Kenny Loggins: The Circle Never Ends
Kenny Loggins took the stage with the quietest of entrances. He sat down in a stool, without any music accompanying him, and said hello to the audience. Looking considerably younger than his 69 years of age, he quickly made reference to the advanced aesthetic and slower energy in the room. “I wrote a new verse to a song I thought I finished when I was 18,” he told the audience. “I wrote it about becoming a grandfather. I have a feeling I’m not only the grandparent here tonight.” The audience roared in affirmation of his assumption that he was not alone. “We all grew up together,” Loggins added with a laugh. Then, he started playing the melody of “Danny’s Song” – a countercultural anthem in celebration of love over material wealth with a chorus that is impossible to resist.
Even though we ain’t got money
I’m so in love with you honey…
It was immediately clear that Loggins’ voice, no matter how many jocular references he made to senior citizen status, is forever young. His power and awe-inspiring range never failed him throughout his two hour performance. The early acoustic set, following “Danny’s Song,” featured a heart piercing rendition of “Now and Then,” his sophisticated and melancholic tribute to childhood disguised as a children’s lullaby, “Return to Pooh Corner,” and perhaps the only happy hit song inspired by a divorce, “The Real Thing.”
As he told the stories behind the songs, transforming the Silver Creek Event Center in New Buffalo, Michigan – a 2,500 seat theater – into his own back porch, he spoke about his father’s lifesaving heart operation, friendship, marriage, childhood, divorce, and love. The intimacy and vulnerability for true creativity became manifest in the room. The appeal of popular art is that it creates cornerstones for the memory.
I sat next to my mother throughout the performance. She began listening to Loggins as a high school student. The songs, as great songs often do, transported her back to the moments in her life that are forever associated with Loggins’ soulful voice and evocative lyrics.
It is a shame that when most people hear the name Kenny Loggins they immediately hear the fun, lighthearted, but cheesy chorus of “Footloose,” or the theme song to the unspeakably bad film, Top Gun, “Danger Zone.”
His catalogue, and the diverse setlist of his August 4 concert, reveals a songwriter of innovative capacity and lyrical depth. There is an overly slick and polished quality to many songs, typical of the pop and soft rock genres in which Loggins scored hit after hit in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but there are songs of emotional resonance and musical power.
“Whenever I Call You a Friend,” originally a duet with Stevie Nicks that Loggins handled on his own live, is a joyful encapsulation of the freedom of friendship, using beautiful harmonies and layered vocals to its advantage.
“Angry Eyes” is a rock ‘n’ roll presentation of how suspicion, tension, and resentment undermine even the best of relationships. The guitar solos were surprisingly dark and dynamic during the live rendition, and Loggins’ vocal delivery made him sound like a man screaming for release from prison.
Tavis Smiley once told Loggins’ during an interview that “there are a few white folk that every black person knows have soul, and one of them is Kenny Loggins.” At no point did Smiley’s endorsement resound with greater power than during the extended version of “Celebrate Me Home.” A beautiful and tender song about a nomad in search of success finally finding comfort in a circle of friends, “Celebrate Me Home” requires a deft and dramatic touch. Loggins hit high notes that would have made Prince jealous, and shouted with the best of the Memphis Stax screamers, sometimes within the same line. A mesmerized audience hung on his every note, and finally lifted to their feet, giving him a standing ovation that lasted almost as long as the song itself. It was a magical performance that demonstrated Loggins’ worth as one of the great singers in American pop music. He is worthy of reevaluation and new appreciation in the same style that Daryl Hall won fresh accolades in recent years. One need only watch Loggins match Hall note for note, and often out-sing him on a recent episode of “Live From Daryl’s House,” to comprehend the strength and dexterity of Loggins’ vocal talent.
Al Gore once called Loggins’ song, “Conviction of the Heart,” the “unofficial international anthem of the ecological movement.” The lyrics illuminate Loggins’ gift for blending the poetic and plainspoken in a moving association with environmental care and protection with personal love and growth. The music, a combination of gospel, pop, and folk, illustrates Loggins’ songwriting imagination. Loggins’ performance of the song in Michigan honored its beauty, but suffered from an odd lack of emphasis.
Given the explosion of activism surrounding climate change, Loggins would do well to take “Conviction” – a song far ahead of its time – and introduce it to a young audience committed to environmental sustainability. He should invite a millennial singer to record a new version with him as a duet, and make sure it enters the airspace of young Americans who eat at farm to fork restaurants, recycle, and seek ways to lower their carbon footprint.
Loggins, who is an articulate and engaging speaker, could have, at a minimum, introduced the song with a short message about the importance of conservationism, but instead, he bizarrely smashed it in between two songs from Caddy Shack with what amounts to a musical crowbar.
If Loggins’ placement of one of his best and most relevant songs was unfortunate, his choice of conclusion was perfect. “Forever” is a song Loggins wrote about the contradiction between physical absence and emotional residence.
The love that I lost to the dark
I’ll always remember
Forever, in my heart
Loggins sang the song with acrobatic vocals, culminated in a sustained and impossibly high note for his last cry of “Forever!” My mother, like many in the audience, had tears in her eyes.
To enjoy the concert with her was an emotional tour under the navigation of Loggins’ capable hands on the steering wheel. It only underscored Loggins’ amendment to “Danny’s Song.”
I see a newborn baby in my grown son’s eyes
And I realize
Couldn’t have a better life
It’s true what they always said
The circle never ends
Catch it when it comes around again
David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky), Metallica (a 33 1/3 book from Bloomsbury Publishers), and , Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Press).