'Anti-folk' singer packs songs with words, images

July 13, 2002

Years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song called "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry." Adam Brodsky, who plays the Quiet Storm tonight, not only agrees with the sentiment of Dylan's tune, he lives it.

He's calling from a rest stop in Wisconsin, on the way to his next gig, where he might have time to take a shower before he takes the stage. If he's lucky, he won't have to sleep in his car afterward. And hopefully, he won't have an experience like he did the previous night, when his right rear tire "disintegrated, leaving big chunks of tread on the highway."

Then it started to rain.

"A lot of people don't understand that just because something's tragic, it can also be funny," Brodsky says. "There's the saying that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Well, I think it's comedy equals tragedy plus about 18 inches."

His most recent album, "Adam Brodsky's Amazing Folk Remedy," includes lyrics that range from the sanguine to the pathetic - sometimes within the same verse of chorus: Well, it's time I got a girl who gets out of bed before noon/and maybe one who showers in between full moons/takes a train to work in a fresh pressed suit/that's the kind of girl I gotta find and recruit he sings in "Cubicle Girl."

What's remarkable is that Brodsky, who is in his early 30s, didn't start playing guitar until he was 21. After attending college, he worked as a graphics designer for a small but "awful" ad agency.

"I did the cool, creative Home Depot fliers," Brodsky says.

Brodsky finally took a chance at an open mike near his hometown of Philadelphia. When he returned the next week, someone came up and said he enjoyed Brodsky's music.

"That was the first time somebody had said he liked me who wasn't a friend or family member," he says. "So I just kept writing songs and playing open mike nights. ... I started getting gigs, and went, "OK, there goes my desktop publishing career."

Brodsky's new calling cards were his offbeat, quasi-stream-of-consciousness songs that are densely packed with words and images.

"That's intentional," he says. "One of the reasons I jam so many words into a song is that there's always something new to listen to, whether you're listening to it driving in your car or coming back to see a show again. It's like finding an Easter egg every time you listen to a song."

Brodsky called what he was doing anti-folk, which he defines on his Web site as "a subgenre of folk music, uniting the traditions of folk music with those of punk rock." It was a rags-to-riches story; OK not quite riches, but a success story nonetheless, from anonymous designer to musical innovator. Then he found out he'd been beaten to the punch on the innovation thing by musicians such as Roger Manning, Brenda Kahn, Joe Bendik, and Hamell on Trial.

"I'm not sure if I'm part of the second wave or the third wave, but now there's a fourth wave that's actually enjoying success," he says.

Brodsky isn't quite in the same league as other so-called anti-folkers, such as Beck and Ani DiFranco. But he's sure glad he doesn't have to design ads for Home Depot.

"I had no illusions about playing folk music," he says. "No illusions at all. It can be a pretty good job even at three in the morning when you're changing a tire and it hasn't been one of your best days and it's raining, when it hasn't rained but three days on your tour. I mean, there are other things that suck worse."

Brodsky's show begins at 9 p.m. today at Quiet Storm, 5430 Penn Ave., Friendship. Jamie Faulkner opens. Cost is $5.

Details: (412) 661-9355.

by Regis Behe, Tribune-Review