Terry Fain on Becky Rothenberg's Music
I met Becky Rothenberg in Nashville in the summer
of 1971. She had just finished her undergraduate degree at Swarthmore,
and was in town to visit a college pal named Paul Dimaggio. Paul
was doing a summer internship in the sociology department at Vanderbilt
University, where I was a graduate student. At the time Paul was
writing these really hilarious, crazy country songs with titles
like "Up Against the Floor" and "I Thought You Were
a Country Dumpling, but You're Just a Pop-up Tart." (Paul is
now chairman of sociology at Princeton, and still occasionally produces
musical compositions that can only be described as incomparable.)
I had already written a few songs that had been published, and Paul
kept telling me about the great songs his friend Becky had written.
So when she turned up in town, he introduced us as fellow songwriters.
A couple of days later, Becky nervously allowed
herself to be persuaded to play a couple of songs at a friend's
house-and I immediately fell in love with the songs, the piano parts,
and her voice. I introduced Becky to the publishing company I was
working with, and they were also very favorably impressed. Thus
began a musical and personal relationship that would span seven
years and two major U.S. music centers.
Nashville in 1971 was undergoing a musical identity
crisis. Country music was still the backbone of the local scene,
of course, but there was a widespread belief that the town was on
the verge of busting wide open to all kinds of music. Bob Dylan
and Neil Young had recorded hit albums in local studios. North Nashville
had several killer R&B and blues clubs. There was a coffeehouse
scene for folkies, where one Sunday night I heard Kris Kristofferson
play the song he had just written, "Me and Bobby McGee,"
to an audience of about twelve. And there were several really good
local rock bands-I had played in a couple of them. The Summer of
Love had found its way to Nashville around 1968, but the feeling
of creativity and experimentation and freedom still hung in the
air like smoke from recently-exploded fireworks.