Matt Litzinger: Gentle Music for the Season

Matt Litzinger, All These Years; Sampler

This is the time of the year for things sweet and gentle, and New Hampshire's Matt Litzinger is just the guy to deliver. He even has a deal for you: download his new EP All These Years and you can also get a free sampler.

Litzinger fits snugly in the singer songwriter folk tradition. He's not going to dazzle you with all manner of studio bling. Check out "Time Turner" from the sampler. He recorded it live because it conveys the personal and warm immediacy of his lyrics and performance style. Many of his songs are unabashedly wholesome. "Chelue," for instance, is told from the POV of his grandfather and the life he built. It is a three-generation tale of a boy and a girl (Chelue) who fell in love early, married, and watched their kids and grandkids grow. Litzinger sings this one with a bit of a rasp reminiscent of how John Prine might attack such material. He celebrates the same kind of devotion in "Piper's Song," which is dedicated to his daughter. This little piano/guitar based melody with its theme of a sunbeam bringing light into an often dark world could come off as mawkish, were it not for the fragile sincerity which Litzinger conveys his feelings.

If ambiguity is your taste, try "Airport Song." It's about a man driving his love to the airport and neither of them has anything to say. This part of the song is melancholy and slower than when he tells us he's counting the days until "she'll be back in my arms." There's just enough doubt in all of this for us to imagine a happy ending, or to think that the song is about a flame that has died out and the reunion is just wishful thinking. Another in the vein of how do you want to spin it is "City Folks." It tells of a person who rides commuter rail to work and dreams of being able to fit seamlessly into city life, though he doesn't. It's mostly a grass-is-greener tale, but it could also be read as a paean to country living.

However you want to think of these songs, you'll find Litzinger's pacing unhurried, his songs calming, his approach unpretentious, and his melodies the type that stick in your head. This is curl up-to-cocoa folk music that lifts the spirit.

Rob Weir  


Glastonbury Fayre an Early Nic Roeg Film/Time Warp

Glastonbury Fayre  (1972/Re-released)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
MVDvisual, 87 minutes, Not-rated (extensive nudity)

Film director Nicholas Roeg died on November 23. In addition to work in television and cinematography, Roeg directed such classics as the chilling Don't Look Now (1973); The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), a David Bowie sci-fi tale; the controversial Bad Timing (1980), which was originally rated X; and The Witches (1990), which helped send Anjelica Huston's career into overdrive.

Back in 1971, though, Nic Roeg was the young whelp whose second film, Walkabout, gained a lot of what we'd today call buzz. It is a tale of two young white children cast adrift in the Australian Outback, where they meet an Aboriginal boy and (sort of ) entrust their survival to him. The point of all this is that Roeg was not yet a household name when he directed Glastonbury Fayre, if indeed "directed" is the right word. Glastonbury Fayre is a cinéma vérité documentary, meaning that Roeg played the role of a dispassionate observer. His point of view is visually direct, but images are presented without commentary or any identifiable judgment or assessment. Much like rockumentaries such as The Last Waltz or Stop Making Sense, Roeg simply pointed the camera and allowed the images to speak for themselves.

The 1971 Glastonbury Fayre was the first in a series of rock festivals that continue to take place in Glastonbury, England. (They are the remnants of classical and avant-garde music festivals that began in 1914.) Fairport Convention helped organize the 1971 event and several others in their post-Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson guise. Glastonbury was chosen because of its proximity to Glastonbury Tor, a hill that some regard as one of the eight most powerful energy vortices on the planet. The initial feel of Roeg's film is that it is what the documentary Woodstock would have been like if Michael Wadleigh had been forced to work on a shoestring budget. In fact, some critics have dubbed it "Woodstock Lite." The vortex makes it more than that.

The (non) structure of Glastonbury Fayre has the same feel as the filler material between concert performances in Wadleigh's film. That is, we watch the stage—a giant makeshift pyramid in this case—being built, and then we witness various people from all walks of life drifting into the site. There is no external commentary other than the snippets of conversation and background noises incidentally captured by the film crew. There is, however, a considerable amount of full frontal nudity on display from a cast of characters whose lack of inhibition makes Woodstock seem like a nunnery. As in the case of the latter, though, quite a few are eccentric, mystical, weird, or a combination of all three. Roeg's film also invokes another Sixties' phenomenon, the happening. Much of Roeg's non-direction is in the improvisational spirit of spontaneous happenings.

 Performers such as Terry Reid, Linda Lewis, and Arthur Brown will be less familiar to North American viewers. Brown—nicknamed The God of Hellfire—was a particularly flamboyant and odd performer. He is seen on the film in a demonic guise and with a band that presaged prog rock, Alice Cooper, KISS, and heavy metal. (Brown did have a brief hit on the North American charts with the song "Fire.") If you followed folk rock, you will recognize Fairport's Dave Swarbrick, whose fiddling raised the bar for future string players. Unlike Woodstock, though, none of the filmed performances last very long. Blink and you'll miss young Steve Winwood in Traffic, or David Bowie. It may sound blasphemous to assert, but the film's best musical performance comes from Melanie, who was a major star in the 1970s (and still performs). I'd have to check, but I believe she's the only performer to play at both Woodstock and Glastonbury.

The film shuffles on and about the time one begins to buy into the whole Woodstock Lite crticism, it dawns on the viewer that Glastonbury isn't Woodstock. It's actually the progenitor of Burning Man. And so it was for 15 years before anyone thought of Burning Man. And so it remains, with music plus Burning Man's embrace of all forms of artistic expression, but without its unstated (and near cult-like) adherence to specific spiritual paths.

Glastonbury Fayre won't stun you the way future Roeg films did. You may, in fact, find it rather crudely made. View it instead through the eyes of a time-traveling anthropologist. Leave your hang-ups on the shelf, as those who attended the 1971 Fayre literally let it all hang out.

Rob Weir


Turn Off the Cafe Wi-fi

Hipsters and Sponges Ruining a Cafe

Northampton, Massachusetts is one of New England's great coffee towns. Within the three-square-block section of the downtown there are at least 28 places to sit down or carry away a really good cup of Joe. Four miles away, the center of Florence has just a handful of stores, but coffee is on offer at 9 of them.

I'm fortunate that Northampton has a café culture, as there are several places I choose not to sip. I won't name them, but one is in the middle of Main Street and the other is on Pleasant Street. Their brews are terrific, but their business plans irk me. They offer free Wi-Fi.

Yeah, I know. We live in a connected world. Me too.  I have no gripe about that. I do, however, have issues with turning cafés into repositories for the tragically hip and the cheap-as-hell crowd. The dominant décor of the two places I avoid is one table, one laptop, one screen-stupefied typist, one cup of coffee last lifted to lips an hour ago, and a muffin that a sparrow could decimate more rapidly. Add a dash of incivility and it's-all-about-me narcissism, and you've got the picture.

Café laptops have replaced bowling alone as a symbol of our atomized society. A good café is the modern agora—a public meeting place where friends and strangers interact. See the same strangers enough times, conversation happens, and strangers become new friends. My favorite café, Woodstar, is precisely such a place. It's a mini Grand Central of people filing in and out. Those who score a table are seldom alone for long and, if you think the yakers are clogging the capitalist machine, check out how often the baristas are re-firing the brewing urns and count the food platters coming out from the back.

This, of course, is how a café must run in order to survive. The minimum wage in Massachusetts is $11 an hour, but that's low for Northampton. Translation: Coffee places survive on volume. Why is Woodstar so busy? Because it has no Wi-Fi. You'll spot laptops here and there from those who can pick up a hotspot, but they tend not to linger. Woodstar hums with the energy and low murmur of dozens of people interacting with each other, not the listerized quiet of private surfers.

I've no idea how the two places I avoid stay in business, especially the one of Pleasant Street where even the big tables are dominated by a single laptopper guarding turf by splaying papers hither and yon. Every time I see this phenomenon I want to recruit a posse of former café owners and throttle the fool. This person is a self-interested sponge who threatens the survival of local business.

Perhaps you might think my reaction extreme. If so, try this experiment. Sit down near to a solitary laptopper and begin to converse with a friend. First the person will look up. Then comes a glare and a sigh. Headphones will be pulled from the pack and clamped over the ears. The moment an empty table opens, the power cord will be yanked from the wall, the laptop will loudly snap shut, and its owner will clomp off in a huff.

If ever the phrase "get a room" is apt, it's for those who think a beverage entitles them to a cone of silence and a place to be alone. There are such places; "coworking" space is all the rage these days. This will, of course, cost more than the five bucks for a coffee and a muffin. And that, really, is the point. A café isn't an office, nor is it a place to publicly exude attitude. Heaven forbid that our cafés become nothing more than places to preen and work. (Not that they could afford to be such a thing!)  

We all must work, of course, and I'm one who occasionally needs a change of scenery to regain my creative mojo. I've even been known to plug in at a non-busy café. But the moment business picks up I pack up and leave because I want that café to be there the next time I crave a well-made cuppa. If I need quiet, I go to the ultimate shhhh kind of place: the library. Those one-table one-laptop coffee houses of the living dead should turn off the Wi-fi—for their own good, and in the name of community.   

Rob Weir