Popsicle #43: “The Tea Song” by Michael Hurley

The three or four people who follow these Popsicle posts might have noticed the lack of writing about music. The embarrassing truth is that I just don’t give it much attention. When I was young, I was a passionate record collector. I loved studying the album’s lyrics and artwork alone in my bedroom, but I lost interest when CD’s came along.

Live music has never played a big part of my life. I guess I was too much of a loner and felt self-conscious about waving a lighter all by myself. So for twenty years, music has mostly been background noise. But every now and then something causes me to prick up my ears.

Last week a random magazine assignment had me photographing a legendary underground musician who performs under a pseudonym. I took the assignment because I was intrigued by the mystique. But when I saw him perform, I was underwhelmed. The music only seemed to exist in service of propping up the fabricated persona.

The next morning while driving to work I turned on our local public radio music station, The Current. Despite being public radio, The Current mostly features a rotation of not-Top-40 but still widely circulated contemporary pop music. But on this morning they were featuring a ‘theft of the dial’ segment in which a musician takes over the DJ duties and so the rotation was disrupted.

In this case the DJ was another singer who works under a pseudonym, Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman. I’m not sure what to think of Tillman, but I will give him credit for introducing me (and the rest of the drive-time audience) to an incredible piece of music:

When this came on the radio, I was immediately carried away into the universe of the song. What a relief, I realized later, that none of this had to do with persona. I didn’t know that Hurley, aka Dr. Snock, recorded this at age 22, a few days after being released from the psychiatric wing of Bellevue Hospital. Nor did I know that it was recorded on the same reel-to-reel machine that taped Lead Belly’s Last Sessions.

“If Michael Hurley were just a little crazier, he’d be huge,” wrote the LA Weekly, “If he wore a funny hat like Sun Ra and was obsessed with, say, lawnmowers or parakeets, maybe more people would pay attention.”

After hearing “The Tea Song,” I realized that I should pay more attention. – not just to Hurley, but to music generally. I might just go out and buy the record.

13 Replies to “Popsicle #43: “The Tea Song” by Michael Hurley”

  1. Mike Hurley now lives in Astoria,OR, the home of a famous friend of all of ours. Many years ago I tried to get LOOK magazine to give me an assignment to photograph Mike Hurley after hearing this record. They thought he was too weird, but the also killed the story on Bob Dylan because he looked to “scruffy” for their audience.


  2. I look forward to Popsicle Mondays :) I’m an enthusiastic reader of all things Popsicle, as I have probably said before.

    Father John knows his stuff! He is also quite the charismatic live performer if you ever do get the chance and choose to see some live music, he’d be a goody.

    Just thinking that you may also like these gems (though I’m switching up the voices here to female) but they are nice and folky. Smoky:

    Sibylle Baier – Tonight:


    Jessica Pratt – Bushel Hyde:


    I could go on and on because music, ahhhhhh, music…

    Have a good day.

    1. Hey Erica, thanks for Sibylle, whom I didn’t know. The complete album is playing on Grooveshark as I write this. Fantastic!

  3. I just bought an LP even though I haven’t owned a turntable in about twenty years. It’s Erik Friedlander’s cello pieces written to accompany Mitch Epstein’s American Power photographs. There’s a nice poster that aligns the photographs with the hand-written score; this half of the double album is somewhat easier to read. I got a digital download of the tracks, too, so the music still streams to my ears.
    ’Twas quite a show those gents put on at Walker last Friday.
    Oh, the record was co-published by Steidl, so it seems Gerhard is moving into other sensory areas besides photos and perfumes.

  4. Count me as another member of the Popsicle Appreciation Society. My head’s been fed and, occasionally, my wallet lightened. Thanks for that, Alec.

  5. His “Ancestral Swamp” is a good one. I cannot imagine making it to my 40’s without music. It’s amazing you’re not a bigger mess than Hurley.

  6. Here in Brasil the FM band is just sad. I imagine turning on the radio and getting this. Must have been cool.
    Thanks for the song, Alec.
    By the way, I may be one of the three or four who follow your popsicles, at least down here.

  7. Michael Hurley! “Hi Fi Snock Uptown” was the cult album in our little college circle in 1973, repeatedly listened to, with and without what Donald Fagen has recently called “herbal mood augmentation”. “Twilight Zone” and “Old Black Crow” remain favourites. The vinyl versions of early Hurley are treasurable for their artwork — he has a way with wolves.


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