In 1996, a debut record of unforgettable, ebullient power pop gems was unleashed upon the Earth by a young man from Chicago named Jonny Polonsky. Its affable and informative title was Hi My Name is Jonny. But his musical peregrinations began long before that, as a teenager making 4 track demos in his parents’ house. Armed with those home recordings, Polonsky set his sights on nothing short of world domination, with everyone from Kurt Cobain, to Tom Jones, to an ailing Henny Youngman on the receiving end of Polonsky’s musical jihad.
Eventually he was able to reach the legendary Frank Black/Black Francis of the Pixies, via some assistance from erstwhile Bowie guitarist and collaborator Reeves Gabrels (another early Polonsky supporter, and victim of easily accessible 411 public phone records). Indeed, Black took notice, and produced a demo which got Polonsky signed to American Recordings by the label’s president, iconic record producer Rick Rubin. Black had this to say about his nascent protégé:” I get a lot of tapes, but these tapes were different. They were incredible, totally rockin’ stuff. This guy was born to be a rock star and he creates the music to back it up. He is amazing.” The record was met with a resoundingly positive critical reception, garnering appearances on MTV News, and coverage in such international publications as Rolling Stone and Spin; and with Polonsky now able to boast of tours with both his mentor Frank Black, and a highly coveted slot on the Second Stage of the then-touring Lollapalooza, he seemed poised for the proverbial Big Break.
But something happened on the way to superstardom, and Jonny Polonsky all but disappeared. Fast forward into the post-Y2K world. A different scene entirely. The ‘90’s are over. Clinton is out of the Oval Office, now in his Harlem office. Grunge is long since dead, as is Henny Youngman. Pray tell, what hath becometh of Rock’s Promised Golden Boy? Polonsky explains. “I got fed up with the music business and moved sometime in the late ‘90’s to the Ukraine, to help manage a Doberman breeding farm.” Impossible sounding, yes. But true, nonetheless. After a few Eastern bloc winters, Fate eventually intervened, with Mistress Showbiz seducing Polonsky out of his self-imposed retirement with a lucrative and unusual turn of events. “I suddenly became an in-demand, kind of amalgum independent consultant, personal attaché and bodyguard,” Polonsky reveals, working for clients as diverse as John Lee Hooker Jr., Danny Bonaduce, Sheena Easton, and former Mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo. Soon tiring of the endless spread sheets and the heavy discipline of his intensive Martial arts training, Polonsky found himself returning to the simple joys of making music.
In 2004, his sophmore effort, The Power of Sound, was released on a now defunct indie label, supported by an opening slot on Audioslave’s five week North American tour. He also found himself becoming an A list session musician, recording and/or performing with the likes of Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, Minnie Driver, Pete Yorn, and Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer. Which brings us to the present moment, and the reason for of all this jibber-jabber: Jonny Polonsky has a new record to release and it is titled, simply, Intergalactic Messenger of Divine Light and Love. The album was made primarily in Rick Rubin’s personal recording studio, Akademie Mathematique of Philosophical Sound Research, in the same room used by Johnny Cash and countless other iconic artists. Polonsky made the bulk of the record over the course of a year, producing it himself and playing nearly every instrument. He then enlisted Grammy-winning engineer, Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco, Slayer), to handle the mixing duties. The songs on this record have the urgent energy of Polonsky’s debut, but with a newfound depth to the lyrical terrain, and a broadened sonic palette being utilized to illuminate the musical topography. There are myriad moments sure to delight, inspire and perhaps, even confound the listener.
When asked to describe the ingredients which permeate this particular bouillabaisse, Polonsky offered thusly: “Everything from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Brian Eno’s pop records, (avant guarde composer and installation artist) Maryanne Amacher, Ronnie James Dio, Ike and Tina, the Doors, System of a Down, to David Lynch, Jane’s Addiction, early Bowie and T. Rex. The guitar solos were mostly me trying to Frankenstein Robert Fripp with Bob Stinson.” Marrying the fractal geometric lead work of the King Crimson guitar maven with the hedonistic sonic terrorism of The Replacements’ original axe wielder? Provocative indeed… And the lyrics? “I’m just talking about what I see happening in the world today, in myself and in the people around me. It’s a fascinating and thrilling time in human history and I don’t really see anybody talking about it. I wanted to talk about it.” In 2011, rock and roll is no longer strictly a young man’s game. Progenitors such as Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Neil Young are approaching their seventies with authenticity and dignity, exhibiting a vitality and incisive perspective that belies the traditional notion of fading away pitifully into one’s Golden Years, like Grandpa Simpson performing karaoke in a pair of soiled pantaloons. An old adage may be easily applicable to Polonsky as well as to his musical forebears—that there may be snow on the mountaintop, but the fire still rages within. Or as the 38 year old, father of two so deftly illumines his position on the aging process: “The machine may get creaky, but the mind stays freaky.” Jonny come lately, he may be. But one thing is for certain, there is only one Jonny Polonsky. Let’s hope he is here to stay this time, tardy or not. -Leland Sherpa, Feb. 2012, St. John’s, Newfoundland