Well, there's a book, and the book is titled, A Memoir of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. It was written in 1854 by Dr. Charles MacKay, and it's about incidents of mass hysteria. And one of them is a curious out-breaking of slow poisoning among French women in the 18th Century, mainly as a means of doing away with their husbands. It became so commonplace that it was something of a frenzy. And I just thought that would be a freaky name for a band. At first it was a five-piece with two cellos, which was difficult-sounding. Over a period of about 10 years, the band slowly got smaller. Every couple years I'd lose a member. and I just wouldn't replace them. And eventually, I felt like I had to take it all the way and be a one-man band so that my feverish vision would be fully undiluted -- unmitigated from the input of drummers.
Were the French women poisoning their husbands?
Yes, the slow poisoning was, they just put a tiny bit of arsenic in someone's drink or meal on a daily basis and they gradually, slowly wither away in a nearly undetectable fashion -- probably it was the plight of the French women of the time. Divorce wasn't an option, and men were cruel. So this was the only option available.
Have you ever thought about slowly poisoning for real?
No. In fact, I do the opposite, I sell my genuine Slow Poisoner Miracle Tonic, which is an elixir and a curative. So really, I'm out to promote good health. I think of slow poisoning more as a means of subtly insinuating my vision into the consciousness of the people by playing frequently in out-of-the-way spots that one might happen across and hear my winsome melodies.
How long have you been here in S.F.?
I've been in San Francisco my whole life, but the majority of my shows are played out of town. And I try to mix it up -- generally, I will do bars as well as art galleries, cafes, laundromats -- there's actually a lot of laundromats you can play in, and not just the Brainwash here in S.F., they're all over the country -- and of course, any place that's got an electrical outlet is a viable spot for a show. So laundromats are always an option.
Now, why laundromats?
They're often unmonitored, and they've got electrical apparatus, so you can go in there and plug in your guitars if there's no other place to do it. Also you've got a captive audience. And there's really not much else to do in a laundromat, so it's a win-win situation.
I would love it if there was someone who would just come and start playing music while I'm in the laundromat.
You'd be surprised -- sometimes it doesn't go over well. There was a time, I think it was in Boise, that I set up in a laundromat and was pretty much thrown out -- and not by the owner, but by the customers. I think they thought maybe that my music would somehow bleach their clothing.
How long have you been doing this?
Well, as a solo act, as a one-man band, it's been about six years, and this [tonight] would be my 260th show.
Do you manage to support yourself through this endeavor here, or do you have a day job?
Well, I have a part-time day job as a substitute school teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District, and I write books. I do a comic strip called Ogner Stump, and I release children's books through a publisher called Eraserhead Press. And I paint on black velvet. So all these efforts bring in miniscule amounts of money, but if you add them up together, they're enough to keep me in potatoes and water.
Does being able to kind of preside over a crowd help you manage a classroom?
Absolutely, yes, there's definitely a connection. Although a rowdy bunch of kids is more difficult than a rowdy bunch of adults.
Even drunk adults?
Yeah, children are more wily than adults.
You're doing something differently here musically, how do you like to describe it to people?
I have two stock answers. One, if they look like they're familiar with other purveyors of music, I'll say it's like a cross between David Bowie and Johnny Cash. That gets across the idea that it's rootsy, but it's weird. And the other, I'll say it sounds like a hoe-down on Mars.
What do you like about living here in S.F.?
Oh, the fog ... and there's a rich tradition of weirdness. In Portland they've got an official motto: Keep Portland weird. In San Francisco, I'm just doing my part to keep it weird. It's got that rich heritage back to the Barbaray Coast... Sometimes we lose a little of the weirdness, as things get ridiculously expensive and we're cold and we stay indoors. But live music, especially free live music, is a perfect venue to try to spread the weirdness.
I'd say that keeping S.F. weird as a mission is the most important thing I want to impart, I'm looking for fellow weirdos to keep it weird with me.
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