Example: None live up to their name. On the surface, they appear to be a simple guy-n-gal duo who sing folky songs. They step up to the mike -- him with a guitar, her with poise -- and one expects that a song will materialize from the canon of Joan Baez.
When the lyrics emerge, however, one discovers just how far from appearances they really are. Kate Anderson and Steve Seddon conspired in the early 1990s to give folk music a sardonic and intellectual twist, to restore the full worth of irony to lyrics often gone guileless from mainstreaming. And there's something about how their music's rendered, too... Doesn't it repeat with odd breaks? Isn't it sometimes just a little too sing-song? Aren't those children's toys they're performing with? ... that sets the audience on edge. One recognizes in an instant that the status quo has been upset. After an Example: None gig, hearing
|In the artists' words:|
|Performance poetry and performance art are two distinct, and sometimes conflictive genres. It's rare for anyone to transfer work from one to the other intact, and artists practicing each often show unconcealed contempt for the opposite tribe. I asked Steve Seddon and Kate Anderson about Example: None, and how their collaboration evolved as they shuttled between performance art and performance poetry. Follow their story in the sidebar.|
Married in the 80s but divorced since 1993, Seddon and Anderson occupied a very unique niche in Chicago's nascent slam poetry. Originally from Providence, Rhode Island, and part of the AS220 performance art scene, they settled in Chicago in 1990, shortly after the poetry slam had taken root. By day, Anderson pursued her advanced degree at the School of the Art Institute while Seddon did a daily mantra of subject indexing at Britannica. By night, they'd pack up their car with guitars and toys, and set out for the poetry circuit. Before long they were gigging around Chicago at Café Voltaire, the Green Mill, Fitzgerald's, Club Lower Links, and Live Bait Theater, venues in the thick of the spoken word renaissance of the time. They'd earned their place in performance poetry.
Example: None's alignment with spoken word was no accident. The music is simply a stage for their lyrics, a foil. Toy xylophone riffs disarm while the lyrics punch ideas about endemic corruption, disease, and society's horse-blinkered progress. It's the juxtaposition of childhood innocense against adulthood's ways of the world. Other ventures by Example: None verge on audio art with spoken/sung language as the premise.
Chicago performance poets admired many things that converged in Example: None's work without apology: wit, lyricism and musicality, irony, and political conscience. Anderson and Seddon accomplished this in a vehicle that transcended performance art and performance poetry. As their own lives took divergent turns, Example: None gradually retired from the local scene. The two artists pursue their own courses in different cities. They may once again perform as Example: None if opportunities permit. For now, we have this snapshot of their work, evocative of a time when language art in Chicago took a fresh turn and suggested that the frontier between performance art, music, and poetry was hazy and rich with potential.
- Kurt Heintz, e-poets network