MANCHESTER — Livingston Taylor knows what the calendar says — that he’ll be performing at Southern Vermont Arts enter in Manchester at 8 p.m. Saturday, two days before Independence Day.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision throwing out reproductive rights protections of Roe v. Wade, many will spend the weekend wondering about the future of civil rights in America.
But Taylor, who will be dipping into his more than 50 years of songwriting in a one-man show at SVAC’s Arkell Pavilion, is an optimist, as well as a realist. And he plans to offer spoken and musical reassurances that things are going to be OK in the end.
“What you’re going to hear at my concert is the fact that regardless of what happens, we have lived in the light of favorable stars. That we will be well, that conflict does not last forever. We will get to the other side of conflict, and hope and joy always return to life,” Taylor said in a wide-ranging phone interview from his home in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
“And that’s what I tell my audience — that I love them. That I believe their lives have been well and are going to be well, that they will triumph over adversity, that they live in the light of favorable stars, and that the universe loves them almost as much as I do.”
It’s Taylor’s second show in Southern Vermont in three months; he performed at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro in late April. “I had a wonderful show there,” he said.
Live music “really is coming back,” he said. “The thing is that — people need to be patient with themselves, and in general — is that this is going to take a few years to get back.”
“It’s very important to remember that we will work it out. We will get it up and running, and eventually the world will be inhabited by younger people, and their reality is the reality they grew up with,” he said. “Listening to older people complain is a study in futility.”
On Spotify, it appears that Taylor’s most recent album is “Last Alaska Moon.” The release date on the website is in error; the album came out in 2010, not this year. But if you thought it was his most recent work — then you come away with a strong sense of Taylor’s musical and songwriting style.
The songs are often stories, told from a character’s point of view. In the title track, the narrator is bound for the Last Frontier and friends down on their luck; the closer, “Call Me Carolina,” is a haunting tale from the perspective of a Confederate soldier forced to make a difficult choice.
Asked about the song, Taylor recited the last verse without a pause:
“There was a freckled headed kid
And we wound up eye to eye
And his rifle would not fire
So he set himself to die
And I saw the slightest tear for what my steel would bring
But I would not be that merchant for I was listening
For you to call me Carolina”
“I love that last verse,” he said. “It really described how I view myself.”
As for Taylor’s guitar style: If it reminds you of his older brother James, there’s a very good reason for that.
“He was a reluctant teacher, but yes,” Livingston Taylor said of James Taylor — one of five of the Taylor children to take up recording and performing. “He was two and half years older than I was. I was 13 and a half, he was 16. I’d watch him play and try to get it right, and he’d slug me when I didn’t.”
While Livingston has praise for James’ songwriting, performing and arranging abilities, “his great genius is his guitar playing,” he said.
(Coincidentally, James Taylor, a Berkshire County resident, also has a concert set for this weekend — his annual July 4 show at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass.)
In conversation, Taylor offers his thoughts deliberately and uses metaphors to communicate his ideas. It makes sense, given his long career as a teacher; he’s now at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, having parted with Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he had taught since 1989. (The parting seems to have philosophical underpinnings: “I’m destined and temperamentally equipped to teach at a trade school, not a liberal arts fantasy college,” he said of the change.)
So when he thinks about his past and the future, Taylor thinks deeply.
He believes that a woman has the right to choose, and that the ability for women to control the birth cycle “is the greatest single sociological transformation in the history of the human experiment.”
“That the world wants to go backwards is a disappointment to me,” he said.
But if someone told him that they were against Roe v. Wade, Taylor said he would not put them down. “It is possible to love your enemy,” he said.
Asked about the state of the nation, and whether music can reprise the role it played in the 1960s and ‘70s as anthems and inspiration for change, Taylor isn’t sure things can or will be the same.
For one thing, the “gatekeepers” who controlled the music industry through record labels and radio play are gone, he said. And though they’re not missed for their personalities and business practices — “nobody was sad to see them go, because they were crude sons of bitches,” he said — they did ensure that artists competed with each other and themselves to do great work. The industry misses that editing, he said.
What’s also different is that the issues, and the divide in society, is far different.
“We are talking about in a civil war already — the war is underway. The truth has become absolutely subjective to where you’re hearing it,” he said. “The first casualty of war is the truth.”
“That war needs to be played out. And it will be played out. And we will get to the other side of it,” Taylor said. “The thing I would say to people is this: If you want one side or the other, go vote.”
“Wars are what people use to settle divergent truths. And sometimes violence is where people go — and the prospect of that breaks my heart, but it does not scare me. I do not get scared,” he added. “Fear has no place, as it is no asset to what needs to be done. What is important is not fear but clarity, and let the events of the time break your heart.
“Such things repeat through my life endlessly,” he said, looking back on a 50-plus-year career with 14 albums, numerous collections and a deep well of song credits. “People come and hear me play because at the end of it, they feel relief from anxiety. They feel better about themselves and about the choices they have made. That’s why they come and hear me play. They’re going to feel better on the back side.”
Taylor has enough songs written for a new album of material, finding that at 71, he’s a far better writer than he was as a younger musician.
“Right now, I’m busting to make a record. I’m ready to. I’ve got the material. I know where to go and how to do it,” he said. “The great dilemma these days is the expense to do it is so high, the return is nonexistent.”
Reach Greg Sukiennik at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-447-7567, ext. 119.