The real Patty Larkin
Look, I can frontload this article, listing many of Patty Larkin’s accomplishments as a musician and singer/songwriter.
Let’s see, 11 Boston Music Awards, an honorary doctorate from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, appearances on four movie soundtracks, including Sydney Pollack’s Random Hearts and Ivan Reitman’s Evolution, having one of her tunes recorded by mega diva Cher and another by Holly Cole. Why, the city of Boston even has set aside an officially sanctioned “Patty Larkin Day.”
But there’s a one-word description of Larkin that is all you really need to know: authentic.
Patty Larkin is real; she’s chosen music over the music business.
“I’ve never been ambivalent about my music,” she explained in a recent interview, “but I am ambivalent about the ‘pay as you play’ 1950s mentality of the music business.”
Although Larkin is considered one of the best female guitarists in America, you’re unlikely to hear her on commercial FM radio. Her ability to merge smoky vocals, lyrical imagery and masterful guitar work into evocative, concise and meaningful music doesn’t win her mainstream fans.
“Yeah, I have a certain frustration with the state of radio, the Clear Channelization of radio in America,” she said. “I am thankful, however, for community radio, public radio. These venues are underground, grassroots, keeping musicians who pursue music for music’s sake just below the radar.”
It was, in fact, a Los Angeles public radio station that spotlighted one of Larkin’s releases when film director Sydney Pollack—stuck in traffic—heard the broadcast. He found the nearest exit and then the nearest record shop and immediately purchased one of her CDs. “Her voice is a singular one that’s very evocative. You really see images when she sings,” he told The Advocate.
She is a rare musical talent—her music is evocative yet homespun American, lyrics at once witty while full of poetic imagery. Her guitar playing is smooth yet technical, sounding impossible to actually play, and yet those chords replay like an eight-track loop in one’s head over and over.
Larkin was born in Iowa but raised in Wisconsin. According to her bio, she grew up beneath the keyboards of her two grandmothers’ pianos. Music and art always chased her down. Playing piano and then guitar since she was a teen, Larkin moved to Oregon to study English literature in college.
“My mother was a painter, my grandmothers musicians; art was always a part of my life. I decided that by studying English lit I could find out what these great writers, these great works of art are all about.” Larkin added, “I almost dropped out, but my parents pushed me to finish. It was in my final year that I decided music would be my calling.”
In a twist, it was student teaching in Eugene, Ore. that helped Larkin realize that making a career out of music might be possible. “I never worked so hard in all my life. And I thought, if I can put all this hard work into my music, maybe I can go somewhere with it.”
That somewhere was Boston’s famous Berklee College of Music, where she studied jazz guitar. After a tour with a band or two, Larkin released her first solo album in 1985.
Her latest CD, Red=Luck, came out in 2002. Two tracks pay tribute to September 11, 2001.
“I had just returned from Oregon,” says Larkin, “when I received a phone call about what was happening in New York City. I didn’t have a television, so I listened to the events unfolding on the radio. It was a bit amazing in a way, like listening to the Hindenburg à la the ‘30s. When I finally did get to see the visuals, the reaction I had was so strong. I was really saddened, shocked. I didn’t write music until the following January. I had to process it. I’m still in mourning, I guess. I think our society as a whole is still searching out that collective unconsciousness.”
The titles of the two tracks are “Home,” and “Normal.”
“One is delicate,” states Larkin, “the other is more of a discordant, angry, wailing piece. But both songs are emotional for me. I cried like a baby for hours after I wrote them.”
Put Larkin’s Chico show on your calendar. Her choice to study music and grow rather than to cash in (or out) through the music business also makes her quite distant, so take advantage of her appearance on the local radar and get your tickets today. Another remarkable singer-songwriter, Erika Luckett, will open.