R. Stevie Moore: King of ‘Do It Yourself’

R. Stevie Moore may be one of the most under-appreciated artists of the latter part of the century. Given his wildly experimental style, decidedly lo-fi and entirely self-produced music, this should come as no surprise. Much like other savants of the genre, including Robert Pollard and Stephen Malkmus, a cult following is usually achieved and maintained for years, sometimes decades.
Moore has been releasing records since the 1960s. The reason he has often been described as a veritable king of DIY (Do It Yourself) stems from reasons more literal than even Pollard’s case. This is because Moore, in the beginning of his lengthy career, pawned his records at local record shops, self-producing all cassettes and LP’s.
His regular appearances on ‘The Uncle Floyd Show,’ a public access program broadcast out of Floyd’s garage, were his best way to advertise. In Moore’s first appearance he performed a re-vamped version of Big Boppa’s ‘Chantilly Lace,’ while bobbing his head, cross-stepping and swaying back and forth.
This is not to say that Moore had anticipated a commercially doomed career from the start. He appeared on Floyd’s show countless times between the 1970s and 1990s. However, his success is determined in an entirely different sense. Moore understood that the show served as a platform for his music, but it would take resilience to be successful.
Moore has created dozens of self-produced music videos to go along with many of his better singles, and most are only now becoming widely appreciated among hipsters. In some, an opening monologue serves as a pre-cursor that may or may not have anything to do with the video.
In ‘Irony,’ Moore’s father wishes viewers a ‘Happy New Year 1974,’ with the context apparent immediately through the lyrics of the song. Imbued with such haunting phrases as ‘What are you doing to me? / How can I be free?’ Moore’s personal struggle with his father’s fame and it’s overshadowing effect are easily discernable.
It is worth noting that Moore’s father was the bass player for Elvis for many years, and Moore’s style, while wildly eclectic, tends in many cases toward a jangly blues/country feel with prominent contrapuntal bass lines, perhaps a reflection of his father’s influence.
Moore’s nasally tenor vocals swim languidly through mountainous piles of singles on self-labeled, personally burned and signed CDs. Moore’s personal stylings are similar to those of Pollard’s. This is evidenced in a few ways, but the simplest and most readily accessible examples are their respective Web sites.
In Pollard’s case, the lo-fi giant proudly slaps on a banner with the celebrated DIY phrase, ‘Buy Something Or Get Out,’ reflecting a militaristic approach to his ethos. In Moore’s case, there are simply stacks of all of his releases for sale. Both Web sites are embarrassingly unprofessional by today’s standards, and both are in a mid-1990s blog-type sheen.
Lo-fi is a category of music born out of a love for DIY, and making a professional Web site simply would not fit the artistic integrity of the movement. Not giving Moore a listen (his charming videos are now featured on YouTube) would be a travesty for all, but especially for those who are already in the market for eccentrics. Moore’s music is not for everyone, but for people who can appreciate it, it is miraculous.