PM: Would you tell us, please, about that first and fateful trip you took to Ireland, and the relationship as a person and a performer to that country that bloomed in the years that followed.
PeterM: Well, I took a semester there. And it was a great old time. Mostly what I did was I'd cut classes on Thursday and go in and make it a really long weekend in Dublin. I would crash on friends' couches, street musician friends that I'd met.
PM: So you met street musicians pretty soon.
PeterM: Pretty quick, yeah.
PM: Because you just started busking yourself? [For those unfamiliar with the term, it means playing in public, on the street or in the subway, for instance, with an open instrument case or a hat for tips.]
PeterM: Exactly. And then I would either busk with them or I'd busk on my own. Or I would take a long week and I'd hitchhike around somewhere. And that's it. And in some ways, that's the whole deal for me. That's where I started doing what I do, and I've been doing it ever since, which is to go around and find some little joint to play music in, and it might be a street corner or a subway station, and nowadays hopefully it's a small club or a small theater. But I really have not done anything different since I was nineteen years old. So it's coming up on twenty years that I've done this.
PM: Wow. And so you literally started doing it in Ireland?
PeterM: Well, I had played some in little coffee shops and such around Milwaukee. But the idea of just sort of diving in, that happened in Ireland.
PM: Milwaukee. Did you ever know the Violent Femmes or John Kruth or any of those Milwaukee people?
PeterM: Oh, yeah.
PM: They were a little before your time, or--
PeterM: They were a little before my time. But I know John Kruth. I've done shows with him. He lives in New York now, I think.
PM: Yeah, I'll probably see him on the street today. I'm in SoHo at the moment, and from time to time I bump into him and Marilyn on the street.
PeterM: Yeah, say hi for me, man.
PeterM: I love that guy. I admire that guy. He's a great musician, and he's writing books about people now. That's cool. [Kruth has written an acclaimed book on Rahsaan Roland Kirk and in recent years has been at work on the book about Townes Van Zandt.]
PeterM: And in the Femmes--I was in a play with Victor DeLorenzo. I was in a production of The Rhinoceros with him. So that was fun.
PeterM: Yeah, exactly.
PeterM: I haven't met the rest of them, but I do know that sort of Milwaukee crew. And also, Paul Cebar, who is a great, great Milwaukee musician.
PM: I've heard about him, but I'm not familiar with his music. And isn't Willy Porter from there?
PeterM: Yeah, he's practically a neighbor. He lives over in Wauwatosa.
PM: He's pretty amazing. [check out our Willy Porter interview from a couple of years back]
PeterM: Yeah, he's quite a guitar player. He's quite a thinker. He's got a great mind.
PM: Oh, yeah, that doesn't surprise me. I don't know him personally, but you'd almost have to be to play like that.
PM: So that really covers part of that question, the relationship that developed in the years to come, with Ireland?
PeterM: Well, I started touring there again in 1997. And I got to say, the gigging there is pretty chaotic.
PM: Is it?
PeterM: Yeah, it's pretty old school. I'm working with this agent who just refuses to own a cell phone, he refuses to own a fax machine. So in some ways he's not progressing into the modern scene, and so I'm probably not connected with the particularly current scene. But man, it's really something. You just go over there, and you have a bunch of gigs--a bunch of old pubs. And you meet some pretty crazy people, and it's worth it to me.
PM: Now are they all going crazy when you're playing, or do they like to listen? What's that about?
PeterM: No, they're a great listening crowd. The Irish will seriously listen. I think they listen more attentively, but they're also more animated--certainly than an English crowd. English crowds are incredibly polite.
PM: Painfully reserved.
PM: Wow. But there are gigs aplenty. Have you ever gigged at the Spirit Store in Dundalk?
PeterM: I've been in it. It's a great, great joint. And I keep trying to get a gig there.
PM: Ah. That's the town where our people come from, a bunch of our people.
PeterM: Oh, no kidding.
PM: So I always ask that of friends of mine.
PeterM: It's a great joint. They got great T-shirts.
PM: Oh, really? Oh, I'll have to get one over there, then. So like Ireland, but different, another place you have a strong relationship to is the subway.
PM: You probably know more about playing in the subway than most anyone one could meet, or so I'm led to believe. Tell our readers something about that world, and how it help shaped you as a performer, and again, as a person.
PeterM: I've said this a hundred times, but it's the best description I can give. You know that movie Groundhog Day?
PeterM: It was like a ten-minute version of that movie.
PeterM: The train goes away, now you have an empty platform. And you have silence. And you have someone coming down an escalator. And over the next ten minutes, somewhere between ten and fifty people are going to come down that escalator.
PM: [laughs] That's an amazing way to put it.
PeterM: What will you do? What song will you sing? How will you get that song to light itself up and reach these people? And then, give or take five or ten minutes, two songs, maybe three, and then they're gone.
PM: Right. How are you going to get them to throw something in your case.
PeterM: Yeah. And how do you get them to maybe buy a CD over time, et cetera. It's beautiful, because it's the same moment under a microscope, and it's the same moment under a microscope like 200 times a day.
PeterM: It's a brilliant way to learn, man.
PM: It's a wondrous way to describe it as well. [laughs] That's unbelievable. continue