Popular Music, Interviews
Rock 'n' Read: Caspar Babypants
“I have great memories of going to the library as a super little kid for story times on weekday mornings...Every time I walked into that library I felt this sensation of the world opening up to me.”
There's simply no denying it anymore: the '90s are back with a vengeance. If you've embraced the nostalgia, perhaps one of the '90s jams you've been playing is "Peaches" by Seattle alternative band Presidents of the United States of America (PUSA). Probably "Lump," also. While many musical acts of yore have faded away, Chris Ballew comfortably transitioned to "parents music" in 2009, using the moniker Caspar Babypants, and performs at libraries, schools, and other family friendly events. Caspar Babypants makes it easier than ever for humans of all ages to rock 'n' read forever!
What inspired the transition from PUSA to Caspar Babypants?
The entire time that I was doing PUSA I had a gut feeling that I was not through searching for my real artistic voice. I tried and tried and failed to find out what that true musical self was until I met my wife Kate Endle, and her artwork inspired me to make innocent songs with few instruments. When I listened back to those songs, I realized that family music was my true calling. I WAS THRILLED!!!
What is your favorite part about performing in libraries?
I love how attentive everyone is at the beginning of the show. I use that time to do the more wordy songs in my collection. I also love the way the parents are available to participate by singing along and clapping. I really make "parents music," so having them involved is key.
What role have libraries played throughout your life (pre-Caspar Babypants)?
I have great memories of going to the library as a super little kid for story times on weekday mornings and sitting is a little circle listening to the librarian read while my mom went around and got the books she wanted. Every time I walked into that library I felt this sensation of the world opening up to me.
Is there a specific person or book that made you into the reader you are now?
There are a couple of books that really jump-started my current voracious reading appetite. The Alienist by Caleb Carr is a perfect piece of historical fiction that I have read about four times. Dracula by Bram Stoker set off hallucinations in my mind as I read it because of the vivid, descriptive storytelling. There was also a collection of poems by Rumi the Sufi called Open Secret that was my first time diving deeply into poetry.
Has any one book in particular had a lasting effect on you?
They all do, really! It would be super hard to pinpoint one, but I guess I would have to go back to Dracula for that hallucinatory feeling I got reading it. I want people to SEE what I sing when I am singing songs for kids and parents as Caspar Babypants, and that impulse was significantly strengthened by my experience reading that book.
What is a classic that you've never gotten around to reading but would like to one day?
Moby-Dick is that classic that I still have not tackled. I just got back from Nantucket and did a lot of immersion while I was there in the history of the island and the big fire in 1846 and the rise and fall of the whaling industry. That trip reminded me that I really must find time to read that book!
Who is your favorite character from literature and why?
I have never thought about that but as I let my mind drift for an answer, Alice from Alice in Wonderland comes to mind. She had her whole sense of reality shift and flex and she found a way to navigate despite all those impossibilities. I have a fluid relationship with the "real" world as well and find I travel as far in my imagination as I do in reality.
What children's book has your favorite illustrations?
My wife's work is my favorite for sure! It is her work that inspired me to make the music that I do as Caspar Babypants. It has a perfect balance of craft and skill and innocence and ease.
What genre do you prefer? Are there any you can't get into?
I love all genres, really. I find myself stuck in a long pattern of reading social theory or music theory, and then I drift over to fiction for a while, and then historical fiction, then science for a break from that, then biographies, and then back to theory. I am all over the place!
What are you currently reading? If nothing at the moment, what was the last book you read?
The last book I read was The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and I LOVED it. It is part historical and part mythological children's story and part family drama. I highly recommend it. Currently I am reading Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America by Linda Hunt. I just started it a couple of days ago so it is too soon for me to give a review but I am super intrigued by it. It is the story of two women who walked across America in 1896 so it's GOT to be good!
“I would like less screens in my life, but the ability to buy a book on the spot that someone at a party is telling me about is incredible.”
Are you looking forward to any books to be released soon?
Those lost J.D. Salinger novels will be interesting to check out.
While on tour, are you able to get much reading done?
I get a TON of reading done on tour. That is one of the reasons I can tolerate touring at all! Touring is really not a sustainable way of life for me and I am basically finished with that phase of life, so I look forward to getting as much reading in at home as I did on the road.
Do you have any tour memories involving books or libraries?
I had a collection of children's stories when I was little that had the most spooky illustrations. There was one story of a boy who mocked the farm where he lived and boasted that he could get along fine without any of the products that the farm produced. He fell asleep and had a dream in which all of the things he used that the farm produced disappeared, and he found himself naked in the night with ghostly images of the farm animals and the trees laughing at him. I still have that one illustration of that scene hanging up in my studio where I write and record music and it still scares me.
Where is your favorite place to read?
I love to read in bed at night before sleep. I love the way it clears my mind and influences my dreams.
Do you do any other writing aside from songwriting?
I do a little poetry when I am moved to do so. Otherwise, all of my writing energy is in songwriting. I have written a few children's books with my wife Kate but they were also songs, so it was a balance between songwriting and book writing.
What kind of book would you write?
I am BAFFLED by people that can write a well constructed novel. How do they do it? To invent a world and have it hang together amazes me. I would like to be Haruki Murakami for a while and be able to write like him.
Have any specific authors, books, and/or poems influenced your songwriting in any way?
Well aside form the Dracula experience there is Dr. Seuss. How many people can cite those two in one sentence? The alliteration and inner rhymes are a huge influence on my lyrical style for sure.
Do you have any favorite memoirs by musicians?
Life by Keith Richards was perfect. I understand him in a new way. Anytime the veil of fame is pulled back a bit, I am the first to applaud. Culture is so fame-obsessed, and the true stories of that experience are far more illuminating than the veil of fantasy.
What is the best book recommendation you have received?
The Snow Child from my wife Kate. She recommends a lot of books to me and her taste is excellent!
Do you prefer physical books, eBooks, or no strong opinion either way?
I have been a Kindle person for about four years now, and I have read dozens of books on my phone of all things, and I love it! So easy to set it up on the nightstand while in bed, and it turns itself off if I don't turn the page for a few minutes because I have drifted off to sleep. I would like less screens in my life, but the ability to buy a book on the spot that someone at a party is telling me about is incredible. I was just told about it and now I am reading it one minute later. BUT I am thinking of skipping the electronics for a while and going back to the library. It is such a beautiful resource that I have underused for a long time. I am ready to go back!
Do you have a library card? If so, which library system are you a member of?
YES! Seattle Public Library system is my library system. So watch out SPL! HERE I COME!
We hope to see Caspar Babypants perform for NYPL patrons young and old in the near future! Until then, place a hold on the following CDs: