Local Rhythms – Life-Changing Music

meet1.jpgIn his excellent autobiography, “Radio Waves,” Jim Ladd (the guy Tom Petty sang about in “The Last DJ”) recalls asking John Lennon about the impact his music had on the social changes of the 1960s.

“Artists are a kind of mirror of society, they’re not some luxury,” he answered. “Critics say … you sang about peace but you never got it. I think, what would have happened if we hadn’t said that?”

I believe in the transformative power of music; in some ways, it’s my religion. When I say “God’s in the Pod” – the iPod – I’m only half-joking. A good song takes me places in a way nothing else can.

So it intrigued me when a recent email asked for five records that changed my life. Not the best, you see – the most important. Here’s the list I made:

1. Meet the Beatles – I was 7, and one of the millions swept up by Beatlemania. But this discovery marked a departure from the sing-along folk and mysterious jazz I heard at home. The Beatles represented my musical declaration of independence.

2. Sounds of Silence – This Simon & Garfunkel record was under the Christmas tree one year. I hadn’t asked for it, but as I listened, my rebel heart softened a bit for my parents. I’ve tried to carry on the spirit of musical sharing with my own kids.

3. Black Sabbath – Did heavy music even exist before this band’s first record? Maybe, but nothing had the impact of the deep bells that opened side one, the maniacal Ozzy Osborne’s trembling voice, and those throbbing guitars.

4. Talking Heads ’77 – I’d heard of the CBGB’s scene, but thought it was about attitude, not art. I wasn’t interested. Then my best friend gave me this record and I realized that without attitude, music couldn’t aspire to art.

5. This Side – It was Nickel Creek’s performance at Lebanon Opera House as much as their second proper album (they made some kiddie bluegrass back when) that helped me to realize the walls had truly fallen. There are no genres, only music.

Thanks to Christopher Bergmann (his band Spectris plays the all day “Field of Rock” show August 18 at Okemo) for sending this my way. As Chris observed, “there are so many others.”

What are yours?

Here’s what’s hot in upcoming local music:

Thursday: Singer & Jordan, Inky’s Place – Here’s something I didn’t know about. There’s a school in White River Junction, the Center for Cartoon Studies, offering a two-year degree in the art of the graphic novel. The Hotel Coolidge re-named their café in its honor; Innkeeper David Briggs calls it a “de facto student union.” It’s also home to the occasional musical performance, tonight by Phil Singer and Laurianne Jordan, who’ve graced a few different area bands.

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – A crowd-pleasing four piece jazz combo that’s at turns smooth, sultry and swinging. Rosen has a subtle touch on guitar; a saxophone player who neither stands in the shadows nor tries to blow the room away complements him. What’s most impressive about this lineup is the organic interplay between the musicians. It’s an inspired, yet disciplined, jam session from one of the best groups to play this downtown venue.

Saturday: Last Kid Picked, Anchorage – It’s a busy weekend for this Newport band, helping Electra celebrate six years in business on Friday, and getting the harbor party started on Saturday. LKP has been together since 1996, when they played together for the first time at West Lebanon’s Werewolves. The lineup has changed considerably over the years, but the band is still a local institution that knows how to rock.

Sunday: Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival – The seventh annual event in Weston, Vermont closes with a morning gospel sing-along followed by mandolin wizard Buddy Merriam and his Back Roads band, and performances from the many faces of the Sawyers, the family that puts this festival together every year. It starts on Thursday, and features some of the best Americana around.

Tuesday: EdgeFest w/ Hem, Boston Symphony Hall – God bless Keith Lockhart. Under his helm, the somewhat stodgy Boston Pops has welcomed the likes of Aerosmith, Guster and Aimee Mann into their musical fold. The EdgeFest is now in its third year, a deliberate melding of the staid and the new. The 2007 edition features two nights of Cowboy Junkies, followed by this atmospheric chamber pop combo. The collaborative potential here is, to be sure, promising.

Wednesday: Morrissey, Pines Theatre – The former Smiths front man has moved on from the morose pop of “Pretty Girls Make Graves” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” – but he’s still miserable, only with more beefed-up arrangements. Somehow I can’t picture him playing outdoors in a Northampton park on a hot summer night, but we’ll see.

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