Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thomas Rain Crowe and the Boatrockers: Rocking Out









Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely nights
Dreaming of a song
That melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
Ah, but that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song ...

That's Hoagy Carmichael, of course - or the lyric, at any rate, to his magnificent old song, "Stardust". Carmichael wrote most of his work before even my time (he recorded "Stardust" in 1927)*, but I came to love his wonderful song through a version that (averting eyes in embarrassment) Pat Boone did back in 1958; I was fourteen, and it stayed with me. Decades later, I could still sing my daughter to sleep to its fluid quavering lilt.

The origins of music, like the origins of poetry, are buried in the dust - make that the strata of dust- of time, but we know that they've been hand-in-hand, or perhaps heart-to-heart, for eons. The lyric voice of poetry is named for the lyre which, an age or two ago and an ocean away, often accompanied it; the term "lyric poetry" has been in use in English since at least 1581, and is used to denote, as the Oxford English Dictionary has it, poetry

adapted to the lyre, meant to be sung, pertaining to or characteristic of song. Now used as the name for short poems (whether or not intended to be sung), usually divided into stanzas or strophes, and directly expressing the poet's own thoughts or sentiments.

It's the voice of Shakespeare's Sonnets, most of Keats and Shelly, Tin Pan Alley, Irving Berlin, "I Want To Hold Your Hand", a million singer/songwriters - and even Charles Olson's "The Ring Of"; so deeply imbued is it in the project of poetry in our language that poets who wish to work in other modes still have to contend with its voice.

There's something in the fusion of words - lyrics, we call them - and music that makes them more powerful together than either is separately; their combination seems to permit them to insinuate song into the synapses where our deepest memories dwell.

That the lyric is such a common voice of poetry and song, of course, makes the task of anyone who approaches it all the more daunting. How be heard, among so many voices? As always, the answer is to find the new - even if, sometimes, what's new is re-covered from an ancient past, another tongue.

Ever the adventurous archaeologist of imagination, poet and translator Thomas Rain Crowe brings this ancient fusion to life once again on September 7th, when he and The Boatrockers will kick off their fall "Thief of Words Tour" at (where else) the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in downtown Asheville.

The band will be performing a mix of material, some of it as ancient as the 14th century Iranian poet Hafez, many of whose lyric ghazals Crowe has translated, and as new as now, with echoes of everything from Chicago blues to New Orleans jazz and Jamaican reggae - including this piece, a poem, as Crowe says, "for voice and band":

The Sound of Light

Music is the blood of the stars.
The laugh of God.
The sound of the breath of the moon
In the child asleep.
The sadness of the earth as it sings.
And the yawn of the
Old man as he gently dies....

Even the ant is listening to the voice of the sky!
Weaving it's way through the grass
In that light.
As Eternity joins in the chorus
Of day as it makes love to the night.

All mankind is singing!

Like gyroscopes in the blood of space.
Or luminescence on thresholds of pain.
In the wind, in the trees, in the rain....

Let the colors become the song.
Then sing!

Everyone is singing.
The shepherd. The clown.
The weaver and priest.
And the ones we can't quite see.

All singing.
All in the same key.

Crowe's fellows in the Boatrockers are an accomplished group of musicians, able to blend, elegantly, the traditional acoustic music of the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India) with the sounds of modern electronic technology. Chris Rosser, a nationally known and award-winning singer-songwriter and string-instrument virtuoso, brings the voice of Eastern instruments to the Boatrockers eclectic mix on such instruments as sarod, dotar, jumbush, sitar, and saz, as well as the Spanish guitar and keyboards. An accomplished and much-sought-after studio musician, his solo recordings include Archeology, The Holy Fool, and Hidden Everywhere.

Wayne Kirby, a former member of the Debbie Harry-fronted band Blondie, has composed and performed music for both Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals, conducted small orchestras in Las Vegas on its famous strip, and is an experimental electronic music composer. Currently he is a member of the cross-genre band Jibblin the Frolines and head of the Music Department at UNCA.

Doug Shearer, an accomplished and versatile drummer, plays everything from the trap set typical of rock and jazz, to Middle Eastern hand drums. Originally from Pennsylvania and New York City, he now resides in Asheville, NC.

Nan Watkins, a piano keyboard prodigy, studied music at Oberlin College and the Vienna Academy of Music, and with some of the best teachers in both Europe and America. Now an electronic keyboard performer and composer, her latest solo CD, entitled The Laugharne Poems, appeared on the Fern Hill Records label.

Sal D'Angio, an accomplished tabla and guitar player, has studied with music masters in Nepal and India, and has performed and recorded with world-music bands in both Philadelphia and Denver before joining the Boatrockers and moving to Asheville.

Greg Olson is a recording studio owner and accomplished recording engineer. As a talented guitarist, he has recently released an all-instrumental CD, entitled Speaking to the Water, which was produced by legendary record producer Bill Halverson. He was a founding member of the world-music and reggae band One Straw, and joins Kirby as a member of his current band, Jibblin the Frolines.

After the Asheville show the band will hit the studios of WNCW in Spindale for a live version of the station's "Local Color" on Sept. 12; and will be at Lenoir-Rhyne College (in Hickory) on Sept. 13. For more information on these shows, call 828-293-9237.

The festivities will get under way at the Center at 8:00 PM. The Boatrockers' undertaking is as new as iTunes, as old as time - or at least our human time here on this fair orb- and they're extraordinary indeed at what they do, so they should provide us all an evening to remember.

What: Thomas Rain Crowe and the Boatrockers
Where: The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
When: Friday, September 7th, 8:00 pm
Admission: $8, $5 for BMCM+AC members and students w/ID.
For more information: 828-350-8484

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* He lived until 1981, but his work by then had long been eclipsed from the popular eye by Rock and Roll.

L to R in the photo:
front, from left: Sal D'Angio, Thomas Rain Crowe
back, from left: Wayne Kirby, Nan Watkins, Chris Rosser, Greg Olson, Doug Shearer.

This post appeared in somewhat different form in the Rapid River for September. Thanks to Thomas Rain Crowe and the Boatrockers for the photo, band bios, and new poem.

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