Schlosser: 'As soon as they said Madison is the best place to live, people started thinking they had to improve things [and] they made it worse.'
Before the glitter of corporate boutiques, the glamour of Overture or the gloss of gentrification, State Street was a hub of counterculture activity and independent merchants. Despite his dislike for how downtown Madison has evolved, local musician/artist Art Paul Schlosser has weathered the changes well.
For 23 years, the guitar-and kazoo-playing crooner has serenaded State Street with his family-friendly folk tunes. More than the music, says Schlosser, performing is about bringing people together and having fun. In fact, he likely spends more time laughing and making friends than he does singing songs.
At 47, Schlosser doesn't expect he'll be squeezed from downtown's cultural fray anytime soon, but on Dec. 9 he'll bring his music in from the cold for a special Christmas concert at Ground Zero Coffee. Also, Schlosser has artwork on display at Avol's Bookstore on Gorham Street through Dec. 31.
Schlosser recently chatted with The Daily Page about his creative process, how Madison has changed and what fans can expect from his Christmas concert.
The Daily Page: How did you come to play the kazoo?
Schlosser: In the fifth grade, I was in an after-school club where they got us to play kazoo and other weird instruments. I played kazoo with the group. But after fifth grade I didn't go back to it for a long time. When I did pick up the kazoo it was because of two local college bands that hanged out at the Union. They sometimes did an open mic and would be playing kazoo. After I met those guys, I decided I should start playing the kazoo whenever I'm on State Street.
How do you write your songs?
It could be the words first or it could be the music first. I have this music I store away for awhile until I get lyrics for it. If it's the lyrics first, it's probably some idea that comes to my head, like with My Cat Was Taking a Bath. My cat was near the bathtub and I thought it would be funny to write a song about a cat taking a bath. Songs are inspired by all sorts of stuff.
I have a really weird imagination that takes me all over the place. I've had dreams where I've woken up with a song, like when I wrote Jesus Took Away my Drugs. I had a dream where someone I knew who smoked marijuana told me I should write a song about how I quit marijuana because of Jesus. When I woke up, I had lyrics. Then I picked up the guitar and started to figure out something to go with those lyrics.
Why is your imagination so weird?
People say it was drugs, but I don't think it was. I had an imagination when I was a kid. In fact, I had my own playmates that I made up. I was in a theatrical group that taught us to walk through our imaginations. We were told stories that helped open our imaginations. In your imagination, you can fly, be any color you want or go anywhere you want. I'd go on imagination trips.
My favorite Art Paul song is Purple Bananas on the Moon. What's the story behind that one?
I grew up during the astronaut flights, where everyone had to watch Apollo 12. It was a big deal. Slightly before that, they'd talk about there was cheese on the moon, but turns out there wasn't. Then also, when I was at home, I'd be answering the door all of the time, because my mom wasn't home and some weird person would come to the door and they would try and mislead me into buying something or lure me into some weird religion. It was kind of like purple bananas were on the moon.
You were mugged while performing on State Street a while back, right?
He didn't mug me, he hit me. It was one of those weird situations late at night. I don't know if the guy had a drug problem or something. He might've just been in a bad mood. I was talking to someone and all of a sudden this guy jumped in on the conversation, telling me that I sucked.
As I was walking back, he came running at me. Then he hit me. I thought he was walking away because we'd said some things and apparently he didn't like what we were saying. It's kind of complicated.
Do you feel Madison is more dangerous than it used to be?
It's more like a city now. When I was growing up, before they made State Street Mall, it was smaller. It was more fun back then. Now it just seems like a bar place. People go and get drunk and afterwards, who knows what'll happen?
When I started playing State Street, Madison had more of a community, like a bunch of small towns that were connected. Now it seems like it's all merging into one big competition city. As soon as they said Madison is the best place to live, people started thinking they had to improve things to show off how good we are. But when they started improving things to make it better, they made it worse.
What can we expect from your show at Ground Zero?
I'm going to do some of my original Christmas songs. I may even dress up as Santa. Tell your readers to bring a friend or two and we'll have fun. If not, I want to tell your readers, even if they can't make the concert, to still get together with a friend somewhere and wish them a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.