Livingston Taylor at Old Whaling Church


Based on listening to his music and a very few conversations, I’ve always regarded Livingston Taylor as an arresting, lyrical, and often ethereal being.

As a result, I took note several years ago of a story told to me by one of Mr. Taylor’s former students at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “What is the most important thing you can do to prepare for a gig?” he reportedly asked his class. Answer: get directions.

He also suggested that putting gas in your car and making sure the spare tire is inflated are good ideas, the student told me.

As an almost-Islander, Mr. Taylor will have no trouble finding his way the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown this weekend for concerts this Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30, at 8 pm.

What we’ve come to learn about the man from his music is that he is comfortable with the texture of life and that his songs articulate the weaves and warps well. Now comes Mr. Taylor, the author of “Stage Performance,” a 134-page reprise primer for performance artist newbies.

Turns out this graceful, straightforward little text works just fine for the rest of us. It’s time-tested material from a man who describes his own early performing career as “grim.” The work has formed the basis for his 20-year best-selling class at Berklee, wherein he describes what’s what in show biz and how to handle it. It is extremely well-written: droll, understated, funny, wise. “Stage Performance,” from Mentor Books in Boston, is $17 online.

The cover lines of the book, “Stay lean and simple,” and “Tell the story,” explain its contents. Reading them brings the thought that this book is more about how to live fruitfully as it is to capture a wildly “successful” life.

Rolling Stone has written scores of wonderful obituaries about people who died unexpectedly in the midst of wildly successful lives. The difference between stars and the rest of us, I’m getting from his perspective, is that we don’t have paeans written about us when we burst into flames. So there’s a lot in the book about how to behave using a moral compass to guide relationships and accept life as it is.

For example, he talks about giving back $750 of his $4,000 guarantee for a gig at which attendance was crippled by a blizzard. Didn’t have to, did it anyway. On the other hand, he mentions a gig in Palm Beach that wildly oversold the expectations on which the deal was negotiated. He asked for more money after his performance. The promoter refused. A deal was a deal. They didn’t have to, and they didn’t.

“I was extremely disappointed,” he notes in “Stage Performance,” but he lets us conclude who won and who lost. The blizzard gig was a win-win, Palm Beach not so much, but what goes around, comes around, was my take.

Mr. Taylor uses the classic Socratic Q and A method, using classroom examples to push discussion in the book. Warning: the reader may run the risk of wanting to be smarter than the imagined 20-year old with green hair and metal attachments on his or her face.

It’s a healthy, funny book about relationships, responsibility, and doing your best with what you’ve got.

Hmm. That’s exactly how Livingston Taylor shows up in person. Imagine that.

Livingston Taylor in Concert, Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30, 8 pm, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. $20; $40 premium tickets include a meet and greet with Mr. Taylor.