Chris Shillock: Successor to the beatnik poets


If you’re not quite old enough to know, ask your mama what a beatnik is. Today’s art of spoken word is fine and the whole nine, but for dyed-in-the-wool prose-poetry, the era of firebrands Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg and such is where it’s at.

Thankfully, we have in the Twin Cities, strong successors like J. Otis Powell, Louis Alemayehu and one Chris Shillock, who’s been burning up the underbrush this past decade plus some with his books (The Revolutionary’s Creed, Testament of Fear, Millennium City, Irregular Conjugations) and appearance at, among other area outlets, Minnesota Spoken Word Association, Minnesota Fringe Festival and S.A.S.E.: the Write Place. Shillock hitches things up a notch, releasing Invisible Jazz, for which he partners with vocalist Tabatha Predovich, backed by David Gullickson (drums), Tom Zosel (tenor sax), Rich Patterson (guitar/composer), and Lynette Reini-Grandell (violin). He briefly spoke with Dwight Hobbes for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Chris Shillock/Tabatha Predovich CD release event for Invisible Jazz is 9/28 at 9:00PM, Bedlam Theatre, 1501 S. 6th St. on the West Bank in Minneapolis. Invisible Jazz is available at Amazon, CD/Baby and, in person, the old fashioned way at Mayday Books, 301 Cedar Ave.

DH: How’s it feel to have picked up reasonably wide exposure this past few years?

CHRIS SHILLOCK: After I was on the cover of the Pulse several years ago I was amused to see that a number of Spoken Word people who never noticed me before, were suddenly quite friendly. Others who had been friends were, sadly, less so. I got a lot more respect at my home Dunn Bros. when they found out I had was a “well-known” person, not just “French Roast – room for cream”. Right now it has helped me assemble some of the most respected artists in town for my release, trading on nothing more than my name and reputation.

DH: Why do you write?

CS: I came into poetry through the inspiration of the Open Mics and I came out of the punk-rock, anarchist scene. My political activities had already taught me the thrill of seeing my name in print in small publications that no one ever reads.

DH: Why perform?

CS: For a number of shifting reasons. Since the beginning, my work has been directed towards performance. On my website, where most writers list their publications, I list places where I’ve performed. When I started many years ago, it was to get some favorable attention from intelligent and beautiful women. Then I found that something is something I could do well – but that my true genius lay in gathering together a very diverse group of highly talented people. In fact one of the greatest pleasure has been the ability to collaborate as with people like David Daniels, and Scott Vetsch, four women to whom my book is dedicated and with whom I developed this work and other, and the members of my band.

DH: Anything else on that?

CS: The DIY tradition of punk led me away from the long, usually humiliating, process of “submission” of your work. As a friend of mine said, you’re constantly asking someone’s permission. Hey, we don’t need no stinkin’ poetry journals. We’re also in the midst of a technological revolution which puts on everyone’s desktop, more production and distribution power than Alfred Knopff, Cecil B. de Mille and Arturo Toscanini ever knew in their lifetime.

DH: How do you feel about how Invisible Jazz turned out?

CS: It’s succeeded beyond anything I dreamed possible. It is the ultimate concept album, with a beginning, a middle and an end and a thematic unity which guides the listener though the mazes of love, of empire and war and spiritual metaphysics. And then there’s the technical aspect, Tabatha’s voice filters her classical training through a rock beat to deliver every word I wrote with passion and clarity. No writer could dream of anything more. Her husband Rich not only played guitar but he also did the sound, the mixing, everything except the final mastering. One long piece, the Coptic hymn, Thunder, was created entirely on his guitar and the Garage Band program on his home computer. He and Tabatha have put in an incredible amount of hours making this project something the world has never been seen before.