A Few Minutes With… Livingston Taylor

February 4th, 2015, 12:00 pm by Greg

Interview and story by Don Wilcock

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable writing about Livingston Taylor – who performs two shows on Saturday at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs – because I’m sure some people think of him as being James Taylor Lite. He’s not, of course. And he deserves to be seen as his own man.

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Yes, he looks and sounds like James. They both come from what one journalist called “The First Family of New England Music.” Both cover other people’s songs and write some of their own. And if it ever was a problem being the fourth of five children – one of whom practically invented the singer-songwriter movement of the late ’60s – Livingston has long since overcome it by owning his own niche as a full professor at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music since 1989.

He’s made a career out of both teaching and living a philosophy that dictates putting the emphasis on the audience – each and every one of them – and making them feel special. He has the same talent when interviewing. He always addresses me by name and listens to what I bring to the interview as much as he talks. At times, it’s almost unnerving with seconds of dead air as he waits to hear if I’m going to say anything else before responding. He’s there to serve. In his world, it’s always about the other guy.

“Once you go through 60,” he says, “your vision and society’s belief in your future diminishes greatly. If you no longer are active, and you have a future that is measured in two or three decades at the most, what happens is you are essentially marginalized by

“You are put on the edge, and what you’re expected to do is to observe, and what you’re also expected to do is to enthusiastically advocate for the journey of those who are actively breeding i.e., perpetuating the species. And if you don’t do that, if you and I at 60 and 70 sit there and complain about the world that exists, we will be badly and quickly marginalized.

“What people need from us is if we wish to continue to participate, we must advocate enthusiastically for their journey and not sit here and complain about it. I don’t care to be
left out of the conversation, and so what I need to do is add to the conversation, and if I can’t add to the conversation, then I need to advocate enthusiastically for the conversation that’s going on. As you get older, I suggest that you live in the state of gratitude. Angry and defiant is a young person’s territory.”

His idea of a great recording underlines the power he ascribes to an audience. “A great live recording is not a recording of the artist. It’s a recording of the audience listening to the artist. So when you’ve got Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall, what’s blowing you through the moon is listening to the audience responding to her. Or B.B. King’s Live at The Regal, or Ray Charles live at the Santa Monica Civic Center or Frampton Comes Alive.”

At 64, Livingston has a clear vision of just who he is. “I’m delighted to be here.” He currently lives in Watertown, outside of Boston. “I’m delighted to be in an environment where I get to be a small fish in a big pond. I like being with and having access to the most competent people I can find, and one of the great things about being in the Northeast is that you have access to a very high level of human being.”

He also knows and empathizes with his students. He’s been quoted as saying that nine little words describe one’s life: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“I was skiing the other day, and I saw a couple of kids. I asked them if they had a GoPro camera, and they said they did not have one with them. I told them how pleased I was by that, and I suggested that it’s far better to be interested in where you’re going than to look at where you’ve been.

“I’m bemused by people who carry one of those devices that allow you to hold your camera in selfie mode and record yourself at a distance holding the camera. I have parents when I teach who bring me their children, and they for their entire life have dipped their children in all of the little marinades: baseball and karate and piano lessons and all of these things that will make their children flavorful and interesting. I say to the parents, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not interested in children that can be seen. I’m interested in children who can see. How much time did you just leave them alone and let them watch?’ Yeah, I need people who can look forward.”

WHAT: Livingston Taylor
WITH: Chelsea Berry
WHEN: 7 & 9pm Saturday (NOTE: The 7pm show is sold out.)
WHERE: Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $50 in advance; $52 at the door; $45 members; $25 students

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