Monday, August 19

UCLA Professor Paul R. Abramson co-creates punk band Crying 4 Kafka

Paul R. Abramson co-created the band Crying 4 Kafka to change the world in a positive way by reaching a more diverse audience

Psychology Professor Paul Abramson co-created punk rock group Crying 4 Kafka.

Psychology Professor Paul Abramson co-created punk rock group Crying 4 Kafka. courtesy of ANN PURDY

If it weren’t for a typewriter orchestra, he might just be known as the professor who knows absolutely everything about sex. But Paul R. Abramson, a UCLA professor of psychology, can now add a token of conversation to his distinguished résumé ““ punk rock front man.

Abramson, one of the world’s leading human sexuality experts, recently took the leap from recreational lyricist to co-creator of punk band Crying 4 Kafka, which uses punk rock to promote psychological strategies for social issues.

“I’ve always been interested in the craft of (writing lyrics), but more so with a mission,” Abramson said. “I want to change the world in a very positive and effective way. That’s what a lot of my books are about. … But always in my mind I was finding an effective way to reach a more diverse audience.”

After graduating with a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1976, Abramson became a professor in the UCLA psychology department, where he has taught since.

His past credentials include technical advisor for the World Health Organization’s Global Program on AIDS, editor of the Journal of Sex Research and chairperson of the Western Psychological Association. With 109 published works under his belt, including 10 books, Abramson’s current work regards the interface between sexuality and the law.

The decision to begin creating music came only a year ago as an epiphany to Abramson while driving from Sacramento to UC Davis, where he was an expert witness to a litigation case. On the radio, NPR featured an interview with the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.

“It was phenomenal,” Abramson said. “They make all their music with electric typewriters. And I thought, “˜If they can create an orchestra based on typewriters, I can do a rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Abramson, who has written lyrics for several years, quickly recorded a song titled “Demons Come Dance” in a friend’s studio. The song resonates personally with Abramson, who grew up with an oppressive father.

“It’s really about our psychological demons,” Abramson said. “The chorus, “˜Demons come, demons go, step aside, let them flow,’ to me had meaning. All these demons come within us and you try not to empower them. We spend so much time fighting or controlling demons that we give our lives away to them.”

Like “Demons Come Dance”, which became a mini-hit near Halloween, Abramson draws from both musical and personal experiences in creating lyrics injected with social evaluation.

As an expert witness in sex crimes, many involving child molestation, Abramson is constantly confronting serious situations that have turned into song themes.

“I’d had a couple of horrendous cases of mothers doing terrible things to their kids, fathers doing terrible things,” Abramson said.

Abramson said the song, “Fuck Mom, Fuck Dad”, was meant to acknowledge that not all children are raised in an idealistic home.

Greg Graffin, lead singer for punk rock idols Bad Religion and a personal friend to Abramson who has watched Crying 4 Kafka progress, noted Abramson’s wide range of directions in his artistic creation.

“He grew up when I was just a kid, so his influence was from a whole bunch of sources that I was not even aware of,” Graffin said. “So musically he’s got a rich, diverse array of influences. But strangely, he still likes Bad Religion.”

After dabbling in the studio for a while, a failed first attempt at a musical duo led Abramson to friend, poet, guitarist and composer Steve Stewart (who writes poetry under the pen name harry k stammer).

“Steve Stewart really isn’t all that memorable,” Stewart said.

Interested in starting a punk band, Stewart and Abramson began playing what Stewart calls old-school progressive punk.

“We’re old-school in the sense that we’re just trying to play really fast and really loud, noisy, in your face music,” Stewart said. “I just love making noise.”

The name Crying 4 Kafka is a bit more complex in theory.

“I was at (Greg Graffin’s) house in New York with him and his wife, and I had come up with all these band names,” Abramson said. “I took verbs from the poet Jack Spicer who I liked a lot, and nouns of proper names from the poet Allen Ginsberg, and I put a number between them. They laughed the hardest when I said Crying 4 Kafka.”

Along with drummer Barry Birmingham and bass player Joe Dean, Crying 4 Kafka has played a slew of gigs throughout California. Paul Dugre ““ who has worked with Weezer, Jane’s Addiction and Billy Corgan ““ mastered the band’s first CD, which is due out soon. The band is even tentatively scheduled to open for Bad Religion at its House of Blues shows on March 24 and 25.

For Graffin, the appeal of Crying 4 Kafka is their focus on thoughtful, clever lyrics and thought-provoking meaning in their songs.

“What I like about his band is that their songs are artistic,” Graffin said. “Some of them border on an artsy-punk style, which is kind of a classic, original Los Angeles tradition.”

A collaborative effort between Abramson writing and Stewart composing has neither gathered moss nor brewed conflict among the band members, all of whom are at least past age 50. Fighting the classic rock ‘n’ roll image designated by their age, the band keeps a speed-injected punk beat while forgoing the band fistfights.

Even the co-composers remain cordial, a relationship notoriously plagued with difficulty.

“Paul is really good at collaborating,” Stewart said “He doesn’t mind reworking things, and if you’re halfway mature, you should be able to put that stuff aside and finish the music. But I can’t make any promises. You might come to a show and see us getting into a fistfight. It is a punk band after all.”

For Abramson, the road less traveled seems to be a life strategy, not just a fluke that led to a punk rock band.

“My band hates me saying this, but I’ve never been interested in making any money off of this,” Abramson said. “A lot of bands say “˜How much are they going to pay us?’ But for me it’s “˜What would be an interesting event to be involved in?’ So I’m up for anything that’s interesting. I like the energy and the intensity and the challenge in it.”

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