29 April 2010

Music - that's how the light gets in

We went to a concert Sunday night, in the wind and the rain and the unfamiliar roads upstate. It's been tough around here for a few weeks, what with family and health and jobs and distractions small and large. I had bought these tickets months ago, and I had looked forward to the concert even if I had nothing much else to look forward to ever since. Even with the wind and the rain and the unfamiliar roads, the concert was - transcendent. The bill: John Sebastian and Roger McGuinn.

Alas for John Sebastian, his voice has gone completely unmusical, turning into a bluesy, growly, unmelodic thing. I was startled and dismayed. Even though I'd read about it, I wasn't expecting such deterioration of the sweet, gentle voice I had loved in his Lovin' Spoonful days.

Funny though: John Sebastian's performance, his musicianship, his presence is as sweet and easy and funny as it ever was. The truly startling thing, to me, was that I'd never realized what a splendid guitarist he is: versatile, flexible, and perfectly suited to his songs. "Darlin' be home soon," he sings, "I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute of you dawdle," and you know that both the raspy voice and his guitar are telling the truth. He plays a mean harmonica (several, actually). Alas, no autoharp Sunday night. Maybe another time.

We went to a concert last year where Roger McGuinn was the only performer. That night, we sat first-row center, and I was utterly absorbed in the music and the wizardry of two hands, one guitar, and a symphony of tones being produced by one person. Sunday night, we were a few rows back, but it didn't matter.

Roger McGuinn has been one of my rock idols from "Turn, turn, turn" on. I've been downloading songs from his Folk Den project for years. ("The Great Selkie" and "Waltzing Matilda" are so, so beautiful!) Sunday night, he did some Byrds songs, showing how folk music and musicians influenced them, and he did many folk songs, including "Wild Mountain Thyme." And, of course, "Eight Miles High."

I first heard his solo performance on NPR while I was driving to a wedding. Fortunately, it wasn't my own wedding, because I pulled into a parking lot, listened, and then just sat for awhile in utter, total awe. (I was Quite Late.) You can listen here, but it doesn't compare to being in the room, 30 feet away, hearing the song as if for the first time, with a bit of Ravi Shankar thrown in, and some Coltrane, and some Segovia added to the unforgettable counter-melody and McGuinn's sweet voice.

At the end of the concert, John Sebastian joined Roger McGuinn for a few songs. Sebastian's harmonicas soared and chugged and chortled along with McGuinn's guitar and vocals. These men have known each other for decades. Their music, very different, blends and defines the best of the folk and rock and folk-rock creativity of the sixties.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
(from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem.")

Why the verse by Leonard Cohen? Because right now, in my life, music is "how the light gets in." And I am so, so grateful.


Donna Lee said...

I can't imagine John Sebastian with a growly voice. We recently saw Leo Kotke and I was enthralled by his guitar playing. I sat in the dark with my eyes closed transfixed by his mastery. Music has such power.

Of course, then we saw Los Lobos and I was enthralled in a whole 'nother way!

Carrie K said...

And besides, Leonard should have the last word in all. I do love that shard.

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Daphne said...

I am going to a show in May and am so, so looking forward to it. Music helps when life is tumultuous! So glad you got out.