By Mary Lyn Maiscott
“Music loves film, and film loves music.” I know, this doesn’t quite make sense, but what if I tell you Donovan said it? Then it kind of works, doesn’t it?
The musicians playing the wonderful Tribeca/ASCAP Music Lounge, held at the Canal Room May 1-4, sometimes felt the need to muster up a direct tie between the two art forms, but they really didn’t need to. People—often between movies—were just there for the songs, and many of the songs were great, especially as delivered in such an intimate setting (and with an open bar nearby). Nevertheless, Jon Auer, of the Posies and Big Star, introduced one song as “an audio version of a Douglas Sirk film”; Adam Schlesinger and Mike Viola performed Schlesinger’s über-catchy “That Thing You Do!” from the eponymous 1996 movie; and Donovan—elfin as always in striped pants and a black waistcoat—revealed that his friend David Lynch loves “Season of the Witch” (as did we, the audience).
Another recurring theme was the sad song, with which many of the artists identified: Folk singer Mary Gauthier, declaring herself the “anti-Donovan”—the ’60s icon was on the same Wednesday bill—said at one point that she should be playing a happy song for a change but that she hadn’t yet written one. Similarly, as a kind of disclaimer for a love song he’d written for his wife (“Angelita”), Jon Auer, whose new album is entitled Songs from the Year of Our Demise, asked rhetorically, “Who am I, fuckin’ Paul McCartney? Fuckin’ Ben Lee?” This was another inside joke of sorts: Lee had played only two sets before, and had wowed the crowd with his self-possessed charm (the David Lee Roth scissor kicks went over big), slightly askew tunes, and peace-and-love vibe (especially with “We’re All in This Together,” sung standing on the bar). John Doe and Exene Cervenka, founding members of the punk band X, reminded us of our current political situation with “Lonesome War” and “Will Jesus Wash the Bloodstains from Your Hands?”
Which brings me back to Mary Gauthier. Her songs are indeed filled with gravitas, as befits a middle-aged woman who has seen some hard times. And now we’re all seeing hard times as a nation; I think that’s one reason that her eloquent “Mercy” struck a nerve. The wonder of art is that even when it’s evoking the terrible, if it’s good it lifts us up, and Gauthier’s music was truly transporting.
Another thing about art: even within one form, it comes in many varieties. For the Music Lounge, Loretta Muñoz and her crew at ASCAP put together an eclectic lineup. Besides the artists already mentioned, it included such diverse talents as songwriter legend Jimmy Webb, bluesy chanteuse Alice Smith, and, in a rousing finish to the four-day event, rock ’n’ roll idol John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. To quote Donovan again (quoting Pink Floyd), “Shine on, you crazy diamonds.”