Tag Archives: Studs Terkel

James Taylor Showers the People of Pittsburgh With Love

James Taylor - Pittsburgh 11-29-2014 - 2

James Taylor in concert, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA 11/29/2014 ~ melissafirman.com

Peace and love, baby. Peace and love.

That was the vibe on Saturday evening as singer-songwriter James Taylor brought his All-Star Band to Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center. There, a mostly Baby Boomer and generally mellow crowd (except for the woman a few rows down who repeatedly hollered “I love you, James!”) sang along to the folksy hits of the ’70s while fumbling with the selfie and videocam settings on their smartphones.

“I’m in my sixties,” a concertgoer announced to nobody in particular as The Husband and I found our seats. “He’s a throwback from my generation.”

Maybe so. But part of James Taylor’s appeal is that his music can be enjoyed by all ages, whether or not those ages realize it. (Case in point: every night, either The Husband or I must sing “You Can Close Your Eyes” to our son. He’s a newly-minted teenager who still calls this “The Goodnight Song.”)

Last night marked the third time that The Husband and I – both 45 – had the good fortune to see the 66-year old James Taylor in concert.  We don’t get out much: this was our first concert since seeing JT’s ex-wife Carly Simon on November 25, 2005 at the Borgata in Atlantic City, NJ.

Whether once in a decade or once in a lifetime, a James Taylor concert is a treat. I had wondered how his intimate style would hold up in a stadium environment like Consol, which would be the first time we would see James Taylor indoors.

No worries. Opening with a reverential bow to the audience that almost seemed to be a reflective pause of gratitude, James Taylor greeted the crowd by wishing us a heartfelt “Happy Thanksgiving.”  He might as well have hand-delivered a personalized greeting card to every single one of us. Light the fire, friends, and pour another glass of merlot; the mood was set as if we were in the Taylors’ living room listening to a good friend playing guitar and us singing along and smiling at the backstories that introduced the songs we’d been listening to for our entire lives.

As he opened his first set with “Something in the Way She Moves,” James Taylor took us back to 1968 with his audition song for Apple Records – a performance that he did all those years ago for Paul McCartney and George Harrison. It was an especially fitting inclusion for the evening and would mark the first of several occasions when he would mention The Beatles during the concert.

Although the anniversary went unmentioned by James Taylor, I’m sure there were a few of us in the audience who, like The Husband and I, couldn’t help remembering that November 29, 2014 marked exactly 13 years since the death of George Harrison and who saw the bittersweet ironic connection of George Harrison’s “Something” and the selection of “Something in the Way She Moves” as the opening number on this date.

(Another Beatles connection onstage last night was in the form of All-Star Band drummer Steve Gadd, who performed on Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” album.)

Especially noteworthy to play in Pittsburgh was “Millworker,” a song about a woman working in a Lowell, Massachusetts shoe mill and written for a musical based on Studs Terkel‘s Working. The lyrics could very well have been about life once upon a time in the Steel City.

“I can ride home in the evening, staring at my hands,
swearing by my sorrow that a young girl ought to stand a better chance.
So may I work the mills just as long as I am able
and never meet the man whose name is on the label.
It be me and my machine for the rest of the morning
and the rest of the afternoon, gone for the rest of my life.”

Mixed in with crowd-pleasing classics like “Sweet Baby James,” “Fire and Rain,” and “Country Road” were three new songs. The ballad “You and I Again” about midlife love is probably my favorite of the trio. “Today, Today, Today” hearkens back to 1968, James Taylor explained.  And what little I could hear of “Stretch of the Highway” I liked, no thanks to the cacophony of folks returning to their seats and continuing their banal chatter after the 20-minute intermission. I’m hoping that these new tunes in the James Taylor songbook will make an appearance on what I’ve read is a new JT album in the works. (The sooner the better, please?)

Speaking of making an appearance, I had secretly been hoping that offspring Ben or Sally would stop by to say hi to Dad onstage. I mean, it’s Thanksgiving weekend and the holiday season – anything is possible, right?  As it turned out, James was joined by Henry, one of his 13-year-old twin sons, who sang backup on “Shower the People.” Looking as dapper as his father, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear more from Henry in the future.

(While we’re on my secret hopes? I would have liked to have heard “You Can Close Your Eyes,” although we did hear him do that in concert in 2005, so I can’t complain.  And, speaking on behalf of all of us middle-aged concertgoers who have postponed our eye exams and need to upgrade our bi- and trifocal prescriptions, I personally could have used a larger Jumbotron.  I mean, you can’t possibly tell me I’m the only one in Consol whose vision is clearly not what it was in her salad days. I’m just sayin’. But these are minor, minor quibbles.)

The second set (previewed to the audience by James holding up a list written on what he compared to roofing material and joking with the audience about the inclusion of the ever-popular “Steamroller”) was lighter on the storytelling and a bit more on the upbeat hits like the “big city song ‘Up on the Roof,'” “Only One,” and “Your Smiling Face.”

James Taylor - Pittsburgh 11-29-2014 - Up on the Roof

James Taylor performing “Up On the Roof” at Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA, 11/29/2014 ~ melissafirman.com

As we left the concert, it almost felt as if Pittsburgh’s late-November chill had actually turned somewhat … well, balmy.

Perhaps it was an aftershock of the backdrop images that accompanied “Carolina in My Mind” and the smiling faces of beachgoers hoisting margaritas to “Mexico” that made us feel toasty. We weren’t imagining it; turns out, according to our car thermometer, it really was about 15 degrees warmer.

It wouldn’t have mattered if it was twenty below zero. These have been some intensely stress-filled months for The Husband and me. For three hours, we were able to forget our worries and cares while enjoying an evening in the company of a longtime friend.

Perhaps that needs to happen a little more often. In the meantime, during these cold winter nights, I’ll be listening to a little more JT than usual.

James Taylor - Pittsburgh 11-29-2014


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The Sunday Salon: No Judy Moody for You

What today’s plans were SUPPOSED to include: 

A mommy-daughter one-on-one time trip downtown to the Carnegie Library, where Megan McDonald is appearing. (Some of you might know Ms. McDonald better as the author of the Judy Moody books, as well as those featuring Stink, and many more.)

What today’s plans will ACTUALLY include: 

A mommy-daughter one-on-one time trip to the next town to the Children’s Express Clinic, which is an affiliate site of our local Children’s Hospital.

Betty’s ears have been problematic for … awhile now.  As in, I really should have gotten this taken care of sooner. For the benefit of those still eating breakfast, let’s just say that they need to be cleaned out often. So, last night, there was a lot of gunk (as per usual) but the new twist on this was that it was accompanied by a fever and headache, which concerned us.

She’s feeling much better this morning, and even though the ear issues are still there, we probably COULD still go to the Megan McDonald event. But I need to exercise some parental responsibility and get this looked at by someone. (If all goes well, on the way back we might also have a chance to look at a house nearby.)  I’m also hopeful that there might be another Megan McDonald event like this sometime in the future, as she is a Pittsburgh native.  Who knew?

Anyway, bookwise, this week I listened to the audiobook version of Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler. Seriously, how the hell have I missed this classic all these years? I really liked this and it definitely had enough suspense to keep my attention, even though you could see where the plot was going. Audiobook is the way to go with this one, folks, particularly this version with Juliet Stevenson’s brilliant performance as Hedda.

My fall travel schedule is winding down (thank God) so my audiobooks will need to be ones that I can listen to sporadically. Studs Terkel’s Voices of Our Time is perfect for that. This is a chronological collection, spanning five decades, of 48 of Terkel’s radio interviews with a wide-range of people. Some of these folks are household names; others definitely aren’t (but deserve to be).

After our foray to the Express Clinic today, I’m hoping to spend some time with Conversations and Cosmopolitans, by Robert Rave and Jane Rave. I’m on the TLC Book Tour schedule for this one and my review date of … um, this Wednesday (!!!) has crept up on me.  Fortunately, this seems to be a fairly quick read.

Because I’m scrambling to finish Conversations and Cosmopolitans, that means that Steve Jobs needs to be put on the back burner. (From what I’ve read of Walter Isaacson’s biography in the last 70 pages, I don’t think he’d be too pleased with that.) This one is interesting, but slow going for me because I only have time to read in the evenings … and by then, my eyes are glazing over with talk of microchips and processors and whathaveyou. As expected, though, the personal details contained within this one are the most compelling parts of this book to me.

Finally, I’m still plugging away on my Kindle with Yiyun Li’s short story collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. I’m really liking these stories – and may I say how kind of bizarre it was reading “A Man Like Him” this week as the whole Penn State saga played out everywhere I went? It’s about the accusations of abuse and the repercussions on those involved. I first read this one in The Best American Short Stories 2009. I also loved “Prison,” which I also read this week.

So, despite kind of a Judy Moody bummer start to our week, there’s a full week of reading ahead.

I’m sure even Judy would agree with that.

P.S. I don’t know about you, but I kinda need a read-a-thon of sorts. (OK. More than “kinda need.”  More like “kinda desperately need.”) Thankfully, Jenn’s Bookshelves is once again hosting the annual Thankfully Reading Weekend during … what else? Thanksgiving weekend.  (Which is in TWO WEEKS, PEOPLE. Holy hell.)  We’re staying put for the holiday, which allows me to participate in this, as I’ve done in the past.

This is probably my favorite Read-a-Thon of the year (yes, even moreso than the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon) and I am thrilled that this is happening again. I’m planning to use this weekend as a final push to finish some challenges that I’m oh-so-close to completing.  Cannot possibly wait.  

Will you be joining us?

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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When You Don’t Quite Like a Book That You Wanted to Love

It’s somewhat of a unsettling and guilty feeling, isn’t it, when you don’t quite like a book you really wanted to love?

I really wanted to fall head over heels in love with Studs Terkel’s memoir Touch and Go. This experience is not unlike dating, at least in my recollection of how dating was done back in the day. You know a little something about the person, you may have spent some time hanging out on various occasions, you’re thinking hmmm, this one just might have some potential. But then, after a date or two or three, you realize that even though he or she is a great person, you’re just not connecting. Maybe you’ve got other things on your mind, maybe the timing is off … whatever the reason, it’s just not happening.

Such is the case of my all-too-brief fling with Touch and Go, an affair that should have lingered in the air longer because I love Studs Terkel and I thought the premise of his memoir sounded great. From the Editorial Review as found on Shelfari.com:

Terkel begins by taking us back to his early childhood with his father, mother, and two older brothers, describing the hectic life of a family trying to earn a living in Chicago. He then goes on to recall his own experiences—as a poll watcher charged with stealing votes for the Democratic machine, as a young theatergoer, and eventually as an actor himself in both radio and on the stage—giving us a brilliant and often hilarious portrait of the Chicago of the 1920s and ’30s. He tells of his beginnings as a disc jockey after World War II and as an interviewer and oral historian—a craft he would come to perfect and indeed personify. Finally, he discusses his involvement with progressive politics, leading inevitably to his travails during the McCarthy period when he was blacklisted and thrown out of work despite having become by then one of the country’s most popular TV hosts.

I’ve been listening to Touch and Go on audio (more on that later) for the past week. Although Terkel has certainly lived a colorful life amid the most colorful of characters, I’m not connecting to the rambling nature of the discourse. I read a review of Touch and Go that described Terkel’s memoir as akin to sitting on a porch listening to a beloved uncle tell old stories that you’ve heard before.

And that’s what happened to me on the way home this evening. As I listened to the audio, I realized I’d heard this particular anecdote before – one day last week. Unbeknownst to me, I’d just replayed most of an entire CD without realizing that I’d already heard it. Now, either I’m that much on autopilot during my daily commute or I’m not connecting with this book. For the sake of my fellow interstate drivers (and my insurance agent), I’d like to believe its the latter.

Maybe it’s just that audio isn’t the right medium for Terkel’s tales, which is not to disparage the talents of narrator Norman Dietz. Ironically, the narration provided by Dietz makes this one of the best quality audiobooks in that regard.

It’s not you, Studs and Norman. It’s me. For whatever reason, the audiobook format for this isn’t working for me, but I’ll give this another try in print at some point.

After all, you’re too nice of a guy to give up on that easily.
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Studs Terkel, 1912-2008

The Chicago Tribune reports this morning on the death of author/radio-host/actor/activist Studs Terkel at the age of 96.

I was first introduced to Terkel’s work in one of my college courses called “Work and Love,” the premise of which was that these are the two main components of one’s life … or something like that. It’s been 20 years since that class, so forgive me for not remembering the purpose exactly. But it was one of the best classes I’d ever had, partially because we read great books such as The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm and Studs Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.

Working was published in 1974 and was on the required reading list for my sociology class in 1988. I remember being fascinated by his ability to, as the Tribune writes, “get to the heart of what people really thought and felt about the work they do every day. ” I can’t remember if we were required to read the whole book or only selected portions, but I read the whole thing and still have it on my bookshelf today. (A couple months ago, a coworker – who is younger than me by several years – saw it on my credenza in my office and exclaimed, “Oh, my God, I love Studs Terkel!” We talked about how a book published in 1974 could still be relevant in 2008.)

He had a devotion to his wife for 60 years that mirrored the concepts that we were learning about in that college class long ago. Anyone who has been in the situation of losing a loved one after six decades of marriage can relate to Terkel’s words, as written in today’s Chicago Tribune tribute:

“It’s hard. It’s very hard,” he said the day she died. “She was seven days older than me, and I would always joke that I married an older woman. That’s the thing: Who’s gonna laugh at my jokes? At those jokes I’ve told a million times? That’s the thing … … Who’s gonna be there to laugh?”

Those of us who are watching the fading away of loved ones in similar situations can sense Terkel’s heartbreak.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Terkel has a book coming out this month (“P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening,”) which I’d learned about several weeks ago and added to my plan-to-read list.

Recently, Terkel seemed to be living in two worlds – that of this life and one where, according to
The Chicago Tribune’s literary editor, Elizabeth Taylor “…the shadows were closing in. To touch his arms was to feel a living skeleton. He displayed a mind still sharp with its ability to recall names and dates and places from his lengthy and storied past. But he was facing the future too.”Remember those old Ivory soap commercials, ‘Ivory Soap, 99.44 percent pure ‘? Well, I am 99.44 percent dead,” he said.”

Rest in peace, Studs. Your work here is done and will continue to be loved.

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