LIVE: Ry Cooder @ Tanglewood, 7/1/18
Review by Bokonon
In 1979, Ryland Peter Cooder released the song “The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)” on an album called Bop Till You Drop. The record — the first album to be recorded digitally, although the CD would not be developed for another three years — would prove to be Cooder’s most popular.
The fact that Cooder, a notoriously persnickety audiophile fan of raunch and warm distortion, decided to record digitally should make all you vinyl cheerleaders shut the fuck up, even though it won’t.
The track, penned by a Memphis cabdriver named Sidney Bailey, still blazes.
On Sunday, July 1, Cooder and his band, on a rare headlining tour, performed the song at Tanglewood in Lenox.
The heat was hot, and Cooder mentioned this many times. The band was hot, too, but that was a given. The song, though, was thermonuclear.
In its wake, all music is bad. The rest of our lives will be filled with disappointment. Sadness now rules the earth, hope glimmering only in blurry memories of the Tanglewood throwdown.
On the record, “The Very Thing That Makes You Rich” plays out for 5:35, which even back then, when everyone was younger and had more time on their hands, was a lot to ask of a listener.
Despite having cellphones in our mitts, at Tanglewood the song lasted for centuries. Children were born. Men married each other. Paintings were reconsidered and thrown away. The Grongs were defeated and Norway freed.
While these things happened, Cooder simply stood back and smiled, understanding that a band backing Ry Cooder has it. They can handle it.
Over a relentless loose-skinned thump, courtesy of Cooder’s own boychild Joachim Cooder, saxophonist Sam Gendel wound scales around themselves on a contrabass saxophone nearly as tall as Cooder himself.
There are saxophone solos, and there are saxophone solos. And then there was this.
It’s unusual for an audience to spontaneously combust. Even less likely when the air threatens to do so on its own. But the grey pates of Tanglewood rose, hands over heads, cheering. And the song wasn’t halfway over.
By the time Cooder got to his own solo, the crowd was nearly spent. Most had bought the record when it was new, and simply couldn’t understand how the song could still be so alive, so persuasive, so goddamn funky.
The Hamiltones, not a one of them alive when Cooder cut the track, understood. They knew that the thing that made you — likely a Berkshires resident, at least during the warmer months — rich, made them poor. But they offered generosity, a promise of a world where one day the wealth might be shared equally (insert laughter here).
Cooder has spent his lifetime singing about money and its imbalance. Frankly, he won’t shut up about it. Maybe that’s why on this day, at that moment, it all seemed so real.
The fact is that sometimes Ry Cooder can be the Steely Dan of folk music. On other days, he is a preacher, and at his best, as on this Sunday afternoon, his sermons nudge right at the edge of where semen and Jesus get together.
I will not feel sad that all music is bad now. I have seen the light.
The very thing that makes me rich makes you poor.