The Music of Chance

An artist of the accidental, Jim Ruiz croons a lounge music of personal loss.

This interviewer suggests that if you die on the way to the grocery store, you haven't necessarily died for groceries.

"No," Ruiz answers bitterly, "but I don't drive 16 hours straight through barren landscapes to get to the grocery store. I don't know. It's more than just the danger. It's the exploitative nature of the business that really bugs me. I mean, Rena died going to work, but it didn't mean she died for work. I don't know...I guess I could say she's a victim of a car-based society. In Amsterdam she probably could have taken a tram to work--"

Ruiz stops himself here, and realizes what he's saying. He changes his tone to mock agony: "We're all victims!" he cries. "That's a really negative aspect of my personality," he finally concedes. "Maybe I see myself as a victim too much. I get dejected easily."

It's true that Ruiz's weakness may be wishy-washiness about defining and working toward his goals. "You grow up and you have this dream," he says, "and you have to question the dream once in a while. What is it you want? I have to figure out what I want." Such reticence could also be seen as a levelheaded response to the treachery of the music business: His band's financial prospects are dimming, after all, as the fitful industry vacillates wildly about what it wants.

The downtime between albums evidently led Ruiz to more restless fantasies about world travel, a constant theme in his songs. He's now taking a summer class in teaching English as a foreign language. "They asked where I would go, and I told them, 'Anywhere without a right-wing dictator.' I was thinking Indonesia--they used to be a Dutch colony."

It would be easy to conclude from all this evidence that the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group is close to over. But many people who know Jim Ruiz better--including himself--suspect that once the Group takes Sniff to live audiences, his excitement will return.

Or maybe a drastic change is just the kind of risk that Jim Ruiz needs. If there's a single metaphor for the way that Ruiz's songs contend with issues of life, death, geography, and ambition, it might be found in his UM senior thesis, which he finally completed this spring. Appropriate to his personal travels, he wrote about the exploits of the Dutch East India Company in Japan in the 17th century.

"It would be cool to go to the places I studied," he says. "It's interesting that those Dutch people would go out there, because it was almost certain death. You weren't going to live there very long."

He laughs, then, aware of the ironic connection this idea has with his tenuous career. "Maybe it's a death wish!"

The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group will perform Friday, August 7, at Lee's Liquor Lounge; call 338-9491.

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