Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lowen & Navarro: before it's too late...


You're gonna have to forgive me if I get maudlin on this one... but a radio broadcast that I heard two weeks ago has really been gnawing at me. Not so much in a bad sense, but just enough that I really need for at least some of you out there in cyberland to pick up on it. Trust me, it's worth it.

On Thursday, May 4th of this month, Steve Dahl had Lowen & Navarro on his show. Not only are they truly great musicians who write some really great acoustic music (some would call them singer/songwriters with all the connotations that badge carries, others have called them neo-folk. I don't believe either tag is unfair or inappropriate to describe their music), Eric Lowen has ALS, which the rest of us know as Lou Gehrig's disease. Both men play beautiful guitar, and brought their pianist Phil Parlapiano along with them. The three of them made some really great music, right there in the WCKG studios. And of course, Steve quizzed them about how it's been, being touring musicians having to deal with the gradual physical degeneration of one of the principals. Steve was as glib as he could without being disrespectful; he's had them on his shows for more than ten years, and they've built up a friendship. But aside from the music, the thing that stays with me is the fact that here's a guy who makes his living in music, a true troubadour for today, who's been struck with this shitty hand of cards. Not only will he eventually die of this disease, it'll rob him of his ability to do what he knows (and probably loves) best: his music.

Steve Dahl: You couldn't be cooler about this. Because you know me; I'd be whining all the time.
Eric Lowen: Well, I do my share of that too, Steve.
Steve Dahl: Do ya?
Eric Lowen: Yeah, absolutely... absolutely.
Steve Dahl: But I'd be whining all the time.

The two of them are winding down touring activities, planning to keep them local for them (southern CA) for as long as Eric's condition lets him. (Shame on me for missing out on the Park West gig here in Chicago; all accounts paint it as a great experience that I missed out on. I pray that they do make it back to Chicago at least one more time.). And I can only imagine that Eric doesn't necessarily need or want people to pity him. But they themselves are trying all that they can to raise awareness of this disease. As Eric related during the show, he's no longer able to walk; his mobility is limited to where his motorized scooter and the kindness of others can take him. And Eric's story isn't necessarily any more or less tragic than anyone who's gotten this incurable, always-fatal disease; his is just the one that for right now is hitting home with me.

I can't help feel a twinge of guilt that here these two have been duking it out for an at-times impassive public, trying to spread their own brand of beauty out in the world, and here I am, just another mope who has an ear for a beautiful melody only now discovering them now that one of the dudes is dying. How shitty does that make me sound? I know, some of you might say better late than never, but God, how many others are out there toiling in obscurity, not being appreciated during their lifetimes (if at all)? How many other musicians are out there with ALS who don't have even the limited exposure that Lowen & Navarro have? I have every intention of a) buying their latest studio record All The Time In The World, and their first one, Walking On A Wire (both based on two of the songs I heard on Steve Dahl's broadcast), b) picking up their DVD Carry On Together when it comes out, c) attending one of their concerts if God is willing (and pay the additional money to meet them before the concert), and d) spreading the good word about Lowen & Navarro. I never got the chance to see Harry Chapin or Warren Zevon in concert; I'm blessed that I did get the chance to see Material Issue. I do feel honored that I got to meet Wesley Willis three times before he died, and to have real conversations with the guy (I'll tell you more about that some other time... those make for good stories. Keep on me about it.).

But ultimately, as morbid as it sounds (please pardon any perceived pun), we're faced with a similar situation here. Eric Lowen does not have forever on this planet; his time is winding down. He's handling the situation with as much grace as his situation allows, which is a hell of a lot more grace than a lot of us muster up in our life. He's showing a hell of a lot of courage and strength for continuing to bless us with he and his musical partner's unbelievably beautiful songs. It's up to us to find some way of letting the guys know how much their music means to us. I've thrown the Dahl broadcast (available on iTunes via podcast) onto a CD; I goosed up the lower fidelity tracks with a little equalization, put in intelligent track marker divisions, and burned the sucker. I have every intention of buying their CDs. I might have the ability to give them a bit more publicity via a friend with a webzine which I've written for; although they fall outside the site's usual musical scope, he might make an exception.

I ultimately want to find a way to tell Lowen and Navarro, in my own way, thank you. So far, I've had the fortuante chance to tell Alex Chilton, Jason Narducy, and Scott Miller thank you, and I'd love the chance to tell it to Lowen and Navarro, too. Even if I never get the chance to say it in person, I'll find some other, more implicit way.

Do yourselves a favor; download iTunes, find the free Steve Dahl broadcasts from 5/4/2006, and download hours #3 and #4. You'll see what all my fuss is about. Turn yourselves on to Lowen & Navarro. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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