Play It Forward: Glenn Copeland On Patience, Positivity And The Band Bernice

Apr 9, 2020
Originally published on April 9, 2020 7:27 pm

Last week All Things Considered kicked off our new musical chain of gratitude series Play It Forward with Dan Snaith, who records as Caribou. He told us why he's grateful for a musician named Glenn Copeland, who is today's link in the chain.

Copeland is a trans man who recorded music in the 1970s and '80s before spending decades outside of the limelight. His albums were essentially unknown until a music collector in Japan unearthed them and re-introduced his music to the world. Caribou said that Copeland's music and his relentless positivity has had a massive influence on his life and work.

"His music has meant so much to me, and so much to so many people that I've talked to," he said. "I've never met anybody who still has such a limitless positivity and optimism and is so enthusiastic about the possibility of youth and what music can do to change the world."

NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke to Glenn Copeland about how it feels for his music to have such an impact decades later and in turn, for his selection of an artist he's grateful for: the genre-hopping Canadian band Bernice. Listen to the radio version in the audio link above and read on for a transcript of the interview.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Ari Shapiro: What was your reaction to that praise from Caribou?

Glenn Copeland: Well first, I need to figure out how to get in touch with him and thank him for those lovely thoughts and next, I need to live up to it. It's good to know that the music is making a difference for folks, in one way or another. That means that I'm fulfilling what I'm supposed to be doing at this time, I suppose.

Interesting that you say you're fulfilling what you're supposed to be doing, because this music sat in relative obscurity for a long time.

I have a joke about that. It goes like this. The universe went "Red light! Red light! No! No! Red light, red light" — on and on for years and years and years. And then it went "Caution ..." and then it went "Green," and then it said "And by the way, can you still walk? Too bad if you can't! Get on it!"

YouTube

Tell me about the moment the light turned green.

It was a day in which I received an email from a gentleman in Japan asking if I had an old cassette called Keyboard Fantasies and I got back to them and he said "Send me 30 of them." And I was stunned because no one had asked for anything for 30 years or something!

30 years!

Yeah probably. I had written this stuff in the '80s, early '80s, and this was the end of 2015. And like three days later he got back to me and said "I sold them all and can you send me more?" I'm a very solitary person, and I don't get out and about and didn't know what was going on [in] music because I barely ever listened to any of it. So I had no idea in the world, and what was going on with him was that his website was watched internationally. And within about three months, I had six, seven offers for record deals.

And if I don't mind me asking how old are you now?

I'm 76.

Something Caribou said about you is that you have limitless positivity and optimism. Is that how you see yourself?

No! How I see myself is that I'm working to have limitless positivity and optimism. That's this life project. And every day I see another horizon towards which to work

Was it different to do that when you weren't being recognized?

It has nothing to do with recognition. It has to do with whether or not you consider yourself fortunate to have been born, to see the magnificence of life itself. That's what it's about for me.

YouTube

Beautifully said. Alright Glenn, it is your turn to pass the torch to an artist you feel grateful and thankful for. Who are you choosing?

There's a band called Bernice. It's a Canadian band, but it's getting around the world. I happened to go to a show of theirs in the town in which I was living, not knowing anything about it other than that one of the people that was playing in the band was somebody that had played with me for a little bit, and who I thought was quite a genius. And literally, I was gobsmacked. Just gobsmacked. The thing about them is that no two of their songs sound alike. You listen to this ["Glue"], this is this. You listen to something else, it's somewhere else.

This is a young band, they could be your grandchildren.

Yeah. Well I mean, most bands could be my grandchildren.

Do you think of them as the inheritance of a tradition you carried for a while?

The music that I'm attracted to coming from young ones is, aside from its sophistication, what they're talking about — there's a perspective, a sense of where the world must go, which young people are putting into their art. No matter what form the art is.

We're going to go to Bernice's lead singer Robin Dann next time. What would you say to her?

I'm one of your down-on-my-knees fans, out of a sense of awe. And I just want to say, no matter what, don't stop. Don't stop writing. We need what you have to say and your vision is extraordinary and it's musically so exciting. That's it. Just do your thing. You're geniuses; go for it.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's time for Play It Forward. It's a musical chain of gratitude where we talk to artists about their music and about the musicians they are thankful for. Last week we kicked it off with Dan Snaith, who records as Caribou. He told us why he's grateful for a musician named Glenn Copeland, who is today's link in the chain.

Copeland is a trans man who recorded decades ago as Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Those albums were essentially unknown until a music collector in Japan unearthed them and reintroduced this music to the world. I asked Caribou what he would like to tell Copeland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DAN SNAITH: I'd just like to say thank you. You know, his music has meant so much to me and so much to so many people that I've talked to. You know, you get to meet a lot of people that are meaningful to you as musicians, and I've never met anybody who still has that - such a limitless kind of positivity and optimism and is so enthusiastic about the possibility of youth and kind of what music can do to change the world. Yeah, it was really, really inspiring.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVER NEW")

GLENN COPELAND: (Singing) Welcome the spring and the summer rain.

SHAPIRO: And we are joined now by Glenn Copeland. Welcome.

COPELAND: Thank you. Happy to be here. Thank you so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let me just begin by asking you what your reaction to that sentiment from Caribou, from Dan Snaith is.

COPELAND: Well, first I need to find out how to get in touch with him and thank him for those lovely thoughts. And next, I need to live up to it.

(LAUGHTER)

COPELAND: Oh, my goodness. It's good to know that the music that's being sent to me at this point is making a difference for folks in some - one way or another. And yes, that means I'm fulfilling what I'm supposed to be doing at this time, I suppose. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting that you say you're fulfilling what you're supposed to be doing at this time because you recorded this music many years ago, and it sat in relative obscurity for a long time.

COPELAND: I have a joke about that. It goes like this. You know, the universe went red light, red light, no, no, red light, red light on and on for years and years and years. And then it went caution. And then it went green. And then it said, and by the way, can you still walk? Too bad if you can't. Get on it.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Tell me about the moment the light turned green. Describe that day for me. What happened?

COPELAND: It was a day in which I received an email from a gentleman in Japan asking if I had an old, you know, cassette called "Keyboard Fantasies." And I got back to them, and he said, well, you know, send me 30 of them. And I was, like, stunned because no one had asked for anything for, you know, 30 years or something.

SHAPIRO: Thirty years?

COPELAND: Yeah, probably. I mean, I had written this stuff in the '80s - early '80s. And, you know, this was the end of 2015. And, like, three days later, literally, he got back to me and said I sold them all, and can you send me more. I'm a very solitary person, and I, you know, don't get out and about and didn't know what was going on in music because I barely ever listen to any of it. And so I had no idea what was going on in the world. And what was going on with him was that his website was watched internationally. And within about - oh, I don't know - three months I had - you know, I don't know - six, seven offers for record deals.

SHAPIRO: Really? And you - if you don't mind my asking, how old are you now?

COPELAND: Oh, I'm 76.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLENN COPELAND SONG, "SUNSET VILLAGE")

SHAPIRO: Something that Dan Snaith - Caribou - said about you that stood out to me is that you have limitless positivity and optimism. Is that how you see yourself? Where does that come?

COPELAND: No.

SHAPIRO: No? It's not how you see yourself?

COPELAND: (Laughter) No. How I see myself is that I'm working to have limitless positivity and optimism.

SHAPIRO: That's the project.

COPELAND: Yeah, that's this life project. And every day I see another horizon towards which to work.

SHAPIRO: Was it difficult to do that when people were not recognizing your music and your talent and your art?

COPELAND: It has nothing to do with recognition. It has to do with whether or not you consider yourself fortunate to have been born to see the magnificence of life itself. That's what it's about for me.

SHAPIRO: Beautifully said.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUNSET VILLAGE")

COPELAND: (Singing) Let it go. Let it go now. It's OK. Let it come...

SHAPIRO: All right, well, Glenn Copeland, it is your turn to pass the torch to an artist who you feel grateful and thankful for, somebody who looks and sounds different from you. Who would you like to tell us about?

COPELAND: There's a band called Bernice. It is - it's a Canadian band, but it's getting around the world. I happened to go to a show of theirs in the town in which I was living not knowing anything, really, about it other than that one of the people that was playing in the band was somebody that had played with me for a little bit and who I thought was quite a genius. And literally, I was gobsmacked (laughter), just gobsmacked.

SHAPIRO: Let's listen to one of their tracks. This is called "Glue."

COPELAND: "Glue," OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLUE")

BERNICE: (Singing) ...Like a tangly (ph) crown. This dream is hard to awaken from. Exquisite fall boxy and deep into maroon colored sleep. Take it all. Take it all. Take it all. Take. When you...

SHAPIRO: It's, like, the most relaxing alien invasion I've ever been - partied to (laughter).

COPELAND: (Laughter) Well, you know, the thing about them is that no two of their songs sound alike.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

COPELAND: I mean, you listen to this, this is this. You listen to something else, it's somewhere else.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

COPELAND: You know?

SHAPIRO: This is a young band. I mean, they could be your grandchildren.

COPELAND: Yeah. Well, I mean, most bands could be my grandchildren (laughter) Give me a break, you know?

SHAPIRO: Do you think of them as kind of the inheritance of a tradition that you carried for a while and now they are, I don't know, running along with it?

COPELAND: The music that I'm attracted to coming from young ones is, aside from its sophistication, what they're talking about. There's a prospective, a sense of where the world must go, which young people are putting into their art no matter what form the art is.

SHAPIRO: We're going to go to Bernice's lead singer Robin Dann after this, so what would you like to say to her?

COPELAND: Oh, Robin, you know, this is Glenn talking to you. And, you know, I am one of your down-on-my-knees fans (laughter) out of a sense of, like, awe. And I just want to say no matter what, don't stop - don't stop writing. Don't stop writing. We need what you have to say, and your vision is extraordinary. And it's musically so exciting. All right. That's it. Just do your thing. You are geniuses. Go for it.

SHAPIRO: Glenn Copeland, I'm so glad that you are getting this long-overdue recognition and that you were able to talk with us about it. Thank you.

COPELAND: Ari, it was just a pleasure. Thank you so much. I'm just - I'm thrilled. And thank you, Dan - Caribou.

SHAPIRO: And we'll talk with Robin Dann, lead singer of the band Bernice, in the next episode of Play It Forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.