Interview: What Makes Livingston Taylor Buzz – Rolling Stone
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Interview: What Makes Livingston Taylor Buzz

New LP gives folk rocker good vibes

Livingston Taylor

Livingston Taylor

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

BUZZ IS THE BUZZWORD for Livingston Taylor. The twenty-seven-year-old folk and pop rocker, whose brooding eccentricity would make almost anybody else seem ridiculously clearheaded by comparison, tends to measure all information that seeps through his high-density brain filter by its buzz quotient.

Typical of the activities that give Livingston an unusually good buzz are examining the precisely matched granite seams in a Boston skyscraper, poring over books about Albert Einstein’s creative vision, thinking about deciduous trees, entertaining notions about running for the presidency and contemplating the complexity of a metal trash basket.

But garbage cans and metaphysical buzzes aside, Taylor is now enjoying a veritable wave of good vibrations after signing with Epic Records — no small accomplishment for a folkie coming off a five-year recording hiatus. Taylor, whose three albums for Capricorn Records in the early Seventies sold moderately well but were overshadowed by brother James’ maxi-success, this time is hoping to reach the ”higher ground.”

”I’m immensely happy with this new arrangement,” he said in his immensely serious way. ”In fact, it gives me just a tremendous buzz to be involved with such fine people and to be recording again. And I know the business now. I can be the flexible part of the machine, and I can have a lot to do with letting everybody know how good I am.”

The machine thus far has produced 3-Way Mirror, an album recorded in four weeks that demonstrates Liv’s facility with numerous pop styles, and a late-summer tour that allowed him thirty-five minutes to warm up Linda Ronstadt’s roller-skating audience. But Taylor actually never left the playing circuit. For the past five years he has played three nights a week at universities and clubs, galvanizing and charming an already hardcore following with his love ballads and fantasy folk tunes and commanding what most of us would consider a healthy annual income. But to hear him tell it, and to believe this tall, blond, wiry man with fierce blue eyes, is to believe that his past success was merely a preamble to the stardom that lies before him.

”There are two kinds of people in this world,” he said as we roamed the lush, verdant grounds of Robin Hood Dell West near Philadelphia, while his four-piece backup band conducted a sound test in the outdoor amphitheater. ”There are the overtly talented and those who are not. I belong in the former category.”

Such conspicuous self-confidence might seem out of character for a musician who forged his career in territories abandoned by the Bohemian folk poets of the Sixties. But Livingston Taylor is dead serious about his intentions to be a giant success. In fact, he seems deadly serious about everything he does. Aside from a few practiced quips he throws out occasionally — good old saws he learned while growing up in North Carolina, like being ”someplace between a hard lace and a rock” and not knowing his ass from a brick — Taylor’s sensibility is almost devoid of humor. He speaks with the erudition and earnestness of a prep-school headmaster, and alternates between calling himself an ”immensely conservative, aspiring capitalist” and a ”poet who sees beauty everywhere.” In the star-studded, high-living Seventies, Taylor’s blend of capitalist ambition and art might just belie the time-proved truth that successful poets must die as paupers.

”I just love the notion of manufacturing,” he said; as he settled his long, gangly frame into a plastic chair in the refreshment area outside the amphitheater. ”I like organization. I like to see things done right. People should always strive for excellence. Lately I’ve become distressed by mediocrity and by the fact that people’s spirit becomes broken by mediocrity.”

Beauty and excellence, to Taylor, can be found in the mundane organization of a trash can.

”Let’s think about this trash basket for a second,” he said. pointing to an aluminum receptacle bulging with the refuse of a nonreturnable society. ”It’s a product. It’s galvanized, it’s got welded seams. I’m just in awe of what went into the production of this: the mining of the ores, transportation to the mill, forging of the metals, construction of the molds, shipping it from some tiny steel town to a life on a concert-hall patio. It’s staggering in its complexity.”

Also staggering in its complexity is Taylor’s ambition. The idea of running a business is one of the things that provides this offbeat musician with a particularly good buzz. The notion of becoming president is another.

”It’s always been my first and deepest fantasy to become president, he said, rolling up the sleeves of a white Brooks Brothers shirt that hangs from his lanky limbs as it might from a clothes hook, ”and my desire hasn’t waned. I just may have to go in for politics some day.”

Which is not to say that Taylor is not banking on his musical renaissance to lead him to fame and fortune. He estimates he has written a hundred songs in the past five years, an achievement that has been marked by ”buzzes and pain all along.” He also regularly takes lessons in voice, guitar, piano and flute in an attempt to upgrade his musical versatility. ”I don’t write bad songs anymore,” he said mat-ter-of-factly. ”No bland pablum. And as a popular singer, I don’t want to be associated with distress and pain.”

Livingston Taylor — poet, singer, metaphysician, wall watcher — probably won’t have to worry about that. He seems to have a built-in buzz mechanism that blocks out distress before it can fliter through his consciousness.

”Basically I just think about simple things,” he said. ”I think about the show tonight, the beautiful complex here…”

Then his eyes focused on some distant point deep in the forest of oaks that surrounds the amphitheater grounds.

”Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about deciduous trees.”

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