-called WHITE ALBUM was said to be insufferably indulgent, so why is it not the case with this album? The irrefutable success of 69 LOVE SONGS (at least on a critical level) is testament to the extreme confidence of all those concerned. Merritt for his songs. Beghtol, Klute & Co. for their flawless delivery of them. It's a lesson in mid-wifery if nothing else. A lesson in mid-wifery and keeping in character. Which, as it so happened, we also had a question about....

Crud: Much of the 69 LOVE SONGS album sounds as if it's played 'in character', with the singers as the album's Dramatis Personae if you like. Was this sense of theatre intended? And if so, is this why we now have The Three Terrors?

LD Beghtol: Of course it's very theatrical. Very much so! The idea started out as a review. When it finally became 69 LOVE SONGS as we know it, naturally some of that essence was still lingering when it came to The Three Terrors. And Stephin wrote in character both for himself and for most of us. Everyone got in character on the album, but I think mine are rather more blatant because I have the most varied voice of the guest singers: neo-Glen Campbell country ballad, "All My Little Words;" lounge singer, "My Sentimental Melody;" madrigal-ette, "Roses;" 30s crooner, "The Way You Say Good Night;" 50s showtune, "Bitter Tears;" and the Gilbert & Sullivan star turn, "King of the Boudoir." Both Stephin and I have fairly comprehensive theatrical backgrounds as actors, writers and directors, so that was bound to come out. And Dudley, of course, is so charismatic onstage that one would be a fool not to give him hyperdramatic material to sing. So, though The Three Terrors didn't, in fact, arise directly from this shared love of the dramatic (and, in the strict sense, melodramatic), we certainly channel all this into the Terrors' shows - in the choice of material and arrangements, in the sequencing of the shows, in the use of the weird and visually interesting instruments, and of course in the performances themselves.

Crud: Anything stand out from any of these performances, now?

LD Beightol

LD: My own classic moment at the last show was "I Never Do Anything Twice" by the godlike Stephin Sondheim - in which I sang a song written for an aging madam to sing in a brothel in Vienna c. 1900. It's very, very dirty in the most polite, drawing room way. I mean every line is a dirt joke - though some are so subtle it's blink and you miss it. We were all in hysterics in rehearsals. Dudley of course stole the show with the theme from DEEP THROAT and Stephin was miraculous on both "Pure Imagination" from the Willy Wonka movie and on "Love Song For A Vampire" by Annie Lennox - I couldn't stop sobbing, and I was playing a little Indian harmonium at the time. Hope I didn't ruin it!

Crud: You've already mentioned a certain indebtedness to theatre. The playwright, Brecht seemed to play with the traditional or the historical in much the same way that both 69 LOVE SONGS and The Three Terrors appear to - in that they seem to, at least, embrace, transgress or subvert the rules and obligations of the genres and periods they pay homage to? Is this the case with The Three Terrors? Just how straight has it been played so far?

LD: Oh, you know what? I hate Brecht. I admit it without shame. And the word transgression makes me want to reach for my revolver.

Crud: But there's a little of that same sense of anachronism about some of the 69 LOVE SONGS. A little twist, an awkward slant or something, reminded me of songs like "Mack The Knife." Something like, "How Fucking Romantic" obeys all the melodic rules of the cabaret form, but it also pitches a cynical stab at the genre. So it registers a little somewhere else in the brain of the listener, perhaps..

LD: Yes, of course. I totally agree. I think Stephin hates Brecht, too, actually. But I think I can answer the latter part of your question. The Three Terrors only do songs we love and think are worth doing - or reinterpreting. So Dudley will do "Deep Throat" because it's so over the top and weird and interesting from a cultural standpoint.....

Crud: As no one even remembers music from that movie, right?

LD: Right. And to slip right into a song like "Ben" without a wink or a nudge. We all love satire and kitsch, and none of us is above ripping something to shreds for fun, but we're all pretty bored with gratuitous irony. So when we sing "Que sera, sera" it's because we really like it - same as the theme from THE BLOB or "When you wish upon a star." They have meaning for us, and we hope they will for the audience.

Dudley KluteAnd so we have now turned onto meaning. Up Broadway, right on 42nd street and left onto Meaning. Elusive. Pervasive. One thing to one person. One thing entirely different to another. It's perhaps not the time or the place to query jus how different a 'kitsch' meaning is from a straight one. It's certainly questionable about whether or not a modern audience actually appreciate a 30s crooner in the same way a 30s audience would. Just as it's similarly questionable why some people are still wearing flares. Some people wear them because they haven't made it out of the house to the mall in 25 years. Some people wear them for other reasons. One is considered cool. One isn't. So perhaps it's context sensitive. One is a meaning that is tired and worn, the other is set alight with a meaning that is both heavy and vibrant. Heightened perhaps. Meaning- full, perhaps. Hyper-real, certainly. And the context? Well never mind the context for now. Not just now. So was this similar sense of homage the case with the Three Terrors posters?

LD: The Jorge Colombo posters? The wondrous Jorge Colombo is a famous illustrator friend of mine in New York. He's originally from Lisbon, Portugal and he and his painter wife (the equally wondrous Amy Yoes) are very into music and come to our various Flare, The Magnetic Fields and Three Terrors performances. Jorge is very striking - gleaming bald head, Waxed moustache, round black glasses - and dresses like an evil 1920s film director. Very sexy! And just the sweetest, smartest man alive. Anyway, when we decided to do the movie show this spring, I asked him to do the poster like an old 40s MGM poster. So he shot us in character, naturally: Dudley as Ramon Navarro, Stephin as Peter Lorre, and me as a young Orson Wells. And voila! Irving (Stephin's Chihuahua) also stars as the MGM lion.

With Beghtol being something of a renaissance man and being as curiously able to talk theatre and cinema as knowledgably as music, it's tempting to edge further and further away from the reason we brought him here. In order to re-establish some semblance of order, I decided to tackle him about his tackle. His musical tackle, of course. After all, it's no secret that Beghtol has something of a penchant for obscure and little played musical instruments and of dragging something remarkable from the most meagre of objects. So I went for the jugular. His ukulele...

Crud: The ukulele: so often under-used, so often underrated. But you gents seem to love it. What's the crack?

LD: Well, I always loved 1920s music - I grew up listening to my parents old 78s of that stuff - and later sought out Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike) and the various George Formbys, etc. So I knew lots about ukuleles anyway. Hell, even the venerable George Harrison and Joni Mitchell are uke-players! So when Stephin and I became pals, we both decided that doing anything to disassociate ourselves from indie rock was probably a good idea, and ukuleles are emphatically NOT indie rock so we decided to champion them. Also, for more practical reasons: We both look really cute with them, especially the baritone ukes like I play. Scale issues, you know. And the baritone uke is good against both of our voices and fits nicely with the cello. Flare is primarily an acoustic band, and ukes have a long tradition in American string bands, so of course that makes sense for us. And - I admit it - ukuleles are fun (and pretty easy) to play. And great for songwriting - much easier to find the chords than on a guitar. And finally, for me, it's very gratifying to write really sad songs for an instrument that is primarily associated with happy, good-time music.

A visit to The Three Terrors web-site at www.thethreeterrors.com allows some indication of what lies in store at a show. It's minimalist, it's classy and it's above all, very lovingly put together. If you're expecting kitsch, you'll be disappointed. If you're expecting songs, you'll be disappointed. And if you're expecting songs on record, you'll be very disappointed indeed, as there are currently no plans to release a single number. So if you haven't seen a show, and you haven't yet heard a bootleg - what's a boy gonna do? You ask , dear boy, you ask...

Crud: What sort of material have you been covering with The Three Terrors? The web-site set lists suggest that there's been both original and non-original material in there so far. And do you gents really sing in French and German?

LD: Yep - and English, of course. And gibberish. I'm classically trained so I can pronounce most anything in Latin, German and Italian, and am fair in French. Dudley and Stephin both have French and fluently, and Dudley knows some German as well.

Crud: Favourite musical?

LD: I really hate musical theatre except for the frothy, early stuff, like Berlin and some operetta, some Cole Porter and a very little Noel Coward. And of course the complete works of Stephin Sondheim. There are songs I like by other classic writers - Arlen, Rogers & Hammerstein, Hart, Lerner & Lowe, Loesser - but as a contemporary from I really don't like it. To like RENT or anything by Lloyd Weber or Jerry Herman is the equivalent of not liking music, as far as I'm concerned.

Crud: So you see any contributions being made by yourselves and The Three Terrors to breathe life back into the musical, or music-hall? Or has the genre had it's day?

LD: Well, Stephin is writing various musicals for Off-Broadway and for the movies, and I'm looking into getting the movie rights to an obscure 1930s book about gay life in Greenwich Village that I hope to turn into a movie with songs. Not a musical, per se, but one where the songs are necessary to the plot and action. And I love the review form and would gladly work on that if given the chance, as with cabaret - if there was a way to do it that was more contemporary and vital - and NOT just tacky piano bar diddling...

Crud: There seem to be no immediate plans for any releases, if at all. Is this part of the 'unrehearsed' and 'totally ridiculous' sound you want to create? How about an online release only or some Musical Of The Absurd web-cast?

LD: Nope, no plans for any releases. The ephemeral nature of The Three Terrors is much of its attraction for us. There are probably bootlegs, though we discourage that. We like Three Terrors shows to have a built-in preciousness - in the good way, I hope - so it's not just another show, blah blah blah... But I assure you, we've learned our lesson after that first mess of a show; we rehearse and arrange and plot and plan like you wouldn't believe for shows now. For the "Three Terrors Go Hollywood" show - another brilliant Dudley title! - we made song lists for months, picked about 30 songs and then rehearsed for almost a month solid with Kenny [Mellman, of Kiki & Herb] and Jon [De Rosa, of Flare and Aarktica]. And still we only had one really run-through of the whole two-hour show before the performance! So some things we did in fact leave a little to chance. But we knew the framework of the arrangements and since we're all pretty competent at playing something that fits at a moments notice (especially Jon, Kenny and Stephin), it all worked out beautifully. And was only mildly terrifying. Also the trouble with releasing covers versions is paying royalties, so it's unlikely we'd ever do anything like an online release, since it would be of quasi legality at best. As for a "Musical of the Absurd" thingy - propose something!

Crud: You have a few other projects on the boil: Flare, Moth Wranglers. What's happening with those?

LD: The Moth Wranglers' debut full-length album, NEVER MIND THE CONTEXT will be out October 1st on Magnetic in America - with guest appearances from Stephin & Claudia, Ken Stringfellow, Allison Faith Levy, The Klezmatics, Daniel Handler and many others. Hopefully not too long after that it'll come out in the UK. Flare will have a new release, HUNG, early next year, though I can't reveal on what label since we haven't signed the contract! Both Flare and Moth Wranglers have lots of compilation and tribute disc appearances coming up in the next six months. Also, Moth Wranglers will begin recording an album with Shirley Simms [69 LOVE SONGS chanteuse] next spring, which is very exciting. It'll be some of her songs, some of my songs, some select covers, with Chris Xefos (my Moth Wranglers partner) and me producing, and an all-star band consisting of Chris and me, Victor Krummenacher & Jonathan Segal (Camper Van Beethoven), Doug Hilsinger and Bruce Kaphan (American Music Club) backing her up. Very exciting. And don't tell anyone, but I'm collaborating on a sort of synthpop record with some guy I never met on the west coast... All very dancey and gay and pop pop pop! Which is all very odd for me, actually.

Crud: Stephin said somewhere that you were a goth. Are you a goth?

LD: I am not and never was - not in the black velvet/white pancake make-up/The Damned sense. Though I do think some Flare music is very much "southern gothic" in the literary sense - in the way that Flannery O'Connor, Poe, Truman Capote and Faulkner are. All big early influences on me, along with the Bible, The Carter Family, certain 19th century tear-jerker parlour ballads like "An hour too late" and "There's a little box of pine on the 7:29." Lots of impossible love, untimely death, accursed families, heavy sighs and the ceaseless weight of history...

Crud: When the next Three Terrors show likely to occur?

LD: Next Spring - we're thinking around May Day. We like doing shows on holidays - for some unknown reason - though the themes of the shows and the holidays never seem to coincide. We may even do a spot of touring in America. And our pals at the Festival Hall in London want us to come over, so who knows!?!?!?!

Crud: Any further input likely for The Magnetic Fields?

LD: Oh, our days with TMF ended with the four nights at the Lyric Hammersmith, London in January. A proper finale, too, I think. Stephin's hard at work on the next album, he says, and of course it'll be very different from 69 LOVE SONGS. So it's unlikely that Dudley, Shirley and I will be involved. That's okay, though - we're already a part of history! But I do suspect that every instrument I own will once again find it's way into Stephin's studio when he's recording.....

Well if does LD, it's going to be an altogether better world for it. The one fine instrument he might not have the benefit of having on hand will be the one The Magnetic Fields will miss the most: that marvellous elastic voice.

I think we transgressed a few boundaries there...

Shh. Did you hear something click?

Columnist: Alan Sargeant

69 Love Songs as reviewed by Crud HERE

Set List for
Sunday, 1st April, 2001
The Knitting Factory, NYC

SM = Stephin Merritt, LD = LD Beghtol, DK = Dudley Klute
KM = Kenny Mellman, JDR + Jon De Rosa


"Everyone Says I Love You"
LD+DK+SM: vocals, JDR: guitar, KM: piano

"Come with the Gentle People"
SM: vocal, sitar, LD: resonator uke, KM: organ, JDR: drums, DK: maracas, vocal

DK, vocal, JDR: nylon-string guitar, LD+SM: backing vocals
From BEN

"In Heaven"
LD: vocal, bari uke, SM: bundlesticks, mouthwarper, KM: shruti box, JDR: drums, DK: Marxophone, cricket box

"Me & My Rhythm Box"
SM: vocal, Danmo, JDR: spring, LD: spacephone, spoons, KM: musical sculpture, DK: subway toy, reception bell, whistle

"Falling In Love Again"
DK: vocal, SM: toy piano

LD: vocal, baritone uke, JDR: electric guitar, SM: Danmo, KM: synth, DK, vocal, rainstick

"Be Careful, It's My Heart"
SM: vocal, Resonator uke

"Doll on a Music Box/Trulie Scrumptious"
LD+DK, vocals, KM: piano, JDR: Marxophone, SM: xylophone

Theme from DEEP THROAT
DK: vocal, KM: piano, SM: nylon string guitar, LD: gong, bell, JDR: bells, sleigh bells

"When You Wish Upon a Star"
LD: vocal, JDR: acoustic guitar, SM+DK: backing vocals, SM: xylophone

"Love Song for a Vampire"
SM: vocal, synth, LD: Indian harmonium, vocal, JDR: xylophone, vocal, DK: vocal

"Happy Endings"
DK: vocal, KM: piano


Theme from THE BLOB!
LD: vocal, handclaps, SM: electric guitar, vocal, JDR: drums, KM: organ; DK: kazoo, percussion

"Because We're Kids"
SM: vocal, synth, LD: backing vocal

"Sleep Safe and Warm" (ROSEMARY'S BABY theme)
DK: vocal, KM: piano, LD: finger cymbals, backing vocal, JDR: Resonator uke, backing vocal, SM: toy piano, backing vocal

"If I Fell"
SM + LD: vocals, JDR: electric guitar, LD: finger cymbals, SM: tongue drum

"I Never Do Anything Twice"
LD: vocal, KM: piano

"Pure Imagination"
SM: vocal, KM: piano, LD: xylophone, JDR: harmonium

"It Only Hurts When I Cry"
DK: vocal, SM: Resonator uke, backing vocal, LD: bari uke, backing vocal, JDR: tambourine, KM: piano

LD: vocal, JDR: baritone uke, SM: toy piano

"Stay Awake"
SM: vocal, LD: baritone uke, SM: toy xylophone

Theme from XANADU!
DK: vocal, SM: baritone guitar, JDR: drums, LD: harmonium

"Remember My Forgotten Man"
LD: vocal, baritone uke, KM: piano, SM: baritone guitar, humming, JDR: banjo, DK: humming

"The Rainbow Connection"
LD+DK+SM: vocals, KM: piano, JDR: banjo, LD: triangle

"I've Seen It All"
DK+SM: vocals, KM: piano, LD: alto melodica, JDR: bundlesticks


Que Sera, Sera!
LD+DK+SM: vocals, KM: piano, JDR: drums

Further Info availabe at:
The Three Terrors

Magnetic Fields
69 Love Songs
Amy Yoes
Cliff Edwards
(anywhere) like the moon
Moth Wranglers
Shirley Simms
Victor & Jonathan


2-4-7-MUSIC.COM 2006

STILL refusing to dumb it down.

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