$50, 7 p.m., July 29. StageOne, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield, fairfieldtheatre.org
The world knows Harvard University for producing success stories through certain means: a picky selection process, a stringent sense of intellectualism, a large endowment fund. But with Tom Rush, the iconic institution has an anomaly, as he, to some degree, owes his current career to Harvard's incompetence.
Back when the singer-songwriter and '63 graduate enrolled, he aimed to become a marine biologist. Circumstances quickly squashed that pursuit. "The introductory biology class at Harvard was such an atrocity. They shut it down the year after I took it. They finally admitted that it was stupid and pointless and unnecessarily difficult, but it really killed all the enthusiasm I had for biology in the course of one semester, and then I didn't know what to do, so I kind of picked English lit out of a hat," Rush says. Even though this replacement field should have been more useful for a future professional lyricist, he doesn't necessarily agree with that thinking. "English lit, if anything, has been an impediment because it gives you all this incredible writing to compare your measly work with, and it can be very discouraging to try to write something with Yeats and Shakespeare looking over your shoulder."
No matter — the quick-witted, Vermont-based 70-something has still managed to carve and retain a satisfactory niche. Since starting in 1961, the musician has produced a discography of 22 releases, spanning from the '62 live album Tom Rush at the Unicorn to 2009's What I Know. His style values a classic kind of simplicity where an acoustic guitar's placid strum rules as king while his clean, pleasant voice plays duke. Rush's rendition of Steven Walters' "The Remember Song" exemplifies this aesthetic. The track, whose lyrics consist of little jokes about not knowing where things are, explores the gloomy subject of memory loss, but Rush treats the whole thing with a steady, light hand, allowing the result to come off as comforting, bland and clever all at once. A clip of him performing "Remember" that went up in March 2007 has proven to be a hit on YouTube, now sitting on the cusp of six million views. While the extra exposure hasn't led to any significant growth in his CD or ticket sales, Rush does appreciate that it reminds those outside his dedicated audience that he's still active.
Rush's rise happened during a pivotal period for American folk. You have to look no further than The Circle Game for proof, as his 1968 record covered Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne back when they were obscurities. Rush never attained the name value of those contemporaries, but he isn't the type to seriously dwell on hypotheticals or why-nots — not for his life as a marine biologist and certainly not for his level of fame. "There's definitely a downside to the kind of fame that some of my friends have achieved. They can't go to the movies [or] the supermarket because people bother them, so I'm not spending a lot of time wondering about why this happened or that happened," he says. "In this business, there's a huge element of chance involved — being in the right place at the right time. At the same time, I think you make your own luck by being out there keeping hooks in the water all the time. But I don't have the answer. It may just be simply that what I was doing didn't click with a wide segment of the public. I have a very nice fan base that I appreciate a whole lot, and I'm not disappointed in anything."