SBIFF Explores the Promise of the Poet

By Steven Libowitz   |   January 23, 2020
Singer-songwriter Eric Andersen is the subject of director Paul Lamont’s latest documentary, The Songpoet, which premieres January 23 at SBIFF (photo by Paolo Brillo)

Although the project was 10 years in the making, director Paul Lamont remembers exactly why he wanted to make The Songpoet, his nearly two-hour exploration of the conflicts of career, family, ego, relationships, and sheer talent vs. achievement that have propelled the great American singer-songwriter Eric Andersen through his half-century-plus career. It was a moment he remembers from several decades earlier, in fact.

“I was in high school, and I found a copy of The Best of Eric Andersen in the 39-cent bin at a record store and I thought the cover was great. I put the needle down on the LP, and I was hooked immediately. Then he disappeared.”

That, in a microcosm, captures the appeal and intrigue of Andersen, who plied the coffeehouse circuit in Greenwich Village not long after Bob Dylan, and, armed with a disarming voice and lyrically poetic songs – three of the most famous of which, “Thirsty Boots,” “Violets of Dawn,” and “Close the Door Lightly When You Go,” showed up on his 1966 album – was set to soar into stardom when his newly acquired manager, famed Beatles impresario Brian Epstein, suddenly died. Five years later, his 1972 album Blue River, which opened with one of his most evocative songs, “Is It Really Love at All,” found him again on the precipice of commercial success only to have the label lose the master of his follow-up LP.

But Andersen, whose career surely wasn’t helped by his move to the Netherlands, has continued to explore and grow, as indicated by his 2017 album Mingle With the Universe: The Worlds of Lord Byron, an opus employing the poet’s words with his music, which he previewed in a Sings Like Hell concert at the Lobero that April.

“He’s been flying under the radar for so many years when he should be on everybody’s playlist,” explained Lamont. “But when I ran it by my producer, he said ‘Who?’ That’s a story that needed to be told, for people who love him as much as I do as well as those who don’t know who he is.”

After gaining the songwriter’s confidence, Lamont combed through decades worth of Andersen’s diaries, even though Andersen could have told the story himself. “But I thought the best approach to understand the person, the man and the artist was through what he wrote, what he was feeling at any given time,” he said. “We talked to him, of course, but the real truth lies in the journals. Eric allowed the private image to come to the foreground for the movie, and he said we got to the core of who he is.”

The Songpoet unspools at a very deliberate almost painstaking pace, slow and contemplative, like both Andersen and his music.

“Exactly,” Lamont said. “We wanted it to be symbolic of who he is and the arc of his music, which isn’t in your face. The music is part of the narrative, the lyrics help to tell the story. You have to listen to it and absorb it.”

Audiences will have a chance to take in both the U.S. premiere of the movie, the filmmakers and the artist, when Andersen joins in the post-screening Q&A on Thursday evening, January 23, and Friday morning, January 24, before heading down to Santa Monica for a performance at McCabe’s that night.


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