Transformative Music Born of Pain and Loss
By Thomas P. Caldwell
LACONIA — Death of the Moon, a new musical CD by Dr. Jack Polidoro that also features his daughter, Stephanie, demonstrates the transformative power of music. “The Good Dr. Jack” says he was going through a difficult time in his personal life when he was working on the album, and much of the CD reflects that dark side with songs of pain and loss. Yet it also offers hope and it challenges listeners to move on after tragedy.
The song that best captures that hope for the future is “Hey, Boston, Finish the Race Now” which is his tribute to the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Deeply affected by the tragedy, Jack said he did not rush the writing of the song, working on it for more than three months in order to come up with something uplifting that would get people back on track.
“Hey Boston, you’ve got heart,” he sings. “We’re all patriots in this land.”
Jack has been in contact with the Boston Athletic Association and the Boston Red Sox with the hope of having the song featured in conjunction with this year’s Boston Marathon.
Another song that combines patriotism with a lament for lives lost is his very personal “Goin’ Off To War” which he describes as “a father’s lament”. Dedicated to his son, Commander Michael A. Polidoro, USN, it is an anti-war song that nevertheless comes off as being very patriotic. He wrote it after Michael, who is in the Naval Reserve at Annapolis, was called up for the fourth time, at age 45, to serve at an embassy right at the time that embassies were being bombed.
“To put him in harm’s way a fourth time, I felt that enough is enough,” Jack said, adding, “It took me 40 years to write an anti-war song, and I never thought I would.”
The Good Dr. Jack got interested in folk songs while he was in college and he took up the five-string banjo, inspired by such groups as the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. He struck up a friendship with the members of the Kingston Trio and his brother, Tony, urged him to take up music.
When he was in graduate school (Jack earned a Ph.D. in Veterinary and Animal Sciences at the University of Massachusetts), he bought an old, 12-string Martin guitar, and that did it for him. When a technician at the lab introduced him to the music of Gordon Lightfoot, Jack decided that was “exactly the stuff I wanted to write”.
Today Jack has several signed photographs and album covers from Gordon Lightfoot who had prompted him to start writing in 1966 and 1967. Since 1984, Jack has made six CDs and has written 150 songs.
“It was really fun to do a team thing with Steph on this album,” he said of his collaboration with his daughter, “and it’s a legacy for her.”
Steph’s contribution is an instrumental piece called “Speranza” or Hope. Currently a freshman at the University of Vermont where she plans to major in Research and Experimental Psychology, Steph said she wrote the piece for piano five years ago, when she was 13.
“I cranked out a lot of songs,” she said of that period, “and it was like therapy; really relaxing. All the other ones had words. This didn’t.”
When Jack was going into the studio this past summer, he encouraged her to go along and record her song.
“I thought I could add lyrics to it, but she said no,” Jack recalled. “I offered to do guitar work behind it, but she said no again. She knew what she wanted, and she arranged it.”
Steph said the musicians at Rocking Horse Studio in Pittsfield were very helpful and offered many suggestions for backup, but she had a sense of what she wanted and she did the arrangements for the instruments that did back her up.
Joey Pierog, who plays acoustic and electric bass on the album, as well as providing programming and harmony vocals, is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston and she found him to be particularly helpful. He plays standup bass on “Speranza” and contributed to the naming of the song by telling Steph that it gave him a feeling of hope.
“Songs on the radio,” Steph said, “you listen to the main points; but, in the studio, every piece is recorded separately, and there’s days or months of work behind it. It’s a whole different experience. And Joey was incredible.”
Many of the songs on the CD reflect love lost, beginning with “Dark Side of the Moon” which opens the album and inspired its title of Death of the Moon. “I’m on the dark side of the moon tonight,” Jack sings. “You took the moonbeams when you left that night.”
“A few songs are about personal, life-changing events,” Jack acknowledged. A line illustrating that is on “Two Hearts That Were One”: “Never knew there was such a pain in your heart.”
One of Jack’s favorite songs on the album follows up on that theme, but with a little more levity: “I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Woman”. The fiddle and electric guitar accompaniment raise it above the bitterness that underlies the lyrics, while Jack adds a parenthetical “right now” that implies he may change his mind later.
“It’s up tempo and repeats that phrase,” Jack said, adding, “The studio wanted to make it rock’n’roll. I said, for this recording, I wanted it my way.”
Jack called in Dave Meyers of Gilford to play his Fender Stratocaster, the only electric guitar on the album. “He worked hard to augment what I’d done,” said Jack. “That guitar piece changed it from folk contemporary to semi-rock’n’roll.”
The other song on the theme of love lost is “You’ve Got Your Reasons” which reflects resignation and a willingness to move on. “Sometimes love will take you down a different path.”
The song “Dresden Rose” was written for the centennial of birthday of Jack’s mother, Mary F. Polidoro, who died in 1985, and his final contribution to the album was “A Daughter’s Love” which Jack said was more personal and a late-comer, but something he wanted on the album.
“The album was basically done,” Jack said. “I went into the studio, laid down the guitar and vocal, and said, “I’m done, now you can finish it.’ I wanted to surprise her with the song, as she’s always been there for me.”
Asked what she thought when she heard the MP3 that her father sent to her at college, Steph said, “I cried.”
The Good Dr. Jack performs at open mic nights at The Mill in Bristol, the Common Man in Ashland, and Giuseppe’s in Meredith. Death of the Moon and other CDs are available at longtailpublishing.com which also offers his literary works.
July 7, 2014
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