New Song: “Welcome” (Click Title to Read Post)
This song is a wordy bugger, so I have little more to add about it here in this space. The subject matter of this one is not one looking far back, as with the last song, Heckscher Park. It is more from the point of view of the present. Musically, though, it reminds me a little of New Order’s Power, Corruption, and Lies LP. I guess that is another tie-in with the project, as a dialogue between the present and the past.
New Order was one of those bands that came at the right time. I bought that record at Newbury Comics in Boston the first autumn after I moved from Long Island to Massachusetts at age 16. Music at that time helped me — helped all of us — make sense of all those swirling teenage emotions. I felt like that record in particular helped galvanize the artist part of me, taking me from a being just a mediocre guitar player to a writer. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but moving was a chance for reinvention, an opportunity most people realize when they leave home for college. I aspired to write songs like New Order and other new artists. REM came to me the same year. Elvis, Talking Heads, and the Clash had already been there in my record collection. And they formed a bridge from influences like the Stones, Beatles, and Dylan (not to mention Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers). But I felt, in 1982, that I was leaving the 1970s behind and leaving my younger self behind. I was going to be an artist, a writer. I was going to work harder in school. I had felt lost in a big Catholic high school in New York. Not that I made any such conscious resolutions. In fact, junior year of high school started off as an absolute disaster and I was truly lost more hopelessly than ever before. But it all worked out by spring. I made some great friends who are still some of my closest today. I started loving academics for the first time in my life. I discovered Boston-area college radio, which was virtually life-saving back then, voices from the wilderness, out ont he edge, left of the dial. I realized I could write my own music. No one knew me. Why not?
I guess I could use this as a launching point to say that I finally met a bunch of these heroes from adolescence. This past Sunday, in one moment, I met a significant segment of my record collection: Keith Richards, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Chuck Berry, Elvis Costello, Al Kooper (who famously played on “Like a Rolling Stone” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and produced Skynyrd), and others. The “others” are people like Salman Rushdie, Caroline Kennedy, and Peter Wolf. Can you imagine thinking, geeze, Paul Simon, would you get out of my way so I could go talk to Keith Richards?
We were at this event (video of the whole thing here. You can also see a snippet video I took from my chair behind Leonard, at my Facebook page here). My friend, novelist Tom Perrotta, was presenting the opening remarks. He asked if I wanted to come along. Hmm, lemme check my calendar.
I got to chat with Keith for a few minutes, one on one. He had left the room after taking a few of these group shots:
Tom Perrotta, Salman Rushdie, Elvis Costello, Peter Wolf, Shawn Colvin, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Bill Flanagan. Photo by Bill Janovitz on his friggin’ iPhone.
Leonard, Chuck, Keith, Caroline Kennedy, Peter Wolf
Then he came back into the room, sidling up next to me with a drink, which he rested on a side table beside us. He was standing right next to me. I had thought about such a moment my whole life, like, what would I ever say to Keith Richards or Mick Jagger if I met them?
I said, “Keith, I just want to say hello. I am a huge fan, like everyone else. I mean, what can you say to Keith Richards?”
He smiled, shaking my hand, bowing his head down graciously, and replied in that raspy drawl, “Hey, man, I feel the same way about Chuck Berry.” He proceeded to discuss how sad a song “Memphis, Tennessee” is. “Hurry home drops in her eyes” indeed. I was having an out-of-body experience discussing music with the guy who was on a poster on my wall when I was a kid. A guy whose records I started listening to when I was maybe 8 years old. A man who influenced my whole career. A man about whom wrote I wrote a book. One of the giants of our era. It was everything I could do to keep from begging, “Keith, please let me be in the Rolling Stones with you! I know all the chords!”
The room was a Mount Rushmore of talent, as someone said. Never mind one of the guys who invented rock & roll. Chuck Berry drew me in with one of those handshake hugs. He is mostly deaf now, at 85. I said something. He said he had a bum ear, could not hear me, and drew me closer. I yelled in his good ear, “congratulations on the award, Mr. Berry!” He replied ,”I heard that!” Chuck Berry, whose records are canonical. This is a guy I saw play back in my college days, with the predictable pick-up bands he was playing with back in the 1980s and, despite his show-biz demeanor, brought me close to tears just listening to him sing those songs.
It was a crazy day. A once in a lifetime event. Clearly I have more to say about the day. I will write more about it in the coming days.
If nothing else, being in Buffalo Tom has directly or indirectly led me to meeting some other giants in my life: Mick Jones; Robert Plant; Jimmy Page; David Lynch; Gene Simmons; Nick Cave; David Byrne…Not to mention all of our contemporaries like Nirvana, Flaming Lips, Pixies, Thurston Moore, and so on. It has led to friendships with Tom Perrotta and Mike O’Malley. Chris Colbourn and I were chatting yesterday. He works with bunch of great artists like Steve Kropper and Duck Dunn, which in turn has led to him meeting Ringo, Bill Wyman, lots more. We recalled the time we met Plant and Page in Australia. Have I told that story on the blog at any point? I can’t recall and a search brings up nothing. It was a funny one: Chris and Bill and Jimmy and Robert out in the Sydney sunshine. Truth. Of course, for a while they thought we were the Finn Brothers of Crowded House. But even after we disabused them of that notion, they continued to regale us with great old stories.
There is something far more profound than their fame that makes it magical to meet artists we admire so greatly. To meet Max Roach and Archie Shepp back in college, to merely shake Leonard Cohen’s hand, to open up for the Gun Club in Paris, to be on the same plane back from Copenhagen as Bob Dylan — these are moments I just cherish for having been in the presence of greatness, the presence of people who seem to hold some secret. As Patrick Kavanagh wrote in “On Raglan Road:”
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May
Never mind church or temple; art is the closest that humans come to divinity. And I got to touch the hems of Keith’s and Chuck’s garments.
This is a poor lead on for a song that now has a lot to live up to. Ha! Forget all that. Here is the new song, “Welcome.” Feel free to begin your own fade anywhere in the song. I wanted it to go on for a while, though it makes it a bit epic in length.
Previous songs collected here. Please pass along to others and spread the word. I have no publicist!
All songs ©Bill Janovitz
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