Four is the Loneliest Number
You never know what you’re going to find once you put on your miner’s helmet and head into the KtB stacks. Sometimes, you strike gold. As in this bona fide relic from Catholic rock history: Yes! It’s Tommy Brew’s change-of-address card from his so-called “lost years” at the Loyola Retreat House! Tommy Brew, a cult figure in the annals of both Catholic and secular rock, was long rumored to have suffered a total breakdown after his legendary 1964 Black Pope tour of Jesuit universities. He then spent a number of years living with the Jesuits, performing menial tasks and honing his songwriting skills.
He reemerged with his 1969 album Four (the only one recorded under the name “Thomas” Brew.) The album, which purportedly sent John Lennon into “fits of jealousy,” is a song cycle based on Brew’s study of the Jesuit use of Enneagrams in community. It shocked both the Catholic and mainstream rock audiences with its harrowing look at what life was like for an “unbalanced Four”—suicidal thoughts, despair, paranoia. Songs such as “Me/Not Me,” “Throw the Earth,” and “Slue-Foot” revealed Brew’s inner torment through stark imagery, strangely tuned guitars and Brew’s screams of pain. Most of Brew’s audience, used to his good-time Catholic party rock (as heard on such albums as Brew’s on Me, Taste the Brew and National Brewhemian) turned on him, and, unfortunately, Brew disappeared sometime in 1975 on a small tour of Latin America. His work is increasingly cited as an influence by such current Maryland bands as Animal Collective and Beach House. We’re putting Four on the office turntable in your honor, today, buddy. AMDG.
Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.