Teenage Boatpeople: First public appearance in 30 years

In a lifework marked by and continuing to vacillate among a certain respect, vilification, and essentially being ignored, the story of the Teenage Boatpeople is a curious chapter indeed. Founded by Jeff Johnson in 1979, the group recorded an EP and gigged periodically, primarily at the 7th Street Entry, for a couple years. (Our sole headline outing at the Entry featured Steve Gnitka and me — the Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble — as the opening group. That set was released as GET DOWN! SHOVE IT! IT’S TANGO TIME!.) Despite Jeff’s knack for hooks, his wonderfully strained vocal delivery, to say nothing of the  relatively adventurous nature of the music, no one gave a shit about the band, which broke up when Jeff moved out west for a time. Predictably, though, on the basis of the long out-of-print EP, the group achieved a minor cult status of sorts, which led Jeff to release a CD-R of most of a 1980 session in the late 2000s. That sold quite well, which got Jeff thinking about, as the cliche goes, getting the old band together again. When he approached me in 2009, he was, as he revealed later, surprised that I’d be interested in returning to this rock-based format. But, as I told him, my decision was predicated on the fact that I enjoyed working with him, and dug his take in this arena. Specifically, Jeff simply allows me to get on with it, and, secondly, he creates structures, which, as especially evidenced on NOW, embrace free improvisation in a way far beyond the ken of most rockers (or, for that matter, classical composers). We recorded the aforementioned NOW, which reissued the original EP & several tracks from the 1980 session plus 5 new tracks, but, much to our chagrin (and, at least for me, amusement) the Teenage Boatpeople once again found ourselves totally ignored. Then, in 2010, Jeff  got a grant (!) for a composition (commissioned by the American Composers Forum with funds from the Jerome Foundation). (Yeah, yeah, don’t get me started. To be clear, Jeff and I are *very* aware of the levels of  irony.) “Henry’s Passion”, which the Boatpeople — with newest member Tim Mauseth (also featured on NOW) — premiered at a Homewood Studios concert on July 10, 2011 along with other songs, er, pieces (Jeff is after all, now officially a “composer [smile]), from ADD HAVOC and NOW. And while the Teenage Boatpeople were still essentially ignored, I relish the fact that we’re still at it. (Additionally, with my Improvised Music at Homewood Studios concert the very next night, I had the fleeting sense of being an actual working — as concerns playing in public more than one night in a row — musician.) Update (2021): With Tim moving out-of-state several years ago, the Boatpeople essentially became a duo and played a concert as such at Studio Toile d’Angles. A couple subsequent gigs, including an appearance at what was likely the final Heliotrope Festival (2019), featured an expanded grouping with Charles Gillett, Sam Wildenauer and Emerson Aagaard.



2 thoughts on “Teenage Boatpeople: First public appearance in 30 years”

  1. “I’ll have the fleeting sense of being an actual working — as concerns playing in public –musician”

    So, does this mean that the public (audience, c’est moi) has been deceived?!? That you’ve only been goofing off instead of working when I’m there to listen to you? You’re not even serious?!? I’m devastated, needless to say. Thank goodness you’ve only been demanding a fin instead of minimum wage. Now I can take my hard-earned dollars to other venues like the Dakota where, despite the lack of truly creative music, I can flirt with drunken secretaries.

  2. Ah, “Bart”, you smart-ass, what I was getting at was the fact that I’m almost never afforded the opportunity to do music in public more than one night at a time. (And funny you should comment on it, because I just looked at the phraseology and am considering a change; which I just made.) Anyway, re: that yuppscale jazz club and their patrons, if you score, make sure you wear a raincoat.

Leave a Comment