Mark Bragg vs. Chuck Norris

Mark on the beach

So I wanted to do an article on St. John’s musician Mark Bragg.

I had done an interview with him, and I was about to do the normal things that music writers do, like writing an article, but I found his music deserved more.

Bragg’s characters are strong symbols for the dark desires and dirty secrets that everyone has deep inside them. They are archetypes for the hungry, the desperate, and the downtrodden. He doesn’t just write songs — While you sleep, he mines your dreams for material.

I couldn’t just write a regular review.

Then I ran into Chuck Norris at Needs.

He and I got to talking, and it turns out he’s really down to earth. Strangely enough, he’s a big Mark Bragg fan.

“Yeah, I really like ‘Bear Music’ — Spooky romantic cabaret, kinda.”

“That’s great!” I said. “I’m writing this article. Maybe you can help me.”

He said, “Yeah sure.”

Then I asked him if he would drop-kick me into the chip rack for fun.

He said no.

It was really exciting.

So the next day I called him up, and we talked about Mark Bragg. Here is a transcription of our discussion.

EL: Hey Chuck

CN: Who is this?

EL: It’s Elling from The Scope. I’m calling to interview you about Mark Bragg’s latest album, “Bear Music.”

CN: Oh, you’re the chips guy.

EL: Yeah, that’s me. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

CN: No problem. I’m happy to get the chance to talk about Mark Bragg’s music.

EL: What is it about his music you like so much?

CN: Well, it’s really good stuff. It’s got some country to it. It’s upbeat, so most of it is good for working out. It’s quirky, but not geeky. It’s also interesting that he called the album “Bear Music”, because bears have a very ferocious and clever spirit. …Did you know that bears can open jars? It’s true. Anyway. It describes the music accurately, I think. Smart and ferocious.

EL: Many of our readers don’t know that you, Chuck Norris, once rode a nine foot grizzly bear through an automatic car wash, instead of taking a shower.

CN: That’s not true.

EL: Right. How would you describe his music?

CN: It’s hard to pin down, since he has a good musical range. At times it’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek cabaret, like in Plans for the Boys, but he can also pull off a moody ballad, like The Bridge. His singing voice has a lot to do with it: smooth at times, gravelly at times. And his screams have a real primal nature. A lot of pain and heartache is released in that scream.

EL: Is there any one particular thing that draws you to his music?

CN: Well, Bragg’s a real storyteller. What’s really striking are his images and characters. On first listen they seem like the scum of the earth, the low-down, the dirty. Not the type of people you’d want to have hanging around. But a careful look shows that they’re elements of everyone. … A lot of the characters in his music are prototypes for ideas that everyone has within them. Or you can call them archetypes. Like the archetype of the mother figure, for example.

EL: But you were not born, you punched your way out of the womb.

CN: I have a mother. And anyway, I’m not saying mother, I’m saying the idea of mother. Or the wise old man, or the hero. They are fundamental building blocks of the psyche. A lot of archetypes are characters in myth.

EL: Wait. You’re Chuck Norris, you don’t talk like this. You put the “laughter” in “manslaughter”.

CN: I can express myself in a number of ways. I’m an actor.

EL: Of course, you can express yourself however you want. You are Chuck Norris.

CN: Right. Can we get on with this?

EL: Okay… Go on.

CN: Bragg tends to write songs about what Carl Jung called “shadow archetypes”, or the animal parts of the human mind. It’s often called the “dark side” of the unconscious, and it’s where people hide their secrets. Everyone has the potential to injure or kill people, but few people do.

EL: Except you. You drive an ice cream truck covered in human skulls.

CN: I don’t. I drive a pickup truck.

EL: Is it covered in human skulls?

CN: No. Anyway, I jotted down a number of characters from his songs that have elements of the shadow archetype: There’s a bear trapped in a cage, two murderers, a prostitute, a junkie, a woman who traps young men to use as sex slaves. These are ‘bad’ characters, but Bragg brings out their humanity, even the bear’s humanity, for example. He makes it an object of pity by putting in the back of a truck with a bundle of barbed wire. Everyone has a little bit of these characters in them. By making them sympathetic Bragg makes the listener realize that, in some way.

EL: But isn’t sympathy a form of weakness?

CN: What are you talking about?

EL: So does this archetype business mean everyone has a little bit of Chuck Norris in them?

CN: Sure, I guess.

EL: Awesome! Thanks for the interview!

CN: You’re welcome.

Bear Music is available in stores.

One comment

Everyone loves a critic

20 August 2009

  1. trish · August 20, 2009

    This is a fine first article to begin reading this new publication. Great work!

    I’d love to see the paper itself. Maybe send a few copies around to various reader locations here in Halifax?

    And I suspect this publicaton will eventually lead me back to St. John’s for a long overdue visit.