In that turbulent lustrum of the second half of the 1970s, as the stormy weather of my twenties raged, I was on a mission: to find a way to best express all my creative visions, which encompassed music, writing and filmmaking. Music won out, but there were some wacky detours, including a long visit with Martin Scorsese‘s mentor Haig Manoogian at New York University. But that’s a story for another time.
For two of those years, 1977 and 1978, I lived in quiet little country village in the northeastern corner of Connecticut called Coventry. My girlfriend was studying painting at The University of Connecticut, five miles away. I was the lead singer and pianist in a band that played the club circuit in Connecticut and Rhode Island. My cat, also in his twenties by cat years, was happy to explore the woods, brooks, and the yards and fields of the neighborhood. We were a household of strong, willful personalities.
(Front and rear views of my house at 7 Wall Street, in Coventry, CT. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
(Looking down Wall Street. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
(My cat enjoying the sunny spot on the floor. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
We lived in the second floor apartment of an old white house on a hill that looked down onto Main Street, aka Route 31. The center of town was authentically rustic in the New England tradition: a Congregational church, an art gallery, a gas station, a general store/antique shop, an old mill. And of course a tavern.
(At the corner of Main and Mason Streets, Coventry. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
During the days I would walk the four and a half miles from Coventry to the music department practice rooms at the college, where I’d find any empty one with a piano and work on music. It was a pleasant walk, giving me ample time to think about the songs I was working on. The practice rooms themselves ranged from claustrophobic to tiny, but once I started drinking my coffees-to-go and delving into the music, the spacious worlds of the songs opened up like movies in my mind.
(The Walk: Beginning from my house – on left – on the corner of Wall Street and Monument Hill Road – to Main Street below. Photo courtesy of Google Street View.)
(Heading up Stonehouse Road. Photo courtesy of Google Street View)
(Past Eagleville Lake and the bridge on the Mansfield/Coventry line. Photo courtesy of Google Street View)
(On the way, I’d pass this little store in Mansfield. In 1977, it was a natural food store and it’s where I first discovered Häagen-Dazs in the form of their long since discontinued boysenberry sorbet. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
I still remember with vivid clarity the yards, sections of woods, hills, trees, brooks, frozen ponds, farm fields, horse barns, old stone walls and houses that I saw on that and other those long walks I’d take in Coventry. I began to look at my songs as sound and word paintings. And if I could find the right chords, rhythms and melodies to give me that indefinable feeling of the place and time I was trying to describe, it worked. That’s what I did in those practice rooms with pianos at UConn Music Department. Search for feelings.
(One of the old barns at Caprilands in Coventry, which was once a bustling center of herb gardens, herbal products and even dinners made entirely form herbs. The “First Lady of Herbs”, Adelma Grenier Simmons, owned and operated this amazing place. At Christmas time especially, the smells of all the decorations, packets, bunches and garlands of herbs were intoxicating. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
I wrote several of my favorite songs this way. Having always been strongly affected by the different seasons here in New England, it was inevitable that I would write a song for each one.
WINTER: I worked on “Bluewhite” for months. It started with a poem about the snow and transmogrified into a song with (as Dylan Thomas used to say about the writing of his poems) “glacial speed”. The Blizzard of ’78 and long walks on those brilliant sunny days that followed it gave me a wealth of inspiration. Having completed it in March, I placed it in the “to be recorded one day” files. A little over thirty years later, I included it on my 2010 album “An American Record”.
TO HEAR AND SEE THE VIDEO FOR “BLUEWHITE” CLICK HERE.
(The band that played on my self-titled album which I released in 1980 on Nineteen Records. From left to right: Rob Gottfried – drums; me; David Stoltz – bass; Tom Majesky – guitar.)
SPRING: I wrote “Just When I Was Dancing” about the time I first met my first major girlfriend at a party where, to some Marvin Gaye, we were all dancing. She was 16, I was 18. The song is about falling in love in Spring, breaking up a couple Summer later, getting back together one awkward Fall day, and getting on with your life, remembering how that tsunami of obsession brought you such joy and misery.
TO HEAR “JUST WHEN I WAS DANCING” CLICK HERE.
(At the beach at Indian Cove, Guilford, Connecticut, August. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
SUMMER: “In The Hour Of The Loon” takes place in the heat of August, at my cousin’s cottage on the Connecticut shore. I spent many weeks of the Summers of my youth there and continued to go there through the 70s and 80s. While living in New York, working on my RCA debut album “Blind To Reason”, I’d take the train to new Haven where my cousins would pick me up and take me back to Indian Cove where we’d spend the weekends sailing, eating roasted corn by the fire, swimming and walking on the rocks. This song recounts a “soul music dance party” I hosted at that cottage, with cousin Doug, when I was in my twenties.
TO HEAR “IN THE HOUR OF THE LOON” CLICK HERE.
(November frost. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)
FALL: Give me a cheatin’ girlfriend, a broken heart and I’ll give you a song. That was the case with “November Nocturne”. The stark beauty of Autumn trees, papery birch leaves and the Harvest moon (with a nod to one of my favorite Chinese poets Li Po) framed this song about a tortured love affair.
TO HEAR AND SEE THE VIDEO FOR “NOVEMBER NOCTURNE” CLICK HERE.
From a little country village came a whole bunch of songs. My broken heart healed and my address changed from rural to urban. I left the village for the big city, a pattern I would repeat several times.
I cherish the memories of the time I spent in that peaceful place. Though my life was at times anything but serene, the pain and progress of my spirit helped shape my music, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Happily, in that resilient way of art, those songs, and I, have endured.