Wednesday, July 20, 2005

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MR. FROGG'S WILD RIDE

From homelessness survivor to virtual entertainer, a hard luck musician with a story to tell streams for his supper (originally published here)...

Frogg_sings

It was during his two months living on the street that Frogg Marlowe had an insight about the shape of the homeless experience.

“I saw the cycle of it,” he tells me.  “Can't get a job without a home.  Can't get a home without a job.” 

“Pariah Cycle” is the plaintive, blues and folk-inflected song he wrote from his short time without a place to call home, and the feeling he’d get from passersby who skirted past him, eyes averted. Last Friday, however, he had the attention of a capacity crowd at the Lilly Pad, an underground nightclub in Clyde, where he performed that number and other originals, sometimes accompanying himself on guitar, sometimes on a harmonica.

“It was good friends helped me make the step indoors again,” Frogg continues. “It was the back injuries that kept me off my feet. And also the back injuries that got me back into the performing arts.” A childhood pal took him in and introduced him to Second Life, and when he got here, it was cua Curie and Drift Monde who encouraged him to hook up a microphone to his computer— his friend’s hand-me down PC— so he could perform live before an audience of Second Life Residents (a medium pioneered by Astrin Few and Flaming Moe.)

“We have always had tunnels and caverns in Clyde,” cua tells me, sitting on a frog-shaped chair near the stage of his club, after hours. He’s a guy with a goatee, a slick suit, and dark sunglasses, and he’s become something likeFrogg ’s pro-bono manager (“I keep offering to pay him but he's told me to stop thanking him during my shows,” Marlowe demurs), assisted by Drift, who sent me the press release announcing Frogg’s first gig.   

“We were going to make a sewer-themed club/shopping area here,” cua goes on, “But this area had sat empty for many months and whenFrogg showed up the lily pad theme became obvious.  We built it for Frogg to use.”   

And though he’s made an avatar to resemble his name (if a frog could wear rockstar leather pants), his amphibian persona is something he’s had for quite awhile.

“I've actually gone by the name ‘Frogg’ for many years,” he says, grinning. “This is just the first time I got to look like one, too… I'd been ill, and had a very croaky voice and started playing around with lyrics based around ‘I’m a man namedFrogg’, which is also the title of it.”

Offline, Frogg lives in a small Northwestern town renowned for its arts subculture, and he’s been doing what he can to make a name for himself as a performer. “I host an open mic with a very large community of musicians cycling thru it and they're a very talented buncha kids,” says Marlowe, “but our hometown is kind of oversaturated with good music and there’s an ever smaller number of local acts that seem to get all the gigs. So it's hard to break onto the scene. [There’s] lots of venues, but very few are open to new acts from the local musicians – mostly touring acts get the real paying gigs and the locals can count themselves lucky to get a non-paying gig. The open mic that I've been hosting is the only one that seems to have any real audience...”

But even then, it’s not the Lilly Pad.

“About seventy people tuned in to his live show on Friday,” cua Curie interjects.

“And I've NEVER had an audience that large for a show of my own material before,” Frogg says, astounded. “Here in Second Life, I've already been able to move further towards being heard in a month, than in 10 years of songwriting. So you can imagine how happy I am to have found this place.”

At the end of Friday’s show, the virtual tip jar was passed around the audience, and Frogg Marlowe found himself 9000 Linden Dollars richer. 

“I turned most of it into cash through a friend,” says Frogg, “and went GROCERY SHOPPING!!!” He bought himself coffee, cheese, and veggie hotdogs— literally singing for his supper. He laughs at the thought of it. “It's been getting’ lean this year. I had a couple back injuries that keep me out of a lot of the kinds of work I used to do.”

“We are working on getting him some better equipment,” cua Curie adds. “Frogg is using a Yahoo chat mic at the moment.” After getting him an International Standard Recording Code, to copyright his music (“It was my friends pushin’ me that finally got me started trying to protect my intellectual property,” Marlowe admits), cua helped create a website for Frogg Marlowe, too, where his music can be streamed 24/7.

His folk-tinged music is quirky, odd, and sad, so I ask him if he’d accept “surreal Elliot Smith” as a shortcut description of his style.

“Seriously,” says Frogg, “every time somebody compares me to somebody else, It's somebody I've never heard of. That's how I first heard of Martin Sexton, Greg Brown, Nick Drake, and a few others I haven't been able to listen to, yet.” As he tells it, he’s lived a life relatively sheltered from pop music of the recent decades—the most contemporary artist he cites are Pink Floyd and Simon and Garfunkle— instead training in classical and musical theater, and some jazz vocal. “I like to say that I've long lived deep in a cave with my head firmly buried under a rock...”

“Very frog-like!”

Marlowe laughs. “The metaphor of the frog has had some other significances for me, as well. I found out that in some Native American cultures, the frog is symbolic of spiritual healing. Spiritual healing's been a big part of my path, and of my music as well."

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