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Bob Moss wants a C-note
Friday, July 1, 2005
If you missed Bob Moss at the Utah Arts Festival in June, you missed one of the state’s true treasures. The 51-year-old artist and musician plucked his five-string banjo for a small crowd that was all but hypnotized by his ’50s retro beatnik tunes about local folk heroes. Everyone enjoyed the set, but there was a helluva lot of head scratching. See, Moss is the sort of lovable, left-of-center folkie freak that embodies “cult fame.” That is, you’ve probably never heard of him, but those who have are fiends for the alternate realities and twists on Utah folklore his images and sounds portray.
Moss does dream of legit fame—he’d like, at some juncture, to be “better-known.” But fortune? Not so much. “Where other people dream of millions,” he says, “I dream of 50 bucks.” Strange, then, that he nearly turned down the Arts Festival gig because of $20.
Months before, scurrying about his lair—a two-room appendage to a Clearfield storage facility—to his cluttered desk, Moss picked up the receiver of an old-school phone and tapped the smudged oversized buttons. With his horn-rimmed glasses and the bill of his cap trained on the performance contract, Moss told an Arts Fest representative, “I decided I don’t think I’ll play.” She wah-wahed indistinguishably. “Because the contract was changed…,” Moss answered. Wah? “Well, they just…uh…lowered the fees, what they were gonna pay me.”
She took his phone number and they disconnected. He had just rejected an $80 payday because it wasn’t $100. Hand still on handset, he looked up. His calm blue eyes registered regret. “Well, that’s that.”
All that was left for Bob Moss to do after that was slip back into the world of Bob Moss, a labyrinthine region somewhere between Kolob (the planet where Mormons believe God resides) and Graceland, amid his trademark gourds and boards littered with retina-popping decoupaged woodburnings. Other pieces blanketing his walls feature Elvis, Everett Ruess, and scenes from B-horror films flanked by phrases spelled in the Deseret Alphabet, the long-abandoned phonetic characters created by Mormon prophet Brigham Young in the 1850s
On the sonic end, Moss has released five albums via local indie label SoundCo records. The last two, Folknik and Folknik II—interpretations of traditional folk tunes and songs by Elvis, the Beatles, and Pete Seeger—are his biggest sellers. The albums feature cover art by comic artists Dan Clowes (Ghost World, Eightball) and Rick Altergott (Doofus)—resounding endorsements from the national cult underground, made possible by one of Moss’ friends and biggest fans, L.A. artist Charles Schneider, whose own work will appear in the upcoming thriller Art School Confidential. Schneider has championed Moss’ work and recently teamed with him to produce a few original pieces.The gourds, albums, and other creations have brought Moss his culty fame. Every so often, they bring in a few bucks—$10 to $500.
Otherwise he ekes out a meager, almost monastic existence; the living space is free in exchange for his duties as manager of the storage facility. What he makes from music and art goes to food, art supplies, and occasionally a nice dinner and a couple of cold beers with friends in Salt Lake.
Though he anticipates a popularity spike related to Art School Confidential, he knows it will be modest. He’s resigned, but not resentful—he likes things the way they are.
That’s why he was all ears when the Utah Arts Festival booker called to beseech him the day after he rebuffed the organization. The fee reduction was regrettable, the booker said, but out of his hands. It wouldn’t really be the Utah Arts Festival without Bob Moss. Would he still play? “I’ve known him for a few years,” Moss later explained. “He’s an old lefty like me, so I know he’s sincere—he’d pay more if he could. Plus, I’m a softie. I told him I’d play.” And he did.
So the Utah Arts Festival crowd got a rare treat: a hirsute, bespectacled man in an old jacket and cowboy hat singing far-out songs and grandpa’s greatest hits. There are few musicians, in the Beehive State or elsewhere, that have Moss’ knowledge of and reverence for folk music. He’s the real deal, Utah’s own Woody Guthrie, singing about our state’s history and mystery, juxtaposing it with and incorporating it into American pop culture— and showing us what it all means.
|The Essentials | City Weekly's
Entertainment Picks Feb 19-25, 2008
Bob Moss Art Show
Rio Grande Cafe
270 S. Rio Grande St.
Is local treasure Bob Moss is quitting music to focus on art? “I’m not quitting music,” he says. “It’s just that my solo acoustic stuff isn’t really suited to the clubs—they want rock bands.”
Well, Moss’ status is as much due to his far-out folk art as his banjo instrumentals, trippy odes to NyQuil and folksy renditions of Sinatra, Beatles and Tom Rapp tunes. He’s created paintings, glittery woodburnings and gourds for many years, often showing them at the Beehive Tea Room, the Blue Plate Café and the Utah Arts Festival. A growing contingent of Moss collectors has helped ratchet up the prices, too. Paintings that once sold for $50-200 now command up to $350. Moss delights in this, frequently declaring, “My stuff’s goin’ up!”
Moss’ work straddles the styles of Mekons/Waco Brothers frontguy Jon Langford’s folk art and the outsider art of Daniel Johnston and Wesley Willis. And like Johnston with his favorite subjects—Captain America, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Jesus and/or Satan—Moss has his pet muses. Cartoon monsters, Beehive State legends and landmarks (Everett Ruess, Gilgal Gardens), spanking scenes, B-movie posters, and celebs like Sinatra, Elvis and an array of 1960s folk musicians are framed by squiggly grooves and cryptic sayings written in the Deseret Alphabet. Throughout February, Moss will have “over 70 paintings” hanging at the Rio Grande Café. Stop by for a burrito, but bring extra cash. It’s hard to resist a Moss original. (Randy Harward)
Bob Moss Art Show @ Rio Grande Café, 270 S. Rio Grande, Salt Lake City, 801-364-3302, through February.
Click on the Part 1 or Part 2 links to both of Brian Staker's hour interviews with Bob including the only known recording of Bob's song I Don't Like the People in People Magazine
The Awkward Hour
Episode 9 Pt 1 & Pt 2 Bob Moss "Gather No Moss"
Jul 12, 2008
Bob Moss has been an institution in the Salt Lake folk art and music scene for years, a virtuoso banjo and guitar player. But he’s also a brilliantly eccentric artist, with one of the most strikingly singular artistic visions, combining psychedelic visuals with the alphabet used by the Mormon pioneers, was given a booth at the Utah Arts Festival, and has exhibited as far away as Los Angeles and Australia.
Songs: Bob Moss, "Johnny Western," "I Don't Like the People in People Magazine"
"Cutting his filmmaking chops: Fry up
Japanese culture, stir in a helping of Utah and what do you get?"
Newsclipping appearing in the Salt Lake Tribune 8-18-2007, featuring young filmaker, Dave Boyle. Mr. Boyle appears in front of two of Bob's art pieces hung at the "Beehive Tearoom."
Monkey Washing Kitty Cat (Bob Moss,
excerpt Pt. 1-3)
Bob recently moved from Clearfield, Utah,
his home for almost 2 decades to Salt Lake City.
144 pages - full color
This book features four original pieces from Bob. One of the pieces is a collaboration featuring the work of Charles Schneider.
Salt Lake City Tribune
Underground artist and cult figure Bob Moss will celebrate his first art show in three years with a public reception Friday, 6-10 p.m. at the Addicted Cafe, 511 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City. Most of Moss' works consist of shellaqued mixed-media pieces on wood blocks featuring the Deseret alphabet, tiki devils, imps, Gothic Valentines and other recurring images. The reception will include refreshments, belly dancing and Moss playing the banjo. His art will be remain at the cafe through mid-October.