Even as a kid I never liked “fantasy” stories --- I was not particularly taken with Merlin and his ilk. By the time I got to college Tolkien was all the rage and I didn’t get it. Hobbits and Middle Earth didn’t work for me, nor did Dune or any of the others like that. I did like Star Trek but am not a Sci-Fi fan and still have only seen the very first Star Wars movie. That being said, the current craze surrounding Game of Thrones has passed me by completely. I bring this up because I realize that my ignorance about the show leaves me lacking when references are made to it --- and those references are cultural markers for a huge audience. While watching Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press Daily show on MSNBC Thursday evening, he did about a 3-minute item that was all Thrones related and I couldn’t have been further in the dark. Now, I know many people (maybe millions?) understand those markers --- but I do not and, therefore, am left out of a conversation that all those people (and Chuck Todd) are having. It may not be the most significant item being discussed in the world today (given our current politics) but there’s definitely a sense of being “out of the loop” when a reference like that is made.
In the same way, I have never watched Breaking Bad. It probably was a matter of timing and I’ve never been much of any “regular TV series” devotee --- particularly not the hour-long variety. I know who Walter White is, of course, and what the show’s premise was (which is far more than I can say about GoT) but I know there are people who make references to specific episodes or talk about incidents that, for them/regular viewers, are “givens.” I’m lost. Again, a cultural marker that I have no Rosetta Stone for. In a world so full of content, however, it is understandable that each of us will be attuned to certain markers and oblivious to others. Which leads me to our seeing Jim Messina at the Fairfield Theater Company on Thursday evening.
For those who may have no idea who Jim Messina is let me say that he is, for me (& the Lovely Carol Marie, and many in the Baby Boom generation), a cultural marker of some note. If you were a rock’n’roll fan from 1967 to 1977, Jim Messina was a presence, in a low-key yet highly significant way. Starting as a 20 year old engineer/producer with Buffalo Springfield, he played bass on two tracks of that band’s final album and then formed one of the first “country rock” bands (along with the Flying Burrito Brothers) Poco with Springfield’s rhythm guitarist Richie Furay. Poco served as a “feeder” band for the Eagles, supplying both Randy Meisner and then Timothy B. Schmidt as bassists for the more successful band. After Messina left Poco to become an independent producer for Columbia/CBS records he was asked to produce an album by Kenny Loggins, a songwriter (for ABC/Dunhill) who was not a performer. Long story short, Messina wrote or co-wrote six of the 11 songs on Loggins’s first album and contributed so much to the project that it was decided it would be called Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In. The duo became a regular act and produced five more albums, selling 16 to 20 million units. They were the hottest duo of the ‘70s, surpassed only by Hall and Oates in the second half of the decade.
While Jim Messina has never had the high profile stature of former Springfield mates Stephen Stills and Neil Young --- and wasn’t a “hitmaker” in the 1980s the way Loggins was (remember “I’m Alright,“ “Footloose” and “Danger Zone?”) --- he is a cultural marker because of his centrality to some of the most iconic music that rock and roll fans were immersed in for a decade and longer. So, seeing him perform in 2017 was an event we looked forward to.
Messina and his band --- who were all exceptional musicians --- walked us through those years with memorable songs from Buffalo Springfield, Poco, and Loggins and Messina, as well as an impressive array of new compositions. This may not be true for all, but I know that music is an associative medium for me and, listening to those songs --- reproduced with exceptional fidelity to the original recordings (Messina’s production bona fides shining through) --- I had vivid flashbacks to being on campus, working construction, graduate school in upstate New York, and my early years teaching in Westchester County. It’s why music is a unique and evocative art and why Messina is a significant cultural marker in the pantheon of Baby Boom musicians.
As a final note, I have to say that the loss of so many musicians in 2016 --- from Bowie to Prince to Leon Russell and Leonard Cohen, to Mose Allison and Glen Frey, as well as Paul Kantner and the Beatles producer, George Martin --- raises a certain concern when I see performers now, particularly those who are older than I (Messina turned 69 in December). Cultural markers are particular to audiences and to certain generations of people, reflecting values and beliefs of those groups. Keeping an eye out for cultural markers can be revealing in great and subtle ways --- if only for our own calculating who we are and what we value.