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On this 'Planet,' words are wise



David Greenberger, with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Disney Institute, February 9, 1997 At the "Duplex Planet" logic takes many forms. Sometimes it is profound or disturbing, while at other moments the light of surrealism illuminates answers with an otherworldly wisdom. David Greenberger is the shaper of the "Duplex Planet" as a newspaper, a book and a spoken word event, but its residents - elderly people he met while working at a Boston area nursing home - provide the material. The newsletter that Greenburger started as an in-house organ - meant to capture the humanity of people on the lonely side of aging - soon grew past the boundries of the institution. Artists on the outside started taking notice of the remarkable stories and phrasing of the "Duplex Planet." There have even been three (soon to be four) collections of songs written to lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings (a resident of the home) that feature artists like R.E.M. and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. This is how the process works: Greenberger posits a situation and the responses gathered scatter across the universe of human thought. To a question like "What's the difference between prison and jail?" he'll get answers that range from matter-of-fact ("one you're in for a long time, one you're in for a short time") to the logical ("Time of confinement") to the enigmatic ("Peace"). Heartache tears from some answers. Greenberger asks Dora Gurkewitz, "What's the most valuable thing you ever lost?" and she volumes in only four words, "My daughter, in '48." But there is also a straight-faced levity that comes across when Viljo Lehto maintains that "I can speak five languages and I can also blabber." the "Duplex Planet" is not Greenberger's only outlet for expression (he writes for the Cartoon Network's "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" and has written for Rolling Stone and Spin magazines) but it may be his most important one. At the Disney Institute, Greenberger will read selections from the "Duplex Planet" over music provided by the legendary Boston-based music ensemble, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. It's an association that goes back to the second Brookings CD and has continued to the present day. Nonetheless, sharing the stage with the spoken word has been a task for what is basically an avante-rock instrumental group. Says Ken Field, the saxophonist for Birdsongs, "The part I really like about the performance is the respect David has for the people whose stories are being told."


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