#202: Dan MacDonald Needs a Scot

August 12th, 2013

“Mother Carter, can we sing another song this week?” the puppet asked the old woman.

“When I was a little girl growing up in Michigan, we used to hear the farmers singing to the crops. They would stand at the edge of the field and they would sing to the crops to help them grow. So this next song is called a corn holler,” the woman said before she, the fiddler and the puppet started to sing.

None of this is true.

There is a song, yes. And an older woman. And a puppet of the type on a local kids show from 1982. Dan MacDonald made the puppet himself.

But there’s no corn holler, no more than there’s a old chain gang spiritual Dan MacDonald hired Craigslist actors to sing. There was no Indiana University Folk Festival in 1963 where old folkies were recorded on 8mm singing that same fake folk corn holler.

“I need it to be so believable that there’s no way some 25-year-old kid pulled this off,” Dan MacDonald said. “That’s the goal here. That nobody can trace me back to this.”

Dan MacDonald, 25, wrote a fake folk song. And he’s recording the 20 to 30 videos of what would have been the fake history of his fake song, from the 1950s documentary crew recording the spiritual to the 1970s cable access version with the Irishmen to the 1990s Ken Burns pan-and-scan to the 1960s Disney animated “Sword in the Stone”-style musical.

And he needs a Scottish woman.

Dan MacDonald, sitting in his East Ukie apartment in velveteen Renaissance gear, fresh from a day of teaching drinkers how to paint, relaxing with friends as Union Jack darts fall from a board set up on a blank white wall, is working on the world’s first interactive album. It will be a thing that exists in no physical space, just the ebb and flow and touch-tap-slide iPad world of a series of historical versions of a fake fake song he wrote himself.

“It’s the first one, so it has to stand or it’s just going to look like some novelty. I don’t want it to be a novelty,” Dan MacDonald said. “Since this is the first one, I can’t have any seams showing. I can’t have any holes in it.”

Think “House of the Rising Sun” as recorded by 1940s doc crews, by Leadbelly, by The Animals, by Dylan and the Stones and “Free to Be… You and Me.”

And he needs a Scottish woman.

On the same MacBook screen where he showed the puppet show and the fake ’60s folk festival, Dan MacDonald pop pop popped the screen to four old black men re-creating the song for a 1950s TV Ed Sullivan-style special.

“99 planks for to carry this train,” the singers started. “Oh, I walk it to the ground.”

“Who are these guys?” I asked.

“Craigslist,” he said.

“Really?” I asked. “Are they like a band on their own?”

“Naah,” he said. “They’re all separate.”

We listened to them sing as one slapped a plank for percussion. That’s not something people did in our reality.

“That’s amazing,” I said.

“I knew it would work because none of these old chain gang songs are very clean and I knew a band would do it way too perfect,” MacDonald said. “I just sent them the lyrics, really, and maybe me singing the tune. But I was like, ‘I can’t afford to pay you guys to practice this,’ so people just showed up, I had the lyrics on, like, big cue cards and we just went for it.”

And he needs a Scottish woman.

There’s an order he’s suggesting, but not enforcing. Maybe it’s an old Celtic song praying to the corn. Or maybe it’s an old spiritual moved from the plantation to the chain gang to the 1970s local puppet show where Sue claims she heard it in Michigan.

The viewer, at the end, will pick and poke at a path, swiping a trail on iSomething to create the history of a song that never existed in an album that doesn’t exist anywhere but online.

And MacDonald has been collecting singers to do his fake folk in different forms, eras, styles.

“I don’t even say ‘song,’” he said. “I keep it as simple as possible. So I just kind of feed them a little bit at a time just so that they eventually say yes. ‘Cause this is a bit of a daunting thing to just drop on somebody all at once. They get confused if I try and throw the whole project idea out in front of them, so I have to do little bits at a time. Say ‘It’s a video shoot.’ ‘Oh, it’s a video shoot about folk music.’ ‘Actually, it’s my next album.’ ‘Actually, it’s the first interactive, digital, touchable, multi-video album.’ That’s kind of how it goes.”

There have been Kickstarters and personal funding and migration from Portland to Chicago. NY might have been best, but Chicago was as good for acts, but much cheaper.

“Any extra dollar I get, I’m putting toward this project,” MacDonald said. “Any extra hour I tuck away, it goes directly into this.”

“It’s just such a great fuck you to any record label dream that anybody’s had,” he said. “I can completely circumvent them and get this in front of everybody and this is my album. I made the whole thing.”

And he needs a Scottish woman.

The woman will sing a version of the song in a fair and true brogue. She’ll sing Dan MacDonald’s fake song in a crisp, clear Celtic voice.

She’ll sing it beautifully, as Scots do. She’ll sing it nice and kind and sexy snark. She’ll add a layer to the song that the old spiritual singers did and the 1970s Irishmen and the folkie revivalists and the ’80s puppets did.

Dan MacDonald is looking for a Scot.

If you’re interested, I’ll let him know.

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It’s been a big week in 1,001-land…

Hear me interviewed by Your Chicago Podcast

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