A while ago, I requested information about a song (“Jasper Johns” by the Twitchen Vibes) that I had trouble finding myself. A friend of the band responded to my request with information about them and a link to his Soundcloud account. He also helped send my questions about the song to one of the band members.
Here were the responses:
Where did you get the inspiration for composing this song?
The main inspiration was his beautiful name. His name sounded like a short poem, like the start or end of a haiku. I always liked Jasper Johns as an artist, but I like Richard Diebenkorn too — but a lyric called “Richard Diebenkorn” would not roll off the tongue too well. Jasper Johns … it just sounds like a song. This was also during a time when our band was doing a lot of songs named after names I thought sounded beautiful: “Schroeder T. Fell,” “Mies Van Der Rohe” were other songs where the lyric started with an evocative sounding name. So his name was a starting point — the fact he was also an artist we all dug at the time was a cool talisman, or what might be called today, a “name check.”
The lyrics we wrote at the time often stemmed from the title first. Scott (our drummer) wrote a drum beat and he called it “Knocking in a Room” — that title just killed me and I pleaded with him to write the lyrics about whatever he wanted, as long as he kept that awesome title. His lyrics were very different from the kind I would but that’s what made our songs so unpredictable and varied, which was cool.
The remainder of the lyrics were more stream-of-consciousness style where I was thinking about the process of art and life, and how both art and life are a long road … and communicating this by talking about hearing a song that reminds us to be patient with the long road, the long struggle.
How well did you know about Jasper Johns?
Jasper Johns was well known to all of us, we all dug him, if I remember. We liked how he depicted iconic figures in totally different ways, such that their traditional meaning was subverted. Take a look at his Targets and his American Flags. His dictum was “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” That was how we were collaborating on songs at the time. The song itself was really a group effort, where the drum, bass, and guitar all jammed on things we brought to the practice room. We took them, did something to them, and did something else to him. Once I realized that’s how the song was coming together I asked the fellas if we could call the song Jasper Johns and it flowed from there.
Are there any other artists you would have liked to compose a song to?
Mies Van Der Rohe was the one of the first modernist architects and we wrote a song about him when I was going to architecture school. I also wrote a very good song called Man Ray about ten years after the Vibes drifted apart. Both songs started, yet again, because I thought the name was evocative. We often wrote songs about people we dug — I know Bill wrote songs about Wendell Berry and I wrote songs about Jacques Derrida and Mike Watt — so there were a lot of artists and philosophers we wrote songs about. It appears to be a theme, at least when it comes to my own lyric writing.