This is the fifth of an occasional series profiling Connecticut people who frequently share their insights, passions and opinions with fellow readers in CT Viewpoints commentaries.
“So how did you know I was a musician?” Eric Kuhn asks, placing two CDs of his music on a table of Perk on Main in Middletown.
Kuhn, 67, lives in Middletown with his wife, Sandra Kopell. Born and raised in Chappaqua, New York, he is a graduate of Wesleyan University where he studied “what was called Comparative Government,” as back then “they had five different government majors.”
“I’ve been basically here ever since,” he said.
Since finishing up at Wesleyan “around 1980,” Kuhn has worked a series of different jobs. He spent time as a landlord and as a school bus driver. Still, since his time as an undergraduate student, Kuhn’s main interest has always been in music.
“I took a lot of music courses, but I realized at some point that my music career was not going to be the kind that you need to have the major,” he said. Kuhn’s current occupation is playing bass in the local Connecticut swing band, “Eight to the Bar.”
“‘Eight to the Bar’ is pretty wild. The guy that I replaced had been their bass player for like 26 years or something like that,” Kuhn said. “The band was founded the same year I came to Wesleyan, in 1975.” The band draws on American roots music including swing, boogie-woogie, and Motown as its musical influences.
While the band was formed in New Haven in 1975, “Eight to the Bar” has just one original member left, — the founder, Cynthia Lyon.
“Back in the day, they had toured and played every night. And players were on salary.” Nowadays, the band plays about six or seven gigs a month.
Musically, “Eight to the Bar” is very disciplined. “It’s the opposite of a jam band,” said Kuhn. “Generally speaking, every song is arranged through. We do it just the way we do it.”
Eight to the Bar “is by far the most professional band I’ve ever been in,” he added.
Kuhn’s professional music experience isn’t limited to “Eight to the Bar.” In 1988, Kuhn formed a rock trio also in Middletown called “The Bus,” and he also previously operated a recording studio.
Additionally, Kuhn produces his own solo music. Two of his albums include an older one titled “PoLITICS,” and his most recent work, “Only a Lifetime.”
“PoLITICS” is, as it sounds, a political commentary album. It features track titles including “Eric for Congress,” and “Romney Hotel” — a parody of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel.”
A line on the CD case of “Only a Lifetime” includes a note from Eric reading “Some of these recordings began life as far back as 1985. The songs have followed me from one recording studio to another, lyrics and key signatures changing with time.” The album includes the songs “Wish I was a Monkey” and “School Boy Blues.”
Kuhn is also working on launching a musical duo with another member of “Eight to the Bar,” and, accordingly, he has been practicing his piano.
“Truthfully, as a bass player, I’ve been good enough to do whatever I needed to do for a long time and I never wanted to be a virtuoso, so actually I don’t practice,” he said. Piano “is a thing where I absolutely am practicing. It’s a challenge for me.”
Outside of music, Kuhn is an avid writer to many different local outlets, including CT Mirror’s Viewpoints. Opinion writing is not a new undertaking for Kuhn.
“One year, I actually had a column in the [Middletown] Press, before it was bought by Hearst,” he said. “At that time, it was a little chain of its own, there was the Middletown Press, the New Britain Herald and the Bristol Press. And I had a weekly column in those papers for over a year. They never paid anything.”
The list of topics he has covered in commentaries ranges from the concept of a law against “what ought not to be done” and its relation to Tennessee’s overturned anti-drag law, to a satirical piece advocating for ending “gunlessness” in the United States.
Kuhn said he especially appreciated publications that allow higher word counts for their letters to the editor and op-eds.
“I wrote so many letters, with [a short] word count in mind that I swear to God, I started to feel like I was thinking 250 word thoughts,” he said. But beyond the length of his writing, Kuhn also prefers to write in a satirical voice for many of his works. This, he says, is due to his “general enjoyment of humor.”
“It doesn’t have to be only making fun of someone for political reasons,” he said. In Kuhn’s eyes, his humorous tone is also for the benefit of his audience.
“I parody sometimes. It feels to me like it’s likely to go down better; it might be more user friendly,” he said. “It’s certainly appropriate to just denounce stuff and get outraged. But it might be more fun to have someone just kind of skewer it.”
Kuhn also often writes pieces with a legal angle, as he also attended law school — a fact that he mentions as an afterthought.
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot,” he said. “Somewhere along the way I went to law school.”
Kuhn attended law school at the University of Connecticut beginning in 1991 after listening to the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings, during which he “had this feeling that these people were talking in a language that he “wouldn’t mind learning.”
The first time he took the bar exam, Kuhn failed. And while waiting to take it again, he came to realize he didn’t want to be a lawyer. “I’m not cut out to do an office job of any kind,” he explained.
Still, he asked himself, “So what, are you going to tell the world? That you’re not going to take the bar again, because you’ve already decided you don’t want to be a lawyer?” It was a scenario which to him was “not going to cut it.”
Kuhn took the bar a second time and passed, though he has never practiced law. Now, he uses his law degree to inform his world view, he said.
Ironically — and no bar association pun intended — joining “Eight to the Bar” allowed Kuhn to pursue music, not law, full time. In fact, he said he makes the same in the band as he did driving a school bus years ago, which was “about the coolest thing that could possibly happen.”