As a beginning for what promises to be an extended series of posts on music, ways to listen to music, music I have listened to and things that happened to me because of music, I salute Chuck Berry. He died a couple of days ago at the age of 90. Here he is pictured doing his classic “duck walk” as he hopped across the stage on one leg with the other extended, all the while singing and playing the guitar.
I adored my older cousin Kenny, pictured below, who lived in the New York suburbs. I wanted a picture of us together, as he clearly didn’t! My little sister is laughing at the scene. What does that have to do with Chuck Berry?
By the time I was grown and living in Cambridge, I spent holidays with my uncle’s family. On one of those trips, Kenny took me into Harlem to hear Chuck Berry perform, probably in 1966. I had never seen anyone perform the way Berry did. He did splits and duck walked across the stage. I yelled and applauded along with everyone else. It was the first rock and roll concert I ever attended, but not my last.
As they say in the radio business, “Stay tuned.”
Great Performances – Joan Baez 75th Birthday Celebration The Beacon Theater, 2124 Broadway, New York, NY January 27, 2016
Last night I went to a concert of Joan Baez, now 75, performing a 90 minute concert with two musicians and one co-singer. Her son Gabriel, one of the musicians, played an astounding accompaniment on drums.
I first saw Baez in 1963(the photo on the left) in concert in Portland, Oregon with Bob Dylan. An electrical charge ran through us all, as it did between Dylan and Baez. Then her protest songs ran through my college years with her marriage to a draft objector, David Harris, highlighting my classmates resistance to the Viet Nam war. She had her son Gabriel about the same time I had my daughter, and her song “Honest Lullaby” encouraged me as a mother–“you got a mother who sings to you an honest lullaby.” Her cynical “Diamonds and Rust” with digs about Dylan resonated with my own attitude about romance at the time my marriage was dissolving.
In all, she has sung me through the majority of my life in a way that seemed quite personal. Last night, surrounded by a sea of fellow aging boomers, I realized that each of us, thinking we were alone with her voice, were actually part of an ocean of listeners. Our solitary experiences were united as we sang along, “Gracias a la Vida,” thankful for her life and our own.
I have loved listening to singers as long as I can remember. As a young child I loved Burl Ives, and I played Little Golden Records over and over on my little phonograph. I got my first hi-fi in high school and listened to Joan Baez for hours at a time. In college I got my first stereo, a portable with two detachable speakers, and immersed myself in the folk artists then playing regularly in Cambridge.
Today I am nourished by the lyrics of what are now called singer-songwriters. Of particular solace lately is Carrie Newcomer whose music I bumped into a few years back. A Quaker, Carrie explores daily life and its deep questions. She is an antidote to cynicism and despair. You can find her at www.carrienewcomer.com.