I met Peter Dizozza in the Summer of 2002. Steve Espinola invited me to the Biff Rose's annual film festival, which I entered one of my student films to show. One of the presenters brought a 16mm projector, and since I was a projectionist throughout college, I would occasionally ask him questions about the projector, or tell him about something or other. I also helped set up the screen. We talked a bit, nothing big. This person was Peter Dizozza.
One of his films from the 70's was shown, where he took a B-movie and intercut images that conflicted with the story for humorous or thought-provoking effect using found footage. I talked to Peter about the acquisition of such footage, and about current online places to get great public domain film for free. Later on, my college film/documentary about relationships gone wrong was shown, with great approval by the crowd. One of the supporters of that film was Peter Dizozza.
When I started writing about Anti-Folk and interviewing several of the artists on the scene, I would always send links to other artists to review. I would scour Antifolkonline.com to learn more about other people that I haven't yet listened to. One of the albums I had yet to listen to was Pro-Choice on Mental Health. The person who sent me that album was Peter Dizozza.
What was interesting to me was how Peter sits in the scene, and yet is different than many of the performers inhabiting Anti-Folk.. While Anti-Folk is multidimensional, and can't be defined by a single line description (i.e. "Acoustic Guitars with fuzz boxes" or "Ballads with self-deprecation") there is a common thread in the spirit. Many of the Anti-Folk stars have performed in his song cycles/musicals/performance pieces, and yet his piano style is very typical to a pop sensibility.
Peter and I are talking on the phone. We start off talking about the packaging of the album, and how the cover seemed to be inspired by Valley of the Dolls.
Krisbee: Its definitely medicinal; it looks like something that would be on a drug label. I don't know if it's the font or the falsely soothing pink.
Peter Dizozza: Yes... especially for men that's falsely soothing. It could also be (classified) under self-help, besides music or spoken word.
Krisbee: It definitely explores different ways of thinking about... well for you it was generalized anxiety disorder?
Peter Dizozza: (surprised tone) Yes...
Krisbee: I never had generalized anxiety disorder, but I have had panic disorder.
Peter Dizozza: Oh, I wonder what's the difference?
Krisbee: Well, panic disorder is irrational, and happens on no particular basic thought, opposed to anxiety, which is based on paranoia.
Pro-Choice on Mental Health is a meditation on a theme within a story. It starts off with our protagonist, who we can assume is Peter, being recommended by his doctor to feign insanity so he can go away for awhile, while reaping the benefits of his federal health insurance before they run out. While in the institution, he falls in love with one of the patients, and when his time at the institution was to end, he is deemed unstable; if he were stable he wouldn't have fallen in love with a clearly insane person.
The story line progression gets thinner as we progress, but each song is transitioned to the next with Peter talking either about something that relates one song to the next, or an advancement of the plot is made.
We discuss Peter's thoughts on depression.
Peter Dizozza: The CD might say if you had a reason for that (depression), was it a chemical imbalance or was there somewhere deep inside you that caused this response, something that you thought was worthy of this response.
Krisbee: I think it is a little from column a and b. I think everything in your life affects you somehow; there were underlying events that triggered it (your mood), but you might be predisposed because of your chemical make-up.
Peter Dizozza: The hope of the CD is that you can make that choice, and maybe that is a dream, but that maybe the reason you are depressed is not because of a chemical imbalance, but really there is something that we can change, and we are reacting to it; the source of the depression, like a job.
There is the cliché that in any art that one creates, regardless of topic, that hidden in the subtext of the story will be a window into your own psyche, your soul, your subconscious. Peter writes stories with the music tied into them, whether it is about dueling pianists moving to Hawaii, or about a trucker and a satellite. Within those diverse stories are topics that Peter feels a need to explore.
Krisbee: When you wrote the songs for the album, what was happening in your life?
Peter Dizozza: I was finding that a couple of people were unpredictable, some of my friends that were taking medication would be reacting one way, and then change completely, and I felt that somewhere in the back of my mind I was as depressed as they were but I wasn't using medication to help it.
Krisbee: What medications were they on?
Peter Dizozza: I remember one friend was on Prozac.
Krisbee: They were having mood-swings?
Peter Dizozza: Yeah, they were getting a lot of attention. It seemed to be a time consuming search to improve ones mood, and I guess I was coming from a deep seated feeling that to feel depressed is a valid response to looking at things the way they are.
Krisbee: It's a very complex issue, which is why you dedicated an album to it. There are lots of viewpoints, and they could all be correct all at the same time. Chemically we are being affected, and we feel depressed, but at the same time suppose three of our friends just died. We don't think about it, but our body does.
Peter Dizozza: Right... "Oh, by the way three of your friends died, so it caused you to have a mood swing."
Krisbee: ...and its' something you just don't reflect on.
Peter Dizozza: That's why I like the talking cure, so to speak, because we so often coexist with things prominent in our mind that we don't remember.
Krisbee: I have that problem, that I don't remember anything bad, but of course I must.
Peter Dizozza: Things could have happened recently, but you are not conscious of them, but they are manifesting in moods. I'm going through another experience now with finding a perfect relationship, and being confronted with the idea of being happy with someone, when all this time I didn't think it was possible to meet that special someone. I create, therefore, another type of anxiety for myself.
One of the things brought up in a monologue is the phenomena, especially in the earlier part of the 20th century, of going away for months at a time to health camps to rejuvenate one's constitution.
Peter Dizozza: Yeah, I love the idea, and it's kind of dream to get away for awhile, but it never happens! You go somewhere, and you are in a new story; the three people there are as consuming... and to be alone, and go up to Maine like Jeff Lewis does, we end up filling up the space.
Krisbee: Sure, just like Fellini's 8 1/2, where the director goes away to get better, and his girlfriends and his wife come and visit, and everything he was trying to escape comes to haunt and terrorize him.
Peter Dizozza: That's an interesting joy though, to see that movie, you almost wish you could be that character... I relate to that.
Krisbee: Sure it's all falling apart, but I want to be in that circus.
Analyzing the lyrics, I realize that there are quite complex themes going on within the songs, often encapsulated in short bursts. The song Beached has a line that alludes to the fact of the moon affecting tides, and the theory that the moon also affects our moods by pulling on the fluids within our bodies, making it's own ebb and flow; this can be related to astrology or biorhythms. With this theory, it explains the phenomena of more odd crimes happening around the full moon in the lunar cycle. It also explains the cyclical nature of mood swings.
Peter Dizozza: Certainly a lot of women feel that experience. Also, there was a full moon the last few days. It's a dream, or a romantic wish, because I wouldn't be aggressive to someone that I was attracted to; this women I'm with, we'd come together because of a third stimulus, not the two of us, but rather the tide. That was a dream; instead of me being the reason of causing something physical, or physical contact, but having the moon do it. It's not that unusual, a lot of stories attribute things to the moon.
Krisbee: Out of all the songs, the one I don't understand it the Wall Flour.
Peter Dizozza: Maybe it's about doing something crazy, rather than acting on strategizing and thought, just bursting out and leaving for other people to worry about what that means, and what to do with the mess. It can be a disruptive song; I have mixed feelings about it.
Krisbee: In the beginning it starts off chatting up a member of the opposite sex.
Peter Dizozza: Yes, that we are going to get into contact. Because they are touching each other, he's not actually aroused by the touching, but by a discussion that might lead towards the need for contact; like, take a rest from all of this intellectualizing.
Krisbee: But actually it's not, it's sort of supporting the intellectualizing. In the song it seems that they are so in love with their discussion so much that they have to sleep together; that they are in love with the knowledge that they are sharing with each other.
Peter Dizozza: It's a visceral song. I don't know how to describe the connection with the shotgun and breaking through the walls. There are some lines about the demons trapped where they lurk, there is a sadistic pleasure of looking at them... what did you think of the song, did it have any meaning for you?
Krisbee: It has so much going on it, I'm having trouble deciphering it, which is good; that's when I think you are on to something. There are a couple different things going on at the same time, and I haven't figured it out yet.
Peter Dizozza: Yeah, or if it stimulates something in you, to get your own thoughts freed into something that more directly affects you.
Krisbee: It has the contrast of the two lovers, then it gets into something more aggressive in the song, it's almost like the topic of the song doesn't mean as much as the emotions conveyed within the song.
Peter Dizozza: I think there is some male element going on as well. The orgasm is a dangerous experience for other people, like a shotgun. That would be a way for people to clear their heads; the couple makes love, they leave a mess and walk away, but they are free.
Krisbee: My favorite song on the album is Home Inn Time. You have such a love of learning, and I think that comes through very well in this song. It's a love letter to books, which is something I don't know if anybody else has ever written about.
Peter Dizozza: I was in Exeter, England, in this library where you can stay late; in a college library usually people will stay late because of exams, and it was just a happy place to be... the idea that you can become anonymous because you are far away in your thoughts.
Krisbee: Maybe its' also a place where you can be something you are not.
Peter Dizozza: Sure. Grow through reading, and live somebody else's experience through art or writing. A lot of times we form our own personalities through what we read, what we see in the movies. I think I have benefited from that. Sometimes I feel alone if that is the only way I have developed; through books, music, or movies. But yet those things are very instrumental in developing the way that I am... how do you feel about that?
Krisbee: I was just thinking, because you were talking earlier about you being in a stronger relationship than typical for you, that in my own relationship what finally clicked to me that she was the one, which you think with almost every relationship, was the frame of reference in books and movies we shared; I could say half of an obscure line from a movie, and she could finish it. That cemented everything to me.
Peter Dizozza: That's a good thing, that the work can become a vehicle for you to get to know each other; you have a familiarity with something, and that becomes your common ground.
Peter asks me about other songs on the album. I mention Let Me Be, that I like the melody, the lyrics, its' purpose either in or out of the context of the story. I enjoy the allusion of a jockey riding a horse, and how that image twists into a description of a masochistic relationship.
Peter Dizozza: It was a relationship where I couldn't imagine getting out of it; it was dangerous. The relationship that followed that one, the person would commit herself regularly like it was a vacation.
Peter has intrigued me so much because he has such diverse activities filling his day. Besides being a full-time lawyer, he is a novelist, a musician, a musical director, a filmmaker, performer... he is involved in so many projects that I am overwhelmed just reading about them on his website. Looking at all of the creative endeavors he is a part of, I wondered whether being an artist is his true love, with his career in law being a drudgery and a necessary evil. According to Peter, he likes being a lawyer because it is a different story everyday. He said he finds it hard to enjoy leisure time; he always wants to move to the next step, which would explain the multi-tasking nature of the projects he assigns to himself. He also says that he likes the surprises that life gives him, good or bad.
Peter Dizozza: That's what keeps me going, when unusual things happen. (topic change) The world is progressing very quickly, and technology is, too. People are interacting with each other; there is much more universal awareness of each other, maybe a greater tolerance and understanding.
Krisbee: Don't you find, maybe just as Americans, that we are more afraid of each other?
Peter Dizozza: I hope not. Amidst all this gloom and doom type of thing that people are becoming less threatening to each other. When I grew up, I was in the city, and it was a threatening environment, and it is less threatening now. There's awareness of people around me, and I don't feel threatened by them any more than they should feel threatened by me.
Krisbee: You enjoy writing about problems you have whether they get resolved or not?
Peter Dizozza: Yeah. I am looking at the song No Problem There right now, and I didn't really understand what was going on with the person, or have even gotten beyond it except that I have written a song about it. She's was sleeping with someone else while she was involved with me, but she wasn't really involved with me. The way she was living her life, it appeared that she was able to help me and help herself, but ultimately she was involved in her own path and that didn't include me at some point. The greatest growth is to be comfortable with that, and treasure the time we had together, and treasure her in some way. It's a little nasty song, somewhat, but it is some sort of a riddle.
Peter asks me what I think about the monologue/story after the song cycle on the CD about the person that he helped secure money for by using the legal system; getting disability money because he was a heroin addict. At the end of the story, the person buys heroin with that money and dies.
Krisbee: I was intrigued that you didn't seem to have a moral stance on the entire issue.
Peter Dizozza: Did you have a stance on the issue?
Krisbee: That's a good point.... I would feel bad that he died, but I wouldn't feel responsible that it was money I helped him in securing.
Peter Dizozza: That was the first time I told anybody about that... it was on my mind for a long time, but that wasn't a prepared monologue; that's just me telling Joe (Bendik) what happened. Did you think it was a good thing to have on the record?
Krisbee: Yes... it was definitely brave. Especially since it was such a morally ambiguous tale; there is no real winner or loser in the story, which I guess is the case in those situations.
Peter Dizozza: Yeah, but it might be up to me to find something like that, and I haven't. I'm just throwing it out there.
Krisbee: Looking back on it now, do you look at it like a predetermined fate?
Peter Dizozza: No, to me it shows me wrapped up in my own life. You could make an effort, and I did not make any effort.
Krisbee: Was it for you to make an effort?
Peter Dizozza: Well that's the question. It's a choice, and you think our lives are so busy that we can't help anybody else, but another part of me says that it doesn't matter one way or the other; if I did help him and save him, it's a big uplifting story... but it's not really a big uplifting story (no matter what the outcome).
No answers are given in the song cycle like real life, only questions.
Peter Dizozza: I look at doing my work as a part of the responsibility of it is to make it available for people, either to like it or not; dismiss it, or make it a part of their lives. That's where I am at now; to do something outrageous enough so it is worth an audiences time to consider, and something that they are not going to get anywhere else.
Krisbee: Do you try to make your pieces accessible?
Peter Dizozza: I make them accessible in the sense that I will make the CD and send it to places, and just leave it at that. Then make another CD, try different a sound, work with different people, because they contribute a lot. Joe Bendik really contributed with the sound and style; things that I liked, he could just do naturally. I'm working with
Major Matt Mason, and his strengths are in different areas as well, so it is a different sound (than this album). Different songs too, new and fun songs. It will be a nice library for people who connect with the material.
Peter notices that ideas and things in his life are becoming clutter around him. However...
Peter Dizozza: Pro-Choice on Mental Health is not clutter; it's the package, it's done, it's separate, I don't have to go back to it. I am behind on doing that; all those things that are clutter are things left unpackaged. I need to put them in a package, and put them out. I'm hopeful that I have something distinctive to offer to people because there is so much out there. I hope the ideas are unique, fun and helpful, and that they serve as a source of further inspiration for others.
Studying Peter's website, I am so impressed by the packaging of his work. He has detailed notes, reviews, pictures, timelines, and more dedicated to projects that he has involved himself in over the years. I can't even get myself to put pictures away in an album.
Reflecting on the topic of the CD, I am remembering that my therapist has told me that most depression is chemical, and our moods are heavily affected by what we injest, what our internal hormonal system is doing. However, I am also inclined to belived that modern life creates these problems. Nobody had bad backs in the 1800's... With so much time to focus on yourself, you are bound to find something wrong.
Would Peter have anxiety if he wasn't living in New York, in the village? Would he have had the same thought process if he were a lumberjack in the Ozarks? Is your mental health failings an essential part of your personality, and devoid of your flaws, would you be a person at all? Peter has said that he hopes that you have a choice in the outcome of your mental health, but I wonder if it is your surroundings that create your defects. The idea that your disposition can be changed may directly relate to your surroundings and your position; if you hate your abusive landlord, move. If you want another job, position yourself into another one. Was that what that fucking REM song, Stand, meant? Probably not.
Your album of songs "Pro-Choice on Mental Health," describes your experience coping with depression. What was your experience like and why did you decide to make an album about it?
My experience with depression
is pretty generalized and somewhat subjective as I never waited
around for the diagnosis. However, I often do things that
appear to go against my own best interest.
I believe there are good
reasons to feel depressed but that it's an affirmative action, often
I consider myself a composer.
I use sounds, words and images. Law gives me a common ground for
interaction, puts me in a good position to learn, and continues to
provide daily variety in my life, in addition to a salary.
It refers to a local music
scene which arose out of punk music; basically you put an acoustic
guitar through effects boxes. As my material is often
confrontational, I obtained bookings in venues where antifolk lives
(particularly The Fort at SideWalk).
I perform solo at the piano at
SideWalk, 94 Ave A at E 6th St., New York, on Tuesday,
October 29th, at 9 p.m.
There is an audio page at cinemavii.com,
it's at www.cinemavii.com/dizozza/dmain2.html.
Cinema VII is the
entertainment collective that administers my creative catalogue and
helps me keep track of it.
The Cinema VII website has an events page at www.cinemavii.com/dizozza/events1.html. My new album, "Songs of the Golf Wars," produced by Major Matt Mason, USA, is to be released by Olive Juice Music in December, 2002.
for more on Peter, check out www.krisbee.com/peterdizozza.html
© 2002 The Square Table
Last Updated: 10/02
Webmaster: Dina Di Maio
Logo by: Nancy F. Di Maio
Special thanks to: Michael Gross, Erin and Peter
Read the Pro-Choice on Mental Health Reviews
March '03 anti-interview at antifolkonline.com mirrored here.