The album, because of a painful situation he never would have asked for or invited, is turning out to be the fruition of something Moock has been trying to do for years — to build and foster a community, connected by music, just like his heroes Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did. “Folk music is about our real lives as we live them day to day,” says Scott Alarik, a Cambridge-based journalist who writes about folk music. “The family experience is an important part of that, as are work and love and romance and political issues.”
After the shootings in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Moock led a round of “This Land Is Your Land” at a small State House rally in Boston about gun violence. After the Marathon bombings, he joined an all-star roster at the One Family Music Festival, which drew about a thousand people to the Boston Fish Pier and raised more than $23,000 for The One Fund Boston.
Violence, particularly violence against children, makes Moock angry in a way that even cancer, remarkably, doesn’t. But he also believes that anger can be channeled and some sense of personal power reclaimed. Whether he’s singing at a benefit or writing a song about his family, he says, “all you can do is to try to create your own light around these situations.” He ultimately wants to provide free copies of the album, for which he raised more than $28,000 mostly through the crowdsourcing website gofundme.com, to patients at every children’s cancer ward in the United States.
THE DAY AFTER the Club Passim show, Moock is at The Barber’s Den in Melrose, about to get his head shaved. As the clippers make the first pass, he looks into a camera, guitar resting on his barber’s cape, and sings some lines from “When I Get Bald.” The new album’s first video shoot is underway.
One of the costars of the video will be 14-year-old Maddy Salveson, who is just arriving. Moock flashes her a wry look and says, “You’re here just in time to see me lose it.” Maddy smiles. Diagnosed with leukemia about the same time as Clio, she, too, has lost her hair.
Soon Roper arrives with Clio and a pile of pizza boxes. Elsa is at a friend’s house for the afternoon. It makes sense. This is Clio’s song.
Clio has always loved to perform — a few months before her diagnosis she wrote a song called “I’m a Rock Star,” and she’ll often refer to herself as “a professional musician, just like Daddy.” At most Moock shows, she’ll get onstage right next to her father and belt out “When I Get Bald” into her own microphone.
But now, seated in a barber chair with a big camera in her face, Clio seems to be feeling a little too shy to play the kazoo. Moock folds his 6-foot-2-inch frame to her level and speaks quietly. Roper plops down on the floor and plays air kazoo, giving her motions to imitate. In a moment, Clio turns in a star performance.
Waiting for the video crew to set up for the next take, Moock is in a reflective mood. His guests on the album — including Elizabeth Mitchell, local bluesman Chris Smither, Rani Arbo, and a group of cancer patients he calls “the world’s bravest kids” — all seemed to have an instinctive connection with the spirit of the project. So do the people at the video shoot, including Maddy, 8-year-old Bennett Olson, and even the owner of the barbershop, Evan Georgopoulos. He immediately agreed to open his shop on a Sunday when Moock stopped in to ask. Several other shop owners had said they weren’t interested. “It was important to me that everybody involved understood what we were trying to do,” Moock says.
That sense of community Moock is after is palpable in the room — the feeling that when you hear about a family with a sick child, and there’s anything you can do to help, you do it. You do it because you would want others to do the same for you and for your kids.
“We’re struggling with something that’s pretty extreme, but everybody has stuff happening in their lives,” Moock says. “So the idea of writing songs that talk about struggle makes sense. Kids deal with this stuff, kids struggle. They understand that concept; it’s not foreign to them.”
Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer in Arlington. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIDEO See Alastair Moock perform “When I Get Bald.”