One Degree of Kevin Bacon
By Angela Barbuti
Michael Bacon on a musical life and playing in the band with his movie star brother
When Michael Bacon isn't rollerbladingin Riverside Park, he can be foundin his studio on West End Avenue makingmusic with his brother Kevin. Theirband, The Bacon Brothers, is playinga show at City Winery April 25 and 26.
Besides playing music, Michael Baconwrites the scores for documentaries,including an upcoming HBO projecton Richard Nixon. He also wrote themusic for the feature film DowntownExpress, which is coming to New Yorkin mid-April.
You grew up in Philadelphia?
My parents were urban pioneer types.They wanted to raise their kids in thecity rather than the suburbs, which mostpeople didn't really approve of. My dad'sfamily has a long historical connection toPhilly. We actually grew up right in themiddle of the city. My mother is from NewYork City.
When did you know you wanted to bea musician?
I didn't think, until I went to college,that it was possible-it wasn't a professionmost people went into. Then the late'60s came and the philosophy was "doyour own thing." I just said, "This is whatI like to do, so I'm going to try it."
Which musicians inspire you?
It's hard to answer that questionbecause I'm not just a rock 'n' roll musician;I'm also classically trained and Ilove folk music. My favorite musiciansmight not even be rock bands. I wasbrought up with The Beatles and TheStones, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell,Pete Seeger-but also Stravinsky andBach. We had a very eclectic upbringing.My parents just loved the arts andthey loved music. They never played, butthey certainly encouraged any kind ofcreative expression inthe kids.
How did you startworking with Kevin?
He played percussionin my band when hewas about 14. I was outof college by then andin a group that playedaround Philadelphia.That group broke upand I was playing bymyself with a backupband, and he was inthat band. My brotherand I used to write alot together, but sinceKevin's skill level hasgone up, he doesn'treally need me. He hashis own studio. But theband is a good excusefor us to hang out. Wespend a lot more timetogether than if wedidn't have the band;we're busy and we havefamilies.
Who are the othermembers of The BaconBrothers and how didyou find them?
When I first came toNew York in the early '80s and started toscore films, I met a group of musicians whodid sessions for me. They workedfor the folk singer Tom Rush. When Iopened for Rush in Philly, I saw themperform and was impressed withthe way they backed up an acousticsinger. When Kevin and I decided toput the band together, I immediatelythought of them.
What is your educationalbackground?
I never took formal music classesuntil 13 years ago-I just hadlessons and studied privately. Around'92, I went back to Lehman College inthe Bronx. One of the teachers there isJohn Corigliano, an amazing AcademyAward-winning composer. I really wentthere to study with him and got mydegree finally after all those years.
What projects are you involved withcurrently?
I'm writing the music for an HBO programabout Richard Nixon called Nixon:In His Own Words. It's extremely challenging.They only have interviews, sothe music becomes very important intelling the story. It's all put together withpre-existing footage. They release a certainamount of Nixon tapes every oncein a while and there was a just a newbatch let out. This is the third one I'vedone. The first one was Teddy Kennedy,then Gloria Steinem. I also have a featurefilm that I was composer and musicdirector for which is coming to NewYork City on April 20 called DowntownExpress; it tells the love story of a concertviolinist at Juilliard and a streetmusician.
You work with your wife and yourbrother. What is the key to successfullyworking with family?
Whatever negatives are outweighedby trust. My brother and I have a businesstogether and my wife is a partnerin it as well.You begin with alevel of trust andyou're at a muchbetter startingpoint. My wifeBetsy and I haveworked togetherfor 18 years. Shedoes all the day-todaymanagementof the film scoringand the band, andis also the primecritic of my work.When I'm in a jam,I rely on her ears.
When did youknow Kevinwas going to befamous?
He was in AnimalHouse first and thenhad to go back andwork in a restaurant.Then he got the partin Diner. It reallywas a very successfulalternative, indie
kind of movie. That'swhen he really startedtaking off.
How did you endup on the Upper West Side?
When we first came to New York inthe '80s, it was almost impossible to evenget an apartment. My brother was livingon 88th Street and an apartment cameopen above him. Once you settle in a certainneighborhood, you connect with itand really don't want to leave. I love theUpper West Side; it's just gotten betterand better.
What are your favorite places in yourneighborhood?
The Riverside Park jogging trail. Irollerblade, so going up and down thereis an amazing gift. We live on West EndAvenue so we feel like we live on thebeach, especially in the summer. Andof course we are right between thatand Central Park, and 10 minutes fromLincoln Center.
For more on Michael Bacon's work, visit
www.michaelbaconmusic.com or www.baconbros.com.
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