Matt Duke Remembers John Updike

This past Tuesday, January 27th, presented us with the passing of renowned American contemporary novelist John Updike. His most famous work is known as the Rabbit series, for which he won two Pulitzer Prizes. The Rabbit series (consisting of the works Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit At Rest, and Rabbit Remembered) affected millions of readers, including Ryko's Matt Duke.

In honor of John Updike's sad passing, Matt is offering a free download of his song, "Rabbit," inspired by Updike's Rabbit Run: "Rabbit" by Matt Duke

Below is a video clip of Matt Duke performing "Rabbit" live, with a note he shared with us reflecting on the beloved novelist:

“I received the news the day after Updike's death just before my final showcase here in the UK. My list of people to meet in my lifetime is quickly dwindling what with his death and the death of Kurt Vonnegut just a year or so ago. So, selfishly, I was initially upset that I would never get to shake his hand and wish him well - congratulate him on his success and tell him how much I was looking forward to reading the follow up to “The Witches of Eastwick.” Though I have been inspired and influenced by so many musicians and bands throughout my life, there is something a bit more special to the appreciation I have for writers and journalists and those that can engage an audience simply by putting words down on a page. It's something I can only dabble with through lyrics and songwriting and even then I have the crutch of a melody to draw people in and, hopefully, pique their interest. Writers do not have that advantage and have to work even harder to stir people's imaginations and keep them invested in their stories by whatever means necessary. Updike, someone that many, like myself, believe to be one of America's greatest writers, was not only capable of drawing up unbelievable character portraits, story-lines and landscapes in his novels, but did it with vivid imagery and poignant dialogue that had great attention to detail. It was never quite clear who was the protagonist or antagonist - each character had his/her own set of vice and virtues and made them easier to relate to simply because they seemed human. He went to great pains leaving no stone unturned when exploring every small town, sprawling countryside and deteriorating urban development and through such exhausting detail created places that I could almost effortlessly escape to in my own imagination. Like any brilliant writer, the moments he could capture so eloquently on paper would stay with me long afterward like some fabricated memory of my own.

The “Rabbit” series presented the American tragedy that is Harry Angstrom and I, like so many others, found an unnerving kinship with him through his plight. I've always considered myself an escapist to a degree and perhaps that is why I've chosen the lifestyle that I have, but I'm also not ignorant to the idea that such wishful thinking and longing can at times be quite debilitating. With “Rabbit,” it's reassuring to find such a man, growing closer to middle age, to still look back fondly on his past, question what he has become and dream for more - it feels like ambition and its where I first started to empathize with the character. Then you realize that beneath it all lays a man who just cannot seem to stomach the idea of sleeping in the bed he's made and then follows a series of unfortunate circumstances exacerbated by his selfishness and immaturity. But even as his situation grows more and more bleak thanks to, in part, his egocentricity and lack of accountability, you still empathize with “Rabbit” even if it does feel a tad perverse. He is human and we've seen him walking our streets, washing our windows, crunching numbers in our corporate offices, playing music in both our enormous arenas down to our hole-in-the-wall, acoustic cafes. Updike did a fantastic job of drawing out the elements of human nature that we would much rather overlook and it not only made for a heartbreaking story, but also, for me, an unlikely parable of sorts that manages to put life into perspective without preaching anything of morality. The “Rabbit” series, “Rabbit, Run” in particular, served as inspiration for the gentle, acoustic track that breaks up my record “Kingdom Underground.” When it comes to songwriting, it's a rare and wonderful thing when a song takes on a spirit of its own and evolves somewhat effortlessly. As I sat down at my desk with a guitar in hand, I looked to the right at my bookcase and caught a glimpse of the “Rabbit, Run” title on the spine of the book - that was the beginning and end of it for me. It was as if memories of me from the past coupled with the ones I could clearly remember of Harry Angstrom's took hold of my subconscious and, like something divine in the artistic sense, wrote the song that would become "Rabbit". John Updike is one of only a few writers that have ever had such a profound impact on my life, let alone my career in songwriting. For all of his contributions and what he has meant to the world of arts and literature he will be sorely missed; for how well he captured the essence of human nature and restless spirit of man, there are many that strive to be like him and even fewer that get anywhere close; for what his writing has meant to me personally, he is irreplaceable."


Nickel Eye <3's Bill Hicks

What do Bill Hicks and Nickel Eye have in common, you ask? Well, let's start with the fact that they both have releases out on Ryko! Bill Hicks is a Rykodisc veteran with multiple albums filled with his unique, comedic genius, while Nickel Eye's debut album The Time of the Assassins is out TODAY!! (Click to your right to buy it!).

But hey, we know that we're knee deep in a recession, so we don't expect you to be able to fork over your hard-earned nugs for just *anything*. That's why we've teamed up with Imeem to offer Strokes/Nickel Eye fans everywhere a *free* full album stream of The Time of the Assassins. Click here to check it out and realize that you love it/want it/need it.

Fun fact: When we asked Nikolai of Nickel Eye what some of his influences were during the making of The Time of the Assassins, he responded with Bill Hicks. Turns out a lot of people are celebrating Hicks' comedic genius this month. The Late Show with David Letterman has scheduled a telecast of the never-aired October 1, 1993 Bill Hicks appearance. The show was pre-taped Jan. 26th (with Bill's mom as a guest) and will air Friday, January 30th on your local CBS affiliate. We'd like to acknowledge and thank Bill's many fans and everyone who has had a hand in keeping Bill's comedy and philosophy alive. We hope everyone can tune in and experience what you may have missed or what you barely remember – Bill Hicks performing for a national audience on network television.