Me and Jackson Browne at Tanglewood

Ok, so there were 18,000 other people besides me and Jackson Browne on July 4th at the Shed, in Tanglewood, Massachusetts (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.) I was not even have seated particularly close to the stage. But I have been listening to (and following) the work of the California singer-songwriter for a long time. As I listened to him play and thought about the shows I have seen over the years, I note some similarities in our careers and our creative processes.

Jackson Browne will be 65 in October. Pretty amazing. In December, I will be 57, so I am aging too. Besides this year, I saw him play in 2011 in Hanford, CA, 2008 in Wallingford, CT, 2003 in Boston and 1994 in Philadelphia. Like any performer each show, and especially each tour, has its own specific theme and overtones. Since I am NOT a music critic and I don’t play one on TV I can’t write intelligently about that.

But I know what I like to listen to and Jackson Browne is still at the top of my list. I find his writing to be very poetic, even literary. I love the music he comes up with to move those poems along. The performances I have seen (or heard in recordings) always give me the feeling that he really puts himself (heart and soul) into the music he performs.

Do I have any opinions on the various romances he has had over the years, including the one with Daryl Hannah? Nah. That’s his business. Speaking of business, as I watched the concert unfold in Tanglewood in July 4th I thought about Jackson Browne the self-employed businessman and a few things resonated with me.

I know that opening acts are a common part of concerts and are important ways for younger artists to get started. Apparently one of the bands Jackson Browne was part of once opened for the band “The Lovin’ Spoonful.” In 2013 Sara Watkins opened for him and in 1994, John Hiatt opened for him. I am not sure how it would work in the photography world, but I wonder if having every part of an established photographer’s exhibition reserved for one up and coming photographer might not be a bad thing.

Part of the idea of an opening act is for older musicians to mentor younger ones. From what little I could see, and what I have read, Jackson Browne seems to do that. One of the four or five things that I love about my own life in photography is mentoring younger photographers, so we have that in common.

Jackson Browne (and I) have done a good job of continually adapting to technology. The best example of this being Browne’s “Running on Empty” album, much of which was recorded on the buses during the actual touring, in hotel rooms, and back stage, pushing the usual conventions for a live album, which normally only have live recordings of the stage performances.

I have seen Jackson Browne struggle with what I call the “Oldies issue” every time I have seen him perform. In Hanford, California he was by himself in a small theater, so he really seemed to enjoy honoring impromptu requests from the audience. In Tanglewood, he had a full band of his own (and the musicians who had opened for him) to keep on track when they played together, so he seemed to be trying to stay on or near the play list that they must have rehearsed together before hand. Like any good artist, he was struggling through the balancing act of being true to himself while also giving his audience something they wanted.

I have had similar “Oldies issues” recently. My project on the pesticide poisoning of farm workers in California was chosen to be part of Angkor Photo Festival and featured on the Vision Project’s web site. Part of me was really honored in both cases, but part of me wishes those same audiences were more interested in my current work on the foreclosure crisis. After all, that is the work where my heart, brain and head are right now. That was when I could really empathize with Jackson Browne, when I could feel his pain. If you know his lyrics, when he is at his best, his work is all about that kind of empathy, helping audiences feel the pain of another person.

Browne has long been a master at making art that evokes empathy. On my very best days, I hope that my own work might be nearly as good at provoking such empathy.

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