Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Will The Circle Be Unbroken | Lefsetz Letter

I was introduced to Joe Chambers. I told him about getting squeezed at their free concert in Boston Common, and stunningly he remembered it and started reminiscing.

Then we got into a long conversation with Richard Foos about Gary Stewart and…

We were at Tom Hayden’s widow’s house for a benefit, the fusion of Get Lit and the Ash Grove Music Foundation. Get Lit brings poetry to inner city schools and the Ash Grove Music Foundation… Actually, Ed Pearl, the proprietor of the Ash Grove, was in attendance, they showed a short film about him and one was brought back to the time when music was dangerous, before the Beatles, when folk music ruled and we all knew it and sang it and…

Ultimately we heard some of the prizewinning poets, but we were really there to see Jackson Browne.

But first was this woman Barbara Morrison. She sat on stage, she’s had both legs amputated, and when she opened her mouth… They may have singers on TV, but they don’t have the music in them. Barbara reached deep down inside and she was testifying, and the assembled multitude could only sit there in rapt attention. You can command a room with just your voice, if you know how to do it.

And Jane Fonda gave a speech about the camp she and Tom opened up, about literacy and…

I think that’s a California thing, where you stay friends with your ex and their new spouse(s). It was Barbara Williams’s home, i.e. the new spouse, and the two got along famously.

And there were other singers, and John Densmore accompanying Luis Rodriguez and then…

Jackson took the stage, with two backup singers. He tells a good story, off the cuff, it’s much more than HELLO CLEVELAND! And he led off with “Some Bridges,” from his overlooked LP “Looking East.” Have you heard the title cut on his acoustic album? He changes the groove and it’s infectious.

And he played “Off of Wonderland” from his 2008 album, “Time The Conqueror” and ’86’s “Lives In The Balance.” He said one of the schools wanted to do a gospel version, and added a new verse, and he was flummoxed that they’d chosen this number, but he said to give it a go, and they did, and he even sang their additional verse on Sunday.

Now you’ve got to give Jackson credit. He was infected with the gene of giving back way back when, which most others seem to have lost. Music and causes used to be aligned. Jackson shows up at benefits all over SoCal, and he does it for free, you’ve got to applaud that.

But the quid pro quo is he gets to play what he wants, these album cuts, which is great for the diehard fan.

And when it came time for the final number, I thought it would be one of his hits, maybe “The Pretender,” or “For Everyman.” So when he called the previous performers to the stage to sing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” I was a bit disappointed.

But that was the highlight of the afternoon.

Music can move you, it’s just not entertainment.

And in my world, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made the most famous version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” that three record set is a revelation from this distance. But…

Barbara Morrison was testifying once again, and Joe Chambers, in jeans, t-shirt and white hair, was reaching down deep with his bass voice and it sounded like he was wailing in church. And that’s when I realized…it was a religious moment.

I was standing. There were only about fifty or sixty people there. But we were all enraptured by the sound coming from the end of the living room. This was better than any of Jackson’s hits. Everybody was in the groove, the room was levitating. Suddenly all my problems faded away. I started singing, I couldn’t help myself. And when it was all over and I came to I felt like I’d had a dream, been taken to a place where people mattered more than money, where humanity was more important than algorithms, where music could change the world.


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