Sunday, July 23, 2006

Chuck Perrin, who runs a jazz club in San Diego, is a vestige of the old folk days in college. He was two years ahead of me and already famous when I arrived -- He'd fronted a major campus rock band and then opened a coffeehouse to showcase the emerging folk scene. He also acted in plays on campus, did some dj'ing on the campus radio station and ran a quixotic campaign for Student Body President. This was a campus of only 8,000 undergraduates, so it didn't take much to become well-known and any two or three of those would probably have done it.

By the time he left, though, he knew who I was, and when I put together a campus folk reunion in 1994, he came along and did a dynamite set. We revisited the idea last summer, only instead of being formal and having microphones and an actual venue, we just went to the house of one of the guys who still lived in town. That's Chuck playing, and the young person with pigtails in the foreground is his daughter, Asa.

It sure was interesting to be in a group of people who knew what they were listening to, as they each got up and took a turn on the folding chair, but let's not be age-snobs about it. Asa and the handful of other folkie offspring at the affair weren't the only people under 50 who showed interest in the music.

The night before, we'd gathered at a small bar near campus, mostly as a place we could all find as we wandered in from New York and California and Chicago and other places, and that, with college over for the summer, wouldn't be busy. The people who wanted to chat stayed upstairs and those who wanted to jam went downstairs to a very dank and barely-finished basement where there were some long folding tables and folding chairs. The thing went on until about midnight and we started peeling off to our various hotels and buddy-housing.

The next day, it turned out that those who had left at midnight were in fine shape and those who hadn't were in rough shape indeed, because, just as things were breaking up, a bunch of college kids had come into the place, heard the music and started buying drinks and making requests. What surprised the old geezers with the guitars was that these youngsters had a pretty good grasp of the Buffalo Springfield sort of era and were asking for appropriate, excellent songs that they maybe hadn't played in 30 or 40 years. But with a dozen musicians, there was somebody who would say, "Yeah, yeah ... I've got it ... um ... " and lead off, and the rest would follow. And on they went until the barowner had to throw them out so he could close.

They told the kids this was our "anti-reunion" -- a gathering not by class year but by who you want to hang out with, and the kids agreed that this made a whole lot more sense.

Or, as Chuck had remarked back in 1994, "My class reunion is next summer, but these are the people I want to see!"

It was a great weekend of music, but it was also a great weekend of hanging out with people who shared some basic beliefs about what you ought to do with your life. It wasn't an issue of hair and lifestyle so much as the consciousness with which everybody is still working, and the number of them who are making the world a better place through their efforts -- teaching or practicing medicine or practicing law with some idea of right outcomes rather than "victories."

There are good people out there, and they don't all dress in ways that make them easy to pick out and line up on this side or that. And they aren't all 50 or 60 years old, either. Still, there are days when it feels like they aren't there, and it's good to be able to point to a moment that reminds you they really are.

Anyway, the reason Chuck is on my mind is that I discovered a new Web toy this weekend -- Pandora Internet Radio, which allows you to set up your own "stations" by choosing an artist as a starting point. The "radio station" then selects musically similar pieces, and you can correct it as it goes along by giving each song a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. You can also add artists, and, while I was fooling around with it, I typed in "Chuck Perrin" and damned if they didn't know who he was.

And now you do, too.

Pandora is a lot of fun and it's free. If you've got any kind of fast connection, go play with it. And if you have slow connections, go to Chuck's site, particularly if you like acoustic jazzy kind of thoughtful music, because he's got a bunch of MP3s you can download and then playback at your leisure.

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