Thursday, May 01, 2008

Age & Dreams & Music

What a pleasant surprise it is every couple of years or so to open a package from a music publicist, and to find a new Adam Carroll CD inside. I knew Adam had been working on a CD, but its unexpected arrival brightened my day because I like him, I like his music, and I like reminders of young people becoming adults despite, or perhaps because of, the weight of that awful responsibility of “traveling through this world of woe.”

Adam is somewhere around 30 now, perhaps a little on one side or the other of the age that somebody warned us children of the 1960s about. Never trust anybody over 30, “they” told us. And we believed it. Until we turned 30. A long time ago.

I know two young women, musicians, whose lives got a lot harder (at least in their own minds) because they weren’t stars by the time they turned 30; it was traumatic for them, like the mid 50s and beyond were, and are, for me. It’s also an age, I’ve told them and many others, when women really begin to become interesting. I always say that tongue in cheek because many younger women are interesting (even fascinating), too, but not as interesting as they are going to become. (I also tell them that most men don’t really begin to become interesting until at least 40, if ever.)

The songs on Adam’s new CD, Old Town Rock ‘N’ Roll, are often about people on the fringes. Aren’t we all, in some way, if we are indeed interesting? Although other musicians play on the CD, its feel is, most often, of a man on a stage by himself. His stage shows take on a sort of “aw-shucks” humility and self-consciousness that probably are, by now, as much performance as reality.

Adam’s songs, as he grows up, dig deeper than the sometimes funny songs that had people comparing him to John Prine. He also used to do sober songs with words that some people compared to Townes Van Zandt’s lyrics, although Adam himself probably has never done that. People tend to remember Adam’s early, funny songs.

Adam’s voice is raspier today, though he can still reach higher notes from time to time. The folky songs have become more descriptive, more nuanced, less often humorous as he wearily travels into adulthood. He sings a traveler’s highway prayer, and of the blues and roaming outside the law, and the full moon shining down, and of “old French ticklers, no one in particulars, sundown hi-fi love” and of rain. He can’t spell Porter Waggoner, who, in the last song, he identifies as “Porter Wagner.” But, hey, what’s a little spelling error in the age of dreams? And maybe that was a bit of humor, since one of the characters in the song asks, “Who the hell is this guy, Porter Wagner, anyway?”

Age. Dreams.

One recent weekend, I met a little red-haired girl, a sixth-grader who sometimes writes in her journal and has a guitar with a broken string, and seems eager to talk with someone who’ll listen to what she has to say. I think of the promise and peril she faces.

A night earlier, Kacey Musgraves, who’s all of 19 or 20 now, opened for bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, who’s 81, at Crossroads Coffeehouse in Winnsboro. She recently moved to Austin from small-town East Texas and, after a lifetime of music that included performances on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” before she reached sixth grade, is learning to live and grow on her own. She asked to open for Stanley, just like she’d asked earlier to open for Ray Wylie Hubbard, because she believes that both of them are cool. I like her taste in musicians and influences.

Before the show, I asked Kacey how she likes Austin. She smiled and pointed at her nose, with its newly implanted little diamond (real or fake; I don’t know). The smile and the gesture communicated lots, as did her mandolin solo during her closing song, a soulful version of the traditional “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” Near the end of the song, she turned to her guitar player, Wes Hendrix, and whispered, “Let’s try this.” She then plunked out a nice extended solo that, as she left the stage whispering “I’m not a solo artist,” drew a standing O from the crowd.

Kacey probably doesn’t know Adam; surely, the sixth-grader, Alyssa, who has dreams of her own, doesn’t know either Kacey or Adam. All three are connected, though, and not just through me. We all are connected through the seeking; we all are, it seems, poor wayfaring strangers while, as the song says, “traveling through this world of woe” as “dark clouds gather” around us, as “golden fields” of one sort or another lie before us.