Deckle edge

John Gorka
by Chris Flisher © 1996 /
(first published November 1996 Worcester Phoenix)

John Gorka
John Gorka speaks much the way he sings. His warm, resonant voice rings with a soothing comfort and, yet it’s imbued with an over-riding air of hesitation. He seems to think twice, not so much out of doubt or uncertainty, but, rather out of a sense of thoroughness. He wants to get it right.

Like his songs, Gorka doesn’t mince words or waste thoughts needlessly. He is scrupulously complete in both thought and lyric and resorts to no filler. It’s a talent that has served him well and placed him high on the list of admired contemporary singer-songwriters. Nationally reknown artists such as Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Nanci Griffith, Shawn Colvin and others are continually drawn to his crisp prose and frequently appear at his recording sessions, paying him the ultimate artistic compliment.

Whether he’s twisting words to fit a phrase or playing with the many quirks of the English language, Gorka, never fails to draw a smirk or pull a heart string with his cleverly crafted lyrics. It’s a task of which he never tires.

“I often get a secret chuckle when I find something that works well,” he admits in a recent conversation. “Some word coupling that has either a double meaning or has some relevant change of meaning always attracts me. Because this language changes so much, because of fads and stuff, it’s fun to use these figures speech in my songs. They usually underscore exactly what I want to say.”

Gorka is touring to promote his most recent album Between Five And Seven (High Street Records). Like his four previous albums, Five and Seven displays his wit, sensitivity, and conviction. Drawing on subjects, both topical and personal, Gorka wraps his rich baritone around clever lyrics with continued class and intelligence.

Whether flip-flopping over love and affection in “Can’t Make Up My Mind,” and “Two Good Reasons;” observing the wild eccentricities of the American populous in “Airstream Bohemians” and “Scraping Dixie;” or the personal revelations of his own mortality, Gorka rarely misses the mark. He always seeems to capture the common elements of the human condition in ways that are equally humorous and tragic.

“I watch things happening in my town ,” he admits, “And then I see the same things happening in towns a thousand miles away, so when I write about something that deals with people I know it’ll resonate wherever I play because they are universal truths or tragedies.”

The new release also represents a turning point in John’s recording career. With six albums (his debut was on Red House Records), in roughly as many years, Gorka finds himself in a tenuous, although exciting juncture. “I am in a unique position right now,” he offers. “By the end of this year, my contract with High Street will be up and I’ll have to decide what to do next. It’s not a bad place to be really considering the way things have changed in the industry.” High Street, a spin-off of Windham Hill and once safe haven for up-and-coming singer-songwriters, has recently sold out to BMG, a huge corporate label. In the interim, artists of Gorka’s ilk have found themselves, curiously overlooked, or worse, artistically controlled.

“It came to a point last year where I was told, ‘Either you make music our way or you leave,’” he admits. “Well, we worked it out, but I have never had to deal with someone telling me how or what to record before in my life, so it opened my eyes. I had to fight with someone who didn’t even know me or my music for certain songs to be on the album. ”

Artistic control by a corporation is just one manifestation of a trend that finds commercial consolidation on the rise. “There is more consolidation than ever in this country, especially in the record business,” he continues. “De-regulation of radio has allowed major conglomerate communications companies to own more than one radio station in the same market. What they offer their customers is greater exposure for adverstising, but they also control what music gets played and when they control the art form and content, there is a lack of humanity and choice. It’s the same in every other business. I think there will be a backlash to that and that’s where I’m at right now, trying to decide which way to go.”

Despite his recent ruminations on free enterprise in America, Gorka remains singularly optimistic and hopeful and, in saying so, ends our conversation touching briefly on the recent elections, echoing our re-elected president. “I think that there is more hope now in this country than there has been in the past,” he offers, rambling, “And that’s good. I can feel it in the country, the people, maybe it’s because of the economy. Compared to four or five years ago, like in the years when Bush was in office.”

“Granted, Clinton’s no Abraham Lincoln,” he chuckles, “But he does offer a degree of hope. You can say all you want about big government, but it’s only big government that can make and enforce the kinds of laws that force corporations to toe the line and protect things like the environment and the little guy.”

Chris Flisher

Deckle edge