Save The Country

Last night on "Celebrity Apprentice" Donald Trump said it was all about passion.  That he’d seen plenty of smart, educated, competent people, but what turned him on, what made people shine, was passion.

On the freeway this morning, I heard Rod Stewart’s "Handbags &  Gladrags".  I flashed back to my dorm room at Middlebury, listening to the first two Rod Stewart albums, which I’d ordered blind from the Record Club of America.

You can only imagine dropping the needle on that voice.  I thought it was a joke, I thought I’d been punk’d.

You’ve got to dial up "Gasoline Alley"’s title cut.  You hear a great Ronnie Wood slide, and then this guy who sounds like he’s had too many drinks and has decided to step up to the mic after the bar has closed starts to sing.  You think you know twenty people who can sing this good and then…

Going home, running home
Down to gasoline alley where I started from

You might not be old enough to remember the comic strip, but most of us come from nowhere.  We’ve got our dreams. Our lives are about the challenge of trying to make them come true.  Some make excuses, about upbringing, and slights, and end up woulda coulda shoulda been contenders.

Then there are others, with pure desire and a modicum of talent, who almost will their success.  They need to get out of the hole they’re in, they need the adulation, they just can’t settle.

This is the common denominator of all great artists.  Not talent, but desire.  The 10,000 hours Gladwell speaks of.

And when done right, their  music resonates with us not because of its sheer sheen, but its intimacy, its truth.

That’s what crossed my mind when I listened to "Handbags & Gladrags" on SiriusXM’s Bridge.  Some people want to go to the show to hear the hits.  I want to go to hear the tracks that touch my soul.

The casual listener needs the hits.  The fan needs to hear that song that he listened to in his bedroom that made him feel like he was not alone.  Sometimes the two are one and the same, but rarely so.  It would be like meeting someone at a party and immediately telling them your innermost thoughts, your victories, your losses, how you’re down because your relationship ended.  You just don’t do that.  You put on your best face.  That’s what a hit is.

A hit puts a smile on your face.

"Handbags & Gladrags" puts my life in relief, makes me think not of parties, but solo experiences years back, when the song in my head got me through.

And this morning I’ve been checking out some recommendations.  Empire Of The Sun is pretty good.  So is Gazpacho.

Then I checked out Berton’s recommendation.

There was just a link, I figured it would be something snazzy and brand new.  But it was Laura Nyro.

And what immediately reached me was the joy in her playing.  It was effortless.  She wasn’t concentrating on getting it right, she wasn’t playing for the back row, she was setting herself FREE!

You can go to Berklee, even Julliard, they’ll never teach you passion.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop will teach you how to craft a story, but it certainly can’t teach you how to tell it in a way that resonates with others.

There’s just something here.  Laura Nyro is not the most beautiful girl on the block, I’m sure you can find someone who can play the piano better, someone with a better voice, but the pure banshee wail of a bird in flight draws your eyes like a rocket blasted into the universe, you just can’t stop watching, you’re titillated, you feel strangely alive, you’ve got to play the clip AGAIN!

It’s almost impossible to delineate, to describe, you’ve just got to EXPERIENCE it.  That’s what they always want to do, take you to the gig, so you can truly get it.  But rarely is what is being purveyed truly great.

That’s what sold Springsteen.  I saw him and the entire E Street Band scrunched onto the tiny Bottom Line stage in the summer of ’74.  When he debuted "Jungleland", a song that wouldn’t see wax for another summer, I could envision the entire tableau, not only because Springsteen was so talented, his words were so good, but because he needed to tell this story, he needed to convey what was in his head to those in attendance.

It’s kind of like what Clive Davis says, he’s looking for stars.

It’s just that the definition of a star has changed.  Now it’s someone good-looking, with a talent at melisma, who is totally malleable.  It used to be someone unique, who not only made us marvel, but made us feel human, and connected.

Laura Nyro was never that big a star.  But her songs were.  What seemed so personal when she performed it was positively universal in the hands of the 5th Dimension and Barbra Streisand.

But no one performs a song like the writer.  They’ve lived through the birthing process, the pain and the joy.  When they sing, it’s from deep inside, from the depth of their souls, we’re shocked and riveted, we can’t pay attention to anything else.

Music will exist forever.  Acts will top the chart.  But that doesn’t mean there will be any stars.  Agents and labels can build an act, advertising can make them look big.  But too often you end up with something serviceable, like Grand Funk Railroad.  A blip in time that greased the skids of life for a while, but was forgotten when its time was done.

Then there are artists with music that survives the passing of its creator.  Because of its uniqueness, because of its vision.

The system is stacked against this kind of artist in the traditional world.  And in the independent world, there are too many acts with fans, but not chops.  They appeal to a group, but not everyone.

Not that Laura Nyro appealed to everyone.  But no one could see her perform and walk away and say she was trash. Because you could see her testing the limits, because you could see she needed this, because you could see yourself inside her music, your better self, who was not self-conscious, who was brazen enough to throw off his shackles, jump off the cliff and try to fly.

We all want to soar.

But most are too scared to take a chance.

So we revel in the flight of artists.  That’s what brings us to the show, that’s what makes us go back.  We want to see that performer in the sky telling us how great life can be, that if we’re willing to dream and work hard we can live unfettered, fully-realized lives.

Laura Nyro – Save the Country

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