So anyway, on November 11, 2018 I’m going to be releasing my 10th solo album, called “*” (aka “Asterisk”). I’ve been working on it on and off for more than 10 years.
“*” is an album of 13 songs inspired by lessons I’ve learned over the course of many years being a fan of the author Kurt Vonnegut. It works regardless of if you’re a fan or if you’ve never read a single word he’s ever written. But it’s probably better if you’re a fan. It’s not an effort to retell any of Vonnegut’s stories or offer a biography of his life, etc. It’s 13 Derek Brink songs that are imparting the wisdom of the messages and insights I’ve applied to my life from Vonnegut’s work. I recently explained it to a friend thusly: “I used to write songs after reading the Bible. These are songs I wrote after reading ‘Slaughterhouse-Five.'”
I started reading Vonnegut in earnest when I was in college. I read all of his novels within a year and all of his short-stories and essays within two. Out of that, I started writing songs. Some of them were terrible. Some of them weren’t. Nevertheless, I was stashing all of them aside in the “Songs for Kurt” file, thinking I’d eventually put out an album with that title. But I quickly figured out that I wasn’t where I needed to be as a writer or musician to pull it off. And also, it dawned on me that maybe people just wouldn’t be that interested. Who wants to hear an album full of songs about things I learned from Kurt Vonnegut? The market for the album might just be me.
And it took me 10 years to convince myself that writing it for myself (and for Kurt) was enough.
It also took me 10 years to get the confidence in my writing to do it. And to become the guitarist I felt I needed to be. And this. And that. And–you guessed it–the other. Some of the songs that are going on this album have been stewing from the moment I put down “Cat’s Cradle” (the first Vonnegut book I ever read). Some of them were written just prior to production, or even while it was ongoing! (There’s something of an “overture” track that needed to be put off until I was sure what to put in it.) Over the past decade or so, I’d occasionally return to the idea or write something new that I’d stash away thinking maybe SOMEDAY I’d do it. All said, even though I’m never going to be the writer or musician that I want to be in my head, I’m finally the one who could write this album. So the day has come.
I feel like I’m underselling how excited I am about it. I love a lot of these songs. I think the end result is going to be VERY strong. This thing is going to be BANANAS in a way that none of my stuff has ever been before. There’s a 10 minute prog piece that borders on metal. There’s also a traditional Irish ballad. And a song Neil Young could’ve written. And an over-the-top pretentious hodge-podge for the closing track. I’m using a mellotron choir in places, and sparse acoustic guitar in others… It’s all over the place, musically.
And lyrically, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time. My writing took a DEEP turn into the personal in a way that isn’t always accessible roundabout the “Ink-Stained Fingers” album. It was freeing to not be talking about my innermost hopes, dreams, and pain on this one. But that also presented the challenge of how to find the heart of the lyrics I was writing. They had to be in Kurt’s spirit, but I needed to have it reflect myself as well. It was easy to find Kurt. It was a whole other thing finding myself in it. In the end, it turned out that we weren’t that different. Although there are a couple of times where my voice on the album is a little bit of “character work.” When I sound older than I am, just know that I’m Kilgore Trout on those parts, in my head. The rest of the time, I’m Derek. Or somebody. Who knows?
The title is a reference to a Vonnegut joke. Vonnegut illustrated one of his own books and as an example of the quality of his art, he drew an asterisk and captioned it, describing it as a “picture of an asshole.” In the years that followed, the asterisk-hole became a standard reference among fans. It became so closely associated with him that he even incorporated it into his signature. The hardcore Vonnegut fan sees any asterisk in any context and has to restrain themselves from asking who drew the asshole. So…basically…come November 11, I’ll low-key have an album titled “Derek Brink – A Picture of an Asshole” in my catalogue. I cannot express how happy I am about that.
Earlier I noted that I had thought of calling it “Songs for Kurt.” A friend who wasn’t entirely positive about the project when I speculated about doing it (but had not yet started on it) said that people would probably think it was a reference to Kurt Cobain rather than Vonnegut. So “Asshole” it was. So it goes.
The cover will look like this (only bigger):
And the tracklist (which won’t mean anything to most of you) will be this:
- The Last Folk Singers — *Excerpt
- The War
- You’ve Got to Laugh
- Malfunction (Or “Broken All Along!)
- Now It’s the Woman’s Turn
- The Way the World Will End
- If It’s Raining
- Eliot’s Benediction
- Here We Go Again
- Greetings From Far Away
- Fight for Peace
- We All Just Got Here
And if you’re wondering, November 11 is a Sunday this year. It would have been Kurt Vonnegut’s 96th birthday. Why did I choose his 96th birthday instead of a more significant number? No reason at all.
I think Kurt would have liked that.