Songwriting

Fairfield/Westport’s Top Ten Musicians of the Last Hundred Years

rockin eve

Last week we launched the Fairfield Ten — an exhibit at the Fairfield Museum celebrating the great musicians and songwriters that have lived here the past hundred years.

I was on the committee to choose the list. It wasn’t easy because so many great artists have lived in this area. My work on the Fitzgerald film has provided a keen insight to the breadth and depth of talent here dating back to the early 20th century so I knew selecting ten musicians was not going to be easy.

Quite frankly, you could find ten interesting nominees every decade or at least in each category of music, from classical to rock, Broadway to jazz, punk, funk, even disco — our task was to choose the best of the best, while at the same time including various eras and genres.

First thing we did was invoke the 25-year rule — nominees had to have started their professional careers prior to 1989. Nominees also had to have a permanent residence here for more than a few years.  That alleviated the pressure of addressing the abundant crop of current players worthy of consideration or those that were here for just a short visit. Here’s our list:

Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, The Remains, Leonard Bernstein, David Brubeck, Jose Feliciano, Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth, Richard Rodgers, Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards, Keith Richards and Donna Summer.

Upon reflecting over this list, I realized that it doesn’t matter what sort of music floats your boat, each of these artists has touched you in some way.  These songs were part of growing up, celebrating graduations, birthdays and weddings, they’ve been in the movies we love and these songs have gotten us threw tough times too. These artists made music that mattered. And as I’ve been listening to their tracks over the past few months, its clear that these artists made music that endures.

Because it was too damn hard to whittle our list to just ten, we also identified another 11 great names and profiled them on the museums’ website.

Opening night we had a panel discussion and I was fortunate to be asked to moderate. In the photo above from that night, I felt like Forest Gump because I had no right to be in a photo with such an esteemed list of musical talent, even if I was a player behind the scenes. Still, it was a wonderful experience to have the honor of introducing each of these incredibly talented musicians.

The exhibit runs through April, so if you’re in the area, check it out.

One Hundred False Starts by F. Scott Fitzgerald

fitz essay coverLast week I obtained a copy of ‘One Hundred False Starts,’ an essay written by F. Scott Fitzgerald that ran in the March, 1933 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The essay captures what appears to be real ‘false starts’ Fitzgerald had experienced as a writer.

Snippets, phrases, names, scenarios, often unintelligible scraps of thought, all captured on paper to jog his memory to flush out the idea at a later date. As a writer who has dropped the ball on countless sparks of so-called brilliance, it was comforting to feel the struggle, the joy, and the confusion over bubbles of inspiration that felt flat upon later inspection.

Fitzgerald concluded that the key to avoiding a future filled with false starts is to begin with an emotion, one that’s close to you, one that you can understand. He was talking about himself, but his words resonated because I’ve grappled with false starts for years. My output is not nearly as prolific as others. I often lose interest in an idea that at first glance appears to be the mother lode.

This fool’s gold typically lacks an emotional connection, it’s one of the reasons I struggle to co-write songs, all too often the team is writing about things that have no meaning for me. I might intellectually get the concept, but I’m not feeling it, it doesn’t pump through my veins with urgency.

Fitzgerald also said in the essay:

Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves—that’s the truth. We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.

gatsby cover

People often ask why I didn’t write a memoir about my divorce. They wrongly believe that My Year as a Clown is a thinly disguised novel for what actually happened in my marriage. My Year as a Clown works because I understood the underlying emotions that were in play during those difficult days. Perhaps more important, I put enough distance between the writing and the events to create a narrative that harnessed those emotions in ways that made my characters feel real even though most of the facts are fictitious.

When I set out with my partner, Richard Webb, to do this Fitzgerald film for the Westport Historical Society, I had no idea what I was really getting into. I got chills holding letters from Scott and Zelda when we were in Princeton reviewing personal correspondence. And now, as an added bonus, I’m learning about Fitzgerald’s process. This is like taking an MFA in Fitzgerald at a University without all the hassle or tuition.

The adventure continues . . .

 

Toward the Light: Live in Fairfield, CT

Here’s a song from the gig last week where I opened for Declan O’Rourke in Fairfield, CT. We had a sold-out show.

 

Jimmie Dale Gilmore of the Flatlanders Comments on My Year as a Clown

jdg

With the Flatlanders in New York playing Carnegie Hall this week, I thought I’d share what Jimmie Dale Gilmore said about my book. I’ve known Jimmie for many years, but it was still a surprise to get a call from him about my book. To be honest, that’s about as good as it gets. If you’re in NYC on April 13th, his show is not to be missed.

“When we first meet Chuck Morgan, the main character in Robert Steven Williams’ new novel, My Year as a Clown, he’s broken, twisted and confused. And that’s what makes him so interesting. Like other intriguing literary heroes, Chuck is at his best after life has knocked him to the ground, forcing him to find a new way to be strong again; damaged maybe, but more confident this time, with a kinder, more open heart.” Jimmie Dale Gilmore, singer, songwriter, guitarist, member of the Flatlanders

Thanks Jimmie.

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