Quintron, arguably the best one-name performer since Prince or Cher, is no stranger to Memphis. Due to his indefatigable touring, he's actually acquainted with much of the world, but he has a special affinity with Memphis' indie spirit, typified by his organ work on albums by the Oblivions and his own releases on Goner Records.
And by "indie spirit," I don't mean "indie" in the generic alt-rock sense, but an imagination that follows its own muse, conventions be damned. One could guess as much by his unpredictable songs, his one-man-band approach, his self-made Drum Buddy (an analog rhythm machine), and the puppet shows staged by his colleague and partner, Miss Pussycat, during his performances.
Now, with Europa My Mirror, a book just released by Goner, he's also an author. Ostensibly a chronicle of Quintron's last European tour, it exudes the sweat and stink that all road-hog troubadours know well. Indeed, it should be required reading for any aspiring beat monkey bedazzled by the possibilities of a song, some gear, and a tank full of gas.
But Quintron takes it far beyond any swaggering account of leather-clad riff mongering, peppering his tale with philosophical asides, wry humor, and a sharp eye for character. His wide-ranging approach avoids pretentiousness by keeping it conversational. And therein lies the charm of Europa My Mirror.
The narrative is conversational but not rambling, clocking in at just over 100 pages, including amusing illustrations by Miss Pussycat.
"I like the idea of writing a book in public, the way you do a show, in real time," Quintron told me. Indeed, many fans first read these writings as posts on social media as the tour unfolded, and it's not for nothing that the last words of the book are "Sent from my iPhone." But Quintron does cop to a good bit of editing and rewriting. "It's mostly been tightened and expanded on from the original journals. It's just fleshed out, with the removal of some bad-habit Americanisms."
Unlike with many rock memoirs, there is plenty of bigger-picture stuff, as in his description of Terrier, a Madrid band he loved: "Like all great bands, the real power is in the musicians' eyes and body language, and of course, the tone of each sound, fitting together with the others to form perfect little air-puzzles."
Quintron is equally thoughtful about the cultures he samples. Considering the ubiquity of McDonald's, he notes that "Even the smallest European village might have a butcher shop. Unpasteurized handmade cheese is literally everywhere, and if you want fresh fish, you go to the fishmonger and not to the gas station freezer."
He and his sound guy go to a Golden Arches near Lisbon to study the local particulars by way of the familiar. It's part of the spirit of inquiry Quintron brings to being a stranger in a strange land. Even being refused entry into a "big gay disco" in Berlin can jump start his musings.
And this is where the "mirror" comes in. For though he revels in the alternative universe that Europe can offer, Quintron seizes the opportunity to reflect on our own cultural biases. "It really does serve as this sharp-focus mirror. You don't realize what it means to be an American or what America means when you're swimming in it, when you're drowning in it. But when you're removed and you're surrounded by something else, it comes into focus."
Ultimately, though, Quintron doesn't romanticize the Old World. "I don't know if I could truly be an expatriot," he says. "Maybe I'm wrong, but artistically I feel like I have to be close to the ground I came from to produce honestly. I don't know if I could move someplace else and have anything to say. But plenty of people did. I should try it. Maybe if things keep going down the toilet, we'll all try it."