A tenured professor of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo and an affiliate of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Steve Weinstein is not your typical rocker.
Noted in recent years for his work on quantum theory, cosmology, and the nature of time, featured on Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, Steve nevertheless spent many of his formative years playing at The Rat and CBGB. A singer, guitarist and songwriter with a dark and sometimes humorous lyrical sensibility, he spent the last year in Brooklyn and upstate New York recording the songs that became Last Free Man, forthcoming on 12/10/2013.
The title track is an angry and defiant look at the corrosive nature of modern surveillance and our willingness to capitulate to it. It was inspired by a trip to London for a conference on black holes. “Everywhere I looked there were these CCTV surveillance cameras. I felt like I was being watched, and of course I was.
Though I recognized that they had originally been put in place during the time of the IRA bombings, I realized that this sort of monitoring of our whereabouts, our actions, and now even our likes and dislikes was becoming the norm everywhere. The lyrics came to me over the course of about fifteen minutes on the return flight, shortly after takeoff. A few weeks later, I sat down in my Brooklyn apartment with an acoustic guitar, and the song more or less sang itself.”
The album draws from early rock ‘n’ roll to late punk and beyond and includes a searing tale of missed connections in time and space on the lead track “Lost & Found,” a dark and powerful cover of “That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate” by Boston’s seminal Mission of Burma, and the closing ballad “Throw It Away”, inspired by the all-too-real suicide of a Bay-area woman.
Steve’s long-overdue new offering was produced by David Baron (Peter Murphy, Lenny Kravitz) and features the superb rhythm section of Sara Lee (B-52s, Gang of Four) on bass, and Brooklyn’s Tony Mason (Al Green, Norah Jones) on drums, along with guest guitarists GE Smith (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Hall & Oates), Adam Widoff (Lenny Kravitz) and Larry Saltzman (David Johansen, Paul Simon), and the deep gospel piano and B3 organ of Bette Sussman (Whitney Houston).
Steve reflects, “In several of the songs I was wrestling with the paradox of a world in which our ever-increasing interconnectedness has at the same time given rise to a massive fragmentation of society, to the point where our networked ‘friends’ actually feel increasingly disconnected and alone. It’s a strange new twist on the yearning for freedom and for connection expressed in so much of traditional rock, gospel, and blues.
Steve first began playing guitar in college shortly after seeing The Clash at the Palladium in New York, the night that Paul Simonon famously destroyed his bass during the encore.
He soon became a staple on the Boston scene as a singer/songwriter (solo and with a band) and collaborated with such highly respected musicians as Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie, The Cure), Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing, Fiona Apple), Adam Steinberg (Patty Griffin, Dixie Chicks), Aaron Comess (Spin Doctors), Jerome Deupree & Billy Conway (Morphine), and Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann). His first solo record, Walkin' by the Light of the Moon was released in 1987 and received an enthusiastic response from local radio.
In 1992, Steve went back to school to get his Ph.D., doing graduate work in both philosophy and physics. “As much as I loved music,” Steve says, “I was also drawn very early on to philosophy, physics, and then cosmology. I wanted to know whether our image of the world was inevitably shaped by our own minds.
When I encountered the work of Kant in high school, it resonated immediately. Then, when I was introduced to the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, which seemed to insist that the physical world itself acquired definite form only when we interacted with it, I was even more enthralled.”
“After twenty years of living in my head it became virtually uninhabitable. So I just moved into another wing of the house, where
the music was happening.”
He soon found that the themes that run through his academic work were, to his surprise, still right there in his songs. Says Steve, “I shouldn’t have been surprised; as Borges observed in Dreamtigers, ‘A man sets out to draw the world.
As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.’”