Meet Luno, the alter ego of 32-year-old Massachusetts native Norman Chaplin: musician, songwriter, author and former stripper at San Francisco’s impeccably named Nob Hill Theatre. (Find it on Bush Street.) Untrained, teaching himself guitar and piano as a teenager, he begun recording in the late 90s as Loosey, duetting with his cousin Klizzie for the album Bathmat Flowers.
It’s not until 2002 that his story takes a more unusual turn. As Luno, he records debut album Kid, self-released the following year. Thus begins a prolific streak of recording that seems to have culminated in the release of at least half a dozen albums in 2012. (2013 is young though - he’s already released an album and two singles, and is planning more…) In 2004, he moves from New England to San Francisco, where the aforementioned stripping and hustling gave inspiration to his 2006 and 2007 albums Notes from Little Saigon and Music for Drunken Anti-Socialites.
So what of the music? Well his influences seem very wide reaching - though he describes his work on Bandcamp as “blues” (and “queer) there are also elements of folk, Americana and even modern r’n’b. His guitar playing is almost percussive, in a kind of Les Claypool way.
At first listen, lyrically this seems to be covering some very sleazy territory. But a closer look suggests something far more involved. Let’s take the track ‘Neptune’, from 2012 album Queen - a song that repeats the line “he was a hot motherfucker” eleven times, as well as the line “and the pollywog flogged his hog like a good little sea dog”. Neptune, of course, is the God of the sea, and as such has become a point of reference in Naval initiation ceremonies. At this point I’ll hand over to Luno himself:
One widely known ritual involves ‘Pollywogs’ (new naval recruits) being baptized before and even interrogated by a representation of Neptune upon their initial crossing of the equator. The ceremony often includes considerable hazing, which inevitably reminded me of fraternities and sports clubs. (“And the pollywog flogged his hog like a good little sea dog.”)
Of course, the planet Neptune was named for the deity due to the rich blue color of its atmosphere. I mention its twelve moons (of which it actually has thirteen) in relation to the apostles of Christ and the arguably misogynist revisionism which excludes the thirteenth.
If one concept proved essential to Queen from the very beginning, it is the celebration of sexuality, (which I believe Neptune celebrates to begin with,) as well as to make a thorough mockery of patriarchal and monotheistic authority.
Outsiders haven’t been this far outside the closet since Peter Grudzien, nor this seemingly sleazy since Tonetta, and seldom do they lend as much meaning and back story to their music. There is lots more I could say about his work, but since he likes to let the music speak for itself as far as possible, my best advice is to listen with intent.
Of his vast output from the last ten years, my personal favourites are the aforementioned Notes from Little Saigon, an autobiographical account of his stripping years, and Filth: Nude, a remixed version of his Filth album that strips (excuse the pun) it of all synth parts, leaving only his voice and an absolutely unique guitar sound. But there’s so much to find here that you’re bound to find your own favourites.
He currently offers free downloads from three Bandcamp accounts, each covering a different period of output:
He was kind enough to send me links to his pre-2010 catalogue, including Notes from Little Saigon, but I won’t be posting links to them just yet, as he intends on remastering much of this output. I will be sure to link to these as and when. He is currently renovating his blog, which will also link to his work:
Music for Drunken Anti-Socialites
Furthermore, he is a founder and curator of the A Pile of Lo-Fi! net-label, and he has published The Boys Room, a collection of poetry exploring themes of “nature, self and sexuality.” This is free to read online, but requires a subscription to Scribd to download or print.
Thanks to Norman for his assistance in putting this post together. Also, thank you Aggie for the belated Christmas present!