Master your bagel (before it masters you)
Anton Barbeau goes to England, but not without a bit of savvy marketing advice
As he munches on his buttered bagel (not a metaphor), Anton Barbeau is at once overexcited and sedated. His small eyes are reddened at the lid; characteristic wild hair and tattered earth-toned clothing suggest he’s a highly educated insane person, which is purely a myth—Barbeau is hardly educated at all.
As he takes cautious bites of his lunch, I eye him thoroughly, trying to look past the Barbeau myth for the real story (nobody needs another “Anton Barbeau: the odd-ingenious-psychedelic-quirky-cult-hero” article.)
Anyway, we’re chatting about this and that, but what I really want to get to the bottom of is: Why isn’t this guy famous yet? After all, he’s Anton frigging Barbeau, creator of the genre-defying album In the Village of the Apple Sun, which contains “Mushroom Box, 1975,” the very best song on our planet (and also “This Is Why They Call Me Guru 7,” the other very best song on our planet).
I’ve suspected for a while now that Barbeau’s main problem is his association with the word “psychedelic,” which might actually have something to do with his fairly short reach. To the young ear, the word conjures up images of hairy men in floral shirts selling weed to elementary-school kids. And that, as we well know, is not good for business.
Barbeau, however, thinks the problem is simply one of consumer caution.
“Nobody knows whether I fit into indie credibility … ‘Is he cool or is he a complete freak? Or does that make him cooler?’” he says, taking a rat-like nibble of his bagel half.
Yeah, there’s some truth to the dated 13th Floor Elevators comparisons, and while he does, at times, sound like Bowie after a night of ingesting psychotropic meds, there’s a level of unmatched musical intellect to Barbeau’s songs that shouldn’t be overlooked. With mind-puzzling lyrics, digressive instrumentation and grating, sometimes out-of-place effects, Barbeau allows listeners to digest a composition, rather than take it in and discard it. Psychedelic? Meh, perhaps, but with meandering solos, falsetto droning and straightforward beats, the music is just as much for rock ’n’ roll fans as it is for hard-core hip-hoppers. Plus, Barbeau’s well-documented relationship with words is poetically universal.
“I’m playing with language. … You can sing a word and open it up and bring meaning out or take meaning away, depending on how you sing. Whatever it is that makes my sounds odd, it’s hard to say. But I want there to be something that people can identify with,” he says, looking down at his bagel as if intimidated by the mere thought of another bite.
Throughout our conversation, at least one thing becomes clear: Barbeau is genuinely perplexed by the task of marketing himself. He thought the poppy and straightforward approach to his latest album, The Automatic Door, would slingshot him into fame. “I predicted that any time people would walk into a supermarket with an automatic door, the door would open and they would think of the album. I thought it was going to be that big,” he says, setting his bagel down, seemingly for good.
Much to Barbeau’s surprise, The Automatic Door still has no U.S. distribution and went virtually unnoticed by the masses.
So what the hell’s a guy to do?
“I’m just channeling God’s work,” he says. He’s joking, of course. Which reminds me, isn’t he supposed to be some thoroughly disturbing and freakish electric-Kool-Aid-drinking schizo case?
Well, in the hour we talk, the man barely finishes one half of his buttered bagel, which, in all honesty, is probably the most disturbing thing about him.
Maybe the bagel is a metaphor—if he keeps overanalyzing, even something as simple as a bagel with butter can intimidate its master. Nah, don’t print that.
Anyway, before Barbeau shoves off back to England, a place that is slowly becoming his home, let’s see this odd-ingenious-psychedelic-quirky-cult-hero out with a proper listening party, shall we?