►Original Musical Compositions and Select Covers
This edition we spotlight the amazing MINTON SPARKS, pictured left. The Nashville-based spoken word musical artist and college professor must be considered one of the most potent spokespersons for the human community gracing the stage today. Minton is an open wound of searing personal insight, particularly the human experience as mirrored in the lives of her family. Oh the suffering of such who are gifted with writing progeny, and the joy. Minton explores it all with treacherous insight and razor wit. And then she dances.
Minton was brought to my attention by Links buddy Steve Conn, who produced her first album, "This Dress," and sometimes accompanies her on piano. I started scrambling around the Internet to learn more about Minton, and things started to become curiouser and curiouser.
There are, of course, other spoken word artists and monologists. These aren't quite the same, but I have tended to find them (Jello Biafra, Patty Smith, Spalding Gray, even Garrison Keillor) so. While all of the performing arts rely on the fine tuning of theatrical presentation, there is something about "performance art" that almost always seems, well...like performance art. Go check out Minton Sparks' YouTube collage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q4EHAwYNms. Minton writes South - south of dishonesty and the heart's Mason-Dixon line, where you can feel the thick heat and bug bites. You hear Eudora Welty and Harper Lee in her voice, maybe even Minnie Pearl. She is by turns funny and sorrowful. She drops emotional bombs, people leave exhausted.
Minton's connection to the music that accompanies her words is more palpable than it is in most singer/songwriter discourses. Maybe the distance that she views the world from, so apparent in her language, gives her a similar advantage as she rides the ether of spare instrumentation. What is it about this woman that resonates so deeply within this writer's breast? Minton hurts like a free fall, with all protections left in storage. Hers is one of the most riveting acts working in music today, a high-wire feat of grace and simplicity that carries more wattage than any bombastic rock band this side of U2.
It is with great pride that RARWRITER presents featured artist Minton Sparks.
"Minton Sparks is a great storyteller. Humanity with humidity all told humorously with humility. Sin Sick is just what the doctor ordered." - John Prine
"Minton Sparks sounds like my momma, my Aunt Dot, my Aunt Grace and even a bit like my Uncle Jack-only better and wilder and heartbreakingly more powerful. If I could have heard poetry like this as a girl, I wouldn't have had to waste all those years thinking we were dumb as dirt." - Dorothy Allison
As I listen to your recorded work, the voices of two distinctly Southern writers come to mind: Eudora Welty and Harper Lee. Am I off base there? Who would be better examples of writers who influenced you in developing your style and voice?
With a name as unique and attention getting as “Minton Sparks,” you seem born to theater? Do you feel that way? Did your parents have some destination in mind for you?
Are you a musician?
How do you construct your musical pieces? Do you compose for your lyrics? Or in some way communicate your musical intent to instrumental collaborators? How is the instrumentation selected? The solo accompaniment carries special power mated to the cadence of your voice. There is something plaintive about the sound. I assume this was all part of your concept?
You have worked with an impressive array of big name musicians, including Waylon Jennings. How did this all come to pass for you? How did you enter your niche place in this marriage of poetry and music?
You have a book out – Desperate Ransom: Setting Her Family Free – that some have described as demystifying your mythology of your own family’s life experiences. (My paraphrase may be weak. Not sure one can actually demystify mythology.) Some wish you hadn’t resolved some of your “stage” stories and wished they’d been left hanging, like a 7th chord. What was your thinking in conceiving the book approach? Jumping back for a moment, is it accurate to say that you create mythologies around your personal experiences? This is an approach common to writers, but is it accurately applied to you? Are your memories filtered into a more theatrical fiction?
Your persona is defined around your ‘50s-era fashions and your decidedly down-home presentation. To what extent is the Minton Sparks that most of us get a chance to see a theatrical creation, and how much is just you as you? Are there different versions of you for your different “audiences” – your family, students, paid ticket holders?
The title of your book suggests that this collection of stories is “setting your family free?” What do you mean by that? What kind of a family did you come from? Happy? Tragic?
Do you feel limited in any way by your own self-definition, your “southernliness?” Or are you “acting out” the essence of what is within?
I find your performance “courageous,” a kind of high-wire act depending wholly upon your ability to spellbind an audience. It is an extraordinary gift. Then again, you come across as a formidable person. How did you develop this skill at hooking and holding the attention of a crowd? And what makes you so tough?
You don’t mind being the butt of your own joke, or making yourself the object of your comedy. Your buck dance is quite amusing, in part because you seem to enjoy looking funny doing it. It seems to have a cathartic effect, particularly on the audience. Is that at all a part of why you do it? Does your show require “decompression” from time to time?
Part of the dynamic in a “one woman” show, it seems to me, is a tension that exists between audience and performer. You take people on quite a roller coaster ride of emotions, complete with perverse shifts from comedy to tragedy, sometimes in the course of a single sentence. Do feel “perverse” in your manipulation of your audience? Are you of a perverse nature?
How would you describe your audience? And, is it a different audience than that you had envisioned when you created your show?
If, generally speaking, you are doing a “concept piece,” what are the walkaways? What does an audience come away with?
I am always impressed by people whose talents include the wherewithal to conceive of something grand and see it to fruition. First off, do you feel you have achieved the vision you set out for your show? And if so, how do you account for your own success? Or do you have a grander vision yet?
Beyond being a person with academic credentials, how did you get into teaching? What classes are you teaching nowadays? Is it rewarding to you? Does your stage persona play any role in the lecture hall?
You are a mother, a performer, and a teacher. What aspects of your nature and being do you enjoy most about yourself? And what aspects aren’t quite so hot, in your eyes?
Not to sound like a cad, but you are joltingly beautiful at times, though you have a chameleon-like ability to don visages. You can look quite severe, even menacing. You can appear homey and sweet, and also a little crazy. One of these faces must be most naturally you? Which one?
What kind of a girl were you? Were you popular, sought after? What kind of classmates were you attracted to?
What are your priorities now? Where do you want life to go?
Are you, generally speaking, a music fan? Do you listen to music? If so, who and what?
What is the best thing happening with Minton Sparks right now?
What is the one thing that concerns you most right now?
Learn more about Minton Sparks by visiting her website at www.www.mintonsparks.com.
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Alan Rice (RAR),
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©Rick Alan Rice (RAR), May, 2012