Thursday, I began my day by writing a post about Bruce Springsteen’s plans to write his autobiography and ended it by attending a concert by artists who covered songs by icons who have written their autobiographies. If you think there’s a trend here, you’re right. In many cases, veteran musicians are finding that their fans are only mildly interested in the new songs they write, but very interested in their stories about the colorful lives they’ve led.
The show took place at Little City Books in Hoboken, a bookstore that opened last year and has already presented a number of unusual events. A succession of musicians played one song apiece; listeners sat in rows of chairs assembled in the middle of the store.
The Hoboken music store, Guitar Bar, supplied the amps and other equipment. There were no drums, though the drummer for Dead Wicks, which covered Ozzy Osbourne’s “No More Tears,” supplied a bit of percussion by banging on a cardboard box. Little City Books co-owner Kate Jacobs, an excellent singer-songwriter in her own right, hosted the show and also sang Patti Smith’s “Looking for You (I Was).”
The show did not follow its format strictly: A few of the covered artists have not written autobiographies, though they have all, certainly, had books written about them.
In general, the show’s participants did not choose to cover the signature songs of the artists they were honoring. Amy Allison opted for Elvis Costello’s “Hoover Factory,” for instance, and James Mastro chose Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” Gene D. Plumber did Willie Nelson’s “In My Own Peculiar Way”; Jon and Deena of The Cucumbers, Neil Young’s “When You Dance I Can Really Love.” All are great songs, and were performed with great skill and sensitivity, but they’re not in any way the songs you would expect to hear in a show like this.
The biggest wild card of the evening was probably keyboardist Brian Lawlor’s performance of Philip Glass’ hypnotic “Etude #11.” A live performance of Philip Glass music in a bookstore — that’s a first for me, and I’m sure, for just about everyone else there.
Karyn Kuhl howled the blues on “Ain’t No Grave” in tribute to Johnny Cash, whose version of the song was used as the title track of his posthumous 2010 album, American VI: Ain’t No Grave. Smokey Hormel sang Lonnie Johnson’s “She’s Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight” with an appropriately light touch, and Maddy Bowes sang with soulful authority on the Carole King-written, Aretha Franklin-popularized “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Andy Burton wrapped things up with a solo keyboard take on David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”
Throughout the evening, the vibe was warm and casual, the arrangements minimal and tasteful. Many of the participants backed each other in the course of the evening, and Jon Graboff helped out on guitar as well.
It would be great if Little City Books made this an annual event. And next year, of course, they could include a Springsteen song.