Garland Jeffreys: King of In Between
The bravest man in rock and roll, appearing in Parsippany March 25, looks forward with excitement.
It's rare that we see an honest-to-goodness rock and roll legend performing in Parsippany-Troy Hills, but it will happen this week: Veteran artist Garland Jeffreys brings his innovative songs to the Mount Holleran Towne Tavern for an intimate show Sunday at 8 p.m.
Jeffreys told Patch that he is excited, both about appearing in Par-Troy, and about all he has on his plate for the future.
"I am enjoying myself to the absolute fullest," he said from his New York home. "I am performing everywhere I can, all the time, and I don't see that stopping for the next couple of years.
"I just came back from South by Southwest [the famous independent-music festival held annually in Austin, Texas]. It was rock and roll heaven... a fantastic time, a blast in every way," Jeffreys said. "You just jump on a stage and play, and I love it."
If you're not familiar with him, Garland Jeffreys, who counts none other than Bruce Springsteen among his fans and collaborators, has created music that melds rock, folk, blues and reggae sounds for more than four decades. When he first appeared on the folk scene in Greenwich Village in 1966, playing at venerated rock venues like Kenny's Castaways and The Bitter End, it was clear that Jeffreys wasn't like any other artist around and that he represented a societal segment heretofore unacknowledged in the field of popular music.
Through classic songs such as "Wild in the Streets," "Hail Hail Rock and Roll," and "Don't Call Me Buckwheat," the singer-songwriter, whose ancestry includes African-American, European and Puerto Rican heritage, introduced much of rock fandom to the unique feelings and experiences of so-called mixed-race people, those who cannot and should not be categorized as purely "black" or "white" or Hispanic.
In fact, Jeffreys became a sort of hero and role model to many born between cultures and even to mainstreamers sensitive enough to appreciate how big and wide the world really is. The artist is even more revered in Europe, where music fans even today are more open to "nonwhite" and multiracial people's experiences than most Americans are.
Throughout his acclaimed career, Jeffreys has explored issues and exposed fears and emotions involving race, injustice, class and basic human dignity. That continues with his newest album, 2011's "The King of In Between," which landed on critics' top-10 lists in the U.S. and throughout the world last year.
The CD is a wonder: It kicks off with "Coney Island Winter," which evokes the sound of the great Lou Reed and Velvet Underground in its indictment of do-nothing political leaders ("your promises they break like glass") and how they affect the have-nots of society. The rest of the album is just as pointed. He is defiant on the catchy, ska-influenced "I'm Alive" and the powerful "In God's Waiting Room." And despite the daily ups and downs in a life where one routinely is cast as "the other" by society, he gives thanks for his hometown in "Roller Coaster Town," singing, "New York's the place where everybody's here from the human race."
For those of us who consider ourselves human, period, this is powerful and empowering stuff.
"There's no doubt as to what 'King of In Between' means," he said. "In very simple and clear language, it's the obvious. Being in between the races, being between 'black' and 'white'.
"It's the issue of race, of being a little kid in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, a handsome little kid in elementary school, the only person of color in the class, our family being a complete mixture of 'black,' Puerto Rican, 'white' and [Native American]."
He said that he was a child who "had exuberance and joy" and "cared about other people." But when he ventured beyond his Brooklyn neighborhood, he came face to face with racism and rejection from all sides.
"I fought against it from very early on, and my fight was a solo fight against anyone who was around," he said.
It was a fight he took on using the only weapons at his disposal: his keen intellect, his compassion, his voice and his guitar. And it's a battle he's waged since the mid-1960s through today, with one break between 1997 and 2006, when he took time off to help raise his daughter.
What's most wonderful about "The King of In Between" is just how modern and relevant the 68-year-old sounds. His voice is strong and clear and the musicianship is as fluent and resonant as ever. And while many of his musical slices of life make references to historical figures, he also gives shoutouts to iPhone- and tech-savvy types, squarely placing his songs within the realm of today's world.
Jeffreys laughs at the thought of retiring or even slowing down.
"I am not prepared to stop," he insisted.
That's plain on "King of In Between", in which he promises to keep going "'til John Lee Hooker calls me."
"I'm on the 90-year-plan," said Jeffreys, who added that he already has a new album just about ready to go and extensive plans to tour the U.S. and Europe.
"There is just too much to do and too much to say, you know?"
Garland Jeffreys performs at the Mount Holleran Towne Tavern, 450 N. Beverwyck Road, Sunday at 8 p.m. The show is sponsored by King Rhino Concerts in Lake Hiawatha. Tickets are $25 at the door (cash only) or may be purchased online for $20. Food/drink minimum $10 per person. For more information, call 973-794-3366.