Ghost Upon the Road

For years Stages was a ghost that couldn't be found. It's a harrowing story of just how twisted the industry can be, a story about which Andersen still feels passionate, though no longer bitter.

"Clive Davis, the president of Columbia Records, the guy who brought me to the label, got fired just as we were finishing Stages," he explains. "His office was taken down -- the walls, everything. People who worked with me in A&R and production, they were trying to save their jobs. Everybody was covering their asses. So they called me and said, 'Oops, we lost your album.' That was their solution. Amy Herot, who I had worked with in New York, heard the story, and she was outraged. She did a two-year search for the album, sending out queries all over the world. One night, the tapes arrived at the Columbia vaults, no labels, no nothing. That's like trying to sneak gold into a Swiss bank. It's impossible. Somebody just stumbled over them. They mysteriously arrived right after this other person I'd worked with left Columbia's Nashville office. When the producer, Norbert Putnam, heard the lost two track masters, he was forced to confront his original work. He couldn't believe how good it sounded. He had been building this huge digital studio, the latest, biggest, best in Nashville. He just couldn't believe how he'd been fooled over the years by digital technology. He heard those original Ampex recordings, with tubes in the board, that sound. He was so blown away and disgusted that he said, 'Fuck this shit, I'm selling the studio.' And he did. I admire him for that."

For the past 15 years, Andersen has been living part-time in Norway, part-time in New York. He has found a home on the small indie label Appleseed, and his most recent album, Memory of the Future, weaves together some exquisite love songs and stranger, darker meditations: on the resurgence of fascism in Europe, on the anarchic freedom of cyberspace, on nightclub nightmares. The record took eight years to make.

"I started it with a song, 'Hills of Tuscany,' with Jonas Fjeld in New York," Andersen says. "Then Howie Epstein of the Heartbreakers called; he wanted to work with me, so we cut eight tracks, three of which we used. But LA was so far from Norway that it was just impossible. So I started the same process in Norway, just guitar and voice, and every track of music was added one at a time. I ferried tapes back and forth for years. Rick Danko would get a tape and add bass in New York; same with Tony Garnier. Richard Thompson played on it in LA -- I wasn't even there. Each song was in a different degree of completion, and I had no idea who would be on next. It's totally unique, I don't think an album's ever been made this way."

What does the future hold? Andersen's working on a new CD, some of which he'll record with the Fat Possum blues people in Mississippi. He's recently found a literary agent, and Rolling Stone will publish an essay he wrote on the Beats, due out in June. In October the Norwegian National Theater will present his one-act play Bird Cage, and he has plans to write more fiction and poetry and to continue touring. "I love working hard," Andersen says, "but it's still a struggle. You're always plowing new ground. It keeps you young and sane. You have to have a lot of respect for life. You have to respect your time here; it goes so fast."

Eric Andersen makes his St. Louis debut on Friday, May 21, at the Focal Point.

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