Jason Braun’s blog of making text, apps, music, and other things. | jason.lee.braun@gmail.com | 314-614-3717

Jason and the Beast Featured in The Belleville News Democrat:

Jason and the Beast — Puck would like this music

Published: July 19, 2012 Updated 3 hours ago

By Video, story and photos by Zia Nizami — News-Democrat

It’s Saturday night and a small group of hiphop fans sip Miller Highlife in the dark corners of the Firebird in St. Louis as they wait for the show to start.

The opening act, Jason and the Beast take the stage. As saxophone player Adam Sirgany improvises over DJ Matt Jones’ driving hip-hop beats, Jason Braun starts rapping in a spoken word style more akin to beat poet Allen Ginsberg than Snoop Dog.

I am that merry wanderer of the night I am that sight the Beast let loose in Bookhouse Well read but Faust read too in smoky light Stretched tight as snaring drum or strings of Strauss I have lead young lovers ‘stray with serpent tongue Hitting graveyard shifts at coffee shops Spiked the preachers punch Smoked the teacher lung Skipped out on tab but didn’t stiff the bellhop I learned my tricks from Beatniks Let’s Drink to them let’s drink to us Let’s skinny dip with dead of river Styx And knock the dust off Ken Kesey’s bus.

— “The Beast in the Bookhouse.”

Watching Braun confidently belt out his cerebral verses, you would think you were watching someone with a lifelong affinity for the written word. You would be wrong. “I didn’t learn to read till I was 6 and I didn’t enjoy reading till I was 17,” said Braun. “I didn’t even read books on my own volition until my junior year of high school, so I was really a late bloomer.” Braun, 34, grew up near Hecker and attended Waterloo High School. His interest in writing and literature was sparked during his junior year in high school.

Watching Braun confidently belt out his cerebral verses, you would think you were watching someone with a lifelong affinity for the written word. You would be wrong. “I didn’t learn to read till I was 6 and I didn’t enjoy reading till I was 17,” said Braun. “I didn’t even read books on my own volition until my junior year of high school, so I was really a late bloomer.” Braun, 34, grew up near Hecker and attended Waterloo High School. His interest in writing and literature was sparked during his junior year in high school.

“It was Shakespeare that really brought me around. Through reading it aloud, I was able to hear what we were talking about and I was able to make guesses about what these words meant,” Braun said. “He wasn’t writing something to be inflicted as a sort of punishment to high school students. He was writing a show. I didn’t get pleasure for reading the words silently , but to hear the ideas, the jokes — to hear the show.”

Braun started writing poems when he was a senior, and went on to join “Jupiter Jazz,” a musical group that combined indie rock with hiphop and spoken-word poetry. After Jupiter Jazz broke up, Braun started working on a collection of sonnets that would become his first solo album entitled “Birth of the Beast.” His stage name “Jason and the BEAST” is an acknowledgement of the duality of good and evil that exists in all of us. “The idea was a Jekyll and Hyde kind of thing. It plays on the idea that every rapper has a real name and a stage name,” Braun said. “People think poetry is reserved and calm and they think hiphop is aggressive. I wanted to dramatize that misconception and prove that they are the same. Inside all of us there are these various beasts. “

Artists like the Wu Tang Clan and the Beastie Boys may have inspired Braun to become a rapper but he also has some truly “old school” influences.

“I thought if I want to prove hip-hop is poetry, why not use the tools of the old guard, of the staunch formal poets, and turn it into hip-hop. The first sonnet that I said ‘This should be a rap song’ was the ‘Beast in the Book House.’ It starts ‘I am the merry wanderer of the night,’ which is a line from Puck in Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ So I take that line and imagine how a modern day Puck might be and I put in a little bit of autobiography.”

Braun lives in Edwardsville and is working on his master’s degree in English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He also teaches undergraduate English classes. His editor and faculty adviser, Valerie Vogrin, has a strong appreciation for his music.

“What I think is brilliant about what Jason is doing is that he is trying really hard to combine all of his various passions, his passion for music, for the spoken word, performance, for the written word, poetry, for classic poets,” said Vogrin, a professor of English at SIUE. “He is also really interested in contemporary culture whether it’s hip-hop or rap. It really enlivens all of it. It brings people my age who go to a performance (and) we get one thing out of it and people coming at more of the hip hop angle get a different thing out of it.”

Braun’s latest project is “Made This For You— The Mix Tape is Literature.” The songs are interspersed with excerpts from Braun’s KDHX-FM (88.1) radio show, “Literature for the Halibut,” and recordings Braun made with his iPhone while he was hanging out with his friends.

Braun has also developed an iphone app called “Paradise Lost Office” that provides business advice and a guide to office politics based on John Milton’s poem “Paradise Lost.”

After his set at the Firebird, Braun spends time talking with members of the audience about his music and passes out copies of his new CD.

“When I’m putting on shows, I think that’s a form of teaching. I want to be entertaining first but I also want to kick knowledge,” Braun said. “People are makers now and I believe it makes them better fans as well.

“I believe, whether or not anyone gets famous, writing a song or writing a poem or making a film — I think if you do that you’ve enriched your own life. You’ve taken a risk and you’ve made a small mark on the world even if it’s just for friends and family to see.”

 

 

 

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