The Lyrics That Live With Me

When Lou Reed died, there was some great news coverage, such as the NY Times obituary, and much absurdity – which I guess could be predicted. My local news stations struggled to explain him to those who’d never heard of him. Here and there a reporter would add personal viewpoint (“He singlehandedly invented alt rock!”) to the obit pablum. Pablum. Does anyone still know what pablum is?

Not for the first time, I was grateful and impressed with how social media responded. Facebook, for example, didn’t just spread the news of his death, but also filled with tributes from people to whom Reed had mattered. Many simply quoted song lyrics that were important to them, which started conversational riffs that were moving and healing. I wish social media had been available when we lost Lennon! Or Strummer!

All of which got me thinking about what song lyric I would quote if another of my musicians dies before I do. There are certain songwriters who have been so important at some point in my life – so transformative – that their deaths would leave permanent holes. Even if I haven’t listened to (or thought about) some of them for decades, I need them to be in the world.

Below are the lyrics I might post. Although who knows what might instead occur at the time. When Alex Chilton died it wasn’t Chilton’s words or Big Star’s lyrics that surfaced, but Westerberg’s tribute song, Alex Chilton.

I’m in love, what was that song? 

Here is one of my lists. What would yours be?

 Leonard Cohen

 I have tried in my way to be free.

Elvis Costello
(note: the link has lyrics altered for TV!)

And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
trying to anesthetize the way that you feel.

John Doe

You are the lump in my throat
I am the aching in your heart.

Bob Dylan

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.
Okay here is where I acknowledge what a silly exercise this is.
The proper Dylan lyric changes hourly.

Exene & John Doe

She had to get out. Get out. Get out. Get out.

Patti Smith

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Bruce Springsteen

The dogs on Main Street howl because they understand
If I could take one moment into my hand

Graham Parker

Life isn’t good enough. Music makes it good enough.
(Actually that quintessential Parker line
comes from an interview not a lyric.)

Kelly Joe Phelps

like a shine-eyed Mr. Zen
actually I’d probably use the lyrics that Corinne West
surely wrote for him in “Whiskey Poet“,
You took some chances
now the silence is your friend
As will I be in the end

Chris Thile

I’d probably quote his stage observation
that he lives vicariously through his own songs.

Paul Westerberg
(Live video without image.
Song that truncates unexpectedly.
Yup. Those were our ‘Mats.)

Look me in the eye and tell me I’m satisfied.

Neil Young

I am just a dreamer but you are just a dream.

This post responds to a recent WordPress weekly writing challenge about music that matters.)

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Concert Review: Chris Thile and the Largo-at-the-Coronet, Summer 2011

Yes, this concert was a long time ago.  (And why do I write concert reviews, anyhow? My readers probably don’t have a time machine so can’t attend. ) (Well, Sue, I write concert reviews in hopes of sharing awareness about the musicians.) (If anybody out there does have a time machine, be sure to let me know!  There are many concerts I wish to revisit and this one tops the list.)

One sentence post. Five sentences digression. A new record?

Which adds three sentences to the digression tally.

ANYWAY.

This concert changed my life. In just a scant few hours, I discovered two of my all-time favorites: one a musician, the other a venue. Chris Thile, the Largo at the Coronet.

I went to the show without knowing Thile’s music. I was ignorant of then-adolescent-Thile’s famous, defunct, alt-bluegrass band, Nickel Creek. I went to the show because I was on the Punch Brothers email list-serv. Thile is a Punch Brother, and that list-serv announced Thile’s show near me, and I figured what the hey At that time, I didn’t really know the Punch Brothers’ music, either. As serendipity would have it, I had recently been in New York for work, had a few hours between meetings, happened to get a ticket to a David Letterman show taping. The musical guest happened to be the Punch Brothers. They played one song and it was awesome, so I found their list-serv. But I hadn’t gotten around to listening to them. (P.S. Turns out they are awesome all the time.)

Thile is a miracle, one of a kind. If you don’t believe me, maybe it will help to learn that T-Bone Burnett calls him a once-in-a-century musician; Yo Yo Ma raves about him. Even more persuasive, perhaps: my teenagers, who I basically forced to attend this concert with me, spent the entire 45-minute drive home thanking me for forcing them. Also, Thile recently won a MacArthur (“Genius”) award, although he doesn’t talk about it much.

Thile primarily plays mandolin. That first concert, he mostly played bluegrass, and Appalachian music, to which I had no aversion but also no previous affinity. He threw in some Radiohead and Shins. Oh, and Bach. Oh, and the Pink Elephants song from DumboIn fact, strands of Pink Elephants kept winding their way into the middle of other tunes, which became laughoutloud funny.

I love good stage patter and Thile had great patter that night. He’s witty, sarcastic, friendly, and smart. Turns out he used to be a regular at the Largo, before he moved to Brooklyn. So there was a warm, homey air in the theater.

Largo at the Coronet Marquee (from coolspotters.com)

Largo at the Coronet Marquee (from coolspotters.com)

Turns out there is always a warm, homey air at the Largo at the Coronet, a 300 seat theater with great sound, painful seats and an incredible vibe. The instant I first walked into the courtyard I felt right, being there. I’ve become a regular.  In fact, the Largo has ruined me for other venues. Sadly, I missed out on the original Largo, a tiny bar down the road a piece. When the Largo relocated, it took over the Coronet, which was once a legit theater. Buster Keaton played there. Bertolt Brecht directed Charles Laughton there. Like I said, an incredible vibe.

Largo shows feature a collection of regulars, as well as newcomers. There are comedians and musicians who perform there every month and hang out there the rest of the time. That first night, three other regulars joined Thile on stage. So not only did we discover Thile and the Largo, we also got blown away by Fiona Apple (a modern chanteuse and unique songwriter) and Jon Brion (a musical encyclopedia and champion, maybe not in that order) and Sean Watkins (a wonderful songwriter, guitar player and dry humorist who was in Nickel Creek with Thile).

Now that you have read about the Largo, please forget about it. 300 seats sell fast, I don’t need more purchasing competition.

If Thile ever plays anywhere remotely near where you are – Go. Just go. Don’t miss that show for any reason.

There are many splendid Thile videos on YouTube. Below are a few.

Thile on different musical genres and fans:

Typical improv, this time with bluegrass hero Michael Daves:

Straight-up Bach:

Covering Elliott Smith at the New York installment of No Name #1, a tribute concert:

Short interview with brief snippets of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers:

The WordPress Daily Prompt inquires about firsts.