Song lists are everywhere on the Internet and in magazines these days. The briefest of Google searches turns up ones as tame as “100 Greatest Love Songs” or as wild as “Top 20 Worst Song Titles of All Time” (No. 4 on the list is “If I Can’t Be Number One in Your Life, Then Number Two on You.”)
But Berry van Boekel has raised song lists to the level of an art form — and a very demanding, conceptual one, at that. His show at Oakley’s Country Club Projects, Top 100 2009, is his list, in order, of his most meaningful music-listening experiences of the past year. The show consists of a short written explanation for each entry, coupled with van Boekel’s hand-painted, often vividly expressionist pictures relating to the song. It is up through Oct. 23, paired with Mark Harris’ drawings and paintings inspired by a 1970 book, The Modern Utopian: Communes U.S.A.
You can imagine how much record-listening van Boekel does in a year — and in a lifetime! This is his 28th year compiling such a list; he started accompanying each one with 100 paintings in 1999. The breadth of his taste is as wide as a good record store’s catalog. His 2009 list covers everything from Rashaan Roland Kirk’s “Ode to John Coltrane” (at No. 4) to Maria Callas’ “E Strano e strano” at No. 72. There’s room for all manner of edgy Rock (Acid Mothers Temple, The Godz, Heartless Bastards), Folk and Blues (Karen Dalton, Tracy Chapman, T-Model Ford) and World music (Mauritanian griot musicians, the female Filipino singers known as Manobo Dulangans).
(That's Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards pictured above, an oil and pastel on wood.)
1, by the way, is the song “Sonar Dreyri” by Norwegian Death Metal band Trelldom, though van Boekel confesses to not understanding its message, since the vocal is roared in undecipherable Norwegian. He’s attracted by its uncomfortable, noisy tension.
Van Boekel keeps a running account of his work at www.berrystop100.blogspot.com and is deep into compiling his 2010 list. But to find out just how he got so far into this life-consuming project in the first place, I talked to him by phone from Columbus, where he’s head preparator for Ohio State University’s Art Department. He moved to Columbus from the Netherlands in 1993 to pursue an art degree at OSU.
In 1983, he started making lists, every few days, of the Top 10 songs he heard. And he compiled that into a Top 100 at year’s end, keeping the practice up ever since.
“I was in Holland then, and this was simply a response to me and my friends really being into music,” he says. “Over the first two or three years, it was just me making lists. Three years later I thought it’d be fun to make a little book to go on with it, so I started to make Xerox copies of record sleeves, newspaper articles, whatever. Then in 1988 I started making drawings, and that evolved into this art project.
“The first time I did all 100 by hand was 1990. They were mostly drawings, literally illustrations to the songs. Every year I put more and more time into it, so some of the sketches became my first watercolors, and it evolved into what it is. I started exhibiting them in public.
“I’m starting earlier and earlier every year. More and more of this takes the place of what I used to consider my serious work. This was my hobby work, but it’s taking over.”
For more on Berry van Boekel’s exhibit, visit www.countryclubprojects.com. The gallery has published and made available a limited-edition book of van Boekel’s Top 100 2009.
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