Not everyone knows The Lovin’ Spoonful. That their first seven singles made the Top Ten when the Beatles were dominating the charts. And that they rebelled against the Brit influence that was revolutionizing rock ‘n’ roll during the turbulent 1960s. Credit Spoonful for spearheading the movement to center rock ‘n’ roll where it is rooted, here in America.
Well, Spoonful’s heyday played out, but the band’s founder, John Sebastian, hasn’t. Northshore Performing Arts Center spotlighted him last weekend.
What’s more, if you looked past the dusty shoes, baggy pants, protruding paunch and thinning hair, it is still there — the spark that fired up the history-making reaction to Beatlemania.
True, the militancy has mellowed. Sebastian at 66 relies on anecdotes and name-dropping, rather than sentiments of protest to introduce the favorites that still draw a sizeable following. True, he changes subjects with a logic known only to him.
Yet, turn him loose on a guitar or harmonica, or both at the same time, and hear him sing. The enthusiastic kid who grew up in Greenwich Village with Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie visiting his home shows himself; the inexhaustible energy of the young folk revivalist who made his name performing with Mississippi John Hurt, Judy Collins and Bob Dylan still appears every now and then;
and the enduring purity of a dreamer’s vision in “Do You Believe in Magic?” still resonates. The down-to-earth qualities of “You don’t Have To Be So Nice” still bespeak a lover’s honesty with his beloved. “Nashville Cats” paints the Nashville scene when guitar-pickers by the truckload popped up on street corners everywhere.
Has-beens and trips down memory lane don’t often draw in this world’s whirl at electronic speed. Sebastian did. Most seats were filled, and the show of gray hair was unmistakable. Many probably relived the good old days. Some probably came to satisfy their curiosity.
What stood out was the temperament of a man who these days devotes his music to supporting social, environmental and animal rights causes. Even during his firebrand years, it is hard to imagine Sebastian as other than gentle, brave and tolerant although determined. His music talks softly but carries a big message.
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