group shot by Andrew Frisicano
Julian Koster, Rudolph, and Badger
Andrew Frisicano’s Bushwick Apartment
Saturday, December 13th
Over an hour after the crowd gathered at Andrew Frisicano’s Bushwick apartment, a small dog appeared at the top of the stairs and sniffed into the living room, leash dangling behind him. “That’s Rudolph,” said once/future Neutral Milk Hotel sawman Julian Koster, arriving a moment later, singing saw under one arm, banjo under the other. A friend carried a small thrift store organ. The Music Tapes leader wore holiday red Converse All-Stars and a matching turtle-necked sweater.
Frisicano and his roommates, who opened their apartment to anyone interested in coming, were one of the last stops on Koster’s month-long saw-caroling tour, coordinated via cell phones and a Gmail account. They’d signed up a few weeks ago, only receiving notification that morning about Koster’s imminent arrival. Sitting down in front of the Christmas tree–mostly traditional, with a wrestling belt around the base for good hipster-kitsch measure–Koster introduced the crowd to Badger, his saw. Rudolph curled up nearby, though never sat still for too long.
Comparing saws with resident CJ Knowles, photo by Andrew Frisicano
Meanwhile, the twenty-plus post-college kids sprawled on the couches and floor tried to figure out what to make of Koster and his disarming bowl haircut. Whimsical doesn’t quite cut it. “This song was actually first flown by a young blind girl, actually, who mistook it for a kite and nobody in her village had the heart to tell her it was actually a song,” said Koster earnestly. “She would fly it every December, because that was the windy season in the village, and all the villagers would amass to hear the song, but she had always thought the villagers had come to see her fly her beautiful kite, and she was very proud of this,” said Koster matter-of-factly. “She died believing that, in 1902. It was passed from hand to hand ever since, and that was how Badger learned it. And it’s called ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing.'” Koster then played “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Badger warbled gorgeously.
Koster begged off singing a song with the organ, his voice slightly ragged from performing up to five free house shows a night. (There’s an accompanying album, The Singing Saw at Christmastime, but Koster certainly never mentioned it.) A few flat-picked songs on banjo, plus more from Badger (who bowed to the crowd after each number) finished out the “set.” Koster declined the lukewarm Jameson-laced hot chocolate lingering on the stove and then set off with dog, banjo, and friends for a loft show a few blocks away. —Jesse Jarnow