I like the eclectic, and revel in the eccentric. I talk to many musicians and I would say that most fall into one or both categories. Of course it could be said that this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black! I certainly an not of the mainstream, I am most decidedly eccentric, and proud of it! Why follow the pack when you can be your own alpha dog in a pack of one?

In some strange and unknown way, it is the lone wolf, the packs of one, that always seem to congregate. There is a magnetism that cannot be denied.

James Ellis is one such lone wolf. He is a hard man to find, he for the most part shuns anything to do with the Online world. It was quite a large challenge to even track him down.

OK, so I hear you asking, who the hell is James Ellis? Well, he is a musician who pretty much does what he wants, when he wants! This kind of attitude gets my attention. So many people just stay within the walls of their social confinement. Not James! He writes songs about what bothers him.

A while ago he penned a rather strange song ‘Lonely Geek Boy’. It hit my radar, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t give it a second thought. I could see no way that Lonely Geek Boy was going anywhere but in the toilet. It had all the social graces of a Komodo Dragon at the buffet table of a large cruise ship. It was 90 seconds of Alvin and the Chipmunks meets Friday the 13th!

I have to admit that I found the song baffling. If it had a deeper meaning, well it was beyond my simplistic mind. That view changed when I received a version that someone had layered a video on.

This obviously got my attention, and I had to find out more about the elusive Mr Ellis. I did track him down, and he agreed to do a short email interview. It took a couple of email iterations, but here is the interview:

Simon Barrett: James, unless I am badly off course you and I share a common heritage, you are British.

James Ellis: Yes, I suppose in part I am. My mother was born in a small village not far from Oxford, and my father was from Iowa, he was stationed in WWII at a RAF/USAF base in southern England. A site long de-commissioned and long forgotten. My father liked England, and opted to stay there. So that is indeed where I grew up.
I was born in 1953, my parents were by no means rich but they gave me the tools. I went to a private school and then entered the Grammar School system. I have to admit that at the time I could see little of value in much of what was being taught. I have since changed my views, but show me a 13 year old that thinks Latin is a fun class and I will fall over laughing.

SB: Where did the music interest come from?

JE: That is a great story, one I still chuckle over. Every Wednesday afternoon we had an hour of music. The teacher Mr. Hind was blind. So us boys, well it was an all boys school would torture the poor man. Switch desks, smoke cigarettes (but blow the smoke out of the windows), in retrospect it was very mean. It certainly did little to foster my love of music.

SB: You avoided the question

JE: No, I was just getting started. Every morning the entire school had to endure what was called assembly. The three hundred and fifty or so kids would line up by what you now call Grade level. Youngest in the front! We all hated it, on stage would be Mr. Bower the principal telling us how well the School cricket team was doing, and what a bunch of losers the rest of us were.

It was also the ideal opportunity for some public humiliation, he read the roll call for the boys he wanted to talk to in his office as soon as ‘assembly’ was complete.

The key in my mind was to try and avoid the entire, potentially day ruining adventure altogether. My first plan was to avoid it on religious grounds. There were two kids of the Jewish faith and they did not have to attend. My mother alas refused to write a note explaining that I was Jewish.

Each assembly ended the same way, we would sing a hymn. The school might have been small in population, but it was darn big in Pipe Organ, At the rear of the hall was the very best pipe organ around. I liked it not for its sound, but rather the sound of the Hymn represented the end of the days torture.

I saw the organ as my escape. It turned out that the organ player indeed needed help, I could gleefully hang out for assembly sitting behind the organ.

One day that world crashed around my ears. Organ players are always polite “Mr. Ellis it is time”. In a panic I said “But sir, I have done nothing wrong, all I do is keep the dust out of the back of the organ”. “Ellis. This is not punishment, it is merely time that you met the front of the organ”. A love affair started. The sheer power of a Pipe Organ is glorious. There I was a scrawny little 13 year old in charge of a beast that reached 25 feet in the air.

Better still, I was not breaking any rules. Under normal circumstances merely touching the organ would have been an offense punishable by death. OK not quite that bad, but it would have resulted in a close encounter with the Head Masters rather wicked cane.

SB: Ah I remember those glorious days. I suspect that you and I went to similar schools. While we did not boast a Pipe Organ, we had other artifacts that merely getting in close proximity to them would result in some dreadful ordeal. But I don’t want to digress, I am guessing that playing Hymns was where you first began?

JE: Yes indeed. Actually they are still a source of interest to me today. May I explain?

SB: Oh please do, this is a very open ended interview.

JE: Hymns rarely have a single composer, often the music was created for an entirely different purpose, and the words were added later by someone else. The music itself also evolved to become less important than the message in the vocals. Often times the music used today is mere background, it is just a bunch of simple chords that anyone can play on any keyboard.

SB: I have been avoiding the question, but I have to ask it. Lonely Geek Boy seems to me to be a hugely political statement.

JE: I do not consider myself to be political in any way. I am not political, I do however have a social consciousness. My songs rarely target one person, and Lonely Geek Boy was not a jibe at Julian Assange, I had never even heard of Julian Assange or Wikileaks. The song is not about one man or one organization. In fact I was a little upset when that damn video was published. The song is about how the world had disintegrated into one of Nerdery and Geekery. You can’t go into a restaurant or a store without people on cell phones, either yacking into mid air, or thumping away with their thumbs on a keyboard the size of a postage stamp. They are all Lonely Geek Boys, at this rate of un-progress within a few generations humans will have evolved to having really small hands, but big thumbs. Newborns will not have Birth Certificates or Social Security Numbers, they will just be ‘chipped’, instant cell phone availability. As they grow up, they will not go to Dentists, they will go to Bluetootholigists! The three R’s Reading, Writing and Arithmetic will be replaced by the three S’s, Stupid, Senseless and Spied upon!

Lonely Geek Boy was written out of frustration. Orwell had it right, he just had the date wrong. Of course by 2084 his book will no longer exist. History shows that history gets rewritten on a regular basis. History becomes whatever the current ‘powers’ decide it should be.

SB: Who do you view as your musical influences?

JE: That is a great question, and one I was not really prepared for. I guess the biggest influence on me was my father. James R. Ellis Sr., to the best of my recollection he could not play any instruments, at least not that I ever witnessed, and had a singing voice that would make even the most dedicated mugger run for cover! He really wasn’t much into music in the normal sense. His favorite artist was Spike Jones.

Editors note: Spike Jones was the 40’s and 50’s version of Weird Al Yankovitch! He would take a well known tune of the time and add some cynical material. I found this delightful clip of Spike Jones in action.

I just enjoyed the novelty value, and I suppose that I follow the same path.

More soon..

Simon Barrett

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