Gum for everyone

BJ Snowden, the Middle East Corner, January 23, 2007
By IAN SANDS  |  January 29, 2007

BJ Snowden

BJ Snowden’s mom pelted me with sticks of chewing gum last Tuesday inside the Middle East corner. I should have seen it coming. JP-based singer-songwriter Jeff Chasse — the person responsible for introducing me to Snowden’s music — had warned me. “Expect gum to be thrown around,” he’d said. Chasse discovered Snowden, a former music-school teacher from Billerica, a few years back at the Midway. He was just there to drink alone, which is how I imagine a lot of people discover her. Maybe your girlfriend’s left you, or a friend has let you down . . . whatever. You head to the local bar to lick your wounds, and in walks a large middle-aged African-American woman. She sets up a keyboard and a microphone as her elderly mother looks on wearing a shirt bearing the image of her daughter. “What the hell is this?” someone wonders aloud. The name BJ Snowden sounds familiar. Wasn’t she a guest on The Daily Show? Or maybe Irwin Chusid included her in his tome about outsider music, Songs in the Key of Z?

In any case, Snowden has never been celebrated for her musical talent. Her banal keyboard parts and programmed beats are amateurish at best. And she sings off-key. Her true gifts are more visceral than musical. For instance, the way she dances behind her keyboard, or concludes songs with her hands in the air, as if to say, “Yes! I made it through that one.” She treated the crowd scattered about the ME corner like schoolkids. “What’s the definition of divorce?” she asked before performing “From the Chapel to the Courtroom,” a prickly song about her ex-husband. But she had kind words for her audience, even those who got up to leave during the set. After the divorce number, she lightened the mood with “Valentine’s Day”; that was followed by “President’s Day,” then tributes to two Canadian provinces. When it dawned on me that she might never stop, I made my escape, but not before thanking her mother for the gum.

Related: Outer spaces, Northern neighbors, Torturous portraits, More more >
  Topics: Live Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Holidays, Jeff Chasse
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