Kieran McGee in the News
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Ash Wednesday, February, 2002
Kid Folk, April 18, 2003



Rave April 18, 2003

Kid Folk

By Corey Levitan

Kieran McGee could be accused of hitching a ride on the singer/songwriter train chugging across the pop landscape. But the New York musician has been recording albums of the wrench-your-heart-with-acoustic-guitar-strings genus since 1995.

Palpably more impressive is his age at that time: 13.

“I bought a four-track recorder, and I was just writing songs,” says McGee, now a ripe old 21. “I didn’t really tell anyone what I was doing, then I started making little tapes for friends and stuff.”

Recorded in his mom’s basement in upstate Pine Bush, N.Y., those cassettes contained a dozen original songs, all reflecting a deep understanding of the oldest strains of folk, blues and country. They were packaged with liner notes and everything.

“I’d go down to the copy store and make little covers for them,” says McGee, who doesn’t see his do-it-yourself ingenuity as any great shakes. By 14, McGee was selling those cassettes, on consignment, to record stores in Manhattan.

“I’d bring 10 or 15 of them on each trip,” he says, “and they all sold.”

A year later, McGee found himself playing blues festivals and bars he was six years to young to enter through the front door.

“There were a few times we showed up, and they wouldn’t let us play,” he says.

He was also reviewed by national magazines. Said Entertainment Weekly, of his first commercially available album, 1997’s “Left For Dead,” “McGee delivers his songs with gut-rattling ferocity and insight beyond his years.”

McGee’s always had an old soul. While most seventh-graders read Mad Magazine, his mind feasted on Rimbaud and Jack Kerouac.

“Well, I was reading Mad Magazine, too,” he says, laughing.

While his classmates listened to Poison, McGee taught himself guitar to his father’s Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie records.

“Well I have to admit…”

No, not Poison, too!

“Yes, I liked Poison, too.” McGee says, laughing again. “Oh, God.”

But there is an uglier reason for the true ringing adult-strength emotions saturating McGee’s music…recording wasn’t the only thing McGee was doing in private. He was also snorting heroin.

“It just happened that I knew somebody and I tried it,” he says.

“Since I was living upstate, without a car, I wasn’t doing it that much. But when I moved into the city, I could get it all the time.”

“Eventually, it caught up with me, and I wasn’t writing music or doing anything,” he says.

One night, in 2000, the love of McGee’s life --- a music fanzine editor he‘d been seeing since they were in eighth grade – died of a heroin overdose before his eyes.

“Poor Odessa in the Hotel Grand./The picture of decadence sprawled across the bed/a bottle of pills in her hand.”

Amy’s death haunts “Odessa” and most of the 17 other mandolin-spiked songs slated for a forthcoming McGee album, recently recorded in upstate Ellenville, NY.

“I was so messed up that it didn’t hit me until about five months later,” McGee says of the tragedy. “I was there when she passed away, but I was so closed off from myself that I wouldn’t let myself believe it.”

Less than a year after Amy’s death, another close friend of McGee’s (the girl who introduced him to heroin) died after being hit by a car.

Yet another friend then died of a heroin overdose, leaving behind a 6-year-old child she gave birth to in her teens.

McGee then overdosed himself, on the animal tranquilizer ketamine hydrochloride (street name: Special K).

Add to the life experience McGee is way too young to have: rehabbing. He bounced between two hospitals and three mental-health facilities, which diagnosed him with clinical depression. (He began writing his new album at Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, N. Y.)

“When I turned 21, it just hit me – I was only 21 and all this (expletive) had already happened,” says McGee, who now has more than two years of sobriety. “I wish it hadn’t happened, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Maybe I am an old soul.”

Although none of his albums have been released by a major label, McGee has enjoyed an honor bestowed on few musicians of any stature.

Because of connections through his father (Carl Perkins friend and biographer David McGee), Kieran was able to record his 1998 song set, “Ash Wednesday,” at Sun Studios in Memphis.

This is the puny but magical room where the young Elvis Presley’s voice was first grooved into wax for the masses.

“That was a really incredible experience,” McGee says.

For a while, Rounder Records distributed Clean Cuts, the Baltimore-based indie label that released “Left For Dead.”

However, by the time “Ash Wednesday” was ready for release, left for dead had become an accurate description of Clean Cuts. The album never had a proper release.

But commercial success can’t be that important to someone whose soul is aligned with the great troubadours and bluesmen of yesteryear. Right?

“It’s not something I really worry about,” McGee says, “because I know somebody out there will put my music out eventually.”

“It would be better if it was sooner than later, but it’s not eating me up inside.”

There probably isn’t enough room for more things to eat McGee up inside anyway.






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