Folk revival’s meteoric master puts it all in perspective

Posted: October 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

The folk revival’s most important contribution to popular music was moving lyrical content beyond the trite, perfunctory and clichéd — and Bob Lind was one of its chief authors

That the new BOB LIND concert documentary is entitled, Perspective — and not Retrospective — is significant.

This DVD is “about” relatively recent performances of 13 songs, some of which happen to be 40-year-old chestnuts. It’s not about examining the past, gathering accolades and insights  from peers, or even about providing insight into the music industry except as it does incidentally.

So don’t expect a biopic — that’s not what you’re getting here, even if filmmaker Paul Surratt (Resarch Video Inc.) ever had that notion.

Lind is a bit of a mystery man, however, having “dropped out” of the music scene as the 1960s became the 1970s. Dropped out from somewhere near the top of the music scene at that. He does manage to address that topic in “backstage” interviews that are interspersed between concert segments. Given that perspective, one has to admire Lind’s judgment and his courage to change … to “reinvent” himself, as it were.

Bob Lind’s career roughly parallels the 1960s folk revival … well, more than “roughly.” His personal story seems to mirror the folk revival. He explains in the film that, as a folk coffeehouse performer, he was signed by World Pacific Records, a jazz subsidiary of Liberty Records, which was looking to ride the surging folk-rock wave. Lind was paired with legendary arranger Jack Nitzsche and suddenly, it seemed, Bob Lind went from relative obscurity to #5 on the Billboard charts in 1966.

With Nitzsche’s arrangments, Lind’s folksinger sensibilities emerged in a setting that seemed to reflect the exploding youth culture about to sweep a country increasingly focused on — as Lind himself was doing — the West Coast.

There were new freedoms, new ways of looking at the world, new ways of living. There was still heartache, there was still conflict and there was still injustice, and Lind was right there with ALL of it in songs like, “I Can’t Walk Roads of Anger”, “San Francisco Woman,” “Remember the Rain”, etc.  This was the 1960s — the overwhelming cry was for freedom — and the folk revival helped lead the cry: “belonging to no one but free to love the world that grows around my smiling mind,” Lind sang in “(I Can’t Walk) Roads of Anger.”

Here for the first time in popular music, as Paul Simon has famously noted, lyrical content went beyond the rite and perfunctory and clichéd. This is the single most important contribution of the folk revival and Lind, as one of a handful of chief authors, was adept at bringing poetry and its devices to popular song. Comparisons to Dylan actually made sense with regard to Bob Lind.

“This is the moment that pauses to hold us as you and I move in a background of wonder,” Lind sang in “Counting,” perhaps the most formal example of poetry into song. It was, indeed, quite a moment: No less than three Bob Lind LPs were issued in 1966!

As the folk revival was at its pinnacle (think hit songs like “You Were On My Mind”, “Baby the Rain Must Fall” and scads of others; think pop crooner Bobby Darin emerging with a folk album and other mainstream singers exploring their “tender” sides) Lind, too, had his mega-hit in “Elusive Butterfly.” Artists covered that and other Lind tunes — this in an era when cover songs, rather than originals, were the commercial mainstays of the most popular artists.

What’s more, Lind brought wisdom to the lyrics of songs like the achingly beautiful “Truly Julie’s Blues.”

The last collection of songs before Lind left the limelight entirely was even wiser. Since There Were Circles (1971) included a full-blown masterpiece, “Spilling Over,” in which Lind uses a variety of poetic devices and performance techniques  to produce the folk music equivalent of the Fountain of Trevi with its famous Plato’s Phaedrus symbolism. It is Lind’s La Dolce Vita, a holy grail of folk songs, written by a performer who had not approached 30 years of age.

Lind and his band flat out nail “Spilling Over” in the new DVD, Perspective, and that alone makes the project a vital document in popular music. Guitarist Jamie Hoover’s arpeggios roll like water in a pool between Lind’s dramatic buildups. Keyboardist Matt Cook, drummer Kevin Jarvis and bassist Dave Carpenter provided what may be the truest possible backing for the interplay of Lind and the certainly underrated Hoover (The Spongetones, etc.). Lind even breaks out the harmonica. Who would’ve have thought this guy, in his mid-sixties at the time of the concert taping, would be so full of surprises?

This combo’s treatment of the lively, “Cheryl’s Going Home,” perhaps even surpasses the original flipside to “Elusive Butterfly.” Here is Lind pulling out all the stops: Singing, scatting, playing guitar.

There is no “past prime” here. This is a fresh, new, vital performer! “Roll the Windows Down” is just as strong in this setting as the songs I’ve mentioned — and this is just the beginning of the DVD! I hasten to add “China” to that list of highlights. These songs were written before we referred to an “overentertained” public … and yet they hold up to the highest standards.

Now there are some songs in here of the sort coffeehouse folkies play — “Two Women” and “How to Get Depressed” — to bridge the distance between performer and audience. At the top of the game, performers like Lind, Richard Thompson, and a few others become intimidating in the sheer mastery of their craft. Songs like these put them in closer touch with the audience. They’re not throwaways: Check out Jamie Hoover’s guitar solo on “How to Get Depressed.” Brilliant.

So by the time we get to “Elusive Butterfly,” we have fresh ears and, in spite of many years and countless cover versions (I’m sorry — I’m fond of strumming this tune, too), it, too sounds fresh and new. Lind does a little something rhythmically on the acoustic guitar you don’t hear on the original recording, which is just fine, thank you.

Maybe this fresh sound has something to do with the fact that Lind withdrew from the music business as the 1960s lurched into the 1970s. That has been a mystery to listeners from the old days. Certainly a photograph of the editorial staff of the shock/bizarre tabloid The Weekly World News including Bob Lind can be seen as a Zelig moment. Imagine if it was Bob Dylan in that mob and not Bob Lind and you get the idea. Why … the only “dimension” in which one can imagine such a photograph existing is … in the pages of The Weekly World News!

Yet there it is posted to Lind’s facebook “wall” by a former colleague.

Perhaps we should consider that, in a way, The Weekly World News was a forerunner of The Onion. That gives us some truer perspective. Lind was also writing novels … some five of them, including East of the Holyland (lulu.com).

Consider also that, had Bob Lind somehow continued to perform the folk “circuit” — largely nonexistant by the late 1970s — we would not have the concert documentary we have here.

These songs would probably never have been presented so successfully. They might have been a little tired. And this, mind you, is not a big-budget documentary but it is plainly good.

I watched a folk coffeehouse struggle through the 1970s and 1980s until the “unplugged” era made acoustic music chic again. I saw new performers struggle to gain any audience at all and veterans who’d been at or near the top, minus health insurance and travel/lodging budgets, play for aging diehards … it was, at best, a little weird, especially in the mid-to-late 1980s.

Having this DVD makes up for a lot, though. It’s a pure pleasure to watch an old master at the top of his game and full of the wisdom and peace maturity can bring. Of course, as with every artist, there’s a song or two one might wish had been included: Just as examples, the poignant, “Long Time Woman,” which, fortunately, Jackie Guthrie (Arlo’s spouse) captured on video in the Berkshires and uploaded to youtube; the haunting, “How the Nights Can Fly,” which is on the Live at the Luna Star Café CD.

Odds are the Surratt documentary gives you a new Bob Lind favorite, however and if you are unfamiliar with this folk phenomenon, you will wonder why after watching this documentary. As Kenneth Patchen was a “one-man literary movement,” Bob Lind is a singular American master.

–Robert Preuss

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