The Rick Berlin Project by Melissa Tabeek
1: Saw Fiona Apple perform on Saturday and it was AH-MAZING. Highly recommend.
2: Please remember to vote in my Women In Music poll! You can vote once a day, and I will do a feature on the winner!
3: Thanks to the delightful Melissa Tabeek, I am bringing you her story on Boston musician Rick Berlin. The care and time she has put into this story is astounding. I am so happy to introduce my first guest blogger…here we go!
The Rick Berlin Project by Melissa Tabeek
In America’s society, youth is paramount. People chase younger partners, pay for younger faces and shop in departments that are meant for younger years. Classic is traded in for shiny and new. Generally speaking.
But in the Boston music scene, there is a figure that defies age and easy categorization – a man who has managed to stay relevant and fresh, even after 40 years of local performances. Any music lover in the Boston area should know his name, if they don’t already. Meet Rick Berlin.
A transplant from upstate New York, I moved to Boston to attend Northeastern University to get my master’s in journalism. I discovered who Rick was after only a few weeks in town, at the first annual Jamaica Plain Music Festival. Though my story about the festival was focused on social media, through my conversations with local musicians and event organizers, I learned that in this scene, all roads lead to Berlin.
In December, Berlin — whom I was in touch with via Twitter — invited me to live band karaoke at the Midway Cafe, with a suggestion to dress up. I was one of the only attendees to do so – certainly the only skeleton Slash/Gene Simmons combo in a leather skirt. But more importantly, I finally got to speak with Rick in person.
After our fortuitous meet, an opportunity arose to do a semester-long multimedia project on anything that was interesting enough to sustain five months of reporting. Immediately, I thought of Berlin. Anyone who could bring together the diverse and funky crowd I saw at the Midway certainly warranted further exploration. Little did I know how much reporting I was signing up for.
I spent innumerable hours with Rick Berlin and his current band —rick berlin w/ THE NICKEL & DIME BAND — as I explored his story from January to May. I discovered a man with a deep history. I laughed as I listened to stories such as when Berlin was arrested for nudity in Grenada in 1971 while participating in a film that he doesn’t remember the name of. He shared touching stories too, like when his father passed away, and how he chose his artist path because he never wanted to end up as professionally unhappy as his dad. Even his sad stories end with a laugh, though; He has a sense of humor about his life that pervades all of his tales.
Chasing Berlin’s story — nine bands, plus a solo career over the course of 40 years — brought me so many places: Somerville, where Rick began his musical career by accident when his piano playing was overheard by music manager Harry Bee, whom happened to be passing by Berlin’s apartment; Kenmore Square, when in the 70s and 80s The Rath Skellar, nicknamed “The Rat,” was the musical mecca of Massachusetts; interviews with the likes of Dave Minehan, frontman of Boston band The Neighborhoods, and former band member Karla DeVito, who toured with Meatloaf after leaving Berlin’s second band, Orchestra Luna II; to New York City, where Rick’s early bands tore up CBGB’s. It was also in the city where Berlin’s first band, Orchestra Luna, played at Frank Zappa’s 10th Anniversary Party, rubbing shoulders with Patti Smith, James Taylor, Carly Simon and Patti LaBelle.
After a tumultuous journey in the music business, Berlin is where he feels most at home: Jamaica Plain. Rick is not a man at the end of his career, but feels like he is beginning again. After combining forces with The Nickel and Dime Band in 2010 — formerly only a live karaoke band — they have just released their first official album, Always On Insane. The band’s diversity reflects Berlin’s career; their ages span 46 years, from Rick’s 21-year old nephew Sam Dudley, to 67-year old Berlin.
With a combined 1,1110 tweets, 60 Tumblr posts, 24 blog posts, radio piece and mini-documentary, I wrapped up my Rick Berlin project in May. But his music and stories have captured me. Through exploring his stories, I have shared some of mine. I still attend gigs, and retweet or reblog his latest news. We have become friends.
Berlin has this effect on people. Minehan, a producer on previous albums and still a good friend of Rick’s, summed it up best when he talked about Berlin’s place in Boston music.
“He is sage-like in his wisdom. I think age brings that. He’ll hate to hear that age thing, but he’s a wise man. He’s seen a lot. Whenever he speaks, I listen,” said Minehan, adding, “If Rick is a statesman in our backyard, it’s really important to led your ear and take credence. He’s a wealth and a gem.”
To view a short, mini-doc on Rick Berlin, click on the video below: