BERKELEY, Calif. — Tents stretch for two blocks, covering nearly every inch of Center Street at the weekly Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market. The smell of fresh produce and the sounds of street performers fill the air. Sitting between two vendors with a black acoustic guitar in his hand and a jar for collections in front of him, Alan K. Lipton sings folk songs about the adventures of the legendary “Chronomariner.”
“Many years ago, I had the idea that I was going to do a vast, sprawling concept album,” Lipton said. “It was about a character named the Chronomariner. He sailed on a magical ship that went through all manner of times and places in a parallel universe where the dominant technology is magic.”
The Chronomariner, plays a strong role in Lipton’s imaginative storytelling and songwriting process. The character was created when Lipton developed a self-published ’zine titled “Information Sickness,” which took the form of news reports from parallel universes.
“I had a lot of ideas as a younger writer that I just kind of tossed in there. The Chronomariner was one of them, and so I sort of furthered the story through news reports from his world, called Universe Five. We’re in Universe One.”
Lipton, who has been writing songs since he was 14, began playing at the market more than 10 years ago. As a former rock critic, he said he became disillusioned with the restrictions on creativity that music business executives imposed on the performers in the name of commercial success.
“I would see a lot of these really creative and idealistic bands trying to squeeze themselves into whatever flavor of the month the A&R people were looking for…It was very disheartening to see them squashed out of that,” Lipton recalls. “From that point on, I decided I was going to do music on my terms. I wasn’t going to do it to get rich. I was going to do it to have fun.”
Lipton’s imagination knows no limits. As he explains on his website, “It’s my life mission to tell stories, and my ongoing vision to tell them in new ways. That’s why I call myself a fictioneer.”