A Night to Remember – Benefit for the Kristen Ann Carr Fund

What’s amazed me most in the weeks since the Rascals reunited to play at A Night to Remember, our annual benefit for the Kristen Ann Carr Fund, has been the number of people who responded to the news with, “They were such an important band to me,” and talked of how the group’s music affected their lives.

(l-r) Little Stevie, Gene Cornish, Bruce, Eddie Brigati, and Paul Shaffer at the Kristen Ann Carr Benefit, Tribeca Grill Saturday April 24 - Photograph by: Jim Marchese ©

This was true of all sorts of people who crammed Tribeca Grill to see the Rascals play an hour set—15 songs—on a jury rigged stage in a low-ceiling room never intended for any kind of performance, let alone one by the world’s original rock’n’soul band.

It was true of people who weren’t there. Patrice O’Neill of Not in Our Town (niot.org) seemed somewhere between ecstasy when she heard they’d played and tears when she found out she’d missed it. Greg Johnson of the Blue Door in Oklahoma City (bluedoorokc.com) a singer-songwriter man par excellence, told me very seriously that the Rascals were one of the most important groups he’d heard coming up, that they represented to him all that was good and beautiful about the music. So did a couple of other members of the board of the Folk Alliance International.

And me, too. In the day, the Rascals were the most political of all rock bands: The rock & soul approach they used both celebrated freedom and rejected lies. They consistently supported both the civil rights and antiwar movements—and despite what you’ve been told, that was a very risky thing to do. (There are no white artists who did more.)  The only reason I can think of that they didn’t get banned is that the music was too damn and their approach so straightforward: What were the authorities going to do, jump up and declare that people don’t got to be free?

I took a long drive that Saturday morning before the benefit and just listened to Rascals records, particularly Freedom Suite. I’d claim I know those songs down to my DNA, and that’s certainly true of “People Got to Be Free” and “America the Beautiful” (which blows away all pretenses that it is, yet).

But that day, one of the brightest we’ve had all spring, the song that snatched me was “Look Around.” “Bigotry and hate and fear got 10 million votes this year,” Felix sings at the top of the first verse, and the teenage harmonies dissolve into sirens and gunfire. They won’t let you go—more than any other record I can think of, that song rubs your face in reality. But that stuff is there to be rejected. The real message is “We’ve all got something that’s deep down inside us / Love’s not a dirty word / That’s just the way it’s heard.”

I can remember when ideas like that could get you into a lot of trouble. Actually, that might be five minutes ago. We’re tougher now, sterner, more committed to whatever it is we’re committed to—which isn’t a vision of freedom and beauty but of the cult of individualism steamrollering common humanity and a celebration of greed poisoning the nation and the planet (and poisoning is not a metaphor).

The Rascals didn’t play “Look Around” and they didn’t need to. They played “Come On Up,” “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” “I Ain’t Gonna Eat My Heart Anymore” and “It’s Wonderful” and the truth of that message—“Love is a Beautiful Thing”–became plain on their faces and ours. They played liked they’d been apart maybe a few months, not almost four decades. They played like they were brothers, some cranky, some overjoyed, all of wrapped inside the music. I watch people 25 and 30 years old live out Steve’s vision, which is that this music has an appeal that, if not eternal, still has the power to inspire a lot more than just good times.

One of the purposes of A Night to Remember, the reason we run it as a party instead of a formal dinner, is to have fun. Just that. Enjoy yourself. Be a little more alive. My daughter Kristen was about life, not death—she was so extreme on the matter, she refused to discuss her own.

Dave and Barbara with Rascals' Gene Cornish, who pronounced his verdict on the KACF project, and the fight against cancer in general: "We shall overcome!" - Photograph by: Jim Marchese ©

In that respect, what the Rascals gave us was perfect. They’ve all been nice enough to tell me that she was what brought them together. But for that hour, in a lot of ways, they conjured her spirit. So when I was sixteen and when I was 60, they gave me that enormous gift of life and love. You may expect  a greater thing out of music, or culture, or …anything. I don’t know where you’d get it.

The show was broadcast on SiriusXM on both the Underground Garage and E Street channels. Steve and I spent the whole next week interviewing the band for a special that will be broadcast, along with the concert, on Memorial Day weekend, some on E Street and all of it from Stevie’s Garage. They were some of the most intriguing interviews I’ve done in a long time. Every one of the band retains a sense of pride, not only in their brilliant rock & soul (that’s what they call it) but also in being a band that stood for something.

As every ugly thing that the Sixties had supposedly laid to rest rises once again, my thought has been basically say to hell with any politician, particularly a President, who thinks we went too far. The Rascals offer a better solution: Fight, through whatever you do, to make justice, equality, and peace a permanent reality.

And you can dance to it.