Acoustic for Autism plays for a cure

A4AutismWhen Louis Gendron learned his daughter had been diagnosed with autism, he reacted instinctively. First he tried to learn as much as he could about tending to her physical needs. “It’s a marathon, there’s different challenges every day for parents,” said the Claremont native from his Wilton, NH home.

Then Gendron began looking for ways to fight back. “Fathers are typically problem solvers, we try to fix things.” But, he says in frustration, “I couldn’t fix her. I couldn’t solve the problem.”

Instead, he methodically pored through information on autism, a neural disorder with no known cure that, according to data released October 5 by the Center for Disease Control, now affects 1 in 100 Americans.

The more he learned, the greater his resolve to do something in response grew. “I thought I’d really like to help other parents who may not have access to the resources I do.”

This determination led to Acoustic for Autism, a compilation album benefiting Generation Rescue, a research organization devoted to recovering children from autism begun by actress Jenny McCarthy.

The collection of music includes 12 songs donated by a luminous array of independent artists, including Chris Trapper, Dennis Crommett (Winterpills), Kris Delmhorst and Cormac McCarthy.

Using music as a vehicle made a lot of sense for Gendron. Growing up in Claremont, he lived in a musical house, and learned drums and guitar at a young age. “My father was a drummer, I hung out in the studio with Foghat when I was a kid and I’ve been around a lot of musicians,” he says. His mother’s best friend was “Lady” Eve Whitcomb, the beloved Claremont singer who performed with Lionel Hampton and other jazz greats.

As an adult, Gendron did film editing work on music videos by Cowboy Junkies, Alice in Chains Metallica and Queensryche.

At first, he tried organizing a benefit concert, but the logistics proved unmanageable. “I put that on the side and stared working on an album. I thought I could reach a worldwide audience if I did it right,” says Gendron.

Calling on his musician friends (and a few he didn’t know but hoped to snag), Gendron got to work pulling the project’s threads together. “I t was like throwing darts at a dartboard,” he says. “I figured the worst thing people could say to me is no.”

At this point, fate – and Facebook – intervened in a way that would sound scripted if it weren’t true. Michael Cusanelli, a pal from Stevens High School whom Gendron hadn’t seen in 20 years, “friended” him on the social network site. A few weeks later the pair met for lunch in Keene.

They talked about life since graduation. Gendron spoke of his current job with a Southern California software developer, and his work making music videos back in the days when MTV still played them.

When Cusanelli said he was currently VP at World Sound, a Seattle record company, Gendron told him about Acoustic for Autism. “This is something I’m really passionate about,” he recalls saying.

“Mike said, ‘great, I’ll put it out through my record label. Let’s team up on this.’ That’s really what I needed, because I didn’t know how to distribute the thing or put it out,” Gendron says.

Then stunningly, a few weeks after the two old friends began working together, Cusanelli learned that one of his children had autism.

“The fact that we reconnected out of the blue right around the time I hit that wall, where I needed some industry help – that was pretty wild. We both sort of realized it was meant to be,” says Gendron.

“Then, when one of his own kids was diagnosed with autism, we knew we had to make this happen.”

Cusanelli sent Gendron a steady stream of songs, including one by a World Sounds artist, Amuhea, and another from Analogue Transit, a band he’d been negotiating with before getting involved in the project.

The music they eventually chose for the record is as varied as the many ways autism can touch families’ lives.

“I wanted different emotions captured in the songs,” says Gendron. “I didn’t want [them] to be so literal … to be autism songs. I wanted it to be about hope, and spiritual … but I was thinking of things that I’ve gone through personally.”

His intent is perfectly distilled in the lyrics of the Kris Delmhorst contribution to Acoustic for Autism, “Light of the Light,” originally heard on her 2006 album Strange Conversation:

Who will soothe the fevered children?
Who will heal these separations?
Maybe even now it’s coming
We can wait no longer, we can wait no more.

“But I also wanted to put together a collection of great acoustic music,” says Gendron. “Even if you aren’t affected by autism in any way, you could buy the album, enjoy the music and say, I really want to learn more about this.”

The album was released September 29 on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody and the web site. There’s no CD, but digital copies of liner notes and credits are included with purchase.

“We want to maximize the funds going to charity, and minimize the use of plastics and the environmental impact,” explains Gendron.

The choice of Generation Rescue as a beneficiary may spark controversy – not everyone shares Jenny McCarthy’s opinion about the role of aggressive vaccinations in autism. But Gendron believes their high profile is vital. “We wanted to work with an organization to help get the word out,” he says. “I don’t care about blaming anybody … let’s just figure out what it is and fix it.”

“We’re steering clear of getting on a political bandwagon,” says Gendron, adding that his effort is “not affiliated with Generation Rescue” – only donating money to it.

“We want to keep the focus on helping parents on a direct level. If this project is successful, we’ll have more freedom and choices to help other organizations.”

Local Rhythms – Going the distance

gdbThe greatest book ever written is nine sentences long – and I can’t wait for the movie.

I discovered Maurice Sendak’s magical Where The Wild Things Are when I had children of my own. For a time, reading it to each of them was a nightly ritual.

Every child understands the story. Rowdy Max is sent to bed without supper, and escapes to an imaginary world – what kid wouldn’t get that?

The 48-page picture book was a bit like a hit song you can’t get enough of, but eventually you do. And great music, like a compelling story, lights a spark that makes you wanting more.

When the movie version opens in theatres Friday, I’ll be there.

Stories lead to novels and more, just like songs lead to albums – at least the great ones do.

One of my favorite satellite radio stations is Deep Tracks. Their pithy slogan, “we’re not single-minded,” sums up what I’m looking for in music – a body of work.

The other day I fired up the Gabe Dixon Band’s eponymous 2008 album, on the recommendation of another music writer. I was floored – there isn’t a bad moment on it. Piano-driven rock informed by elements as disparate as Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Jason Mraz and Ben Folds, Gabe Dixon’s music is addictive.

This experience, a record without a bad track, isn’t as rare as the cynics would have you believe. There are a lot of good full-length works out there. Claiming otherwise is a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to the purchase of a lot of junk music.

No one spends their whole life reading nothing but picture books, yet they often do it with music. That’s the equivalent of eating a candy bar because healthier options are too much work.

Someone said to me the other day that Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ longevity surprised them. “They seemed like throwaways back when,” he said. “Now they’re the keepers of the flame.”

At some point, people moved from thinking about particular songs to the Tom Petty sound.

When they went to see him in concert, they weren’t hoping he’d play one thing – they wanted to hear everything.

I’m not going to be a crusty curmudgeon and claim that career musicians like Tom Petty are a thing of the past.

They just exist in an alternate universe.

Cross the galaxy. Find these artists, like Gabe Dixon, and demand nothing less.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Oct. 15: Spencer Lewis, Hartness House – Looking ahead on the calendar, there’s a lot of music scheduled at this historical Springfield restaurant. I’m very sad that Layah Jane, scheduled to perform last Sunday evening, canceled at the last minute. But I’m pleased that this pastoral guitarist is playing. In the coming weeks, look for Sylvan Lewis, Folk by Association and The Harper & The Minstrel, among others.

Friday, Oct. 16 John Sullivan Band, Silver Fern Grille & Bar – Springfield rocker Sullivan, a commanding singer and accomplished guitarist, toggles between classic rock, current hits and big bluesy originals with his four-piece band. He’s been playing in one form or another since the 1960s, and has released a couple of independent records, Many Voices and Touch the Sky. His latest project is a Christian rock effort.

Saturday, Oct. 17: Paingivers Ball, Claremont Moose – This is really about easing pain, not inflicting it; the name is a reference to show organizer and tattoo artist Rick Bellimer’s profession.  The musical lineup includes Stonewall, Soul Octane Burner and Roadhouse, along with Boston’s Last Regret, and it’s a full-on costume ball. Wear something crazy, and bring a non-perishable food item to replenish depleted area food banks.

Sunday, Oct. 18: Bob Merrill w/ Chloe Brisson, Canoe Club – This 14-year old prodigy has been singing since she could talk. Matt Wilson and Fred Haas (who coached her at Interplay Jazz Summer Camp in Woodstock for several years) joined Brisson on her debut CD, “Red Door Sessions.” Piano player Merrill, a mainstay at backing area vocalists, provides wonderful accompaniment to the young singer.

Tuesday, Oct. 20: Adam McMahon Trio, Windsor Station – A top-notch blues player with an interesting biography. While deployed in the Middle East with the Air National Guard, he began an open microphone night. How cool is that? The Maine native also played in fellow Iraq veteran Larry Dougher’s band for a stint. The two still do occasionally get together to make music. McMahon’s three-piece configuration draws from the genre’s greats like B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Local Notes:   Mark and Deb Bond are now Wednesday regulars at Ramunto’s Pizza in Claremont. Check them out, and keep live music alive!

Compass Preview

Worth driving out of town

Keene Pumpkin Festival

Distance: 39 miles
When: Saturday, October 17, 10AM – 9PM
Tickets: FREE

There’s something fundamentally wrong with Boston, a city of over 600,000 people, stealing Keene’s crown for the most lit jack-o-lanterns in one place a few years ago. But the humble city of 22,000 took it in stride, continuing to host its’ annual Pumpkin Festival while publicly de-emphasizing attempts to re-claim the title.

Not that they won’t be trying. Everyone attending is asked to bring a carved pumpkin and a votive candle. But there’s a lot more to this event than orange orbs as far as the eye can see.  For example, a kid’s costume parade that’s always a great photo opportunity, a $2.00 climbing wall for teenagers, fireworks, food and vendor stands and a great array of music, on three different stages.

A local radio station is sponsoring its own music festival in the McCue’s Billiard Hall parking lot, located near the lower end of Main Street on Emerald Street. The event, which will raise money for the Professional Firefighters of Keene Local 3265 Scholarship Fund, features Edens Lie, Bending Tunez, the Conniption Fits, Vegas Temper and Aerosmith tribute band Draw the Line.

Mark your calendar

Who: Last Kid Picked
Where: Newport Opera House
When: Saturday, Oct. 31, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $16 (21+ only)

Daylight Saving Time ends on Halloween night. Does that mean the night of spooks and hauntings will last an extra hour? If so, the place to be is Newport, for an adults-only masquerade ball that includes a full bar and the much-beloved Last Kid Picked, a band that’s been making music in one form or another since All Hallows Eve 1996.

That first night, the band was known as the Werewolves of London, and since then October 31 has belonged to LKP, which plays a mix of classic rock and pretty much everything else. Their song list includes “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy,” Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” and even an Eminem song or two.  How’s that for variety?

This shindig has sold out in years past, so it’s best to check soon for tickets. They Newport Opera House is unique in that it feels less like a performance hall than a party for affairs like this one, with big tables and chairs spread out across the floor. Be warned, though – patrons will move the furniture when dancing fever strikes.

Local Music Spotlight

Who: Second Wind
What: A funky Americana Sonny & Cher – “Classy, sassy, and fun, with a little fire”
Sounds like: Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins with finesse guitar playing

Terry Ray Gould and Suzi Hastings play a lot of farmer’s markets, which makes sense. The two members of Second Wind have the same kind of intimacy with their music that local growers have with their crops. Each rendition of a well-known song is handcrafted with the same kind of care

The two were friends for a long time before deciding to enter a talent show at the Newport Opera House, where Hastings is well known for her musical theatre work. For the showcase, the pair covered Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and something clicked. That was three years ago, and they’ve been playing together ever since.

Summer is wound down, but last week they performed in Claremont’s Broad Street Park gazebo one last time, playing until it was dark. They’re obviously passionate about what they do. The only thing Terry seems to love more is warm apple pie, which explains the farmer’s market connection.

Upcoming gigs:

Thursday, Oct. 15 – Brown’s Tavern, Brownsville
Fridays through Nov. 27 – Carmella’s, Claremont
Saturday, Nov. 28 – Brown’s Tavern     Brownsville
Friday, Dec. 11 – Elixir, White River Junction
Tuesday, Dec 29. Quechee Club, Quechee