The Duplex Planet, one of the best and longest-running fanzines in America, features transcripts of the sad, funny, brilliant, inane, remarkable, irrelevant and ingenious things said by the elderly residents of Boston’s now-defunct Duplex Nursing Home during interviews and conversations with editor David Greenberger. It’s a fantastic concept that consistently yields revelatory results, providing a completely different view of the aged for a society that generally treats its eldest citizens with cynical neglect at best and scorn at worst.
The Duplex Planet has proven so successful that Greenberger (a member of the 1980s band Men & Volts) has spun off a wide range of ancillary Duplex projects, including a book anthology, a comic, live performances and the extraordinary Duplex Planet Hour CD, a collaboration with NRBQ pianist Terry Adams. As a monologist, Greenberger reads some of the choicest material from his zine’s archives, assuming the voices of his elderly charges. Adams, meanwhile, provides music in between and sometimes over Greenberger’s readings. His compositions draw upon jazz, swing, dixieland, Broadway and Tin Pan Alley, providing an ideal backdrop for the soliloquies. The combination of music and voice is almost seamless, making this one of the few spoken-word albums that never gets tiresome. Of course, Greenberger has the advantage that his material is unfailingly first-rate. Many of the pronouncements made by his aging associates are profound (“Ask not what?, but what for?”; “The idea is, when it gets too hot, get the hell outta the sun!”), others hilariously silly (“That salad is worse than Delaware!”; “I keep smokin’, but what I really want to do is drive around in a stick-shift car”), but almost all provide some sort of epiphany. A wonderful and important album.
Greenberger has also put together four discs of songs based on poetry by the late Ernest Noyes Brookings, who was a resident of the nursing home. With his idiosyncratic, far-ranging recollections and observations as their rhythmically challenging starting points, groups as diverse as Yo La Tengo and XTC, the Young Fresh Fellows, Morphine, the Amazing Delores, Madder Rose and Evan Johns have written and recorded original songs based on them. “President Truman body medium size/His residence the many room outstanding White House/In competition normally wins competitive prize/In his bed there was never a thin louse.”