Here’s something I’ve been asked a lot over the last ten years:
What does Calamateur mean and where did the word come from?
Well, the first part – Cal – is the name of a character from the book ‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck, one of my favourite authors.
There is a discussion in the book between two of it’s characters, which revolves around this passage in the bible:
“And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.”
Genesis 4: 3-7
Here’s the key discussion of that passage from ‘East of Eden':
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”
“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.
I loved this idea when I read the book many years ago, and it still resonates with me now.
Cal is the character in ‘East of Eden’ who embodies this theme of us all having a choice in how we decide to live.
Amateur, the second part of the word, is the name of one of my all time favourite films.
Directed by Hal Hartley, it tells the story of an amnesiac, Thomas, who wakes up in an alleyway, unaware of who he is or how he got there, who is then taken under the wing of an ex-nun and writer of pornography who believes it is her mission from God to find out what happened to him.
Here is a quote from The Film Journal about the film:
Thomas’s amnesia (also symbolized by his white T-shirt, a blank surface that speaks of both absence and a new beginning) not only drives the film’s action and is a powerful metaphor for his “lost-ness;” it also points to his subconscious desire to start again from zero, to wipe out his former self.
You can read more about Amateur here.
So there you go: Cal – Amateur.
But why call myself that and not just use my own name?
Well, one of my favourite bands of all time is Sparklehorse, who is really just one man – Mark Linkous.
And then there’s The Divine Comedy, The Durutti Column, Bat for Lashes, Cat Power, Duke Special, Faultline, Iron & Wine, Minotaur Shock, Squarepusher, The Wisdom of Harry….etc, etc.
All acts who are essentially the work of one individual, as far as I’m aware….
So it wasn’t without precedent. People still find it odd I that use the name Calamateur though.
Worse still though is that no-one knows how to pronouce or spell it.
From the time John Peel introduced my first single on his radio show back in 2000, to the last gig I played (where I was introduced as “Calamatra!”) everyone has struggled with the word.
Which leads me to think, as I get ready to put out a new album, is it time to put ‘Calamateur’ to rest?
Should I come clean and use my own, actual name?
If any of you have any thoughts on this I would love to hear them…
Thanks for reading.