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Musician Livingston Taylor brings his road show to East Greenwich
Monday, December 31, 2018
He’s been playing for enthusiastic audiences for half a century.
Livingston Taylor can find a story almost anywhere, and when he sets it to music, it becomes as much the sound of America as songs from Bob Dylan and that other musical Taylor, his older brother James.
One day, for instance, Taylor was driving along a winding country road in Massachusetts when he saw a man using old-fashioned tools to chisel words into a stone to use as a property marker. He pulled over to the side of the road and got out to chat with the man, Walter. When he found out Walter also engraves gravestones, a spark ignited in Taylor’s brain.
“I write from my prism in life, and that conversation got me to thinking about what we’d put on our gravestone. Each letter is expensive — which words would you like to use? Which can you afford? I found it really interesting,” Taylor says in a phone call from his home in Massachusetts, ahead of a concert on Saturday at the Greenwich Odeum. “I write to plot lines that intrigue me. It’s less about me and more about other characters, people I’m intrigued by, like Walter.”
Claiming “a life well-lived is boring,” Taylor says he doesn’t look within for musical inspiration, but constantly scans his surroundings for quirky stories to tell. He’s written and sings folksy tunes about everyone from a man working alone with dangerous digging equipment to underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.
Writing comes in “bursts, when it makes sense to me,” he said. A recent spate of creativity was inspired by the nation’s politics, particularly President Donald Trump. Taylor chuckles when relating the lyrics in the song “Thank God it’s Trumpy Time.”
“I had great fun creating a character who loves Trump,” he says, delivering the lyrics line by line, pausing momentarily after each for comedic effect. “His in-law makes the rules; mine just left jail. Mar-a-Lago makes him tan; the coal mine just makes me pale.”
He wends through a few more rhyming lyrics before ending with a prediction: “me and mine who towed the line are about to disappear.”
Life, Taylor says, can be frustrating and maddening, but it’s almost always interesting.
A half century after his writing and guitar skills started earning him a living, he still tours regularly, performing more than 100 shows each year around a busy schedule of teaching stage performance at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
“I love to play, I have a beautiful audience, and I’m good at it,” he says simply. “Jeepers, why wouldn’t I still do it?”
His shows are like gatherings of old friends who are sharing music, or parties with enthusiastic sing-alongs, he says.
“I’ve found that people won’t spend time listening to people telling them about their lives, but if a songwriter is successful, they will sit and absorb the stories through songs. Seeing that happen in the audience is a wonderful feeling.”
— Susan McDonald is a regular contributor to The Providence Journal. She can be reached at Sewsoo1@verizon.net.