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A Simpler Time

Leon Redbone's music revives the past, as does his lifestyle.


He was a fixture of the early "Saturday Night Live," whose radical producers recognized the essential subversion of his retro-minstrelsy. A quarter century later, in a new release titled "Anytime," the Redbone style is still rooted in a simpler era.

What draws him to songs nearly a century old?

"I would hope it's good taste," Redbone says. "I don't favor the style du jour. Some people have said that my music is slightly more eclectic, although that's not the way I perceive it. What I do is create an atmosphere for myself, with the assistance of many good people who are like-minded

"We have to keep a focus on how society functions, or dysfunctions," Redbone continues. "There is no historical perspective in music or life in general. There is no great desire to create a society that connects to the past. I have always been partial to everybody's view and culture, to different modes of thinking, art. Variety is more interesting than a Cyclops."

Redbone is skeptical of the wisdom engendered by modern commercial culture. "People in the 19th century, with no access to mass media, were far more ignorant, but in the largest sense more informed. Their intuitive nature kicked in. Today it's like mynah birds — not that I don't like birds."

His highly recognizable persona masks a resolutely private person. Over the course of his career, Redbone has been mysterious about his offstage life. (Reached by telephone for this interview, he claimed to have been patched through from the desert outside Abu Dhabi.) "If you were to take a poll, that would seem like a strange point of view," he admits. "The fantasy life for people, both in the business and out, is to take every opportunity to expose one's self in every way. It's beyond a requirement it's a mandate, and it's mundane."

His performances are untainted by celebrity or personal agendas. "The entertaining comes from a totally different part of my brain," Redbone says. "It's more reflective and serene; it paints a mood and an image. Perhaps there is an undercurrent, an aspect that many of the people who are like-minded can see. But it is certainly not topical, not in anybody's face. It's just lighthearted in some ways, and reflective."

What should the audience anticipate? "Don't expect anything other than a performance quite different from what you hear on my records," Redbone says. That includes the singer's live recordings, none of which he sanctions, and all of which he finds deficient. He has even considered legal action, but litigation is not in his nature.

"My basic desire in life is to stay out of a hospital or courtroom," Redbone confides. "Either one is a losing proposition." S

Leon Redbone appears on a double bill with the great jazz/blues singer Mose Allison as part of the "One World, Many Communities" series at the Carpenter Center Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26.50 - $29.50 and can be purchased at or by phone at 262-8100.

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