Wednesday, January 6, 2010

When stars are aligned...and maligned: Andy Pratt in concert

Frequent readers of this space (i.e., me) know that I am fascinated by coincidences and try to see them not as random curiosities but as potentially Divine hints, signposts put in your way by a benevolent guide. Such a coincidence occurred last night.

As background, know that 2009 was an incredibly difficult year for me, and 2010 doesn't promise much more happiness and comfort. There are few pleasures in my life, and fewer still that I can afford. In that context, I was up late last night, searching the Internet for songs about the end of the world. A morbid subject, perhaps, but I chose it not simply because of my own personal pessimism but also because I recently learned of an opportunity to submit one-act plays about the end of the world in a competition, with the winning entry being staged by a New York City-based theatre troupe. I wanted to assemble a mix CD to serve as a soundtrack to my writing.

Some of the songs were obvious and well-known: "End of the World" by Skeeter Davis (which I own, as well as cover versions by Herman's Hermits, Julie London, Bill Frisell, and Nina Gordon), "It's the End of the World (As We Know It)" by REM, and "Until the End of the World" by U2. Others I found within my iTunes library: "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" by David Ruffin, "(I'll Love You) Til the End of the World" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, "Armageddon Blues" by Gary Willis, and "The Last Days" by the Osmonds (yes, the Osmonds, want to make something out of it?).

Googling songs about the end of the world, I found a couple more: "Waiting For the End of the World" by Elvis Costello, and "End of the World Party" by Medeski, Martin and Wood. I also added Todd Rundgren's "Fade Away" and Bunny Wailer's "Armagideon". Finally, I checked a site that offers free mp3 downloads (not totally legally) and found the song "It's Not the End of the World" by one Andy Pratt.

Now, I had come across the name Andy Pratt last year. I don't recall how exactly, but somehow the name got on my radar screen and I learned he was a "one-hit wonder" from the '70s, whose one hit was called "Avenging Annie." The title didn't ring a bell but I heard a sample online and immediately went, "Oh, yeah, THAT song!" Featuring his surprising falsetto and a wicked piano part, the tune was covered by Roger Daltrey on one of his solo albums and made it on the soundtrack of the film, Velvet Goldmine. I read his entry on and was intrigued. Born to a well-to-do family in Boston, he went to the finest schools, including Harvard, but was drawn to a career in music. A virtuoso on several instruments, sustained success nevertheless eluded him. He apparently became enfolded in obscurity and disappeared, moving to the Netherlands and becoming a born-again Christian. And for me, that was that. Until last night.

Last night, when Andy Pratt again was put before my eyes, I was curious. The cut in question was wonderful, much more stripped down than "Avenging Annie" and that tune's follow-up album, Resolution. The voice, though, was still thoroughly compelling, and the lyrics ("It's not the end of the world/It's not the end of the sky/It's not the end of my life/It's just the end of you and I") resonated. So I went exploring. I reacquainted myself with his biography and learned that he moved back to Boston a few years ago and was apparently still active. I went on YouTube and found a number of recent performances that were wonderful. Then I went to his website and looked around. Turns out that "It's Not the End of the World" has yet to be officially released, so it was pretty amazing that I was able to find a version to download.

But the most amazing thing I saw on his website was his gig calendar. Only two shows were listed, but the first was the very next night (meaning tonight), an early show (6:30 p.m. start), and a five-minute walk from my office, with no cover charge. In other words, it couldn't have been scripted any better for someone in the immediate throes of a particular artist, who doesn't get out much because of family responsibilities, who doesn't need the hassle of parking in Boston, and who has zero money to spend. It was just too good to be true. And yet it was. For the most part.

And so this evening I went to see Andy Pratt perform. He was playing in a cozy room in a restaurant in the Back Bay. The small stage faced about 20 small tables, set up for dinner patrons. Those not eating (like me) had to stand behind the tables in a small area with the kitchen at our backs. I arrived about 20 minutes before the scheduled start time, but Pratt was already at the piano, just playing for his own pleasure. Three people were seated at the tables. Pratt was dressed casually, his unkempt hair, still '70s length but with a strip of scalp running across the middle in a sort of reverse mohawk, white and wild. He had the expression of ecstasy such as one finds in musicians who must feel the very force of their music shooting out of their fingers. He looked up at one point, saw me admiring him, and nodded and waved to me. He didn't know (yet) that I was the person he had just friended on Facebook a few hours earlier.

By the time the show started, there were nearly a dozen people at the tables. I was the only one standing. I quickly finished my Bass draft so my hands would be free to applaud. He simply started playing and I was mesmerized by his voice, the quality of his songwriting, and his nifty piano playing, with such exquisite chords and occasional fleet solo runs with his right hand. Unfortunately, his was not the only voice on display this evening. At one table, two women were chatting nonstop. As the set went on, more diners arrived and were seated at choice spots in front of the stage. Few of these diners were there for Andy Pratt, and one couple I overheard contemplated asking the hostess to seat them in the next room away from the music. For the others, Andy Pratt was little more than background music to their own incessant gabbing. I was very annoyed at this.

Some of the people were clearly there for Pratt and were capable of eating and respectfully listening at the same time, but most of the diners sitting comfortably while I stood never even looked at Pratt as they alternated stuffing their faces and talking. A few would give polite applause between numbers, but I was dismayed that this was not a proper concert experience. Any schmuck off the street who knew a few tunes could have commanded as much respect as Andy Pratt did that night. It definitely colored the show a bit for me.

When he finished his set, I went up to him and thanked him for the great show, introducing myself as one of his newest Facebook friends. He wasn't the most communicative person I've ever met, but I didn't care. The man doesn't owe me anything and he just put himself out for my benefit. I was honored to shake his hand.

I left the restaurant being even more interested in the man's music and can't wait to delve more deeply into his extensive catalogue. The term "one-hit-wonder" is typically derogatory, but that's because the emphasis is on "one-hit" instead of "wonder." Well, Andy Pratt is indeed a wonder. A supremely gifted singer, songwriter, and musician, who somehow continues to ply his trade despite the indifference of the music industry, who seems as happy to play for a couple of dozen ignorant eaters as for a hand-picked audience of aficionados, Andy Pratt is an inspired and inspiring performer. He and I share musical heroes in Brian Wilson, and like Wilson he is a survivor. At this time in my life, Andy Pratt's music and his example are very much what I need.

Coincidence? I think not.

Andy past:

Andy present:


andy pratt said...

thank you sir. it was a pleasure to read...

Andy Pratt

Susan said...

Jason, of course you could not know I am an Andy Pratt fan. He played at the Topsfield Fair a couple of years ago and my trip up there to see not the prize milking cows or magic carrot-peelers but Andy Pratt was, like your experience, a nice alignment. I requested a song by singing the first few lines because I did not remember its title and Andy graciously obliged. ("She carries a four-leaf clover/In her honest heart.")

wirelessmike said...

Love the blog post, and I thoroughly agree. I had the pleasure of meeting Andy when he came into the radio station where I work about two years ago. He sang a few numbers, one from Resolution, a tease version of Avenging Annie, and another caller i'll be Watching Over You, which blew me away. He is intense and vunerable, dead serious and light as a feather.

I love to hear others who are moved by his songs.

Mike Flynn