About David Greenburger

David Greenberger has made a career out of documenting the remarkable thoughts of ordinary people. In 1979, Greenberger, who had studied at the Massachusetts College of Art, took a job as activities director at a Boston nursing home. He became fascinated with his conversations with the residents as they talked about their lives and shared their opinions. Greenberger began collecting their thoughts, attitudes, and writings into a zine called The Duplex Planet. The Duplex Planet grew from a small homemade publication into an art project with an international audience, and since then he's published books, recorded albums, created radio essays, and staged performances adapted from his thousands of conversations with the elderly.

David Greenberger was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 26, 1954, and he spent most of his childhood in Erie, Pennsylvania. Greenberger had a strong interest in visual art, and he studied painting at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. After graduating, Greenberger took a job as the activities director at the Duplex Nursing Home, an elder care facility in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. As Greenberger got to know the residents of the Duplex, he became fascinated with the idiosyncrasies of their thoughts and their speech. He began asking them questions, such as "Why is music important?," "Can you fight city hall?," and "How close can you get to a penguin?" Greenberger recorded their answers, and collected the unedited responses in a zine he called The Duplex Planet. The first issue appeared in 1979, and in time the zine gained an underground following, with many readers charmed by the wit and imagination of the Duplex residents. Greenberger abandoned painting to focus on the zine and various associated projects.

One of the best known of the Duplex residents was Ernest Noyes Brookings, a retired engineer who enjoyed reading poetry. Greenberger encouraged Brookings to write verse of his own, and having connections to the underground music scene (he played bass in the band Men & Volts in his spare time, and also worked with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic), Greenberger began inviting musicians to set Brookings' poems to music. In 1989, Greenberger assembled a compilation album, Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings, that included performances by Brave Combo, the Incredible Casuals, Jad Fair, Christmas, and Rev. Fred Lane. Three more collections of Brookings' lyrics were released between 1991 and 1995, with XTC, Yo La Tengo, Robyn Hitchcock, Morphine, Peter Holsapple, and Peter Stampfel among the many artists interpreting Brookings' work. Another Duplex resident became a recording star when Jack Mudurian, after insisting he knew more songs than Frank Sinatra, recorded a spontaneous 129-song, 46-minute medley of popular tunes into a cassette machine. The performance was released on CD in 1996 as Downloading the Repertoire.

In 1993, Greenberger teamed up with NRBQ keyboard man Terry Adams to create The Duplex Planet Hour, a performance piece with Adams accompanying as Greenberger read pieces from The Duplex Planet. Another Adams/Greenberger collaboration, The Duplex Planet Radio Hour, arrived in 2002. Greenberger would release many more albums in which his readings were backed by musicians of note, including Shaking Ray Levis (2003's Mayor of the Tennessee River), 3 Leg Torso (2004's Legibly Speaking and 2005's Whispers, Grins, Bloodloss and Handshakes), Birdsongs of the Mesozoic (2006's 1001 Real Apes), Ralph Carney (2011's Ohpa), Paul Cebar (2013's They Like Me Around Here), and Glenn Jones and Chris Corsano (2017's An Idea in Everything). In addition to his recordings, Greenberger has contributed a number of spoken word essays to NPR's All Things Considered and published several books of Duplex Planet material (beginning with 1993's Duplex Planet: Everybody’s Asking Who I Was), and frequently stages readings, with or without musical accompaniment. Greenberger has also designed album covers for the likes of NRBQ, the Captain Howdy, and the Space Negros, as well as many of his own releases.

Chicago, IL
Jun 26, 1954

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