Local Rhythms – Remembering John

abbeyroadsmall.jpgLONDON – Last Saturday marked the 27th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and as fate would have it, I happened to be in London.   

On December 8, 2000, I didn’t simply react to Lennon’s murder; it was my responsibility to announce the sad news to listeners tuned into Q-106, as the Claremont station I worked for was known back then.

Opening my microphone and uttering the words “John Lennon is dead” was the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point in my short life.  To this day, it still seems unreal.   

I often wonder how life might be were the so-called “cynical Beatle” still among us.

I pondered this while crossing the street (made iconic by the album cover) to stand in front of Abbey Road studios.  What magic did we miss?  Would Lennon’s wit have illuminated the events of our day in the same way “Give Peace a Chance” – or for that matter, “Instant Karma” – still inspire us? 

I have to think so.  But I can only imagine what Lennon, who never shied away from controversy, might have said about, for example, the strange bedfellowship of George W. Bush, Tony Blair and the Iraq war.

Even in a world with John, the hoped-for Beatles reunion probably wouldn’t have happened.  A stoned-out Lennon and McCartney almost turned up on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 70’s, and that’s as close as it was ever going to get.   

John Lennon was, at the time of his death, the prototype of the anti-pop star.  He wanted nothing more than to raise his young son and make the occasional record.  Life on his terms – it’s a model that precious few celebrities follow today.

The advent of technology – the Internet, digital music, mobile communications – probably would captivate John’s playful nature.  I doubt he would have stood in the way of making Beatles songs available as MP3s – if he’d had any say in the matter. 

The Beatles were first a revelation, then a revolution and finally, a commodity.  Most of today’s pop music skips the first two steps and goes straight for the money.  That’s why so many new songs are heard first on TV shows or commercial jingles.

If John Lennon were still alive, he probably couldn’t have stopped this onslaught, but I would have loved to watch him try. 

What’s to love on the local live music scene this week?

Thursday: The Samples, Pickle Barrel – The return of ski season means the Killington nightclub scene is once again hot.  Tonight, it’s the jazz-rock fusion of this Vermont group, called by some “the best band you’ve never heard of.”  The jam-folk of Rustic Overtones is due two weeks hence, and there’s a heavy metal show next month.  Down the road, the Zen Tricksters (minus ex-Dead chanteuse Donna Jean Godchaux) play the Wobbly Barn.  Time the hit he slopes. 

Friday: Spectris, Imperial Lounge – Now a three piece band, this is not the Spectris you’ve known through the years. The addition of Josh Mosher (KAOS, Curst) on bass anchors a more aggressive, guitar-forward sound that takes its cues from power trios like Tool (and Rush, which means they haven’t completely forsaken their progressive rock roots).  Check out “Entrophy” on their MySpace page for a sample of this new, edgier sound.

Saturday: Méav, Plainfield Town Hall – This show was originally scheduled for the Lebanon Opera House.  The former “Celtic Woman” plays solo, now with the famous Maxfield Parrish curtain as her backdrop. Méav left the band earlier this year; these shows are among the first she’s done on her own.  When last in the region, the immensely popular group played the Verizon Wireless Center, so this is a great opportunity to experience her traditional Irish music in a more intimate (and quite beautiful) venue. 

Sunday: Christmas Revels, Hopkins Center – A holiday perennial closes its 4-day run tonight.  This year’s production, “Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Music, Dance & Stories of Scandinavia & the Northlands,” brings cultural traditions from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Karelia.

Tuesday: Billy Rosen & Peter Concilio, Tip Top Café – White River Junction is quite the jazz destination lately, and it doesn’t get any better than Rosen’s sweet, nimble touch on the guitar. Joined by Concilio, it’s sure to be a night of standards played with understated elegance.  With an early 6 PM start, this is also a nice after work diversion 

Wednesday: Beauty and the Beast, Briggs Opera House – The production of the smash Broadway musical doesn’t benefit from Disney’s unlimited budget, but with the veteran Brooke Ciardelli directing, it is quite inspired.  The music – “Be Our Guest,” “Something There,” the title song – is indelible, and the story is, well, a “tale as old as time.” In the hands of Northern Stage, one of the area’s finest cultural resources, that’s a perfect recipe.


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.