By Murray Schneider
Lori B. peered from Bird and Beckett’s stage on September 11th, looking a lot like Raggedy Ann. Dressed in a patch-worked-quilt of jerry rigged-patterned layers of squares and polka dots, she ran several fingers through a mop of red hair, which looked as if it were coiffed while fleeing a hurricane.
Not surprising since Lori B. was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel, one of the most destructive storms to ever hit North America.
Before she began her first set, she glided across the stage apron, taking sound checks, tuning her parlor guitar, and bantering with her audience.
“This is really not a show,” she said. “I’m just practicing in a bookstore.”
She transitioned into the title cut from her first CD:
“I was born on a tailwind of a hurricane…
….they say I began on an October rain…
…my mama said the winds made me wild…
… but she thanked the Lord for her hurricane child.”
She’d only come a short distance to Glen Park from Bernal Heights, where she’s lived since 1993, to perform her original songs, as part of owner Eric Whittington’s autumnal Sunday afternoon, “Which Way West” concert series.
Her repertoire is more suited to singer-songwriters, say, Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen, two legends she admires, than Eric Whittington’s eclectic Sunday afternoon potpourri of culturally rooted music, which emanates from North Africa, the Middle East and even American Appalachia.
Nevertheless, Whittington, who isn’t rooted to any particular genre, always leaves the dance with the person who brought him.
“She’s neighborhood folk,” said Whittington. “Why wouldn’t we include her?”
Lori B. revealed she’d been patronizing Bird and Beckett for only a year and has become a habitué of Glen Park’s new Farmer’s Market. “Eric’s a lovely person,” she said. “and Bird and Beckett reminds people that small is beautiful and does what corporations can’t do.”
Strolling across the stage with insouciant nonchalance, she smoothed her skirt, a whimsical homage to a simpler and gentler time. “I dress in a mismatched way,” she said. “My songs have the same unpredictability.”
Her songs are unique and audience of some 50 friends and fans enjoyed them. “If I’m lucky,” said Lori B., “I’m telling stories we can all share.”
Many of her lyrics have a childlike resonance, a connection to an innocent part of our natures that have yet to become stilted. Her repertoire can be found on two CDs, “Hurricane Child,” and “Shadows of Love.” Two of her musical instruments, a delicate a toy piano and a diminutive acoustic guitar designed especially for women, did nothing to dispel her Peter Pan persona. Each instrument complemented her lyrical tales, which spoke, as much as anything, to a human need to seek and inquire.
After earning her university degree, she traveled with a college friend and they crossed the country for three years, trucking furniture along Interstates in an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. She tried her hand at newspaper writing, even the film business where she performed production and post-production work for 10 years. “I could never find community in Hollywood,” she said. “I’m always writing about people coming and going, about what’s out there and what home is.”
“Lori’s songs are spare and poetic,” said Eric Whittington, “and they’ll remind you of what it like to be human.”
“Lori breaks the mold,” agreed Susan Hoffman, a Bernal Heights neighbor and Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “There’s something freeing and exploratory about her music.”
“I’m writing about people finding themselves,” Lori B. said.
No one less than David Crosby, who had heard her open for David Lindley at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, came to a similar conclusion. “Lori B will whisper to your heart and will tell the truth,” he said.
Lori Bloustein was born in Ithaca, New York in 1954. Her father completed his teaching career as president of Rutgers University and her mother, a physician, practiced medicine. After high school, a Vermont hippie sort of school she admits, Lori attended NYU for two years and then North Carolina University in Chapel Hill, where she earned a BA in anthropology.
Even now she loves reading and she conducted her Sunday bookstore gig a little like a college Socratic seminar, segueing from one song to another by asking those assembled if they had any questions. A young man, standing along side Whittington’s non-fiction collection, took her at her word and asked, “Which books do you like?”
“Look Homeward Angel” and “Moby Dick,” she answered, two novels that have not a little to do with what’s out there and what home is. Pausing a moment, she surveyed the audience. “Think about taking a book home,” she said, tongue firmly placed in cheek. “Remember to pay for it, though.”
Behind his counter, bookseller Eric Whittington smiled.
At Columbia University, Lori B. earned an MSW in social work, parlaying this knowledge into eventually becoming a therapist, a coach and healer she labels herself, using kinesthic mind-body therapy and contact improvisation to assist clients. “There’s a warm feeling in the room,” she said.
That’s Bird and Beckett, where a balladeer’s songs can take wing and a book lover’s license to browse is always renewed.
“Thank God for independent bookstores,” said Brian Murphy, president of DeAnza College, who’d accompanied Susan Hoffman from their Cortland Avenue neighborhood.
“I love the intimacy of bookstores,” Lori B. said, “and I adore language and being able to read someone’s recycled books.” And purchase a new one, as well.
Or listen to Lori B, whom Eric Whittington books and temporarily shelves between his travel and cooking sections, hit her high notes because she can sing up a storm, sort of like a hurricane child.