Four years ago, my brother Jeremy, who heads the small Boise-based label Coming In Second, handed me a stack of CDs. They were demos that had been sent to him by various musicians from across the country hoping to get signed. Most demos sent to small labels are unlistenable, but on that day in 2004, my brother gave me a diamond in the rough.
The album was titled Misery, Missouri, and was by Leo Bloom (the name of a James Joyce character). A biography of the artist was included, and it told the story of a wandering musician who somehow got tangled up in insurance fraud, fled to Missouri and lived on a horse and cattle ranch owned by a poet friend, where he ended up recording the album. The music drifted out of my stereo like a ghost ship, sounding like a '60s folk recording that got lost in the shuffle of the '70s. It moved me. It broke my heart and made me whistle at the same time.
I wrote him immediately, telling him to not give up, our little tiny label can't help you, but please don't give up. I heaped praise upon him, congratulated him on a great release, and wished him luck with everything. He wrote back, saying his name was actually David Strackany, not Leo Bloom, and that he would look me up if he ever came through town.
Two years later, I finally had the chance to meet Strackany. He arrived—under the name Paleo—in Idaho to play a show. He was immersed in a musical project so ambitious that it overshadowed Misery, Missouri, entirely. He didn't use poet friends or cattle ranch stories to make this project stand out. Strackany's plan was to write and record a song a day for an entire year, all while touring the United States. He had been going at it for two months when I met him and he showed no signs of losing steam. His approach was simple. He wouldn't fall asleep at night until he had completely documented a new song for that day regardless of the circumstances.
We shared the bill at his show at Flying M Coffeegarage, and afterwards crashed in the unfinished basement of my parents' home in Nampa. It was 1:30 in the morning when I decided I needed sleep, at which time Strackany secluded himself in an adjacent room littered with tools and construction debris and began recording. My dad's power drill struck him as having great percussive potential, but as soon as the noise got too loud, he was forced to finish the recording outside in his car. A beautiful song emerged, and he finally fell asleep at 4 a.m. He left early the next morning.
Fast forward to present day, where Strackany is in the wake of his massive undertaking. Successful in his goal and proud of his accomplishments, his new album, titled The Song Diary, contains over 17 hours of music, and includes all 365 tracks recorded during his extensive travels. Each song has its own unique story, its own biography and has been painstakingly documented online by Strackany in almost scientific fashion. His moniker was inspired in part by a paleontology exhibit of butterflies he visited in Prague.
Although he has a calculating mind, Strackany has the heart of a dusty, wide-eyed 17th century poet. He rarely strays from the simplest chord progressions on his acoustic guitar. His songs are uncomplicated sonically, but his gentle voice and literary approach to lyrics make his music soar. He explores interiors of the human mind, the dissolution of love, the value of success and does so poetically with such entrancing use of metaphor.
He says he receives most of his lyrical inspiration from poetry, but feels the best lyrics "come up in conversations, things people say in passing that don't seem significant to them maybe, but if shaped a little, or put into unfamiliar context, can suddenly become very significant indeed." When he sings the lines "The chorus of our modems is the Homer of your hero / With his alien poems wrote in ones and in zeros" from the song "Half Empty I Know The World Is Half Full," it makes you wonder exactly who he's been talking to, and where his mind has traveled.
Jesse Elliott, longtime friend of Strackany's and head of the touring band These United States, says "[Paleo] has stared almost directly at the human soul. And it's fascinating to stare at someone who is staring at that. Which is why so many people stare at him. And also why so many people just look away."
Strackany carries in him the wisdom of a sage, an outlook of unfettered optimism, and unparalleled strength in pursuit of that which he knows to be true. The Song Diary is an enormous body of work, executed with sincerity and honest intent, and guaranteed to inspire.
In the liner notes of the album, Strackany includes this confession: "I made war on my peace of mind, and I did donuts in the grave, searching for the kind of visceral, frenetic emotions kids have, and I had, in the diary years (...) One year, 365 songs, and 215 shows across 152 cities in 45 states and 54,434 miles. When I started on Easter Day, I don't think I could have imagined myself finishing. At the finish line, on tax day in Washington, D.C., I couldn't imagine myself stopping. But I did."
May 12 with Kris Doty, How's Your Family and guests, 7:30 p.m., $3 donation TOOME House, 311 Opal St.