"I'm a one-man weirdo garage band from San Francisco called The Slow Poisoner, and I have a gig coming up in your neck of the woods!"
So went the email Andrew Goldfarb sent last summer, plugging his appearance at SLC Solo Fest. He had me at "weirdo." In this job, you fester to find your next favorite band, or hear your new favorite song. Since these occasions are rare, you'll settle for the other end of the spectrum—something exceptionally odd or terrible, the sort of artist you'd file under the esoteric genre "Cool and Strange Music." In between is a bunch of stuff that ranges from meh to average to good, and these blur together into a boring miasma. So, like a gargoyle, you sit. And you wait for something to cut through and demand your attention.
Goldfarb, aka The Slow Poisoner, had me at weirdo, but further embedded his hooks with other adjectives, like "catchy" and "offbeat." He wrote of playing just an electric guitar and a kick drum, and singing about "swamp witches, sinister flowers, strange hungers and giant worms that drive hot rods." Already, I was drooling like a ravenous beast who'd been imprisoned for millennia, growing hungrier.
And then there was gravy: Under his given name, Goldfarb is also a visual artist. His work dwells somewhere between the bankably fun lowbrow genre of Robert Williams, et al., and the spare outsider/folk art of our own late local treasure—and my friend—Bob Moss. In particular, Moss' pieces that were inspired by '50s horror and sci-fi imagery, which depicted monsters that reflect grotesque components of the human psyche (like "The Man With the Upper-Jaw Nose," who weeps at his own perceived deformity). Goldfarb's "Velvety Mysteries" paintings are inspired by Universal Monsters, '50s horror/sci-fi and greaser culture, Warner Brothers cartoons and—in the case of "Bowels of Hell," his take on Belphegor, a demon often depicted smoking a cigarette—Satano-scatological swap-meet art.
Goldfarb is also the author of several graphic novels that merge the alternative comics world of R. Crumb and Dan Clowes with L'il Abner, Ed Wood, H.P. Lovecraft, H.R. Pufnstuf, absinthe and acid—and he rubs shoulders with bizarro fiction authors like Carlton Mellick III (The Haunted Vagina, The Morbidly Obese Ninja), often contributing his own short stories to bizarro anthologies. For a time, Goldfarb even sold snake oil: The Slow Poisoner Genuine Enervating Elixir Miracle Tonic cured 16 different ailments—including consumption, women's troubles, onanism, wandering limbs and excessive absences. (Alas, the FDA forced Goldfarb to cease and desist.) For fans of unabashed, gleeful weirdness, guys like Goldfarb are—gush—the total package.
It turns out this isn't City Weekly's first encounter with Goldfarb's work. Around 15 years ago, a CD and press kit for a chamber-pop band called The Slow Poisoners showed up, plugging the band's upcoming Salt Lake City show. It was one of the first press kits I received, and although I hadn't listened to it in many years, I recalled it fondly—so much so, that it regularly survives periodic collection culls. Could there be a connection?
Goldfarb, speaking with City Weekly from his clerical job at a Bay Area school district (where, fittingly, he works in the bowels of the place where "there's nothin' but boxes and rats"), confirms it. The Slow Poisoners was originally a quintet led by Goldfarb and his brother Ed, who now composes music for Pokémon. Their songs mined whimsical darkness, but minus the camp—with songs about politics and love. After 10 years and three outstanding albums, the project evolved into The Slow Poisoner's current one-man iteration, favoring a more rockabilly sound.
Like most creatives, Goldfarb's day gig subsidizes his alter ego's creative endeavors, although, he says, it's not so "alter" anymore. "My personality is pretty unified at this point," he says. Although The Slow Poisoner is his nom de tune and he paints and writes as Andrew Goldfarb, they've "sort of merged into one semi-coherent being." And as such, TSP is not a character. "It's not like Pee Wee Herman. It doesn't require shifting into a different accent."
As The Slow Poisoner, Goldfarb has released five albums, and a handful of EPs and singles. His latest, Ever Been Chewed Upon By Teeth as Sharp as Knives? (Rocktopus, 2014), is 13 tracks of creepy, reverby songs, including "Hot Rod Worm" (for which horror author, filmmaker and musician John Skipp directed an animated video), "Hypno-Hog's Moonshine Monster Jamboree" and a cover of Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on My Trail." The highlight, though, is "Knives," the perfect distillation of The Slow Poisoner's best traits. It's funky and fun with genuine creeps: "Ever been chewed upon by teeth as sharp as knives?/ Well so have I .../ Ever had your head removed by goblins in the woods? You know it's good."
The Slow Poisoner is even better live, with Goldfarb performing on a set of his own creation, flanked by creatures straight from his songs and books—including dancing spiders, severed fingers and a giant head that devours him onstage. He even brings a Chinese mystery trunk loaded with books, music loaded with books, music and velvet paintings that he sells in lieu of T-shirts. Ever had your spine chilled by The Slow Poisoner? You know it's good.