Listening Club

“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye’s classic soul record, is the subject of this month’s edition of Wilkinson public Library’s Listening Club, hosted by Tuck Gillette at 7 p.m. Friday. (Courtesy photo)

Months into the pandemic, housebound people have perfected ways of socializing while remaining safely apart. Wilkinson Public Library has been at the forefront of hatching creative programs aimed at keeping people connected even as we cannot gather, among them Listening Club, a book club for records. For those of us that are nourished by music, it’s been a highly anticipated hour of connection and discovery with fellow music nerds. The fourth iteration of Listening Club is Friday at 7 p.m. with host Tuck Gillette. He chose Marvin Gaye’s 1971 stone-cold soul classic “What’s Going On” for an in-depth exploration.

Gillette, who serves as the music director for grades 4-12 at the Telluride public schools, said he will not only discuss the record’s powerful themes of civil unrest, Vietnam, poverty and ecological degradation, but also will clue listeners in to the song cycle’s musical themes.

“I want to dig deeper into the music theory of ‘What’s Going On,’” Gillette said.

Gillette’s enthusiasm for the record is electric. He chose it, he said, because it topped a recent Rolling Stone magazine Top 500 albums list, a list compiled by artists, critics, readers and music industry nabobs. It, like any list, is delightfully debatable, and Gaye’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful inclusion drew Gillette’s attention.

“I was intrigued,” he said. “Why is it number one? I was Gaye-curious.”

The key to its greatness can be found in its numerous layers of meaning, both lyrical and musical.

“It’s an album that’s over-ambitious in its complexity and simplicity,” Gillette said. “It achieves a remarkable balance.”

He further compares Gaye’s 11th record to the work of reggae icon Bob Marley, an artist whose songs are at once socially impactful, yet appealingly tuneful.

“‘Right On’ is a song where it’s not right on at all,” he said. “It’s like ‘Redemption Song.’ These are tough things to swallow (lyrically), but they’re great, danceable tunes. To come up with music that works on every level … that’s a remarkable feat. It’s high artistic work.”

Last month’s Listening Club host, Heidi Sarazen, took on Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” a record that came in at No. 9 on the 2020 Rolling Stone list. Sarazen took on Dylan’s inscrutable nature and sought to unravel the record’s story-songs as they related to his disintegrating marriage. Her research was eye opening, she said, even after listening to it for seemingly the billionth time.

“I learned so much about this album, especially when it came to Dylan's personal life,” Sarazen said. “I had always listened to it and saw it as a very hopeful love letter to his wife but ended up changing my own mind the more I dove into researching it. This album is so desperately lovely. It covers the biggies … love and loss.”

Sarazen, as a Listening Club host, found her participation an unexpectedly fulfilling way to scratch an itch left unscratched by the pandemic and the ensuing cessation of live music events.

“Music is the universal language but in the same breath, it's so personal,” she said. “To be able to articulately share your ideas about something so firmly in the gray area is really gratifying. This sentiment has been shared by others through the pandemic, but it is so important to create right now. I love going to shows and dancing and I've missed that outlet terribly. This ended up being unexpectedly cathartic for me.”

Sarazen said the feedback she received following her December session was gratifying. Participants told her, “I never looked at it that way,” and, “You made me want to listen to it again with those points in mind.”

“Those comments made me so proud,” she said. “To be able to have people rethink how they've approached an album that they've listened to for years, an album that has helped people through really personal experiences. I mean, unless Bob Dylan is the one presenting, will we really know? With Bob, that's not even certain.” 

Feedback for Listening Club has been effusive, according to the library’s Laura Colbert, who said she’s never received as many emails as a result of a library program as she has for Listening Club.

“There’s a large desire for community get-togethers, and Listening Club has met that in a good way. The concept is solid.”

Colbert said the library is launching a new club for cinephiles, Film Buffs, modeled after Listening Club, with featured films to watch before a hosted discussion. Film Buffs’ first session is Thursday. Max Walker-Silverman is hosting a discussion on “You, The Living” at 7 p.m. Film Buffs takes place every other Thursday.

Listening Club is the first Friday of each month. Next month, Claybrook Penn will host a discussion on Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times,” and March will feature Warren Gilbreath and Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.”

To sign up for Listening Club or Film Buffs, go to telluridelibrary.org.