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The Art of Conversation

by Kirsten Ferguson on November 1, 2012

David Greenberger with Jupiter Circle: Never Give Up Study

David Greenberger and Ralph Carney: OH, PA

David Greenberger & Bangalore: How I Became Uncertain

David Greenberger & Mark Greenberg: Tell Me that Before

David Greenberger & Dozens: Near the Edge of the Penny Jar Spill


It was not just a wild “nude party” in the south of France, but a nude party made more memorable by just how “well behaved” it was, recounts a character in “Uneasy Americans,” a track from Never Give Up Study. The CD is one of a handful of releases by Greenwich artist (and Metroland contributor) David Greenberger to come out on PelPel Recordings this year.

Set to music from a diverse cast of musical collaborators—from the cultured jazz-tango swing of Jupiter Circle on Never Give Up Study to the wilder avant-garde sounds of multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney on OH, PA—the albums all contain monologues narrated by Greenberger in a character-rich voice that he rather masterfully shifts to match the tenor of his subjects.

If conversation is an art, than Greenberger has made it his life’s work to cultivate and repurpose that conversation into an even higher art form. For these CDs, Greenberger—as he does with his long-running fanzine The Duplex Planet and his many other spoken-word recordings, book collections and live performances—mines rich material from his decades of interviews and interactions with older people at elderly centers, nursing homes, meal sites and other locations.

A careful curator he is, one who knows how to select pieces of dialogue and bits of stories that will resonate in some small or large—but always human—way.

The stories told on these CDs capture a fascinating range of human emotion, and Greenberger has an especially keen ability to elicit and spot those experiences that are especially life altering—even if not in the traditional sense.

For the woman in “How I Became Uncertain,” the title track to the album by the same name—set to music by Bangalore, a genre-bending, rhythm-heavy Boston-based trio, and created for public radio—that time comes when a 12-hour ordeal of being stuck in a bathtub leads to a paralyzing apprehension. An unforgettable fall on the ice during a snowstorm at the age of 15 forms the centerpiece of the wistful, repetitive “I Fell Down,” based on a conversation with Ed Rogers, written shortly after his death in 2003. And a tragic hit-and-run accident transforms a family in “Good Stanley”—the latter two tracks both standouts from Never Give Up Study.

It may sound depressing, but it’s not, really. The sadder material is well balanced by plenty of humorous or life-affirming stuff. Greenberger knows how to ask a question that elicits a telling answer, but he also takes a shining interest in the quirks and charming minutia of life. A rambling riff on snakes (“Six Snakes”) is a highlight of Near the Edge of the Penny Jar Spill, a compilation of live and previously recorded material featuring 50 musicians (including Terry Adams, Chandler Travis and the groups Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and Yo La Tengo). And some questionable facts about bowling make up “The Origins of Bowling” on Tell Me That Before, a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Mark Greenberg.