Happy Birthday, Gene

Gene McDaniels on Roberta Flack from The Downbeat Renaissance on Vimeo.
Today is one day out of many in the year that we can all celebrate the life and work of the inimitable Gene McDaniels. I met Gene later in his life, after he had already influenced me and my music several times over. He would continue to do so over the next nearly 2 years that I knew him prior to his passing. In that time, he gave me a lifetime of things to think about… sharing his thoughts and perspectives on his own lifetime of work. I’ve said before about Gene he was a true trailblazer, choosing to forge a path in music where no one previously had. By the time the rest of the party had caught up, Gene had already left to blaze another trail. This is so greatly evident throughout his body of work, it is astounding.

On a cold January afternoon many years ago, I met Gene McDaniels for the second time, but our first “official” encounter. We ate at his favorite sushi restaurant in Portland, Maine, where I interviewed him for Portland Magazine. The conversation and my subsequent published feature was in anticipation of the release of his forthcoming album. We discussed topics not only important to him and central to his career, but crucial to my understanding of his magnitude as a maker of not songs, but entire social and cultural movements.

As part of my scholarship work at Maine College of Art a few years ago, I assembled this video from excerpts of the audio from that interview. The pieces here were largely on the cutting room floor of the actual published interview, so it was meaningful and emotional to revisit our conversation. In it Gene speaks of his connection with Roberta Flack, which is a major part of how I first became connected with his music in the first place. So the circular nature of this whole experience is meaningful to me.

Happy Birthday, Gene. You are so greatly missed. You’d be horrified, but not surprised, at the state of affairs around here. You’ve already written the songs about all of this.

(thanks to Matt Robbins for the photos)