The idea of fame, inasmuch as it pertains to music and the male, invariably involves cash, cars and coochie—but not for Bob Moss. Although the fortysomething folksinger/artist’s talent would allow for more, he has elementary dreams. Stranded in Clearfield with little cash and no car (didn’t ask about the other), he toils in obscurity from a storage-shed apartment with a broken toilet. He could shoot for some high life, but will settle for a simple sum. “Oh, I desperately want to be famous,” he says, almost to himself. “Not necessarily really famous, just famous enough that I can play around. I don’t expect to make lots of money. Where other people dream of millions, I tell my friends I dream of 50 bucks.”
Moss enjoys the minor notoriety of a cult figure, albeit once or twice removed, and it has taken close to 30 years to get that far. He started out in junior high school noodling on the Moss family banjo because his mother complained he was restless. Enamored of the Kingston Trio LPs his father owned, Moss set out on his easygoing musical journey. He tells the story as if we’re sitting in facing armchairs instead of chatting on the phone.
“I was often pretty lazy. If I worked harder, I’d be a lot better than I am. I never did much, I just fooled around until my friend Mike Kirkland had gone to New York and made a bit of a name for himself in a band called Prong. Then he got tired of it and dropped out and came back home. Actually, I was in a little new-wave band with him called Nightmare on Wax before he went to New York. And then he was in a band called Damage, which played around.”
Kirkland, he says, was the first to get him to record the traditional folk ballads and wacky originals he’d only performed for friends. In 1994, they released a CD, Bob Moss & the Western Men’s Tragic Tales From the New West. It was a limited pressing—500 copies—that quickly dwindled to a stash of seven Moss keeps for a rainy day. Another record, Headjug, followed in 1997 before a greatest hits compilation, My Best So Far, and an album with the Luni Troupe, Clowns, Monkeys & Aliens: The Three Degrees of Bipedia, were issued on Kirkland’s SoundCo Records label.
Despite good reviews, none of the releases sold very well, but the lucky person who happens to possess a Bob Moss album treasures it. Take, for instance, Charles Schneider, a Hollywood screenwriter, strip-joint emcee and music nut who took a chance on a copy of Tragic Tales From the New West he found languishing at a gothic shop on Melrose. Knocked out, he wrote saying he’d like to record him, and they did, logging trad-folk originals and songs by Leonard Cohen, Peggy Seeger, Daniel Johnston and the Beatles. The collection would become Moss’ latest SoundCo release, Folknik, with cover art by another cult figure. Moss, again, in armchair mode:
“He flew me down a number of years ago and recorded some stuff. Then he had some bad luck and it took us a long time to get this Folknik out. He got Daniel Clowes [a renowned comic artist known for Ghost World and Eightball] to do the cover. He roomed with Dan Clowes in college. I don’t think he would have done it, but Schneider sent him copies of the album and Clowes kind of liked it.”
Clowes certainly lends cred, and little by little, Moss’ profile increases. Add a one-off gig at CBGB’s in New York City, arranged by Kirkland, a former employee.
“No one knew who I was and it was a cold Monday night with bitter winds and not a lot of people were there, but they liked it and the employees liked it, too, and that was nice. They have a tendency to be cynical, they see so much, you know.”
And Moss just might just get his 50 bucks. “Late at night, I see little $50 bills with wings. So, I do have dreams of glory, but they’re of minor glory.”