Forever Young: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” LP Track-By-Track

September 29th, 2010

bobdylan.jpgIn the summer of 1971, my mother was learning to play acoustic guitar.

I was born in September, deep in the heart of the Singer/Songwriter Era: James Taylor, Carol King, Bob Dylan Jackson Brown, John Denver, Crosby, Stills & Nash were all on heavy rotation on The Wagner Family hi-fi.

My birth announcement was the lyrics to Elton John “The Greatest Discovery” superimposed over a family photo.

Little wonder, then, that — thirty-eight years later as my wife and I counted down to our daughterMaggie’s birth — I began to frame her entrance into the world in heartfelt, earnest songs strummed and sung.

And little wonder that — as her first day approached — all I could wish for her was, well, everything. And no song better captures the wishes of a father for his child than Bob Dylan’s 1974 single, “Forever Young.” Author Bill Flanagan writes of the song’s origins:

After an eight year break from touring, Dylan’s legend was big enough to fit all twelve apostles and still have room for a couple of Buddhas. He agreed to go back on the road in 1974 with The Band, his old backup group who had become stars themselves during the down time. They got together and quickly knocked off an album, Planet Waves, that featured two versions of a blessing from a parent to a child. In the years he was away from stage Dylan had become a father [Ed. Note: to Jakob Dylan]. He had that in common with a good chunk of the audience. The song reflected it.

In “Forever Young,” Dylan scribbles a generation’s values on the head of a pin. “May your heart always be joyful,” he sings. “And may your song always be sung.”

Chris Abad, Tony Maceli, Ryan Vaughn and I recorded basic tracks in March with Gary Atturio at Galuminum Foil Studios. I recorded final vocals in Maggie’s nursery here in our Upper East Side apartment just a few weeks after she was born. Chris LoPresto delivered a transcendent piano performance (as he did at my “Last Show Ever” — ha ha — in March, which you can download here). Producer Jon Locker added Dylan’s signature Hammond Organ (complete with whirling Leslie speaker) in Des Moines.

But it’s Brooklyn singer/songwriter Emily Easterly who transports “Forever Young.” I first met Emily as we prepared last year’s “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3.” Emily’s voice sounds lived in: long-days, late-nights, and hard-knocks. But flecked with confection: powdered-sugar, or at least Splenda. She is the soul of the song; the high-notes and harmonies all at once.

Together, Emily and I deliver all that I could ever wish for my daughter’s brand-new life in melody and harmony both saccharine and sanguine:

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
And may you stay forever young

* * *

“Forever Young” is a collection of all-star cover songs for the young and young at heart. Proceeds will be donated to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media. The complete “Forever Young” track list:

1 – Rainbow Connection (featuring Amber Rubarth)
2 – Forever Young (featuring Emily Easterly)
3 – The Only Living Boy In New York (featuring Chris Abad)
4 – Mr. Tambourine Man (featuring Bryan Dunn)
5 – You Are My Sunshine (featuring Jason Walsmith & Becca Smith)
6 – Sweet Baby James (featuring Jeff Jacobson)
7 – You’ve Got A Friend (featuring Mai Bloomfield)
8 – Golden Slumbers (featuring Casey Shea)
9 – Amazing Grace (featuring Jamie Leonhart)
10 – Moon River

Download “Forever Young” on iTunes, or purchase a physical copy from Authentic Records Online now!

Rainbow Connection: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” LP Track-By-Track

September 27th, 2010

rainbow1.jpgThough “The Muppet Movie” was released in June, 1979, I didn’t see it until hit cable the following winter.

My parents had just separated. My father was living alone in “our” old house while my mother, brother and I lived across town.

Chris and my model airplane-strewn bedroom was barren, so my father purchased matching futons from JCPenny and put them in the otherwise sparsely-furnished tv room. It was there that I first heard “Rainbow Connection.”

Whether its the context or the song itself, I’m not sure, but — as with the bulk of my generation, I imagine (Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams’ song spent weeks atop the Billboard charts, and was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe) — “Rainbow Connection” stuck.

Equal parts Dorothy Gale, Jiminy Cricket and Little Orphan Annie, the song hits the same optimistic, hopeful existential notes as “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” “When You Wish Upon A Star,” and “The Sun With Come Out Tomorrow,” but shot through with post-JFK assassination, Watergate, Vietnam melancholy. It’s a theme song with an identity crisis. Something’s beautifully out of whack. Which may be why I liked it so much then, and still do now. It’s optimism tempered with pragmatic realism. It’s confident uncertainty.

Of course, the melody is otherworldly too. Which may be why, as an expectant father some twenty-years-later, I found myself working out the guitar part in my living room as I brainstormed songs for an idea that was just forming: a children’s album that wouldn’t annoy parents.

Chris Abad, Tony Maceli, Ryan Vaughn and I recorded basics in March with Gary Atturio at Galuminum Foil Studios. I tracked final vocals in Maggie’s nursery here in our Upper East Side apartment just a few weeks after she was born.

Producer Jon Locker added real magic to the basic track, transporting the song to a different place altogether. “Think ’70s kid show,” I suggested. Twenty-four hours later he and Des Moines pianist Tony Bonenkamp sent me this confection shot-through with space-age, fair-dust melancholy.

Brooklyn singer/songwriter Amber Rubarth added the real pixie dust, though. It’s true: we never sat in the same room harmonizing (she contributed backing vocals via yousendit.com). Still, I think of her as the Muse, Siren or Angel of the song, faintly tugging at our hand to seek further, sail farther, and soar higher.

Which is about all I could every wish for my daughter: that she seek further, sail farther, and soar higher.

* * *

“Forever Young” is a collection of all-star cover songs for the young and young at heart. Proceeds will be donated to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media. The complete “Forever Young” track list:

1 – Rainbow Connection (featuring Amber Rubarth)
2 – Forever Young (featuring Emily Easterly)
3 – The Only Living Boy In New York (featuring Chris Abad)
4 – Mr. Tambourine Man (featuring Bryan Dunn)
5 – You Are My Sunshine (featuring Jason Walsmith & Becca Smith)
6 – Sweet Baby James (featuring Jeff Jacobson)
7 – You’ve Got A Friend (featuring Mai Bloomfield)
8 – Golden Slumbers (featuring Casey Shea)
9 – Amazing Grace (featuring Jamie Leonhart)
10 – Moon River

Download “Forever Young” on iTunes, or purchase a physical copy from Authentic Records Online now!

Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” Teaser Trailer Premieres

September 21st, 2010

video.jpgIt’s arguable that I have no business covering Bob Dylan not once but twice on my new album (which borrows a title from Mr. Zimmerman as well), “Forever Young.”

As Abbi and I counted down to Maggie’s birth, though, all I could wish for her was, well, everything. And no song that I’m aware of better captures sentiment than “Forever Young.”

“May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift,” Dylan sings to his brand-new son, Jakob, “May your heart always be joyful and may your song always be sung.”

My new album (due October 2) is a collection of ten cover songs connected to my childhood or childhood in general that — over the course of the album — sonically and lyrically map the arc of a child’s day (morning, evening, bedtime). Nine of the ten recordings features a guest vocalist like Amber Rubarth, Emily Easterly, and Mai Bloomfield (of Raining Jane), and all of them feature contributions from amazing instrumentalists like Chris LoPresto, Misty Boyce, and Patrick Riley (of the Des Moines Symphony).

And so it seemed only fitting that, when it came to liner notes and music videos, we all see ourselves through the lens of our respective childhoods. And so it is that everyone who donated their time and talents to the record — all eighteen of them — pitched in a photo from their childhood as well.

Here are those portraits, then: eighteen smiling faces, eighteen perfect new lives, eighteen adults old enough to know better, but young enough to be young at heart.

May we all be so lucky.

“Forever Young” will be released Saturday, October 2 at two very-special benefit performances:

Saturday, October 2
3pm (all-ages!) & 8pm (grown ups!)
Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen Street (at Houston)
New York, NY 10002

Proceeds will be donated to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media.

Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” Album Art Revealed

September 21st, 2010

cd_sm.jpgIt may seem obvious that a new album by a new father feature his new daughter on the cover, but it took some time to arrive at this apparently obvious conclusion.

“Forever Young” is a collection of ten cover songs somehow connected to my childhood or childhood in general that — over the course of the album — sonically and lyrically map the arc of a child’s day (morning, evening, bedtime). Nine of the ten recordings features a guest vocalist like Amber Rubarth, Emily Easterly, and Mai Bloomfield (of Raining Jane), and all of them feature contributions from amazing instrumentalists like Chris LoPresto, Misty Boyce, and Patrick Riley (of the Des Moines Symphony).

Now, if you survey the breadth of my previous fourteen releases on iTunes, you’ll note a general resistance to putting my face on album covers. Sure, I’ve done it some (I’m particularly fond of the “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” homage of “Love & Other Indoor Games”), but I generally tend towards abstract imagery (ex: two tin cans connected by a string) as metaphor (ex: marriage as communication). That resistance, naturally, extended to Maggie, especially as she had no say in the matter.

I sought out other abstract images of childhood like rattles, mobiles, and stuffed animals, but none seemed to fit. I finally resolved to use stock imagery of someone else’s baby when Abbi asked, “Well, why not use Maggie then?”

And so it is that just four months into her new life, Margaret Burton Wagner — our Maggie — has come to grace her dad’s album cover. Fitting, really, since she inspired it.

The photo was taken just a few days after she was born. I love it because you can see her tiny fingers, chubby cheeks and beautiful lips. I love it because she’s sleeping, lost in dreams where I hope these songs too will take her (and kids and kids at heart everywhere) when she listens.

The photo was taken with a Canon PowerShot using the macro lens (ergo the depth of field), then desaturated in Photoshop. The album title is in Tiffany Blue, a nod to my wife’s employer.

“Forever Young” will be released Saturday, October 2 at two very-special benefit performances:

Saturday, October 2
3pm (all-ages!) & 8pm (grown ups!)
Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen Street (at Houston)
New York, NY 10002

Proceeds will be donated to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media.

The complete “Forever Young” track list:

1 – Rainbow Connection (featuring Amber Rubarth)
2 – Forever Young (featuring Emily Easterly)
3 – The Only Living Boy In New York (featuring Chris Abad)
4 – Mr. Tambourine Man (featuring Bryan Dunn)
5 – You Are My Sunshine (featuring Jason Walsmith & Becca Smith)
6 – Sweet Baby James (featuring Jeff Jacobson)
7 – You’ve Got A Friend (featuring Mai Bloomfield)
8 – Golden Slumbers (featuring Casey Shea)
9 – Amazing Grace (featuring Jamie Leonhart)
10 – Moon River

And the full-size “Forever Young” album cover:

cd_art.jpg

Goodnight Moonlight Baby

September 14th, 2010

sleepy.jpgLast night, I bumped into Justin Bieber just seconds prior to his VMA performance of “Baby.” Just twenty-four hours later, my own baby was back in my arms.

This year’s awards marked my first prolonged absence from Maggie since she was born. I was in Los Angeles just five nights, but the days were jam-packed and long.

In the fifteen years I’ve been here, MTV News’ purview has grown by leaps and bounds. I now have a hand in all of it, from the hundreds of articles, blogs and video segments produced for the website to the 200, thirty-second news briefs we aired to the hour-long pre-show. We even had a hand in what we call the “Main Show,” producing three, live breaks in which we showed how the VMAs were performing on social media with our VMA Twitter Tracker. Oh, and we produced at forty-five minute, online-only RapFix Live post-show.

With rehearsals for all three shows, and web and news brief coverage in-between, Saturday and Sunday were a blur of video monitors, laptops, white carpet, and craft service granola bars. Both were six-Excedrin days.

Still, by the time the gorgeous, other-worldly white carpet opened, I was calm. From my position, I spotted Lady Gaga, Drake, Ice Cube, Jason Derulo, The Hills girls, Real World and Jersey Shore casts. And I watched Nicki Minaj and will.i.am perform from about eight feet.

Immediately afterwards, Sway and I repaired to a trailer on the edge of the Nokia Theatre where we met our colleagues from Twitter and Stamen Group. Six or so of us were huddled over laptops watching the Main Shows affect on Twitter. Rihanna showed up to perform with Eminem (surprise!) and people went bonkers, Tweeting some 5000 140-character messages a minute. The big spike, though, was Lady Gaga announced her new album title, driving nearly 10,000 Tweets-per-minute.

The scary part was scripting these mini-news breaks on the fly. My colleague Michael worked with Stamen and Twitter while I scribbled furiously and Sway ran his lines — we had hard in/outs, that is, if we went over we’d be cut off — in the few moments before our appointed breaks. Two minutes out, the AD (assistant director) would begin counting me in. In the seconds prior, my boss (one of the show’s executive producers) said, “We need you to add a line teasing to the Taylor Swift performance.” We franticly dropped something, added her, then our count: “3… 2… 1… cue for Sway!” Of course, he nailed it. And I collapsed to me knees.

The two of us snuck out to catch Justin Bieber’s performance, and bumped right into the sixteen-year-old pop sensation pacing on the edge of his stage. (Of course, I caught their brief exchange on tape.)

All weekend long, everywhere I went, and with everyone I spoke (excepting, perhaps, The Beebs), I was only interested in one subject: Maggie. I showed colleagues, friends and strangers alike photos on my Blackberry, and even sent a few people the YouTube video of her smiling that I shot to keep me company when I was away. I described her chubby cheeks, her chunky thighs, her beautiful eyes. And over and over, I counted down to getting home to her.

Fast forward to tonight. I stepped into our apartment just after five o’clock. Maggie was laying in her crib, staring mesmerized at her mobile. I showered off the plane germs, sent our nanny home, and walked around the apartment singing and talking to her. She’d grown so much! She was focussing on things, tracking them with her eyes. But she turned fussy, verging on the edge of tears in the few moments before her mother was due.

And so I crossed my finger, and put the final mix of my “Forever Young” cover of “Sweet Baby James” on the stereo, and began slowly rocking her. If I say so myself, the recording is gorgeous. Jeff Jacobson arranged a beautiful, melancholy guitar part. I sang a melancholy, soft melody (which Jeff then beautifully backed up). And Patrick Riley arranged gorgeous strings. It’s really one of the prettiest things I’ve ever done.

Maggie must agree. Because before the final chorus, she’d settled into my shoulder an fallen off to sleep.

And that was it. All was well. I was home.

Won’t You Be My “Forever Young” Neighbor?

September 2nd, 2010

maggie.jpgExactly one-month from today, on Saturday, October 2, I’m releasing a brand-new LP, “Forever Young.”

It’s a collection of songs I loved growing up that I hope my three-month-old daughter, Maggie, will love someday too. Of course, I’m counting on you and your family enjoying it as well!

The record features many of my dearest friends lending their voices, guitars and keys. It is our intention to donate proceeds to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media.

The complete “Forever Young” track list:

1 – The Rainbow Connection (featuring Amber Rubarth)
2 – Forever Young (featuring Emily Easterly)
3 – The Only Living Boy In New York (featuring Chris Abad)
4 – Mr. Tambourine Man (featuring Bryan Dunn)
5 – You Are My Sunshine (featuring Jason Walsmith & Becca Smith)
6 – Sweet Baby James (featuring Jeff Jacobson)
7 – You’ve Got A Friend (featuring Mai Bloomfield)
8 – Golden Slumbers (featuring Casey Shea)
9 – Amazing Grace (featuring Jamie Leonhart)
10 – Moon River

As you know, Mister Rogers is one of my heros, so inspiring to me that my brother and I produced a documentary about him called, “Mister Rogers & Me.” He used to say “Look for the helpers.” And that’s where you come in. Please email, Tweet or post a photo of yourself as a child to my Facebook page by September 15th. I’ll be editing a music video for the title track comprised of those photos which I’ll post to YouTube, Facebook, et all. One lucky participant will receive a pair of tickets to a special, cast and crew screening of the film.

Please join all of us to celebrate the release on Saturday, October 2 at two very-special benefit performances:

Saturday, October 2
3pm (all-ages!) & 8pm (grown ups!)
Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen Street (at Houston)
New York, NY 10002

Looking forward to sharing you childhood memories, and creating new ones together all for a great cause…