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Not too long ago, one of Jack Logan's friends paid him a strange compliment.
In assessing the 39-year-old Georgia singer-songwriter's sophomore CD--the endearingly ragged 1996 Restless release Mood Elevator--Logan's pal said he liked the album because he could tell that Logan was reading his words off a lyric sheet as he sang them.
It wasn't exactly the most glowing rave ever heard, but Logan got a laugh out of it. Then again, this relentlessly self-effacing working-class hero has a unique ability to poke fun at his own artistic quirks.
But if the critique had a tongue-in-cheek air about it, it still wasn't far off the mark. Logan is a compulsive songwriting machine who can create on command in the pressurized atmosphere of a recording studio, and who rarely lets the ink dry before committing a song to tape. Most often, Logan and a bunch of friends will gather around a portable tape recorder until one of them comes up with a riff or a chord sequence. Within moments, he'll usually have a complete lyric and vocal line to match the music. As a result, when he goes on tour, he often finds himself struggling to relearn songs that were written in a matter of moments and just as quickly forgotten.
Logan knows this instant-coffee working method has its artistic risks, but he's learned not to question what feels natural.
"It has its good parts and its bad parts," he says during a break from his current tour with pal/collaborator Bob Kimbell and backing musician Kevin Lane. "Sometimes you get something amazing that you'll never recapture, and other times you're just being lazy. I just have kind of an affinity for that of-the-moment thing, as long as it's not consciously so."
Although Logan's output is prodigious (closing in on 1,000 recorded songs), it's not so hard to fathom when you consider that songwriting isn't just a creative outlet for him, it's a social activity. Some guys get together on the weekends to play cards, watch football or shoot a round of golf. For Logan and his buddies, sitting around with a six-pack, a few guitars and a four-track has always been their way of bonding.
Between 1979 and 1993, Logan and collaborators like Kelly Keneipp (a friend since their junior-high days in southern Illinois) built up a stockpile of more than 600 songs. It seemed likely that these gems would remain unknown to all except the few who caught Logan's sporadic low-key club gigs in Athens, Georgia. Unbeknownst to Logan, however, one of Athens' favorite sons was a fan. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck had caught Logan in the act, and he recommended the obscure songwriter to Peter Jesperson of Medium Cool Records. Jesperson immediately fell in love with the stark literary quality of Logan's vignettes, and he enthusiastically rummaged through Logan's vaults and came away with a stunning, 42-song double CD, appropriately titled Bulk.
There had never been a debut album quite like Bulk. Beyond its sheer scale, it was unique because it documented 14 years of creativity, on a series of recordings that were made for personal amusement, with no thought that they would ever be released. In a way, it was akin to what The Basement Tapes would have evoked if Bob Dylan and the Band had toiled in obscurity for years at Big Pink, and introduced themselves to the world by unloading a career's worth of lo-fi classics. Bulk played into all our fantasies that somewhere, at this very moment, a secret genius is putting something magical on tape, which we may never get to hear.
"To me, the whole thing was just so surreal--the idea that we would try to put out a double record of these songs," Logan says in his patented, down-home Southern twang. "So I was just going along with the joke. I thought, 'Yeah, let's do it.' Of course, I don't think everything on there is good, by any means. I'm pretty critical of all the stuff I do. But at the same time, I'm not ashamed of any of it. It was what it was. [Jesperson] was so enthusiastic about it, it was flattering. And, oddly enough, I wasn't laughed out of the world."
Not only was he not laughed at, Logan earned astonishing acclaim for the album. Of course, part of the fascination was rooted in Logan's biography. The media were struck by the blue-collar baggage of Logan's story: a middle-aged swimming-pool-pump repairman making a bid for rock stardom. He was treated as a curiosity by many writers and TV talk-show hosts, as though the idea of a talented musician with a day job was an astonishing concept, when in fact it's the rule and not the exception. One of Logan's great gifts has always been a lack of self-consciousness, an ability to describe small details of everyday life without any sense of embarrassment. In the wake of Bulk, for the first time he had to guard against playing up to people's expectations. His hometown helped him maintain his proper perspective.
"If I'd been living in some small town in Idaho, and I'd gotten these reviews and been on TV and stuff, the local people would probably freak out," he says. "But in Athens, it's like, 'Big fucking deal.' I probably wouldn't even make the Top 10 best songwriters in Athens list in the local rag. I mean, there are so many good bands and, of course, they've gone through the whole R.E.M. thing.