Van Dyke Parks Approves of Theodore and the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra's An Under Cover Weekend Set.

click to enlarge Parks' 1972 LP
Parks' 1972 LP

Tonight is the third and final night of An Under Cover Weekend at the Firebird. Bands performing include Via Dove (Pearl Jam), the Dive Poets (R.E.M.), Fractured Army (Pat Benatar), Makeshift Gentlemen (the Doors) and Theodore/Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra (Van Dyke Parks). Tickets are $10.

The latter project almost had a very special guest observing their performance: Van Dyke Parks himself. R&PMPO member Matt Frederick emailed the musician and told him about the event -- Parks' address is prominently listed on his official website -- and received the following response in return:

Dear Matthew,
i wish you all the best in your musical event. of course, I can't be there. Unfortunately, at this age, I must plan least five days! I encourage you to take full credit for your interpretive powers at the performance. If you don't toot your own horn, who will! I'm happy you used my work as an inspiration for an entirely new event. Of course, if you ever want to share the audio results, I'd be delighted to hear what you've done.
Van Dyke Parks

"I actually was going to email him a couple of weeks ago, but kept chickening out," Frederick says. "Then, when things really seemed to be coming together between R&P and Theodore on this project earlier this week, I decided to email him about how well it seemed to be going and how much of an inspiration and re-invigoration it was for both of our bands.

"I wrote him about how much fun it was to dive into his songbook, and how satisfying it was to collaborate with a bunch of musicians, songwriters and composers - much like Mr. Parks has done over the years."

A portion of Frederick's email to Parks -- in which he described how the members of Theodore and R&PMPO found out they shared a love for his music -- reads:

In May, several of us were conscripted to move a piano up a flight of stairs. Grueling work, but fortuitous conversation. We discovered that each of us had individually over the years come to love and admire your work, particularly the Discover America LP. This makes a lot of sense, as your work often mingles a kind of "classical music" sensibility of orchestral arrangement with the lyrical and melodic sensibility of the "singer-songwriter." Each of us approached your work, it seemed, in our own way. The one constant for each of us was our appreciation of your ethic - your ability to mine and appreciate the past, to explore musical genres beyond that of the conventional, and to reinvigorate the now and the here in doing so. We feel that each of us are on a journey not dissimilar to yours.

When Theodore was asked to perform at a local festival called An Under Cover Weekend, they knew immediately what they wanted to do and invited us, Rats & People, to join forces with them. We, together and collaboratively, were going to work-up, rehearse, play and sing your songs.

We have done so, as you once said in an interview about your records, with an "even-tempered sense of collaboration." All ten of us have contributed in substantive ways to the arrangements and musical choices. Each of us is talented and concurrently opinionated. But, checking our egos at the door has lent richness and nuance to our humble undertaking. No autocrats among us. We hope in our own little way to do for you what you did so wonderfully for Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, steel-drum music and the Uncle Remus Tales: to present music and lyrics we admire and love so much (yours) and to spread a kind of gospel of it to those who currently are unfamiliar with it. We hope, like you do so well, to explore beyond the here and now in order to reinvigorate the here and now.

Frederick now kicks himself for not inviting Parks to the show sooner than he did.

"I wish that I hadn't chickened-out two weeks ago," he says. "Perhaps he could have made it to the performance. Then again, if Van Dyke Parks was actually there watching and listening, we may have been too nervous!"

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