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Nursing a lingering cold that's rendered him "somewhat incoherent," Adam Goren rests on the counter at a Philadelphia deli and waits for someone to make a hoagie for him. "Thanks for being interested in what I do," he sniffles politely to the reporter on the other end of his cell phone. Goren, age 26, is nothing if not a nice Jewish boy -- sort of a geeky one with oversize glasses and a hooded pullover draped over a baseball cap -- with a self-deprecating shtick designed to deflect attention away from Atom and His Package, his one-man synth-punk traveling circus.
Atom and His Package adheres to a play-anywhere policy, with Goren just as content to set up his QY7000 Music Sequencer on top of pool and ping-pong tables at small-town VFW halls as the stage of a fancy rock club. One day Goren may find another degree of separation between himself and his art, but for now he's bringing his snappily self-aware songs to folks on his own terms: making the calls, booking the shows, DIY-style.
"I do tend to want to make sure people are treated well," he says, "and to treat people who deserve it with respect. And that goes hand in hand with doing a lot of things by yourself."
Goren has recorded two albums in his Philadelphia apartment with the QY7000 and his guitar, Making Love and Redefining Music. Both belie his love of the spirit and speed of punk, the Eighties hooks of Duran Duran, and keyboard riffs borrowed from OMD -- all adding up to what must be labeled a rehash of the Dead Milkmen, the Pulsars, and the Rentals.
Like the Dead Milkmen, Atom and His Package is usually good for laughs: Redefining Musicsports songs such as "Anarchy Means I Litter" and "Mission 1: Avoid Working with Assholes." Goren even covers Madonna's "Open Your Heart" with mock seriousness. The Best Title Award goes to "If You Own the Washington Redskins, You're a Cock," a slam against naming sports teams after degrading Native American stereotypes.
Controversy followed the Making Love tune "Hats Off to Halford," which praised ex-Judas Priest singer Rob Halford's courage to leave the closet and which generated a slew of nasty e-mails and letters (something the opinionated Goren is getting used to). Some correspondents disagreed with or misinterpreted Goren's stance, while others went a step further and questioned his right to exist at all. A gentleman who claimed to own a record label in Canada penned a note that is posted on Atom and His Package's Website. In part it reads: "I was just browsing the Internet for personal purposes, and I downloaded some of your music. And I must say Adam. It sucked. It was the worst “music' I had heard in a while.... And don't even try to call yourself punk. It is an insult to the punk rock community.... Good day, and hopefully you haven't quit your day job yet." This antagonism extends to frequent concert hecklers as well.
"I wouldn't expect everyone to like it, and if people don't like it, that's perfectly all right," Goren says defensively. "When people are being stupid or if they misunderstand things, I'll correct them or make it more clear what I'm saying so it's less likely to be misunderstood."
In fact Goren -- who insists he's not trying to be a provocateur -- doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. After his band Fracture (which enjoyed a modicum of success) broke up in 1995, he was introduced to the small but dynamic universe of the sequencer, which changed everything: "It happened by accident. I didn't expect to have a one-person rock thing," he says. "I just look at myself as writing songs, and for me, the songs are just what they are, just poppy, catchy stuff. I just enjoy playing, so I do that, and I enjoy making records, so I do that, too."
If a core of consciousness exists within Goren's push-button milieu, it's nothing complex, maybe just a subtle encouragement to be nice to others.
"Sometimes I think people are stupid; sometimes I think people are really amazing. I guess it's hard for me to say my songs are changing the world and making people think about things. I don't know if I'm communicating anything effectively."
But the positive and negative attention circling him proves he's doing something right. "It's more fun when people are really enthusiastic or really negative than standing around bored," he concedes.
The live arena has become a soapbox derby to Goren, a forum to spread his gospel of geekdom. In a sense he's a modern-day storyteller with a synthesizer -- sort of like Laurie Anderson, only he probably has to dodge more vegetables. The term performance artist holds a momentarily humorous appeal for the hoagie-anticipating Goren: "Does that mean I have to take off my clothes?"