A Few Minutes with… Livingston Taylor, playing Caffe Lena Jan 31st & Feb 1st
“I only get to be one of the Gods because mortals agree that I should be one.”
On the face of it, that comment standing alone sounds like the epitome of arrogance. One of the Gods? Come on! But when you talk to singer/songwriting veteran Livingston Taylor, the comment in context is just the opposite. He believes his fans have all the power to make or break him as a performer, and he works assiduously to please them, one by one. He calls the ultimate power of the fans over success or failure as a functioning artist “one of the great ironies” of the entertainment business.
At 69 years old and 53 years into his career, he’s at the top of his game. In the last three years, he’s released Safe Home, a CD of originals, show tunes and covers of songs including Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane,” Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do,” and the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.” Then there’s the “LIVe – Livingston Taylor Live” box Set, a collection of 87 live recordings on four discs from 1969 through 2016 and including the documentary film Livingston Taylor – Life Is Good. There’s his PBS special, Livingston Taylor Live from Sellersville Theater: Songs & Stories; and his upcoming annual 2020 Retreat subtitled The Master Class at Endicott College. He’s currently on tour that includes an 8 p.m. Friday show (January 31st) and a 3:00 p.m. Saturday show (February 1st) at Caffe Lena. Oh, and he’s also a professor at Berklee College of Music.
In the process of defining himself for his fans, he’s had a chance to reflect on just what it is that still brings them to his concerts more than half a century since he first recorded for The Allman Brothers’ Capricorn Records. “Most compelling for me is the realization that when I was younger, I thought that luck would be an important component, and when you get older, you realize that good luck is the only component and that the only antidote for old age is gratitude.
“So, hopefully, gratitude has been my real component as I get older. I’ve been fortunate for the things that have happened to me, and it doesn’t negate tenacity. What it does is rather than to be embittered by what you lost, you become more grateful for that which you have which makes for a fruitful transition to the adaptability of obscurity and diffidence.”
Taylor’s perspective on a performer’s relationship to their audience is colored by his role as a professor at Berklee where he’s taught a course in stage performance since 1989. Guest lecturers have included Steven Tyler, John Mayer and Jimmy Buffett. “I say to (my students) how ironic it is that the only way you can live on Mount Olympus is to have mortals agree that you should live there and what happens is that you need your audience. Your audience does not need you.”
He says for every one thing he teaches his students he learns 70. “Watching my students, I’ve come to understand the nuance of fear. I’ve come to understand the loneliness of being a performer. That’s how people are on stage and what your job is. I must need an audience. How little they need me and how desperate I am for their attention. These things have been taught to me by my students.”
In 1995, Livingston described that relationship with his audience to me thusly: “I’ll drive the bus for an hour or two, and you can go ahead and drive after I’m through, but I’m here now, and by the way, you don’t have to like me. If you like me, I’m very, very pleased, and I’m deeply complimented, and if you don’t like me, it doesn’t panic me. It doesn’t scare me. It breaks my heart, but it doesn’t panic me or scare me.
“I haven’t been marginalized yet, but don’t worry. It will happen. Because it happens to all of us. That is the transition. Our ripple effect in the pond and the world is turned over to those who follow behind us.”
Both he and superstar brother James in their music reflect an upper middle-class intellect and comfort factor with some journalists crediting James, at least, with ushering in the post-folk era singer/songwriter craze. Livingston isn’t buying that.
“No, absolutely not. The fact is James had wonderful success doing it, and certainly Jackson Browne and probably Tim Hardin after that. So, the person who created the entire folk music movement was one person, and that was Bob Dylan. He was the original singer/songwriter that let everybody understand that this was a fully marketable direction to go in.”