Because you are probably reading this on a cell phone or laptop, it's likely quite difficult to imagine what it was like living in the days of the traveling salesman. Some weirdo rolls into town, sets up shop for a bit, tells you what you want to hear, and rolls away laughing while you're holding some bizarre, sardine-flavored tonic that certainly didn't heal your butt warts. Even modern nomadic circus acts have been dumbed down. Are we doomed never to witness the mysteries of snake-oil salesmen? But then one-man band, The Slow Poisoner, emerges from the mists of San Francisco, defying obsolescence with the most macabre tunes this side of The Twilight Zone.
Sometimes known as Andrew Goldfarb, the musician also is an accomplished illustrator, author, and columnist for Pork Magazine. His latest album, Ever Been Chewed Upon by Teeth as Sharp as Knives? is highlighted by songs about weird gases, strange hungers, knives, screaming flowers, and an anthropomorphic hot rod-driving worm. Dressed like Bela Lugosi, the Poisoner even sells a cure-all medicinal syrup -- the Genuine Enervating Elixir Miracle Tonic, which claims to cure everything from elephantiasis to disinterested bladder to lavender fever. He's making his latest stop at the Trunk Space as part of the venue's annual H.P. Lovecraft birthday shindig.
We called the Poisoner, who was painting devils on velvet (his usual Sunday activity) to ask him about his short attention span, his anti-aging secrets, and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft.
Up on the Sun: I've read somewhere that you do so many creative projects because you have a short attention span.
The Slow Poisoner: When I write a song, I aim for about two minutes, but sometimes it's hard to keep it to that. And if it turns out to be a three-minute song, I'll try to play it faster. But I've discovered that not everybody feels the same way. I played a show in Las Vegas and a guy said, "Well, I really liked you, but every time I started to understand what you were doing, you stopped and started doing something else." So maybe that has something to do with it. As soon as I know what it is I'm doing, I lose interest and I move on. It's that element of not being sure of what's going on that keeps me interested.
With the whole one-man band thing -- do you work well with others?
Not in an ongoing band situation. I'm cool to collaborate with on a couple songs, but . . . The Slow Poisoner started out as a band, The Slow Poisoners. There were five of us actually. And the thing is, when a band is good, it brings out the best of everybody. But when a band is not so good, you wind up just doing what everyone else agrees on. That winds up being pretty boring. Because the only thing people can really agree on, in general, is [that] socks go well on feet. But even then, there'll be one man in the band who says, I don't think socks are cool, I think feet should be free -- just keep your toes on the grass. Then, you're going to have to walk around barefoot, and if you step on a rusty nail, next thing you know, you have tetanus and that'll slow down the recording process. So I think for purity of vision, especially if you've got something kind of quirky going on, it can be good not to involve anyone else.
[The call is dropped.]
Hey, I think we got cut off.
That's okay. The ether is mysterious. I think we were talking about the one-man band. I think for purity of vision, especially if you're trying to convey something weird, it can be best just to do it yourself so that no one else distracts you.I can see that. I think the one-man band thing is becoming more popular these days for that reason.
It's also from a pragmatic standpoint. When I got the invitation to come out to Phoenix [for] H.P. Lovecraft's birthday. I didn't have anything else scheduled at the time, but I figured, yes, I'll drive out to Arizona, even if I'm just playing the one show, that's what life is about -- going out to the desert to celebrate H.P. Lovecraft. The idea of roping in a bassist and a drummer would be more complicated. This way I can make bad decisions all on my own without any approval.
I definitely understand that. Were you really born in 1968? I saw you at Funny World a long time ago and you seem so young. What's your anti-aging secret?
I was born in 1968, which I always thought was the same year we landed on the moon, but it turns out that was in 1969, so I predate the moon landing. But I'm from San Francisco and there's not a whole lot of sunshine, which I think is the key to maintaining a youthful appearance, the vampiric method of avoiding the sun. But now due to global warming, I think I'm aging even more because the sun is shining even here. But that's unintentional on my part -- I'm absolutely fine with being 45 or 46 or whatever it is. It seems like things get easier as they go along. Also, a lot of baths. I've always found the sensation of water falling on me really upsetting. So I tend to soak in the bath, then I'm afraid to get out of the bath because the transition back to a non-aquatic state of being is traumatic as well. So I spend a lot of time in the dark underwater, which I guess is a good way not to wrinkle. Not that I mind wrinkling. I actually look forward to being a prunish old man hobbling around.
That reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft, which is kind of the subject of this interview. From what I understand, he was [also] a very anxious person.
Was he high-strung? Definitely. I think one of the reasons H.P. Lovecraft has increased in only in popularity is he's got that element of paranoia. Like a deep, underlying sense of fear and horror just at the state of being alive. Which I think keeps him popular. The sensation that there are massive, otherwordly tentacles reaching out beyond the veil and manipulating us, that's something everyone can relate to, at least on a subconscious level.
Yes, absolutely. What else do you like about Lovecraft?
He's got a very evocative way with words. There are certain phrases and terms that I've only ever heard from Lovecraft, such as "eldritch." I'm still not sure what exactly that means, but I just associate it with the creeping horrors. It's always eldritch, how he describes it. Also, I like that there's a number of portions of his books where he references unpronounceable languages. He's got the Necronomicon, which is an evil book, and it's written in a jargon that's spoken by hideous demons and that's not pronounceable by man. It mostly consists of consonants, the way it's represented in the books. I've actually taken it upon myself to write a song that uses this unpronounceable language as its lyrics. And I'm gonna sing it at the Trunk Space. So I will be singing a song partially written in an unpronounceable language of ancient, evil gods.
That's . . . amazing. I can't wait to hear that.
I call it "Mountains of Madness" after one of his numbers, er, stories.
What do you think of Phoenix?
I only see a strange side of Phoenix, I think, because in the past, often I'll make it just in time for the show. I basically see that area around Grand Avenue, which seems to be rising like a phoenix from the ashes, but for a while there, it was pretty literally in ashes. Across from the Trunk Space, there was some sort of abandoned school that had become an apocalyptic homeless squat. One summer -- and I'm usually there in the summer, too, so it's usually 100 degrees -- one time I came in and the desert was on fire. There was some sort of thing happening so there was this black, fiery cloud that I emerged through to this apocalyptic scenery and abandoned school and decrepit tiki bar [The Bikini Lounge] which is also a salient point for that block. But then you also have the craft store on the corner [Kooky Kraft Shop] where there's a kind of tree man sitting on the floor, at least there was, which I really enjoyed. So I really only know that block, but for me, that's enough to give someone a sterling recommendation.
Troy Farah can be stalked on that bird thing.
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