WTF?! Wednesdays: Harry Partch, “Barstow” (1943)

You’ve gotta love a musical curmudgeon. Better still, a musical curmudgeon with a ton of great ideas. Harry Partch brought to his work an oddball system of tuning, his own instruments, and a definite outsider slant. Maybe you get that way by rejecting the musical mainstream and living (for a time) as a hobo?

This early composition takes as source material the scribblings found on highway railings while Partch was hitchhiking in the southwest. The found inscriptions amount to little stories left along the roadside, some of them quite matter of fact:

It’s January twenty-six. I’m freezing. Ed Fitzgerald, Age 19. 5 feet 10 inches, black hair, brown eyes. Going home to Boston Massachusetts, It’s 4 p.m., and I’m hungry and broke. I wish I was dead. But today I am a man.

…to the hilarious:

Looking for millionaire wife. Good looking, Very handsome, Intelligent, Good bull thrower, Etcetera. You lucky women! All you have to do is find me, you lucky women. Name’s George.

“Barstow” was revised several times throughout Partch’s life, with additional instrumentation and percussion added as time went on. Whichever version you run into, you’re bound for an interesting trip.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.