No matter how old or obscure, the music Light in the Attic exhumes was made by human beings. The label folks know this fact better than anyone. When investigating potential reissues, they've always made every effort to recognize, track down, compensate and celebrate the original artists (a process rarely simple and often exhausting). Sometimes those artists are long gone from the planet; other times they're alive and well. I've witnessed firsthand several aging musicians hearing of LITA's reissue plans for the first time. For them such late recognition can be bittersweet, the music often years or even decades behind them, their lives now somewhere else. But initial cynicism and skepticism inevitably turn to pride, humility and gratitude: Despite the time passed, any musician appreciates an attentive listener. LITA is nothing but.
At almost 70 years old, Sixto Rodriguez enjoyed a flush of recognition after LITA reissued his Cold Fact and Coming from Reality albums in 2009. When Rodriguez played the Triple Door that year, I met and hung out with him. The best word for his state of mind over touring with a band of 20-somethings (San Francisco psych rock band the Fresh & Onlys), over the attention of a 30-something journalist, over the revival of a long-dormant musical career (he was still working construction in Detroit at the time of the reissues): Bemused. He had made that transition from cynicism to appreciation with grace and humor. "No resentment, only perspective," I wrote back then in my profile of Rodriguez in the Seattle Times.
Today Rodriguez's profile has grown even further. In the last few months, he's been the subject of an award-winning documentary and a 60 Minutes segment, a guest on Letterman, and the recipient of celebrity-driven social media buzz. In every possible way, Rodriguez is the pinnacle of success for LITA: Brilliant music, generous man, well deserved world-wide acclaim—40 years after his recording career ended.
In a smaller way, Donnie and Joe Emerson embody the same success. In 1980, in a studio on the family farm funded and built by their father in the tiny town of Fruitland, WA., the two teenaged brothers recorded an album of shimmering pop-soul they called Dreamin' Wild. Not surprisingly, nobody heard it. Donnie and Joe finished high school like normal kids. Donnie briefly moved to LA with dreams of being a fulltime musician, Joe stayed in Fruitland to work on the farm.
Thirty-some years later, Matt Sullivan and Light in the Attic came knocking. They wanted to reissue Dreamin' Wild, an album that, over the decades, had gained underground notoriety among vinyl collectors as a brilliant anomaly, an enchanting, overlooked mix of adolescent naivete, ambition and songcraft. At first reticent, Donnie and Joe agreed to the reissue. Pitchfork and the New York Times took notice. Tonight, the brothers, now in their early 50s, play their first show in 30 years, opening for Rodriguez at Light in the Attic's sold-out 10-Year Anniversary Party at the Showbox Market.
Did you have a good time while it lasted? Did it make you feel like you were on top of the world? 17-year-old Donnie sang on the joyous album opener in 1970. The song takes on new meaning today, as he's doubtless asking himself the same question.
We live in a time of numbing overabundance. In 2012, music has become a torrent of industry-produced, Internet-disseminated, inbox-clogging content. The unflagging rush of novelty, the veritable onslaught of new songs, albums, videos, films, and commercials, depletes music of its power and value. We forget the human story behind the song—because there often isn't one. Light in the Attic reminds us otherwise. Music is precious. Lest we forget, there are lives invested in it.
"Peace Dance" by Woody Carr from Wheedle's Groove Ltd. Ed. 45s Box Set
Woody Carr recorded the above song in 1967 at Kearny Barton's Audio Recordings studios under the Monorail in Seattle (where Barton also recorded the Sonics, the Kingsmen and Jimi Hendrix). Today, Carr, 60-something years old, lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Federal Way, 30 minutes south of Seattle. His voice is a sliver of a whisper, almost completely destroyed by years of singing and carousing. But the man is radiant, ebullient, a fountain of unabashed joy and pride in the music he made decades ago as a studio vocalist and band frontman in Seattle. He recorded throughout much of the '60s and '70s in styles ranging from garage rock to hard funk to country to show tunes to lo-fi. Woody was unstoppable in his prolificacy then and inspirational in his outlook now. Here's hoping he becomes the next great story in LITA's ongoing effort to keep music human.