Meet our first rock 'n' roll ambassador to China.
If he looks familiar you probably caught him when he fronted a band of cats called the Chainsaw Kittens, the best alternative glam-pop act ever to scratch its way out of Oklahoma and all the way up to the college-radio bigtime back in the '90s.
Tyson Meade will take the stage Saturday for a rare home-state performance, playing with original Kittens guitarist Mark Metzger for the first time in 19 years, and spreading the word about his plans to record a hands-across-the-water album — in China — with Chinese and American musicians.
“For five years I lived in China, in Shanghai, and the last three of those five years I was running a boarding school and I've fallen in love with China,” the singer/songwriter/guitarist/educator said in an interview with The Oklahoman last week.
“China loves America, loves Americans, and everyone was so good to me there.”
Meade plans to finance the recording and distribution of the album through Kickstarter, the funding website that gathers donations from the general public for creative projects. Meade said Oklahoma-bred filmmaker Bradley Beesley (“Okie Noodling,” “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo”) is directing a video promoting the Kickstarter campaign, which kicks off Friday at kickstarter.com.
“Partly this is diplomatic,” Meade said. “In some small way, I would like people to know that Chinese people are awesome — as are Japanese people and Vietnamese people and Thais and ...”
So how does a guy who describes himself as a “glitter-rock farm boy” from Oklahoma — the same guy who used to wear dresses onstage and write such subversive avant-rock songs as “She's Gone Mad” and “Violent Religion” — end up in Shanghai as an English teacher and dean of students at a public high school?
He once explained it this way: “For a year and a half, I was an English professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and LaGuardia Community College in NYC. The bulk of my classes were writing classes for international students who were preparing for freshman English. I loved this time. I really loved it. And it occurred to me that I could do basically the same thing in the exotic city of my choice.”
A guidebook writer/editor friend suggested Shanghai, and that's where Meade's appetite for adventure took him.
After years of fronting rock bands (first Defenestration, then the Kittens) and turning out two solo albums (“Motorcycle Childhood,” “Kitchens and Bathrooms”), Meade had all but turned his back on music, having lost his inspiration.
Shanghai is where he found it again.
“I met this violinist — he was 15 at the time — who goes by the moniker of Haffijy,” Meade recalled. “That's his English name, that's not really a name, nor is it English.”
The Chinese teacher who introduced them told Meade, “This young man is a great violinist.”
Meade, who still owned a guitar, suggested they play some songs together. Two days later they got together in the school garden and Meade played some of his songs for the boy.