Best Medicine: A few months back, on a Wednesday night, buddy and songwriter Dan Johnson sent me a text message. I was sitting on the couch and settling in for the night in Schenectady, NY, watching a FRONTLINE on retirement. Dan was up in Richmond, VT and settling in to a night listening to a Stray Birds live performance. About half-way through each of our shows, my beer, and Dan’s coffee, he sent a prophetic update, “Oh, you’re gonna love this tune man – best medicine – have you heard it yet?” I hadn’t.
The next evening, my lady and I headed up to Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY to give a listen to the Birds ourselves. We, like many, never tire of hearing them perform. Before one of their last songs of the evening, Maya (fiddle, guitar, songwriting, banjo, vocals, harmony, holy shit these folks are talented…) starts to tell a story about some downtime before a gig I shared with them a couple of years back at The Moon and River in Schenectady.
The trio was killing time over on Jay Street, and wandered into The Re-Collector, a packed-full, used-record, and assorted collectibles store. The owner, Kurt (a king amongst characters) caught their interest, and they struck up a conversation with him. He hung on their minds, and they wrote a song about the man, and tapped into a serious and beautiful element of his (and our) humanity. They titled it, “Best Medicine.”
After the story, and a nod to my lady and I, they eased into the song, and when they finished that first chorus, I let out an audible breath that sounded something like, “Pffffwwow.” Oliver looked right at me from the stage and said, “Yeah…” The chills took me over, I closed my eyes, and felt my heart teeter over towards explosion. Beautiful, simple, pure, layered, sincere, soulful, melodic… Heartfelt. There are only adequate adjectives to conjure in the English language. I suspect that I’d have to dig back into ancient Greece or an aboriginal language in order to find a true description. Charlie, if you’re reading this, that was a special moment in my life. For real.
A while later, and long after Maya, Oliver, and Charlie packed up their gear and headed out for their next show to share their song, I headed to the Re-Collector in the gray Northeast winter drizzle. I introduced myself to Kurt, told him this story, and asked if I could take his picture. I can’t be sure of the last time he had smiled, it looked like it may have been some time, but the energy behind the smile that shot across his face would have blown apart any bulb Edison could have imagined. He took to the task with a seriousness that I’ll describe as reverent, and tender, holding a notebook with the statement, “Music is the Best Medicine” written on a page in black marker.
Because of that song, and despite the weather, we felt pretty damn good that day. That, my friends, is some strong medicine, the best medicine.
“If the body is a temple
the soul is a bell
and that’s why music is
the best medicine I sell”
Re-Cycling: I’ve been reading and writing with a specific purpose this past month or so. I’ve been charged with the honorable duty of writing three songs, one for each of the first three novels in William Kennedy’s Albany Cycle, “Legs,” “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game,” and the Pulitzer Prize winning, “Ironweed.”
I’ve been a fan of Kennedy’s ever since I decided to read “The Ink Truck” in one sitting, while researching for a graduate class paper the night before that paper was to be handed over. Coffee kept my body awake, but Kennedy kept my soul alive that night. I rebelled, was threatened with failure, and came out even on the other side with a stride. I then read every work available in chronological order, and I haven’t been the same since. I imitated the man’s written style as much as I could, though my vocabulary wants for expansion when placed next to his intonational trove. I shaved with a straight razor, placed a fedora atop my head, and explored Albany with the prejudicial, “home town” cataracts sliced away. Few match him, in my world. So to be asked to write three songs is an honor indeed, and flush luck in the deal.
Why was I asked? Well, the Albany Public Library hosts a music oriented book club, lead by the rocking and oh-so-groovy Charmboy bassist Sarah Clark. She caught the word from senior songwriting correspondent, Matt Durfee that I’m a Kennedy fan, with an inclination towards fanatacism. Together, the two of them cooked up a series which pairs songwriters and the authors they love with the book club and the authors they love. Discussion, songs, and interpretations stirred into a unique night over at the library. The Kennedy night is Wednesday, April 16, in Albany, NY, and you can read up and attend for the all-welcome fee of free.
From the Library, “The Reading Music Group departs from its usual discussion of musical nonfiction to host Albany singer-songwriter M.R. Poulopoulos. Poulopoulos has been writing songs inspired by William Kennedy’s Albany novels “Ironweed,” “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game,” and “Legs.” Part book discussion, part music performance, this is a one-of-a-kind event, and the first of a new discussion series featuring works of literature that have inspired works of song. This event will take place in Albany Public Library’s Pruyn Room.”
Here are the details via the rudimentary facebook page…
From the Low Down: In other show news, I’m headed down to Hastings on Hudson, Peekskill, and then onto Manhattan this weekend. I’ll be rolling strong in the first two shows with my musical compatriots, and good-time buddies in South County. I had sworn off the City for years, but am slowly making my way down there. If you know some folks down in NYC, send ‘em on out to Rockwood Music Hall at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. I’m bringing the good stuff.
I’m also jumping into the house concert scene as a host. So, in addition to playing shows for y’all, I’ll be hosting them here in the cozy environs of my living space. First up for the series, which I’ve named, “Rebel Darling Presents,” is Ian Fitzgerald, a first-rate songwriter based out of the Boston, MA area. When I first heard him play a handful of his tunes in a hotel room in November, I sat struck by the depth and brilliance of his songwriting. Here’s a video of Ian’s “Melinda Down the Line,” which was featured in the the New York Times article on “The Old Guitar.” Seats are very limited for this Friday, May 23 show in Schenectady. BYOB, pot-luck dinner, and $15 suggested donation. Y’all are the first to know about this, so send an email to email@example.com if you want to reserve a seat now.
Join us, won’t you?
As always, folks thank you for everything. Spread the word and share the song… Forward this email along to others you think would be interested. Definitely share the music, and head on out to catch an upcoming show, be it Rebel Darling with the boys, or a solo show… Your support keeps the wheels rolling. Thank you. See you out there.
I’m already dreaming of summer travel…
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