Sound It Out: “20 Questions” #33 — Norman Westberg

Another installment of the recurring “Sound It Out: 20 Questions” feature on, with an artist answering a survey inspired by the famous Proust Questionnaire…

(Norman Westberg performing solo. Photo: John Fell.)

The bewitching solo music of guitarist Norman Westberg has been an obsession of mine over the past few years, as have the high-impact latter-day records by the band he has long been associated with: Swans. To read more about his music and background, see a story that I wrote titled “Topographic Guitar” (after Lawrence English’s evocative phrase about Norman’s playing) – I posted the piece on the site here. Norman will cap Sound It Out’s 2018-19 season on June 27, 2019, performing a solo show at Greenwich House Music School as part of an ambient-oriented double-bill with the fine duo of Simon Jermyn (guitar) & Joseph Branciforte (electronics). Norman’s otherworldly atmospherics might not seem to fall within the characteristic avant-jazz bent of Sound It Out, but his live solo music-making makes for spontaneous composition of rare sensual beauty and striking originality, two qualities prized for the series. His latest studio album, the finely crafted After Vacation, is as intoxicating as a drug. A native of Detroit, Norman has long been a denizen of downtown New York City; although a connoisseur of music from punk to raga, from the Stooges to Stars of the Lid, he is a true-blue rocker, as well as a family man and a lovely guy. It’s an honor for Norman Westberg to play Sound It Out. — BB

  1. What was the first album you fell in love with and stayed in love with?

The “stayed in love with” is the loaded part… I’m still in love with Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

  1. What do you think is one of the most overrated albums ever?

I am not really a big Bob Dylan fan, so…

  1. What’s one of your all-time favorite non-rock albums?

Raja Hindustani. Bollywood was great in the late ’90s.

  1. What’s the last album you listened to from beginning to end – and did you like it?

Lloyd Price’s Greatest Hits. Loved every minute.

  1. What’s your favorite film score?

West Side Story, by Leonard Bernstein. The opening scene in the movie is incredible. I like both the Broadway and movie scores.

  1. What was the most recent concert – of any genre – that made you fall in love with music all over again?

I did a one-month tour with DBUK all around the east and Midwest. They are fantastic.

  1. Which are your very favorite and least favorite venues for live music?

I really don’t have a favorite or least favorite venue. The good ones are comfortable, easy and smooth. The bad ones are annoying, difficult and sad.

  1. What’s your favorite quote about music?

It’s not a quote about music, as I’m not sure if I know a great one, but my favorite quote is from Ken Kesey: “It’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen.”

  1. If you could have a drink with any late visual artist of the past, who would it be?

He wasn’t a visual artist, but I would say that a drink or two with actor Oliver Reed would have been a highlight…

  1. What are the top three tools of your trade?

Guitar, delay pedal and hands.

  1. What’s your most indispensable piece of technology that isn’t music-oriented?

Sadly, the iPhone…

  1. What are your top media sources of writing/opinion/news about music?

I don’t really follow news about music anymore. There was a time when I cared, or tried to care. Then it would have been all of the usual magazines of the day…

  1. What non-musical/non-technological quality is most important to being an enduringly creative musician?

Always listen and always be curious and open-minded.

  1. What living person do you most admire – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most admire?

My wife, Jeni. She is very focused on her art and is an amazing person.

  1. What living person do you most despise – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most despise?

Ha, I can’t believe this one. Looking for some Pete Burns vs. Boy George action? You never know who might be listening…

  1. What’s your favorite place in the world?

My couch – relaxing, comfortable, home.

  1. What book would you most like to read again?

I re-read books all of the time. At the moment, I would like to re-visit At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, by Gordon Prange.

  1. What film haven’t you seen that you feel like you should?

Just about any classic from the 1940s and ’50s.

  1. If you could live in another time period, when would that be?

No thanks, though I suppose it would depend on where, and the circumstances…

  1. What aspect of the past do you miss most – and what’s one thing you look forward to about the future that doesn’t yet exist?

I don’t really miss anything of the past – I think the present is just fine. Maybe I’ll learn some new, cool stuff in the future. That would be great.

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