Thomas Anderson – Angry Young Grad Student
From the dusty hills of Oklahoma he came — guitar in hand, bandanna on head — in 1992 to the more fertile soils of Austin, in hopes of finally finding a larger, more appreciative audience for his songs. Nearly five years later, Thomas Anderson — like so many other songsmiths in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” — is playing for small crowds on weeknights or, at best, in the opening slot (i.e., before the bulk of the crowd arrives) on a weekend bill.
What gives? It’s certainly not the plight of the singer/songwriter — at least not in this town where folks such as Jimmy LaFave and Robert Earl Keen pack ’em in like sardines. Nor is it to be blamed on any deficiency of compositional talent: Anderson has gotten straight A’s from Robert Christgau and a host of other similarly hard-to-please reviewers. Blame it, instead, on Anderson’s unique musical vision, one that draws more heavily on Cohen, Cale, and even Bowie than on Dylan and Ochs, which is what a lot of audiences seem to expect from a guy alone with his guitar.
Still, the Angry Young Grad Student saunters on, finding good people in Germany, California — heck, sometimes even Austin to release his work. Last year’s Moon Going Down CD on Marilyn Records, which features Jerry Garcia, Death, and the ghosts of Audie Murphy and Walt Whitman in its cast of characters, sounds like Woody Guthrie re-writing Lou Reed’s Blue Mask LP. The songs range from the tranquil opener “Sing You Sinners” to the atonal rage of “The Last I Saw of Adam”, and while the sound is not particularily country, it is certainly as brown and arid as the area in which Anderson chooses to live and play. The cinematic subject matter undoubtedly benefits from the inner visions of a man whose earliest memories of life are dreams, as Anderson chooses to eerily narrate his songs from a rather detatched first person point-of-view. He’s there, but he’s hovering over, rather than walking with, his desolate characters.
His new 7″ on Austin’s Propeller imprint is even better. In six minutes, Anderson succinctly pays homage to two diametrically opposed social reflectors of our parents’ generation: the paranoid leftist writings found in the Illuminatus Trilogy in “Hippie Literature” on the A-side, and the histrionically conservative entertainment troupe Up With People on the flip. Like a good journalist, Anderson neither sides with nor condescends to either. He leaves it up to us to find our own sane middle ground.
Not exactly the kind of stuff that sells a lot of beer at the local watering hole, no, but it is the stuff that sounds good at home alone.