Fortunate Adventures of a Naked Mystic
Fortunate Adventures of a Naked Mystic
A Q&A with Samuel Saint Thomas
Of Bovine Social Club
By Geoff Gehman
Samuel Saint Thomas lost his musical virginity in the first pub he frequented. It was 1990 and he was “a case of beer” removed from life in a Catholic monastic community, his headquarters for raising relief for the impoverished around the developing world. Drinking a black-and-tan, he was blown away by Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.” Once upon a time he might have dismissed the raging, howling rocker as “devil’s music,” especially when he was a youngster performing tunes at Pentecostal revivals with his parents, who were musical preachers. That night, in his first drinking establishment, a song gave him his first “erotic high.”
The spiritual/sensual epiphany led Thomas to become a “sinful” musician. Four years later he recorded a soundtrack for his documentary on war-ravaged Yugoslavia. Two years later he cut his first solo record, “Unfortunate Adventures of a Naked Mystic,” an aural autobiography of his pilgrimage.
Since then Thomas has balanced roles as a musician, nonfiction writer and teacher of literature and writing. In 2012 he launched Bovine Social Club, a swinging, twanging, newgrassing quartet for which he sings lead, plays guitar, books gigs, manages and Web masters from a place in Shawnee-on-Delaware he calls “a Chinese tea house.” On Oct. 25 he and his comrades will play the Mauch Chunk Opera House, site of the band’s 2017 live album featuring Railroad Earth’s violinist/vocalist Tim Carbone, who produced first albums for BSC and Thomas, the latter in Carbone’s New Jersey garage. Expect such breezy numbers as “The Rayban Song,” “Saweeet” and “Banjo Gini,” the latter inspired by a female visitor to Thomas’ commune who just knew that Jesus wouldn’t mind her forsaking underwear.
Below, in an email exchange, Thomas hummingbirds over questions about music, religion, philosophy, souvenir undergarments and Spam.
Q: Can you remember the first song you couldn’t forget, the one that turned you upside down and inside out?
A: Well, nothing has had that much impact on me. But I did like the Beach Boys a lot.
Q: What was the best musical lesson you absorbed from your vocalist mom and your pianist dad?
A: Sing in tune for God’s sake!
Q: What’s your favorite memory of performing with your family at crusades, sawdust revivals and other Pentecostal happenings?
A: The filthy places we had to sleep on tour and the evangelist that once auctioned off a sweaty handkerchief. The old tour buses were pretty cool.
Q: Is there a Pentecostal hymn you still like to hum? And is there a piece of Pentecostal music that influenced/inspired one of your own songs?
A: I suppose the influence is more in the blood really. I don’t hum them these days.
Q: In 1990 you had an epiphany while drinking a beer and listening to Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”?) during your first visit to a pub, “a case of beer” after leaving your monastic community. What was it about “Hurricane,” and the setting, that helped charge “devil’s music” with an “erotic high”?
A: I suppose you can say I lost my musical virginity.
Q: Has being a monk—the solitude, the introspection, the devotion to a cosmic cause—helped and/or hindered you as a musician?
A: Well, it sure has given my life a balance. The monastic life tends to inform one’s limits.
Q: Why do you call yourself an “accidental” philosopher?
A: I sure didn’t plan it.
Q: You and Tim Carbone began collaborating in 1994 when he helped you produce an eight-track demo in his Jersey garage. Why do you like working with him? How has he improved you as a musician and, perhaps, a person?
A: I dunno. I guess it’s his energy and excitement. He has turned me on to a bunch of Texas bands for sure.
Q: Who is/was Gini and why did/does she deserve the song “Banjo Gini”?
A: She stayed for a summer in a commune that I founded in the ’80s. The song says the rest. Haven’t seen or heard from her since!
Q: Speaking of underwear, what’s the most popular seller among Bovine Social Club undergarments?
A: Ha! I have no idea!
Q: Why did you record a live album at Mauch Chunk and what surprises/revelations emerged during the making of it?
A: I love the fact that the recording studio is right next door. No surprises.
Q: Who is your role-model vocalist and why?
A: Too many! Maybe Dylan, Sting, Willie [Nelson] Hayes Carll, Hank Snow?
Q: What tops your Bucket List? Musicians have told me everything from touring the world to world peace.
A: Touring Europe?
Q: What tops your Fuckit list? Musicians have told me everything from crushing spirit-crushing religions (that wish came from a former Jehovah’s Witness) to death to all snakes (I told Suzy Bogguss she should move to serpent-free Ireland).
A: Fuck bullies! All of them! I had enough of that in kindergarten.
Q: Are your parents fans of Bovine Social Club?
A: They be long gone! They be dust now but do pop up nearly every day in my mind.
Q: What was on the menu of the meal you and your band mates made for VIP Barnyard members in January at the Castle Inn in Delaware Water Gap?
A: Bourbon Pecan Pie and a dozen other things to die for.
Q: Since your memoir is titled “Frying Spam and Other Things to Do Before the Rapture,” I just have to ask you: What’s your most creative use of Spam? And what ingredients would comprise a dish called Rapture Spam?
A: Oh God. I’ve never made a single dish from Spam. That was my mother’s hell. She’d fry it in oil and throw it on the plate. That’s it!
Samuel Saint Thomas: The Scoop
After dropping out of a Pentecostal seminary as a teen, he promoted Christian rockers (Petra, Phil Keaggy) in Philadelphia.
He left concert promotion for life in an Appalachian hermitage, where he studied the teachings of St. Francis.
He helped establish a Christian commune in Eureka Springs, Ark., with John Michael Talbot, the musical monk and humanitarian. He and Talbot raised money, awareness and other forms of relief for poor people in the U.S., Central America and Europe. Along the way he met Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama.
He received a master’s degree in creative writing from Wroxton College, a British satellite of Fairleigh Dickinson University.
He played “Blue Christmas” during a Poconos holiday benefit with Bob Dorough, the late jazz pianist and hip composer.
He and drummer Jeff Barg decided to start Bovine Social Club during a birthday party for Railroad Earth founder Tim Carbone, who produced BSC’s 2012 CD debut.
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. Like Samuel Saint Thomas he has no recipes for Spam. He can be reached at email@example.com.