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?
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
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
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!
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.
Crud: The ukulele: so often under-used, so often
underrated. But you gents seem to love it. What's the
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
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
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,
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
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
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
Love Songs as reviewed by Crud HERE
Set List for
THE THREE TERRORS GO HOLLYWOOD
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
From BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
DK, vocal, JDR: nylon-string guitar, LD+SM: backing
LD: vocal, bari uke, SM: bundlesticks, mouthwarper,
KM: shruti box, JDR: drums, DK: Marxophone, cricket
"Me & My Rhythm Box"
SM: vocal, Danmo, JDR: spring, LD: spacephone, spoons,
KM: musical sculpture, DK: subway toy, reception bell,
From LIQUID SKY
"Falling In Love Again"
DK: vocal, SM: toy piano
From THE BLUE ANGEL
LD: vocal, baritone uke, JDR: electric guitar, SM: Danmo,
KM: synth, DK, vocal, rainstick
From PERMANENT MIDNIGHT
"Be Careful, It's My Heart"
SM: vocal, Resonator uke
From HOLIDAY INN
"Doll on a Music Box/Trulie Scrumptious"
LD+DK, vocals, KM: piano, JDR: Marxophone, SM: xylophone
From CHITTY-CHITTY BANG BANG
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,
"Love Song for a Vampire"
SM: vocal, synth, LD: Indian harmonium, vocal, JDR:
xylophone, vocal, DK: vocal
From BRAHAM STOKER'S DRACULA
DK: vocal, KM: piano
From NEW YORK, NEW YORK
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
From THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T
"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
"If I Fell"
SM + LD: vocals, JDR: electric guitar, LD: finger cymbals,
SM: tongue drum
From A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
"I Never Do Anything Twice"
LD: vocal, KM: piano
From THE 7% SOLUTION
SM: vocal, KM: piano, LD: xylophone, JDR: harmonium
From WILLY WONKA
"It Only Hurts When I Cry"
DK: vocal, SM: Resonator uke, backing vocal, LD: bari
uke, backing vocal, JDR: tambourine, KM: piano
From BEACH BLANKET BINGO!
LD: vocal, JDR: baritone uke, SM: toy piano
From THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE
SM: vocal, LD: baritone uke, SM: toy xylophone
From MARY POPPINS
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
From THE GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933
"The Rainbow Connection"
LD+DK+SM: vocals, KM: piano, JDR: banjo, LD: triangle
From THE MUPPET MOVIE
"I've Seen It All"
DK+SM: vocals, KM: piano, LD: alto melodica, JDR: bundlesticks
From DANCER IN THE DARK
Que Sera, Sera!
LD+DK+SM: vocals, KM: piano, JDR: drums
From THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Further Info availabe at:
The Three Terrors
like the moon