Thursday, March 17, 2011
Jack and Sisters Roche
I was beyond pumped up for this past weekend to roll 'round. I had secured an interview and backstage access with Lucinda Williams while she toured through NYC. We made plans to meet on Thursday night to talk about her Folk City days and on Friday, I was going to the concert where she hooked me up with VIP passes, too. I had also gotten tickets to see Willie Nile perform up near where I live on Sunday the 13th. Originally, I had plans to take Willie Nile along with me to see Lu since I knew they've been buds for a long time, but it didn't work out that way. In the mix of all this, I decided to set up a guitar lesson with Terre Roche Friday afternoon, as well.
Jack Hardy had told me that the Roches were the best harmonic singers he had ever seen.
Terre and I worked on the basics. And timing.
Unbeknownst to me, the death of Jack Hardy was also part of the weekend plan. Not mine, of course. But it was in the cards, like it or not.
It's amazing to me how the highs and lows in life can be experienced at the same time.
I met Ms. Williams at the hotel bar where she was staying. She booked an interview with someone else before me and it sounded like I was bringing up the rear. I had visions of chatting with her and being invited to dine with her afterwards. If not, I'd just ask to join in anyway...but that's just me when I'm hungry.
Well, the conversation was as fun and easygoing as could be expected. People always say, "I don't know if I can add an awful lot" yet it's really their own opinion that I'd like to hear. A perspective gained from experience is worth hearing and she had more than I had expected. Mike Porco introduced her to Dylan at Gerde's for the first time and she called her time at Folk City a very important part of her career. "It was home to me for a good while".....that's all I needed to hear. And, of course, Jack's name came up before I knew of Jack's demise.
The vision I had held true. I joined in the fun with her gang downstairs in the restaurant as it was way too stormy to step foot outside.
The next day, I got wind that Jack had died. Piecing the puzzle together, I came to find out that very few people knew he was ill at all. Jack wanted it that way. It was just under a month. Enough time for Jack to line up his cherished goodbyes, I hope. Not enough time for the rest of us in this "tribe" to fully grasp. I'm very thankful that I was included in the phone chain that linked to inform and console, but very few seemed to have a good understanding of how or why so soon.
But the show must go on! I was to watch Lucinda in concert that night and do the VIP thing afterwards. But I was sincerely melloncholy about a curmudgeon I'd only met last year....the show must go on...
As Jack would say at his Songwriter's meetings every Monday, "Shut up and sing the song."
Jack loved Mike Porco. If anyone helped keep Folk City's doors open near the end of Mike's stewardship, it was Jack Studdebaker Hardy. He dedicated his 1976 album MIRROR OF MY MADNESS to him. He emceed the Folk City Hoots for years. Somewhere along those lines, I felt connected to it all through Jack.
At one point on Friday, I thought, "should I be the one to tell Lucinda Williams that a mutual friend has died??!" Although she and I had been in contact for a year, I just met her in person yesterday. She's high on life with this new album and she's busy gigging...I shouldn't bring bad news to the table.
I held my tongue later that night over dinner. (Backstage is a euphemism for a Hot Spot down the street) Lucinda was full of good energy from the warm crowd and the stellar show. As I expected, Jack's name came up again more than once as we talked informally about the old days.
Tell me about the bar scene back then, I asked.
"Well. There was an awful lot of Jack."
"No. An awful lot of Jack Hardy!"
We shared a snicker and I left her smiling about Jack. I think that's best.
She also said that Frank Christian's name flashed in her mind during the show. Another friend who knows Jack.
Willie's performance was so uplifting. His timing couldn't be any better. Really. In every sense. He plays with such zest and his voice and lyrics are powerful. It was a nice finish to a wild weekend. After the show, I finally got a chance to speak with him face-to-face. He was kind enough to do a phone interview with me last year and we, too, had been in touch since then. I only had a moment to say hi and thanks at the reunion itself, so standing with him in conversation felt like seeing an old friend.
"You heard about Jack?" he asked.
Yeah. I'm sorry, I said.
To date, I've heard more about Jack's final days. He was as brave and witty as he had come to be known right up until his final hours. In an attempt at dark humor, I told Mr. Massengill that Jack should have died years ago...he would have sold more albums.
David said, Thats what Jack said in the hospital.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
I met Lucinda again
We talked all about a man
Who wrote when he spoke
And wore a cape on the fly
But it doesn't matter as much now
Since the wind had stopped
And the lights of your eyes
No longer anticipate
Morning with dust clouds
Eager to sing
With the dew and the chirp
Of a million voices
Crying out loud
Since the plates have shifted
The Earth is a cracked egg
Oozing its contents
I was very fortunate to be able to communicate directly with lot of people from Gerdes' past without much hassle.
On 1.27.10, I interviewed Richie Havens and Carolyn Hester over the phone. (still shocking to me!)
The next day, I met another Mr. H and it was my first sit down interview. Allow me to share my summary in an email to myself:
Jack is a warm guy living in a drafty apartment. Holding steadfast to the artist's lifestyle, he remains in the rent controlled walk up he first leased in 1975 for $125/ month. His rent has changed but the amenities have not. In it, he carries on a monday nite tradition seemingly in his blood; the singer/songwriter get together. A rotating cast of characters swing through the open house every Monday evening prepared to share new material status post a mandatory gorging of pasta and wine.
Only new material is allowed. Any songs over a week old is considered stale and unwelcome.
It's the musical communal spirit that resides in jack and is alive and well .....
....the spirit of free and open musical expression survives in the village, if only for one nite a week.
Lessons learned at Jack Hardy's were not bestowed solely upon fortunate locals seeking peers' advice on how to become better songwriters. The apartment on Houston and Bedford and sixth was the playhouse for the likes of vega, lovett and colvin.....
"The oportunity to play the open mic at Gerdes on a hoot night had a huge affect on me" jack recalls. "it gave us all a great sense of community knowing that all of us had a place to go to not only hear other performers play new material but mainly for us to go and play our own new stuff. "
It was that level of comfort that the players took to the stage with them knowing that if it didn't come out just right there was support and encouragement from everyone else who was preparing to expose new material of their own.
Jack first came to ny and slept on the roche sisters floor. He traveled around and didn't pay rent for a couple of years moving on gig to gig from Chicago to ny and points between. Eventually it was the draw of the village with it's many potential job oportunities that convinced hardy to hang his hat at a place of his own. He hasn't left.
Mike was one of my favorite people, he
I met jack hardy a couple of days before his 35th aniversary of moving in. He fixed a pot of coffee without hardly looking as if the....like his arms were doing the work on their own.
He still has the oak-topped dining table built by him and mike from scrap wood scrounged from the neighborhood well over 30 years ago. Looking underneath at the craftmanship one could tell it was built to last.
A lime green vinyl chair from the 130 w3rd gerdes' location remains as jacks desk seat while he brouses the Internet.
He had modernized to the times somewhat. He keeps his cell phone on and close by. His apple computer is logged on. And he uses his own web page to sell his own CDs.
But he still functions very much the way he has side he's moved to new York. The noted exception is the distance he must travel to earn his living. "I used to be able to earn a living within 4 blocks of this place. Now I'm going into remote outposts playing to 100 people total after 6 sets. " he says with a laugh. "I'm thinking sometimes 'why am I doing this again?' flying to minnesota in the winter; driving endless miles....
Jack is not only a throwback but a true rarity in the music business. Even more so considering he's been an established artist for over three decades. He has never had a manager or a record producer. He owns all the rights to his published work and owns all his master recordings. He truly is a one man show.
And, whether because of this soloist mentality or in spite of it, his music maintains its timeless quality unfettered by the (commercial) themes encouraged in the corporate world of pop music today.
Still fresh. Still politically charged. Poetic and thought provoking.
The Folk music (revival) ...the folk music from the 1960s was virtually by definition politically charged with artists having carte blanche to say and do what was on their mind. It would be impossible for the songs built in the 60s to not become the expressive tool and the common thread that would come to bind the messengers with the masses.
Jack: I don't think the powers that be in the music industry want something like that to ever happen again. The music that was coming out from EVERYBODY was so very anti establishment. And the ones who made it big became spokespeople for a movement that defined the 60s. We
He jokes that he has recorded 16 albums yet remains virtually unknown. "16 albums no ones ever heard of."
"Mike always looked out for the people behind the music. He used to say that all that fame and fortune wasn't as important as your health and the people in your life. That always stuck with me and made an impression on me. I've tried to write that philosophy into different songs over the years."
"Mike would mostly be sitting at the bar holding court overseeing the crowd and goings on of the place. You might think that he wasn't listening at all to the music but them he'd surprise you and ask a question about a song someone played or a lyric he heard. He was very conscious of what was going on."
"He worked that bar from open to close and tried to squeeze every penny out of that place. Most nights he wouldn't walk out until 4 in the morning, unless of course it was the daylight savings time which would make it 5am."
On hoot nights, there would sometimes be such a large line of players waiting their turn to play that the closing acts wouldn't step foot on stage until 2 or 3 in the morning. The crowd at that point was more than subdued enough to let the artists weave their spell any way they saw fit. The graveyard shift as jack called it.
Mike would keep that place open until the last patron had seen or drank enough whichever came first.
But he was generous to the employees who worked til the last drop offering on countless occasions to drive over to Chinatown where he would pick up the tab for a sit down feast only a Chinese restaurant could serve up.
The universe will have its way
Too powerful to master~
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Some sweet wise women have crossed the threshold from Gerde's past into the present moment.
Lucinda Williams lives in the present moment. Understands it. Swims in it. Shares it.
Vitality once felt under Mike Porco's roof still resides within her. It was a short period of her career, but Folk City was HOME to her, too.
Mike was listening. And he heard what I hear.