And he danced
Jeff Pitcher—musician, film star and roadside attraction—at your service
One chilly day in Flesherton, Ontario—a small, snow-laden town outside Toronto—Jeff Pitcher quietly lost his mind, walked to the middle of town and danced on the street corner. Pitcher, a Bay Area native who has lived in Davis off and on since 1991, often indulges in adventurous social experiments to discover if his ruminations about things like human interaction and the concept of beauty are valid before applying his conclusions to his art (whether it’s music, painting or dancing). Last year, he rode his bicycle across the country, stopping only to fly to Canada and propose to his then-girlfriend. Once he reached Maine, they married.
Pitcher is a musician first. He suggests that people don’t listen to a type of music; they listen to a certain quality or caliber of music, which he equates with unpredictability. “Most bands are predictable, which is why people go,” Pitcher explained. “I embrace the idea of going to a show and seeing something I don’t expect.”
Pitcher’s recently released CD I am not in Spain was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. He wanted to achieve what he felt Hemingway captured: the atmosphere of a specific place. Like Hemingway, Pitcher transports the listener to a land where the sounds and textures, rhythms and melodies seem familiar, while presenting them in a fresh way. There are acoustic guitars, but the texture of an electric-guitar loop or the tender notes of a flamenco guitar pull the music away from folk classification. Pitcher’s cautious voice sweeps you into a trance before the listener can recognize a refrain. “It’s not folk music; it’s not really indie-rock. I don’t know what it is,” Pitcher said of his music.
In order to capture atmosphere, Pitcher lives fearlessly, not by leaping from tall bridges and deploying a parachute seconds before being dashed on the jagged rocks below, but by forcing himself to be the subject of public mockery and humiliation. Which brings us back to Flesherton.
On that chilly day, Pitcher—in the throes of a winter depression—grabbed his Discman and hiked to the highway crossroads in the middle of town dressed in pants, snow boots and a large parka. Once there, he danced with eyes wide, limbs gyrating, arms pointing to the sky, snow falling gently on his face. Cars slowed, the drivers staring through their frosty windshields; passersby stopped and pointed; and Pitcher just danced to the music in his headphones. After a couple of hours, he stopped and hiked home. The result was liberating. He returned day after day for several months.
Pitcher’s public dancing emulates many actions involved in creating art: exposing cumbersome personal frailties, engaging in controversial social commentary and overcoming the fear of rejection. “The world needs [art and inspiration] so badly right now,” he said.
With that in mind, Pitcher and his friend Mike Schwartz filmed a documentary of his dancing using a Canon Digital Elph in video-clip mode. “The whole thing was shot at 72 DPI in one-minute segments, because that’s all the camera would allow,” Pitcher explained.
After piecing the movie together, Schwartz shopped it to film festivals across the country. The 10-minute film, titled The Winter of the Dance, recently was accepted by the Palm Springs International Film Festival. “We’ve begun to frantically assemble promotional materials and a business plan for the next documentary we are planning to make, so that we can hopefully get investors at the festival,” Pitcher said. Of course, he scored the film as well.
In the meantime, Pitcher is focused on music. He is leaning toward an ambient noise project—a “sound collage.” “The ambient stuff comes naturally,” he said. Nonetheless, he surmised, an artist is rarely satisfied. “We’re always critical. We’re always trying to make everything perfect.”