Conspiracy of Beards
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Conspiracy of Beards

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"Stubble Bums"

By Billy Jam

When the all-male, a Capella vocal group Conspiracy of Beards”who do covers of Leonard Cohen songs exclusively” formed five years ago, they had no intention of doing more than a single gig before going their separate ways. But this San Francisco collective ”which began as an octet to honor a dying friend's wish”currently numbers 30 members (25 of whom will be performing two dates this weekend in New York).

"Peter Kadyk was a shining inspiration for a lot of us. He died at age 30 of HIV," says Daryl Henline, the Beards musical director.

"And it had been a vision of Peter's that a bunch of men with long beards singing the songs of Leonard Cohen would form," adds original member Andrew Kushin. "Personally, I think in Peter's mind it was all mixed up with some scenes from [Russian film director] Tarkovsky's cutting-room floor; something from a dark, frozen, 19th-century Russian winter. Somber, gray and hairy. The grave visual, Eastern companion to Cohen's poems."

The fact that not all of the bands members had beards” or, for that matter, singing experience” didn't stop them from forming. With practice, under the guidance of the musically trained Henline, they honed their sound and broadened their styles of interpreting songs of Leonard Cohen's”including "Chelsea Hotel" and "Tower of Song”in deliveries that range from barbershop to classical music styles, jazz and experimental.

"Singing Leonard Cohen's music has changed us as people," said Henline, a carpenter by trade. "Even though he might be ironic in some of his words and things. But what we're doing is not ironic at all. If we were just singing the songs of Foreigner or Van Halen or whoever it wouldn't be the same. But Leonard Cohen's music has a very special connection to men. At least to guys like us; guys from many walks of life: tradesmen, computer programmers, people who work in shops and stores, whatever."

The singers meet every Sunday evening for practice, taking the summers off; and every second weekend in September they meet up and head out to the woods of California for a weekend of "feasting and drinking and just hanging out and learning new music around a bonfire" and welcoming new members to their open enrollment program. "It's kinda like a men's organization for guys who don't normally join men's organizations," says Henline, with a laugh. "It's an exercise in community. Music has brought us together; but when we got together we found more than we were looking for. We found a sense of community." - NEW YORK PRESS, March 19, 2008

"The Beards Bow To Leonard Cohen"

The men dressed in suits are a rough bunch, with mismatched ties, a variety of facial fuzz and an assorted smattering of derby caps and fedoras. They stand out in the crowd of casually dressed hipsters like a battalion of the Salvation Army stationed in San Francisco's 12 Galaxies club. Abruptly, as if answering some silent siren, the suited men abandon their drinks and their cigarettes and head for the stage.
They are the Conspiracy of Beards, an all-male chorus that sings only Leonard Cohen songs, and as they assemble in a crescent around choir conductor Daryl Henline, a hush falls over the chatty crowd. Male voices rise, together, to sing these lines:

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,

You were talking so brave and so free,

Giving me head on the unmade bed

While the limousines wait in the street ...

Some audience members react to the still somewhat shocking lyric by looking down, or audibly giggling. Most, though, keep staring straight ahead with the rapt, fixed expression found on true believers at a religious rite.

"It's really about the joy of singing," says Henline, the group's de facto leader. "Outside of academic settings or the church, people don't really get to experience choral singing, which is a shame, because it's beautiful."

With about 20 members (no one is actually sure how many Beards will show up for a gig), a growing list of dates at venues such as the Hemlock Tavern and Adobe Bookstore, a CD coming out this spring from local label Out of Round Records and plans for a European tour, the Beards are becoming a Bay Area phenomenon.

"The Beards are part of the Bay Area's quirky folk sound," says Norman Rutherford, founder of Out of Round Records. "I hate categories, but you can tell they link to a cultural movement." Rutherford says the Beards, like popular and press-friendly local acts Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, "don't have to carry around huge amps. They can just have their words, and it's meaningful to people."

The concept of a men's group singing Cohen songs came from Peter Kadyk, a multimedia artist who died in 2001.

"I think he started talking about it in 1993," says Patrick Kadyk, Peter's brother and a member of the Beards. "We were big Leonard Cohen fans, so the idea was to sing the songs with male friends of ours, because so much of his music deals with men and relationships. There's a religious aspect to it, although we didn't set out to do religious singing of Cohen's music."

Peter Kadyk, whom friends describe as a "visionary" artist, never got around to realizing his Cohen choir, but after his death, his wife, Anah, asked Patrick Kadyk and Henline to organize the Beards for the record release party of Hazy Loper, Patrick's band, at the Lab gallery in San Francisco in June 2003. Henline, a sound artist and composer who has worked in a dizzying number of musical genres, arranged "two or three songs" with "eight or nine guys" for the event.

"I hadn't thought of it as an ongoing project, but it's continued way past our expectations," Henline says, smiling.

After that first show, an employee of City Lights Bookstore asked the Beards to play an in-store event. Word of mouth spread fast; the Beards went from one-time experiment to practicing group within seven months. The Beards have never held auditions; members come through a "referral system." In the beginning, Henline says, "the choir was all friends with Peter. Everyone liked Leonard Cohen, but they joined because of Peter."

That has changed. "Having members that didn't know Peter, or any of us, really, validated what we were doing," Henline says.The nature of an a cappella choir allows the group to examine Cohen's lyrics in unexpected ways.

"People bring different understandings of his lyrics, which is the key to figuring out as a choir how to find the voice of the song," Henline says. "For instance, (in) that song 'You Know Who I Am,' some thought Leonard was addressing a woman and some thought he was addressing God or humanity."

Rutherford says that the choir wouldn't work as well with any other material.

"The Beards give the music that combination of irony and humor with beauty and seriousness," he says.

Adds Henline, "We don't consider this a joke, and we're also not concerned with appearing cool or afraid of looking silly. There's a lot of love, a lot of soul, in what we do. God, the harmonized voices just create such a field of energy, with the sympathetic resonation. When it first starts happening, everyone gets these smiles, and we're like" -- Henline pauses, exhaling -- "yeah."

Recently, the Beards took their act to the streets. After an abbreviated practice, they went to the Castro on Halloween night, performing amid the spectacle of costumes and crowds. Henline says that spontaneity is one of his favorite aspects of the Beards.

"We get to go to places where choirs usually can't go," he says. "I've sung in choirs all my life, but I've never had the ability to go to bars or street corners to sing before. Singing 'Everybody Knows' in the Castro was just so fitting with the times right now. It's just a great, wry observation of the multitude of lies in modern society, the kind of stuff people are putting up with every day.

"It felt really good to sing that. It's material people need to hear."

- SFGate

"How I Became a Beard"

by Evan Rehill

I could tell you all about my first exposure to Leonard Cohen, nights when my father would sing 'Suzanne' for my brothers and I on an acoustic guitar he had kept since his days playing trumpet in the army funeral band. How that song, when I got older, seemed incredibly deep and dark to be singing to your young children. Or how an old roommate, Bobby, used to visit me from Seattle: Bobby, who had been institutionalized on and off and on for his entire life. Bobby, who when he wasn't shooting speed in the trees of Dolores Park or eating leftovers in Mission taquerias, would sing you any given Leonard Cohen song, dancing across my living room, his eyes rolled back into his head.

But no, those are different stories altogether, and they are not how I became a Beard. The first door I walked through toward Beardom came when I read Cohen's fantastic, oversexed masterpiece of a novel, Beautiful Losers. The book haunted me. Each time I have finished reading Beautiful Losers (three now), the world shifts in focus. I look out the window and the sky has turned itself inside out, and I want to walk out into the streets naked, armed with only a tambourine. I have experienced a similar reaction upon hearing Conspiracy of Beards, a 15-20 member all-male chorus who sing a cappella versions of Cohen's songs in three-part harmony. I knew right away that this was the next door to Beardom. I am Conspiracy of Beards' self-admitted biggest fan, but when I was asked to join the group, my heart broke in two. I had secretly wished the Beards had been my idea, and now I was faced with the dilemma of making a choice between joining in the song or keeping Cohen all to myself. I worried about how good I was with sharing.

Leonard Cohen is a Canadian writer and musician whose work first became popular in the mid-'60s. His popularity continues to this day. Peter Kadyk dreamed up Conspiracy of Beards a long time ago, and died at the age of 32, without ever seeing the group manifest. Peter's brother, Pat, is the closest survivor to the band's visionary. 'The idea was to get together a group of men who were our friends and sing Leonard Cohen songs,' Pat tells me, 'We were very into Cohen's music at the time.' This was in 1993, and the idea for a Cohen choir would continue to haunt the Kadyk brothers from then on. Pat uses the word 'we' almost exclusively when talking about his brother. He also refers to friends and family he has chosen to include in the group as 'Beards.'

I tell Pat that Conspiracy of Beards has been a door for me. We talk at length about the concept of doors. A door, I tell him, is a situation you walk into and come out the other side changed. Pat smiles while I explain this.

I have tried many times to convey my deep connection to Cohen's novel Beautiful Losers. There are masturbation scenes in speeding cars, lusting after a woman dead for over 300 years, and a strap-on dildo that crashes through windows and crawls out to the beach before diving into the ocean. I consider all of this part of Cohen's genius. I often wonder: Would Leonard Cohen appreciate the fact that I once stayed up all night on drugs in Seattle with my best friends and read them the entire 'constipation soliloquy' chapters from his novel? That I ruminated over one line for months'I cannot understand why my arm is not a lilac tree' because it seemed to sum up everything in my life?

Daryl Henline was a friend of Peter's with a lifelong experience in choir singing. He was the perfect man for the job of becoming the group's conductor/arranger, and in June of 2003, Peter's wife asked Daryl to bring Conspiracy of Beards together as a tribute for a show at the Lab in San Francisco.

'We only had a few weeks to learn this stuff, and I honestly almost didn't show up,' Daryl says, 'I mean I didn't think any of the Beards were going to show up. We hadn't sung the songs right until the day of that show. We all arrived at the Lab and warmed up, singing our songs right there on the sidewalk of 16th Street. And it worked. People stopped on the sidewalk to listen. Then we went inside and did the first Beards performance.'

The original nine members of the group were close friends of Peter Kadyk. At present, Conspiracy of Beards has twenty members, and the group is still growing. Peter named the group right after he dreamed up the concept.

Daryl recalls the night Peter told him the name: 'I had this vision of a Russian male choir cast with tall men wearing long beards, singing Leonard Cohen songs in deep voices.' (Incidentally, a current choir member, Jeff Anderson, fits this description almost perfectly.) 'My roommate was already in the Beards and they all came over to practice at my house. I was up in my room, stoned, singing 'The Girl from Ipinema.' I came downstairs and Daryl said, 'You should be in this group.' So I joined.' Three others, Malcolm, Greg and Jeremy (often referred to as 'the young kids') are big Cohen fans who asked to join the group after witnessing a Beards performance.

I was at the show that night, drinking steadily in a dark corner. Greg tells me, 'I thought you were in the group. You were wearing a tie and a hat.' The Beards' public performance get-up bears an uncanny resemblance to my own literary ensemble: dress shirts, ties, jackets and good hats. The group has an open-door policy to anyone who wants to participate. It is also a revolving door for Beards like myself, who crash practices and then disappear for months.

As far as we know, Leonard Cohen is still not aware of Conspiracy of Beards. When I first heard of the group, I thought, how perfect, how fitting, this homoerotic tribute to Cohen in the form of men literally singing his praises. Much of Beautiful Losers is unabashedly immersed in homoerotica. The novel's anonymous protagonist and his best friend (the novel's hero, known only as 'F.') spend as much time jerking one another off throughout the book as they do talking about the women they love and want to fuck. I try to explain this concept to Jeff Anderson, who likes the idea, and tells me in return, 'I think that there is a real dispossessed element of masculinity in this society. Masculinity has a negative connotation attached to it. And this group is a good, healthy, fun way of being communal with other men.'

I crashed a Conspiracy of Beards rehearsal during a San Francisco heatwave, in a dance studio on Valencia Street. There is something about choir singing that is unbelievably moving. I sang bass beside Jeff Anderson, and there were moments when all the voices became one voice, and I wasn't sure if I was even singing, the sound was so intense. Daryl tells me in complete seriousness, 'That kind of singing, it vibrates your heart, it really does.' At present, Conspiracy of Beards functions like a big family. There are multiple layers of reason for everyone's involvement: those who love Peter Kadyk, those who love Leonard Cohen, and those who love Conspiracy of Beards'or any combination of those three.

'As he sang each sound he saw it change and every change was a return and every return was a change.'
Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers

While working on this piece, I receive a letter from Pat Kadyk, who writes, 'There's something real taking place here, something beyond what I've guessed and I think you may have gotten a closer glimpse even. I'm grateful.' Although I have only crashed one Beards practice to sing with the group, I still tell people I am in the band. And when I see these Beards at their shows, inevitably some of them will ask me, 'Where's your suit?' or 'When are you coming back?' And I tell them that I am wearing my suit, that I have never left.

As summer approaches, Conspiracy of Beards is doing its last few shows before taking a two-month break. Daryl is optimistic about the future of the group. He tells me about his plans to record the Beards, with all members standing in a circle, their arms around eachother's shoulders in an infinite embrace. He also has plans to create a 'choir camp' in the fall. The camp will include daily singing lessons, a library room of Cohen's writing for study, and the chance of a lifetime to experience what it really is to be a Beard. I tell Daryl to sign me up.

By the time Conspiracy of Beards gets back together, Daryl expects to be working on at least five new songs. He has encouraged others to take a stab at arrangements. The center is widening. I tell him that Scott Velardo and I have made plans to arrange my favorite Cohen song during the summer, and Daryl looks pleased. For me that is the next door. Imagine 8 or 20 or 10,000 beards singing the 'ah ah ah ah ah ah's' at the end of Cohen's 'One of Us Cannot Be Wrong,' and that last line where his voice breaks and the world comes undone. Consider the potential for us all if a faction of men in shirts and ties and good hats hit that broken note in unison, three- or six- or eight-part harmony of a crack in time, their arms stretched out like lilac trees, the song vibrating in our hearts. - Kitchen Sink Magazine #8


2 self released cds. Last years self titled release is available here:
and those and more songs are available here:



San Francisco's Conspiracy of Beards is a 30-man choir that performs gritty, original arrangements of the songs of Leonard Cohen. Formed in 2003 through the inspiration of the late Peter Kadyk, this a Capella group has become known for their live performances at Bay Area venues such as the Cafe du Nord, the Great American Music Hall, and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as in bars, bookstores, hospices and various other community centers. The choir has also been featured on National Public Radio's "West Coast Live," on KFOG, KPFA, WFMU and on PBS television station KQED-TV, and made its East Coast debut in Spring 2008 at the Highline Ballroom, Bowery Poetry Club, and other venues.

Most recently the Beards sang at a memorial for the late Luke Cole, environmental justice attorney.

Transforming Cohen's simple melodies into complex 4- and 5-part harmonies, the group achieves a sound that is both robust and tender, with influences of indie rock, jazz, gospel, barbershop, classical and doo-wop in the unique arrangements the choir creates. Using the genius of Cohen's words, the Beards inspire audiences to ponder romance, politics, sex, longing and spirituality, all amid laughter and cheers.