Chris Stroffolino: Griffith Park (Broken Horse)
Raw, passionate and joyous field recordings by a homeless, down on his luck Shakespearean scholar, Chris Stroffolino’s Griffith Park is an album like no other.
It’s a fascinating backstory. A homeless Shakespearean scholar and published poet who played in one of the finest indie-Americana bands of the last 20 years, discovered semi-busking in a parked van in Los Angeles by the producer of the documentary that brought the pop-savant Daniel Johnston to the attention of many.
Jeff Feuerzeig is the producer and the person he hears ‘singing his heart out and playing piano’ is Chris Stroffolino. The song he’s singing is CSN&Y’s 49 Bye Byes and their meeting led, circuitously, to the release of this quite staggering album. In between that first meeting in January 2013 and the recording of these 13 songs, Stroffolino could be witnessed at various LA locations performing for loose change his street karaoke of eclectic covers from Sly & The Family Stone to The Replacements via Burt Bacharach.
Stroffolino played on The Silver Jews’ American Water album with David Berman and Stephen Malkmus (1998), his first experience of recording in a studio on which he contributed trumpet and keyboards. This didn’t lead anywhere and since then his solo work has taken a back seat to poetry and literary criticism.
Falling on tough times, Stroffolino’s home has been the ‘Piano Van’ that these songs were recorded in, Griffith Park the car park. “I arrived in Los Angeles in September 2012,” says Stroffolino. “The plan was to get the piano out of that damn van and into a house, where I could play some music and live a normal life.” That never happened and the product of that chance encounter is this album, a remarkable song cycle that unfolds like a sequence of open wounds, just a raw voice and a piano bolted to the floor of the van.
There is a beautiful sense of pain that emerges from these songs, an authentic intimacy arising from someone who’s spent an awful lot of time with their own thoughts. The words don’t so much spill out as drop like stones. This is poetry set to music – proper poetry with rhyme and metre, no greetings card couplets, carefully constructed and which soar with melody. The songs would comfortably handle a bigger production, but they remain powerful in their skeleton sparseness.
This is no self-pitying album. Stroffolino is accepting of his circumstances and whilst he understandably rails at the world to an extent, Griffith Park is an uplifting listen, full of buoyancy and optimism.
These 12 original songs plus a Richard Hell cover (Time) would, if there was any justice, generate some publicity and income for Stroffolino. They represent a snapshot of an emotionally wounded man down on his luck. He’s currently stuck in Oregon after his van broke down, so maybe if everyone reading this bought the album…?