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Musical Notes 

Greatest hits of musical memories

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You have to be nearly as old as Mick Jagger to appreciate Crossfire Hurricane, the recent two-hour documentary of the Rolling Stones’ 50-year run as the world’s pre-eminent rock band. If you are not, if you missed out on the 1960s, the footage may seem as dated and irrelevant as might a newsreel of hippies in Haight-Ashbury. But for those of a certain age, watching a 20-something Jagger cavorting on the screen—skinny, tight-skinned and cheeky—brings an involuntary smile. Fifty years may have passed at warp speed, but the music is reliable transport to times and places left behind.

In my case, the time is a warm summer night in 1966; the place, Lagoon’s open-air Patio Garden. I elbow my way through the crowd to a point not 20 feet from Jagger as he struts across the front of the small stage. Everyone is scream-singing “I can’t get no satisfaction.” I sing, too. I confess that I may have also called out personal greetings to Jagger. My inhibitions had been disabled by a few Presbyterian highballs at Lagoon’s bar before the show. Made from equal measures of scotch, soda and ginger ale, the Presbyterian was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, and in those days, I fancied myself a Hemingway-esque fellow whose stories were soon to be written.

The stories never jelled. The same can be said for any number of attempts over the years to wrestle diffuse ideas into prose. The Jagger anecdote is just one example. Despite it being a delightfully improbable conflation—the Rolling Stones, Lagoon’s long-closed bar and stage, a bottle of Cutty Sark and “Papa” Hemingway—I have never been able to fit it into an essay. I think it is because I have not yet discovered its essence. I save it in a category I call “orphans.” It shares space with these:

My first concert was at the Terrace Ballroom, on Main Street between 400 and 500 South. It was an acoustic performance by Peter, Paul & Mary, the folk-singing trio from Greenwich Village, and it pre-dated the Stones’ first U.S. tour by a few years. Everyone in the audience was dressed to the nines. I wore a gray sharkskin suit from ZCMI. Peter’s and Paul’s dark suits were offset by fashionably narrow rep ties. Mary wore a dress but her salient feature was her straight, blond hair. Taking the stage, the threesome sang a couple of songs. Then, Peter took the microphone and asked all the boys in the audience to take off their coats. Turn them inside out and lay them on the floor, he said, so the girls can sit down without soiling their dresses. All the boys complied. We sat on the floor with our girlfriends and listened to songs by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. By the time they sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” we were in the mood to sing along solemnly as the chorus came around.

I like the intimacy of a house concert: a few folding chairs in the living room, potluck appetizers and bottles of wine on the kitchen table, a singer-songwriter passing through town with songs to play and autographed CDs to sell. “It’s really a party at our house with friends and great musicians,” Grant Hogarth told me once. “We offer intimate music for those who come to listen.” Hogarth’s Magpie House Concerts in Sugar House may be the city’s longest-running venue, but Room With a View offers a panorama of the city through west-facing, picture windows. Over the years, I have heard a lot of original songs. I have noticed that the melodies are usually better than the lyrics, especially those with forced rhymes. One memorable night at Magpie, the performer was a guitar player named Dave from Colorado. His lyrics were—well, you be the judge: The chorus of an autobiographical song was: “Dave and Dave and Dave and Dave and Dave and Dave ...”

It wasn’t a sell-out when Jerry Jeff Walker played Red Butte Garden in 2011. Maybe it is because he is even older than Mick Jagger, and his songs—like “Mr. Bojangles” (1968) and “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” (1973)—aren’t played much outside the likes of the Peppermill Concert Hall in Wendover. I joined the hillside crowd that night, sitting in the shadow of a stand of scrub oak as the sun set. A young couple settled down in front of me. They carried a blanket and a 12-pack of PBR. I asked them if they had a favorite Jerry Jeff Walker song. No, they replied, we’ve actually never heard of him. To their left, a man sat down by himself in the tawny cheat grass and took the pieces of a clarinet out of a case. He carefully assembled them and adjusted the reed. Then, he improvised a Kenny G-style counterpoint when Walker sang slow-tempo songs like “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight.” He never said a word to those of us within earshot, but I thought his clarinet playing was good enough that he didn’t have to.

I have nonmusical orphans, too. I hope all will eventually find a welcoming place. What keeps me from discarding them is the sense that each anecdote has a kernel of truth embedded in it. To get at it, you must provide a context that allows it to reveal itself, and I accept the fact that that may never happen, that the orphans may share the fate of my Hemingway-inspired fiction. Time will tell. But you need only to look at Jagger’s grandfatherly face to know that time is running out.

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