With the usual generational gap between young and old music lovers, it is rare for a songwriter to appeal to both a grandfather and a bunch of teenage girls. You could conclude she has the kind of appeal that just might translate into a long and financially rewarding career.
As a 67-year-old grandfather of three, I first became aware of Sara Bareilles like virtually everyone else when she hit the charts with “Love Song,” as in “I’m Not Gonna Write You One.” As a writer of words, I just loved the unusual negative reversal of what you might have expected from a love song. Combine that with a terrific up-tempo melody and a beautiful voice and I loved the song instantly. When I bought the entire disc, Little Voice, I realized I had something special on my hands when I heard tunes like “Gravity,” and “One Sweet Love” and “Between the Lines” and “City,” all written by Bareilles.
The real surprise came in late February when my wife and I arrived in our new home, Austin, Texas, to discover that Bareilles and her band would be playing the upcoming rodeo of all things. I couldn’t see how a pop singer would work in among the animals, but I quickly snagged tickets in the front row. Since the stage ended up in the center of the arena, a whole bunch of people turned up in the front row all around the building.
We actually were seated right over the chutes through which the bucking broncos came bounding out in a valiant, always successful, attempt to throw their riders onto the ground. After the last cowboy had dusted himself off and the last steer had been wrestled to the turf, the lights dimmed and tractors pulled a stage out into the center of the old barn (actually the Travis County Exposition Center).
A pickup truck emerged from the chute below us with Sara and friends riding in the back, waving to the crowd and seemingly having a great time. I’m always a bit worried before I first hear a singer start to perform live, in person or on TV. Will they be as good as I think they will be or will they prove themselves merely a creation of the studio sound engineer’s skill? I needn’t have worried.
Sara’s voice was true on every note, her piano playing skilled and her band terrific. It was the first applause that got my attention. While my wife and I were putting our hands together and shouting our approval as we normally would, the dominant sounds were the shrill squeals of the teenage set, with shouts of “We love you, Sara.”
Did I wander into the wrong place? Should I be ashamed that, yes, “I love you, too, Sara,” just like these youngsters 50+ years my junior? Hell, no! The story of broken relationships and love gone wrong is universal, and Sara Bareilles tells it better than anyone on the scene today.
Since that concert, I’ve thought about where Sara fits in my music collection, which ranges from doo-wop to my favorite singer of my college years, Joanie Sommers, to jazz, to Celtic star Loreena McKennitt to classic rockers like Van Halen and today, Chris Daughtry. It occurred that three female singer/songwriters have dominated my years.
First came Carole King, who is my own age, in the early 1970s and who was prolific, along with partner Gerry Goffin, in her production of great songs for herself and others. Her album, Tapestry, of course, sold more than 22 million copies worldwide from its release in 1971 and was the top selling album of all time until Michael Jackson’s Thriller emerged in 1982.
Next, 20 years later, came the wonderful Sarah McLachlan, now 41, still the one I turn to when I need to get through the tough days. I’m currently trying to relearn how to play piano and Sarah’s chords offer me something to reach for. Her lyrics, her fantastic voice, are a staple of my iPod.
Is it unfair of me to think that Sara Bareilles at age 29 could follow in those large footsteps after just one album? From what I’ve heard so far, I wouldn’t bet against her. For a young lady who wrote the exquisite “Gravity” before she was out of college, Sara has plenty of time to make quite a mark on the music world.