HOTSEAT- Restyling: Carden returns to first love

Carden's sound
Here's the first track from his new album, Journey on Tuesday, "In the Storm of Your Burning Mind."

Career columnist Penelope Trunk calls a job change "a chance to address a change of heart," and one local man seems to agree. After devoting more than a decade making a success of the downtown hair salon that bore his name, Carden recently took a step back from the arts of the deal and the hair to focus on another one: music.

"Two years ago, I hit a turning point and realized that I needed to get back to what I was really about," he says. While he still rides his Segway to the same building every morning, he's no longer the owner– or the eponym. Carden: The Salon has become Carden: The Composer.  

Instead of poring over the intricacies of a demanding business, he's currently preparing for a concert on April 15 at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church and promoting Journey On Tuesday, an album that brings his operatic grandeur to original pop tunes. He says he's also working on a musical he hopes to take into production next spring.

Carden says he has always been musical, thanks to a talented family– his mother and grandmother were both music teachers. "Growing up, my mom always had a rock band," he says. "When I was 17, she said, 'I want you to learn how to sing properly.'  I started training, and the next thing I knew, I was in a conservatory."

After graduating from the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Carden headed to the Big Apple, where he landed at the Metropolitan Opera to specialize in 18th-century music– despite having just turned 20. He made his debut at Carnegie Hall at 24, and after spending two and a half years in Europe, Carden returned to the United States more than a decade ago, settling down in Charlottesville in his new shop next to the Mudhouse on the Downtown Mall.

Mary Elizabeth Forbes has been collaborating with Carden for years and helped with arrangements on the new album. "I've been coaching singers for 35 years," she says. "It's very unusual for a singer to have a fully functional, hire-able instrument in more than one register, especially a male. John broke the mold on that." 

She estimates that he has a three-octave range; in other words, his voice can go from the lowest note on the bass clef to the highest note on the treble clef.

But on an even larger scale, Carden: The Composer might as well be Carden: The Chameleon. He's in the midst of a highly improbable transition, casting aside a lucrative business in order to rediscover his first love. But hey, if it worked for John Tesh and Shaq....

Age: 64. Will you still love me? Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm  64? Doo dee doo dee da! [He's nowhere near that old–editor]

Why here? Well, because we all come from nowhere to now here.

What's worst about living here? I'm not sure, but I bet it's better than the worst thing about dying here. Don't you think?

Favorite hangout? The Inn at Court Square; it's so cozy, and they have killer cookies!

Most overrated virtue? Patience? Yeah, I think that's it, but isn't that for others to decide? How can I be objective?

People would be surprised to know: My mother rode on the back of a motorcycle with Elvis Presley and ate bacon cheeseburgers with him (but not at the same time). And no, I'm not Elvis's love child, but thanks for asking.

What would you change about yourself? The idea that I need to change myself.

Proudest accomplishment? Figuring out that you live in this world only once for sure, and making the decision to live every day on purpose.

People find most annoying about you: I can tell when they're not being truthful.

Whom do you admire? John Douglas Forbes, my 97-year-old friend, who was the first professor ever hired by the Darden School. He still walks a mile a day and is still writing books! Now that's a man on purpose!

Favorite book? To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee rocks!

Subject that causes you to rant? Who wants to waste time doing that? I'd rather have a chocolate milkshake at Chaps.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Talking dogs. It's been wonderful to finally know what's on Blanche's mind!

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Flying Monkeys! I saw them on television the other day. They were picking up some nice girl with red shoes. What's that all about?

What do you drive? A Segway, but everybody knows that!

In your car CD player right now: Humbeto Sales and the lovely Madeline

Next journey? Journey on Tuesday, of course!

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Getting caught in the girls' dormitory after hours in high school. I was just trying to help a friend get chewing gum out of her hair.

Regret: Not having my grandmother around. She was way cool, more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

Favorite comfort food: Lobster mashed potatoes and chocolate meringue pie, not necessarily together!

Always in your refrigerator: Figs

Must-see TV: CBS Sunday Mornings. Not 'If it bleeds it leads' stories, just really interesting stuff. I always feel better after watching!

Favorite cartoon: The Partridge Family in Outer Space

Describe a perfect day. Bikram Yoga, breakfast, and then sitting at the piano writing. I get lost in that world.

Walter Mitty fantasy: It was being a super hero, fighting crime on my Segway, but that came true, so can I get back to you on that one? Maybe playing the role of Liberace in the made-for-TV movie.

Who'd play you in the movie? Judi Dench. Oh, come on now, it's no more far-fetched than the possibility of anyone ever making a movie about me!

Most embarrassing moment? Getting an OB Tampon stuck in my nose on the way to sing my first Messiah with the Winston Salem Symphony. I had a nose bleed, and it was the only thing my Mom had in her purse to stop the bleeding. Of course, the dear women has never had a handkerchief with her in her life! After they finally got it out, my left nostril was the diameter of a silver dollar!

Best advice you ever got? What you think of me is none of my business.

Favorite bumper sticker? Everything you need is on its way!

John Carden



Who knew that Phish broke up, Jonathan Fishman would go on to become a hairstylist? Such a multi-talented man.

People find most annoying about you: "Well I ride a segway, and I'm almost identical to a Paul Dinello character in my overall ridiculousness. I just think I'm a lot more interesting than I really am!"

Are you kidding me? Carden is incredibly interesting...and oozing with talent. I thought his interview in the Hook was hilarious. I also went to his concert and it rocked!!!!!

Anyone who can sing opera AND rock music deserves major props!

John -

I thought you'd say i inspired you out by the bonfires on sandy point...great to see you doing well -- and to anyone reading this post, John is by far the most intelligent and interesting/interested person i've ever come across. Oh, and he wails like a sober van morrison.

I knew this guy when he was at North Carolina School of the Arts -- believe me the ONLY reason he'd be in a girl's dorm after hours would be to get gum out of some chick's hair or to teach a make-up class. He was the only kid around that wore a Rolex and had a closet full of designer women's clothing. Mommy's money, I guess.