The tipping-point inspiration for this newsletter, JustAboutMusic, was this 2-minute segment from Martin Scorsese's 2021 Netflix documentary, Pretend It's a City, featuring Fran Lebowitz.
(If you can’t watch it now, or find it difficult to understand, I’ll include my transcription below.)
I know how to write lyrics to a song, but I don't know how you write a piece of music. And I realized sometimes I have seen films of huge concerts of very popular musicians. And now they have all these cameras and you can see the faces of the people. When I see this, I'm very interested in the audience. You see how happy and grateful the people are for this music, especially popular music of their youth. It doesn't matter whether the popular music of their youth was Frank Sinatra or Billy Joel or David Bowie, or Q-Tip.
This is, "don't you remember when we went on our first date, this was the music ..." This is centrally important to people. And they love the person who gave this to them. And the whole thing is a mystery to them.
No one is loved like musicians. Musicians are loved by people, really loved, because they give them the ability to express their emotions and their memories. There’s no other form that does that.
I really think that musicians, probably musicians and cooks, are responsible for the most pleasure in human life. Motown music, which was very popular when I was a teenager, whenever I hear it, I instantly become happier. There's just no question that it makes me happier. This is true of almost nothing! Now, do I think, like, Motown is the greatest music ever made? I don't. But if you ask me, "the second you heard this, do you feel happier?" I do.
That’s a very important thing to do for human beings. Music makes people happier, and it doesn’t harm them. Most things that make you feel better are harmful. It’s very unusual. It’s like a drug, that doesn’t kill you.
Watching this for the first time this past March, I had to stop and replay those two minutes, several times. More than anything I’ve ever heard or read or thought about about people’s love for music, these in-the-moment comments articulated some of the deep feelings I've had all my life about music.
Before that 31-minute episode concluded, I was determined to take a deep dive for myself to really study how it is that music has become, for me, the longest, most consistent and dependable aspect of my life. No matter where I've lived – and I've lived in 35 different homes in 20 different cities and towns – music has always been there.
Truly, ‘home’ for me has always been wherever my music is.
The initial product of that dive now enters the public realm with this newsletter, but I’ve been prepping for four months. I have a good idea generally where this JAM newsletter is going, but I’m sure I’ll be improvising as we go.
I say “we” deliberately, but with a disclaimer. To be clear, I am writing this for myself. This is my own personal passion project to pursue, without respect to “growing my subscriber base” or “establishing my brand.” (Sorry, Substack overlords;)
However, I humbly believe there may well be other ‘fellow music travelers’ who want to tag along. Maybe not in terms of having any interests into some of the theories and speculations and navel-gazings that I’ll be discussing. But I certainly hope that the experiences I relate, the lyrics I quote and the musicians I mention will trigger memories and associations within readers that might stimulate recollections as to their own experiences, songs and artists.
Two recent experiences give anecdotal evidence that my hope for ‘fellow music travelers’ is justified.
I have new neighbors. Last week I had my second short conversation with one of them outside. I knew that she and her husband, both my age (+/-), were vaccinated and had starting wearing masks again, as I have. She was most concerned, though, about the fact that they had concert tickets for two of their long-time favorite artists and were worried that the shows might be postponed for another year.
Now I’m in Texas, and I know how diverse the musical tastes run around here. So I hesitated for about a dotted half-note before I asked … who? She answered James Taylor and the Doobie Brothers. Welcome again, Neighbor! We spoke for another ten minutes about music, concerts, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which I visited in May and will definitely be writing about), our first concerts, etc.
A few days later, I had to get a new state inspection sticker for my car. While I was sitting in the waiting room, the mechanic came in to tell me that they’d have my car around in a minute. I happened to be wearing a Beatles t-shirt, which he commented on before he said anything about the car. He sat down and starting talking about the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s and how that was really the good times for music. He mentioned the “original” Creedence Clearwater, without mentioning John Fogarty by name.
But I knew what he was talking about.
Track 002 – Friday the 10th: Part 2 of “… and here’s to you, Ms. Fran Lebowitz.”
Track 003 – Tuesday the 14th: the first of two variety samplers of what will become regular JAM features and sketch out the boundaries of what may be considered going forward.
Track 004 – Friday the 17th: the second sampler.
As implied by these first two weeks, generally I’ll be sending out two newsletters each week. That’s the plan, Tuesday and Friday.
Credit and apologies to Paul Simon (and possibly Fran Lebowitz) for my attempt with the track’s title to mimic the syllables, if not the rhythmic cadence, in the chorus to “Mrs. Robinson.”
The 2-minute video clip is from Martin Scorsese’s Pretend It’s a City, a six-part series of half-hour conversations and clips with Fran Lebowitz, available on Netflix.
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Fran Lebowitz, Martin Scorsese, Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Q-Tip, James Taylor, Doobie Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogarty, Paul Simon