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Antje Duvekot

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Feature - Boston Globe, November 2005

Outside perspective
She's about to join Boston's folk community, but songwriter Antje Duvekot hasn't forgotten the loneliness of the outcast

By Scott Alarik, Globe Correspondent  |  November 2, 2005

It's difficult to imagine Antje Duvekot becoming a star, even though her provocative, dark-eyed ballads are becoming the talk of the folk world. Billboard magazine, for example, reviewing the Celtic supergroup Solas and its CD ''The Edge of Silence,'' called the band's cover of Duvekot's song ''Black Annis'' the high point of the album — even though the CD included songs by luminaries such as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

The 30-year-old songwriter, who this month is relocating from a cabin in Vermont to her new home in Somerville, sees the Boston area as ''the epicenter of the folk scene.'' She clearly adores the underground luster of that scene: Hard traveling for short pay in huddled basement bistros, singing true-life songs for other like-minded cultural outcasts. Being a cult figure seems much more interesting to her these days than being a pop star.

''I don't want to be famous,'' she says with a sly giggle. ''I want to be understood. I would never want to become that kind of performer who doesn't give anything of themselves. I think the beauty of performance is that you share, and that's something I love about the folk scene. When performers share parts of themselves in their banter, tell you these juicy stories about themselves, it's good therapy for everyone.''

Duvekot (pronounced DOO-va-kot) may revel in being an outcast now, but it was not always so. After growing up in Germany, she moved with her mother to Maryland at age 14. She barely spoke English, and felt much like the sullen, wary outsiders she portrays so vividly in her songs.

''I was sort of a shut-down teenager,'' she says. ''I had a hard time breaking through to people at school. Then I discovered the folk world, songwriters like Ellis Paul, Bill Miller, Susan Werner, and Cheryl Wheeler. I was so enraptured by the simplicity, the unpolished sound of guitar and voice. Even though I couldn't really understand the words, I sensed that the artists felt strongly about what they were singing, and that was very powerful to me. The only time I was truly happy as a teenager was walking abound the neighborhood, listening to my folk tapes.''

The sad, eerie displacement of the outcast ripples through her music. Her melodies are wistful and elegant, with surprising twists that provide deft emotional punctuation. Her lyrics turn clichés on their heads in ways that are both endearing and provocative. On her latest CD, ''Boys, Flowers, Miles,'' she sings, ''I know that things gotta change/ It's what they always do.'' In ''Annabelle,'' a parched portrait of small-town life, she sings, ''Boys grow out of the rust/ Spin their wheels and turn to dust.'' Her unlikely imagery is often wry. In ''Opium,'' she knows a boy is bad news, but wants him ''like a candy bar at a fat camp.'' Her most potent ballads view troubled and frightened lives from the inside out. ''Judas Iscariot'' becomes the loser kid at the back of the school bus, abused, ignored, ''invisible to everyone'' — a ticking time bomb scowling in the corner of every American schoolyard. In ''Erin,'' the sense of impending evil is harrowing: ''The monsters in the pipelines/ Are breaking down the walls/ Another dancer in the wind/ Another splinter under sore skin.''

''Because I learned English at a late age,'' she says, ''I don't use words the way other people would. Maybe I'll get my expressions wrong, and it comes across as being artistically creative. But I've always said things a little differently. When you're bicultural, you realize there's more than one way to see things and understand things.''

Her abiding sense of being an outsider also helped her develop an almost militant empathy — and with it, a belief in the redemptive power of sharing secrets, of pointing to the unspoken troubles lurking in the darkened closets of our lives.

''American culture can be so whitewashed,'' she says. ''It's kind of unpopular to say things that are messy. In Germany, people are a lot more willing to look at the struggles and faults and horrible things without getting queasy about it. Always happy and smiling and saying everything's fine — that's a very American thing.''

updated: 11 years ago