Burning Man 

The moth, the flame and Moris Tepper

Wednesday, Oct 25 2000
Photo by Derth Adams

Moris Tepper and I are sitting in his back yard in Mar Vista. It’s a crisp fall day, slight breeze. Turtles nip gently at my toes. Feels good.

Tepper points at his pets: “These guys, I need ’em so bad. If they weren’t here, I’d be dead. ’Cause it’s all I’ve got. You know what? Your self is not enough. It’s too big, it’s too endless. I’m nothing, I am no one. I’m alone, I’m this piece of Saran Wrap — I’m starting to reflect everything. ’Cause I have nothing, I only have myself, and myself is all wrapped up in being nowhere.”

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This is the sound of a man trying to put his finger on it — how to be a man, and an artist, and a businessman, a lover too. Why, the other day Tepper drove his car through a storefront window just as his date showed up for their first night out. Shards ’n’ splinters everywhere, people pointing and laughing. Tepper had been very distracted that day — thinking about stuff, like stalkers. And did he smash the glass on purpose?

I say, Moris, I can relate completely. I myself am becoming more and more nervous about driving. It’s not that I’m a bad driver (I’m a defensive driver — hey, I know how to drive), it’s just that I find myself departing the driving while driving. Because there’s too much to think about. Our doom, for example.

Moris Tepper makes music, and he’s a painter. And if he’s often lost in his own world, it’s because it’s his own world, he paid for it, and now he’s compelled to live in it.

Tepperland: The guitarist/singer/multi-instrumentalist/ composer has slight name recognition for his longtime association with Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart, in whose Magic Band (Phase II, circa 1978–82) he played for several years, starting as a wee teen. Together they made the landmark albums Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow. Tepper followed that highly educational experience with stints as Tom Waits’ guitar slayer (Frank’s Wild Years) and a continuing thing as six-string foil to ex-Pixie Frank Black. Sometimes he does sessions for people he feels an affinity with, such as Robyn Hitchcock, but “I’m not really a session player — I don’t know where the notes are. I know where the colors are.” He’s scored for cartoons too, such as UPN’s Mouse and the Monster.

He is, among many things and pound for pound, the most original guitar player on the planet, and did in fact have a big hand in chiseling the second Magic Band’s spiky, brain-wringing sound. It’s a stumbling, clairvoyant, feral approach to the ax, a point of view that he has for the last several years brought to a solo career that has produced three albums of startling virtuosity (on his own subtle terms), melodic abundance and freely individual character. 1995’s Big Enough To Disappear first hinted at the breadth of his talents, and he’s recently completed the glorious Moth to Mouth, both of which are available through his Candlebone label Web site.

Okay, Moris Tepper is a wonderful musician (more about that in a sec), and he’s trying hard to make an adequate living at it — that’s a common tale. But Tepper, while far from pathetic, is also a Lonely Guy, seemingly burdened with an immeasurable ache of some sort. I know, I know, you’re damn lonely too, reader, but the point is, there are people who can get a lot of creative mileage out of it, like Tepper does. And you, like Tepper, might not be blamed for feeling sometimes that you ought to, oh, sell out in a small way, if only to feel some kind of re-establishment of relations with the real world, the one where people (not artists) can pay their bills and afford to think about . . . love affairs and . . . babies.

Tepper wants to be a father, but the thought troubles him, and the timing right now is probably terrible. “I’m really enjoying the bloody meat of the pulp of the art I’m doing,” he says. “It’s getting scary, because it entails being free. Part of me still thinks I should have, like, the right woman who can just make it sort of come together in the right way. I think my heart . . . man wants woman, man wants family at this age.

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