Dark, some called it. Edgy. Deep. Haunting. From seemingly out of nowhere came a new voice, a new poet, with a finely honed point of view and a simplistic yet profound way of cutting to the truth of the universal human condition. The sound was raw: basement quality rickety piano, a poorly tuned acoustic guitar and a drum machine for a rhythm section. For many though, it was the voice that reached like an unseen hand into their gut — muddy, raspy, rough but, at the same time sonorous and complex. No one had heard of Derek Talbot before, or of Fromo Mandad, the label that released his only record.
The mystery was unraveled by freelance writer Pat McWhelan for Rolling Stone. After a year of searching, the only Derek Talbot she was able to track down was a developmentally disabled, but relatively high functioning 33 year old man with impressive but not prodigious musical abilities. He was also a self-taught poet, whose only topic was animals — the smaller, furrier and more domesticated the better. McWhelan found Talbot living in near squalorous conditions in a group home — with no access to instruments or recording equipment… but able to sing along from memory in that distinctive voice every word of every tune.
Born significantly prematurely, Derek barely survived his first 6 months, and the damage that respirator tubes did to his undeveloped vocal chords never healed. Medical bills put his family into near poverty, but his parents doted on the boy, indulging his only two obsessions, pets and music, but only songs about pets. While he was in his mid-twenties, Talbot’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Years before, his father bought an old reel-to reel tape recorder and taped over a dozen of Derek’s compositions; he brought them out again to play back in a loop for his wife when she was too ill to spend time with the boy in person; the songs seemed to ease the pain.
Inside one of the cartons the tape reel came in was a coupon for a special deal to turn your home tapes into a vinyl record album. When it appeared his wife was recovering, he sent a check with the coupon and the only copy of Derek’s tapes to the record production company, unaware that it hadn’t offered that service for over 15 years. Instead of being returned to the Talbot’s, the order was sent along with other submissions approved for mastering and distribution to record company decision makers. By then, the only original information accompanying the reels were the artists name and the inscription: “FromMomandDad.”
His parents waited for their album to come, but in less than six months, cancer finally claimed Derek’s mother; his father succumbed to a stroke shortly after that and while Derek settled uneasily into a group facility, on up the food chain his record went until it was eventually distributed nationally, making a dent in the charts in a very competetive year for pop music.
McWhelan’s article unleashed a flurry of interest in Derek Talbot’s story, and within days of its release, the record companies who had profited sent Talbot checks for every penny they had made off him and then some. McWhelan became the trustee of Derek’s interests, hiring caretakers who helped him move into and live independently in his own small house. Unaware of his noriety, Derek made it clear to the world that he was only a one hit wonder: Offered a fully equipped music studio, and any music deal he wanted, he opted instead for a different kind of business, opening up a petting zoo on a parcel of land near his house.
His only recording went on to not only affect music lover’s lives but also many others: When a children’s animated television series bought the rights to Talbot’s songs, McWhelan also negotiated merchandising rights — and the characters that sprang from the endeavor quickly became as famous and beloved as any Disney creature; the tunes and show were translated into 17 languages and the series of moveis they spawned grossed nearly a billion dollars, helping to build 7 neonatal intensive care wings named for Derek Talbot in hospitals across the globe.
Random Wiipedia reference - Band/Artist Name: Derek Talbot
Derek Taylor (7 May 1932 - 8 September 1997) was a British journalist, best known as the long-serving press agent for the hugely popular rock band, The Beatles.
Random Quotation (Album name): nothing more than pets: “This is part of the essence of motherhood, watching your kid grow into her own person and not being able to do anything about it. Otherwise children would be nothing more than pets.” Heather Armstrong, Dooce, 11-15-05
Random flickr photo cover art:
The Chestnut Gaze by farfarm