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Ben Cragg – Playing Chess Against Yourself

Ben Cragg is the mysterious frontman of The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band.  Hailing from Auckland, or “The Prague of the South”, The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band have built a significant following with their unique, energetic and strangely infectious brand of gypsy music.

Their popularity continued to grow with the release of their critically acclaimed, Danse Macabre. Its single, The Dance of Death spent four weeks on the Kiwi FM Top Ten, and its video lingered for 6 months on the Amplifier Top Ten. 

 

Music Review

Benka is just one of Ben’s many onstage personas (though perhaps the most outspoken, and certainly the most heavily accented). Ben is also an actor, writer, MC and producer. It’s no wonder he needs extra versions of himself to keep track of his creative work.

The Dance of Death by Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band

Rather than be interviewed alone, Ben has chosen to include them all here, a sort of panel discussion in his own head if you will…

Playing Chess Against Yourself

CAST OF CHARACTERS

BEN: Performer-composer-maker, or deformed-decomposing-faker? Likes to think of himself as a master of all trades, jack of none; but he’s probably wrong. Will try anything twice.

BENJAMIN: Teller of Stories and Master of Ceremonies, Benjamin Wolff is always on cue with a steady hand, a quick wit and a sonorous voice.

THE G-MAN: He was trouble from the beginning. The G-Man, while rarely heard to speak, tells volumes when the agony and ecstasy pours forth from the music.

Benny: The gently spoken, extravagantly dressed Benny Profane sings songs of the pain of love and the love of pain, while playing melodies that cascade off the piano and guitar, and weave around him.

Benka: When the enigmatic Benka Boradovsky ascends the stage, the room is swept into a frenzy behind songs of war, drink, dance, love, loss, pain and freedom. His clarinet and accordion dance in a mad fury while his voice soars across octaves of debauchery and passion.

THE INTERVIEW

BEN (in monologue): The bee works busily at the flower, skillfully gathering its nectar in a dexterous flurry. Standing close by is the bee-watcher, analyzing the bee’s work and sometime getting lost in the beauty of its movement. A little way off stands the bee-watcher-watcher, marvelling at the attentiveness of the bee-watcher, but also questioning his motivation, and wondering about its other lives. He in turn is gazed upon by the bee-watcher-watcher-watcher. And so on… But at times these watchers become so embroiled in their thoughts that they become bees themselves, and bzzz off to work upon a flower of their own. Sometimes many flowers are being harvested at the same time. But an unwatched bee can be an unpredictable thing…

BENKA: What is all this jabber-jibber, hmmm?

BEN: Sorry… I get a little carried away at times.

BENKA: No, is very nice story, but what the hell is it about?

BEN: Ah. Well, you see, I was trying to explain the idea of multiple consciousnesses all working at once… Like, you can be doing one thing, and have other thought processes analysing that thing, and in turn, each other, but you can also be thinking about multiple things at the same time – like listening to multiple different conversations at the same time and understanding all of them.

BENJAMIN: And this is how your mind works?

BEN: Well, it’s the best explanation I’ve come up with so far…I don’t really like all the pigeon-holing that goes on these days. A lot of labels get bandied around: depression, anxiety, obsession… But those aren’t really the right fit, and the aspects that do fit are more symptoms of the way my mind works than the causes.

BENJAMIN: But the way you describe it, the manner in which your mind works seems to be a very useful thing!

BEN: Well, it definitely is, in ways… It means I can think about topics from a wide range of angles, which is handy for a natural skeptic. I like to play the devil’s advocate against myself. It’s also handy for getting into the head of characters with different perspectives from mine, both in acting and in writing… But it also has some strange, and even negative effects.

BENNY: I’m always into kinda weird things…

BEN: Well, one example is that I like to play chess against myself … I can kinda distance the two sides, in a way … I also like to be stimulated by multiple media at the same time – like reading a book while listening to a lecture.

BENNY: That still sounds pretty fun!

BEN: True. Okay, one strange thing is the way I view public personas. Not being anyone else, I’m not sure how other people experience this, but I feel that we all change our behaviour a lot in different situations. But in these situations, I am simultaneously aware of and analysing my own behavioural changes, and, sometimes, trying to control them… This makes me feel awkward when ‘trying to be myself’… I’m much more comfortable in public if I take on a ‘character’. Whenever I perform on stage, I take on some sort of guise. This way, I can freely relax into this and not have to worry about it.

BENKA: What, so you’re saying I’m some kind of puppet? Hmmm?

BEN: In a way, yes. It’s helpful because, in Benka’s case, I’m also fronting a band, so there’s lots of other things to think about, such as what song’s next, when I have to conduct the band, the audience, the lighting, etc. Benka can just be Benka, and not worry, but I can still think about all the important things somewhere else in there.

This is also why I love acting so much – I love creating a character around myself, sort of like building a shell, but a creative interesting one (not necessarily a pretty one, of course – a lot of characters aren’t pretty!)

BENJAMIN: Yes, we are all just shells really, aren’t we..

BEN: Not quite… Other characters are temporary shells, to be shed and discarded, but you three and the G-man, you’re built of sturdier, and more personal stuff. There’s a little more of me in all of you than the others, in a way…

BENKA: Ha! I knew we were special!

BEN: Yes indeed. You, Benka, take out and accentuate my wild side – the want to dance and get everyone else dancing too! Benjamin takes out my desire to be flamboyant and a little ostentatious, high-brow.

Benny’s different again though. He’s more transparent than the other puppets. I like to try to let him speak some of the other thoughts that are running in the background of my consciousness, at times.

BENNY: That’s nice to know. But none of this seems that negative yet!

BEN: Well, on the most side it isn’t. But there are negatives. Over-thinking so much leads me to get easily obsessed about things – and obsession is a dangerous beast. When multiple consciousnesses are all repeating the same thoughts over and over, it can get kinda painful.
Also obsession can be rather unhelpful in relationships – and I have to constantly monitor that! (Although I think all people suffer obsession in this way – just like all people suffer grief when losing a loved one – but for those of us who tend to obsess naturally, it becomes more intense).

BENJAMIN: Are there any particular experiences you’d like to share with the group?

BEN: Well, the earliest I can think of is when I was a child. I’m not sure how old – about 5 or 6 perhaps. Around this age, for a period (I can’t remember how long – it could have been a month, it could have been a year) whenever I closed my eyes, I’d hear voices. Never words though. At first it would only be a couple, but whispering in such quiet susurration that I couldn’t make them out. As they’d get louder more would arrive, so they’d be so garbled that I still couldn’t understand them. Eventually there’d be hundreds, thousands of voices shouting, screaming at me. Then I’d HAVE to open my eyes.

BENNY: That doesn’t sound fun!

BEN: No, it sure wasn’t. But it wasn’t all bad things at that age either. One of my folks told me that when I was young, I asked, ‘What do people mean when they say they’re bored?’ to which they replied, ‘Well, it means they’ve got nothing to do’. I responded, ‘But why don’t they just think about stuff?’
Also from a young age, I’ve been interested in the differentiation between dreams and reality. I think the way my brain works helps me to achieve lucid dreaming, which is a grand pleasure. Of course, it is also part of the cause of my insomnia as well … so there’s a balance.

BENJAMIN: Well, you’ve talked a lot about how it helps you with performing, but how about in the creation process?

BEN: As I mentioned before, it means I can look at things from multiple perspectives at the same time – be my own devil’s advocate, if you will. This is helpful in songwriting, because I feel I can create a more complete image that way, by thinking about how the individual parts (harmonies, melodies, lyrics) of the song I’m writing all stand by themselves, while thinking about how they work together to form a whole. Also, I use my experiences a lot as inspiration. It was thinking about the nature of obsession, and the danger of it, that led me to write The Building, which is my favourite story thus far!

BENJAMIN: Well, as MC here, I guess it’s up to me to wrap things up, and that seems a fine place to end. Thank you for coming along, Benka and Benny. Very nice to meet you both. I hope we do it again soon.

BEN: We could play some chess…

BENKA: Next time, maybe The G-Man will show up? I’d like to meet with that guy!

BEN: He’s been here the whole time… Hey, G-Man!

G-MAN: Uh… hi…

BENJAMIN: He doesn’t say much does he?

BEN: Well, no one does, compared to you guys. But give him a guitar, he talks even more than Benka!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKhS71T4atY

**********

The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band – www.myspace.com/bbbordello

Album “Polkapocalypse” available now from record stores and www.monkeyrecords.com

Benny Profane – www.myspace.com/bennyprofane

Writing – http://volponeprofane.livejournal.com/

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