b. 1953 in Miami, Florida. Eldest son of John David Lynn Thomas and Mary Drake Carter. Father was a first generation American from Welsh and French parents, growing up in Flushing NY. Taught American Literature. Mother's family came over not long after the Mayflower, settling in Georgia. An artist for Natural History Museum. Younger sister worked for the US Department of Geology, specializing in water table research. Younger brother builds and troubleshoots chemical works in the Far East. Raised in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Destined for the microbiology of cell membranes - "I was uninterested in anything larger than a paramecium." High School Graduate. College dropout.
David Thomas is a writer, singer, songwriter, actor, producer and director within the self-proclaimed genre of the Avant-Garage. Founder of two important bands, the legendary Rocket From The Tombs and the mythical Pere Ubu, along with a multitude of musical collaborations, including David Thomas and two pale boys, Thomas is credited with rewriting the rules of both popular and experimental music since 1975. He is a musician's musician.
His career began as a writer and columnist for weekly magazine The Scene, in Cleveland, in the early 70s, writing under the nom de plume of Crocus Behemoth.
I had a girlfriend who was friends with people involved in underground political movements. We lived in a commune katy-corner from the main Catholic church on that side of town. She would come up with pseudonyms by flipping through a dictionary. Useful in the underground world. She found 'Crocus Behemoth' and I used it writing articles and a column for The Scene. With that name I became a minor celebrity, appearing in a pizza eating contest with Mushmouth Mariano Pacetti on the Friday night monster movie show that replaced Ghoulardi. I lost.
After years of critiquing, he made the decision to stop writing about music and start making it. "If I'm so smart," I said to myself, "I should do this myself."
The Modern Dance (Pere Ubu) was released to critical acclaim and the group toured extensively, as it does to this day, with a further 17 album releases. During this time, Thomas applied his ideas to solo theater ('theatre vague,' as he calls it) with spoken word and poetry, methodically integrating musical improvisation.
Thomas has written two operas, Mirror Man (1998) and Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi (2008), which both premiered at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, before touring internationally. The latter was animated by cult film-makers The Brothers Quay. Thomas co-starred in a limited, sold out run of the 'junk opera' Shockheaded Peter in London's West End in 2002. London's South Bank Centre and UCLA Performing Arts staged four and three day festivals, respectively, dedicated to his writing and music. The Knitting Factory in New York City presented a three day festival of his work. The Department of Cultural Geography at Clark University invited him to deliver a lecture, subsequently called 'The Geography of Sound,' which led to further requests from architectural colleges in Oxford and Amsterdam, various institutions and academic music conferences, including the College of Art and Design at Ohio State University.
He has featured in festivals in London, Los Angeles, Dublin, Newcastle and Sydney celebrating the works of Nino Rota, John Cage, Firesign Theatre, Walt Disney, Bertolt Brecht and Harry Smith.
Mr. Thomas has recorded more than thirty albums and performed on stage with the likes of Richard Thompson, Jackie Leven, the MC5, Van Dyke Parks, Frank Black, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Philip Glass, Steve Earle, Percy Heath, George Wendt, Wayne Kramer, David and Don Was, The Mondrian String Quartet, Todd Rundgren, John Goodman, Loudon Wainwright, the London Sinfonietta, Nick Cave and Shane McGowan.
Mr. Thomas has written four books, The Book of Hieroglyphs, Chinese Whispers, Cogs, The Making of Carnival Of Souls and Baptized Into The Buzz. Van Dyke Parks, who once introduced Mr. Thomas to Brian Wilson saying "Brian, I'd like you to meet the other American genius," says of 'The Book of Hieroglyphs,' "I have trod and will retread this confirming and inquiring work time and again. It's strangely home. Epic in scope. As mighty on the page as on the stage, with scat and logic, this MacDuff leads us on."
Greil Marcus, Double Trouble (Faber And Faber, 2000), pgs. 167-168.
Thomas' gnostic argument - that art exists to at once reveal secrets and to preserve them - makes sense of a particularly American - or modern - form of storytelling. In a big, multifaceted democracy, you're supposed to be able to communicate directly with everyone, yet many despair of being understood by anyone at all... Out of this comes an American language that means to tell a story no one can turn away from. But this language - identified by D. H. Lawrence in 1923, in Studies in Classic American Literature, as the true modernist voice, the voice of Hawthorne, Poe, Melville - is cryptic before it is anything else. It is all hints and warnings, and the warnings are disguised as non sequiturs. The secret is told, but nonetheless hidden, in the musings, babblings, or tall tales of people who seem too odd to be like you or me, like us - like the author who puts his or her name to the story, insisting that he made it all up, that she just did it for the money.
Robert Loss, of the Columbus College of Art And Design, Pere Ubu Understands America And I Don't.
As off-kilter and adventurous as the music was, it was presented so matter-of-factly that it came across as an enjoyable kind of work. Performance is work. It's normal for Pere Ubu. It's mainstream partly because it's their mainstream and we're invited. I don't think I had ever really understood Thomas' argument until I saw Robert Wheeler receding into the blips and keening whistles he drew from his homemade Theremin. How is it possible to take something so strange and make it so ordinary? Or is the question really how something so ordinary can be so strange? That's the dynamic Pere Ubu exploits.
Greil Marcus, The Shape Of Things To Come: Prophecy And The American Voice (Faber And Faber).
"Greil Marcus, reigning top banana of American rock critics, has stories to tell about the collision of restless musical innovation with a greedy recording industry doing its level best to suck creativity dry, and make money doing so. That David and Goliath story has simplified our understanding of rock, and Marcus rejects it. Rather, he has been obsessed by more complex moments of confrontation, such as Bob Dylan's appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963...Marcus writes of three complex, unexpected voices of prophecy in contemporary American culture: in the trilogy of novels by Philip Roth, beginning with American Pastoral; in the films of David Lynch; and in a rock musician from Cleveland named David Thomas, who has never made the charts and never had a hit." - Independent.
Curated Disastodrome!, a four day festival at London's South Bank Centre celebrating his music and related interests, April 2-5, 1998.
Performed John Cage's Aria at the American Pioneers festival at the Barbican, London, October 24 1998.
Improvisational opera Mirror Man staged at the FIMAV Festival in Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada, May 21 2000.
Featured in Hal Wilner's production of the Harry Smith Project at Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, April 25 & 26, 2001, partnering with Van Dyke Parks, Percy Heath, Eric Mingus, David Johansen, Steve Earle, Philip Glass, and Bill Frisell for 2 songs. "Fishing Blues" and "Way Down The Old Plank Road" appear on the 2-cd/2-DVD box set release in the fall of 2006 on Shout! Factory entitled "The Harry Smith Project, Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited."
The Contemporary Music Network sponsored a seven date UK tour of Mirror Man, May 20-27 2001.
Co-starred in the London West End production of the 'junk opera' Shockheaded Peter for a 3 month run at the Albery Theatre, St Martins Lane from April 4 to June 16, 2002. His improvisational group, the two pale boys, reworked the musical score and also featured.
Featured in Hal Wilner's production of 'Let's Eat - Feasting on the Firesign Theatre,' April 1 2004, at Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, along with Todd Rundgren, John Goodman, George Wendt, Loudon Wainwright, Howard Hesseman, Mark McKenney, Scott Wanio, Chloe Webb, and Stan Ridgeway.
Featured in Hal Wilner's production of 'Perfect Partners: Nino Rota & Federico Fellini,' April 24 2004, at the Barbican, City of London, along with Carla Bley, Geri Allen, Roy Nathanson, Beth Orton, and Roger Eno.
Performed Starship with the combined MC5/Sun Ra Arkestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on Feb 25 2005.
Delivered papers at EMP Pop Conference 2005 ('Lessons In Mayhem: Ghoulardi') and EMP Pop Conference 2006 ('Morphic Resonance, Siberian rock bands & Unknown Instructors') in Seattle.
Performed Alabama Song with the London Sinfonietta on Brecht Night at the Patti Smith Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on June 23 2005.
Contributed two songs (Dan Dan and The Drunken Sailor) to Hal Wilner's Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys, released Aug 22 2006 on Anti/Epitaph (Anti 6817-2). Other contributors include Bono, Sting, Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry, Richard Thompson, Van Dyke Parks, Nick Cave, Eliza Carthy, and Waterson/Carthy.
Contributed three songs to Dan McGuire's Unknown Instructors album (Master's Voice, Smog Veil SV66, released October 17 2006). In the band were Mike Watt, Joe Baiza and George Hurley.
Featured in Hal Wilner's production of 'Forest Of No Return,' an evening of Disney songs, at the Royal Festival Hall, London, June 17 2007, along with Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Grace Jones, Marshal Allen, Baba Malle, Beth Orton, Shane McGowan, and others.
Produced, directed and wrote an adaptation of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi for the South Bank Centre, London. Called Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi it was staged over two nights at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on April 24 and 25 2008. Featured animation by the Brothers Quay.
Invited to read at the 14th Festival Internazionale di Poesia, Genoa (I), June 19 2008.
Featured in Hal Wilner's Rogue's Gallery tour of Dublin, Newcastle and London in July 2008.
Staged Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi at the Animator Festival In Poznan, Poland, July 11 2009.
Staged Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi at the Festival Scènes d'Europe In Reims, France, December 16 2009.
Featured in Hal Wilner's Rogue's Gallery concert at the Sydney Opera House, January 28 2010.