Tommy James and His Ripples Of Influence
Tommy James and His Ripples Of Influence
The ripples of influence expand from forever into forever as our time alive is defined by the impression we leave behind on those we’ve interacted with. Musical artists are familiar with this interactive relationship as they produce music to be listened to and digested. However, very few musicians can create something long standing enough to keep this conversation of consumption spanning decades. Tommy James is one of these forever musicians.
En route to Detroit, I realized I was entering the Midwest as I began hearing conversations about “the game.” Excitement finally struck me as I pulled up to the Royal Oak Music Hall and noticed history’s echoing presence, both in the venue’s architectural structure and via the musician currently standing on stage strumming very familiar notes during his sound check; Tommy James. I entered with overexcitement and briefly introduced myself before I began snapping pictures. Wow, what a privilege to see a genius at work before he presents. Witnessing Tommy James and the Shondells in their process of perfection was unlike anything I’d experienced before. Even after 50 years of making quite the mark in the music industry, Tommy James and the Shondells continue to find something new in their works, which is what makes them eternal.
Enjoying a piece of music is an exchange of implication and inference where meaning is extracted while a song is listened to. Tommy James has had his hits played more than 21 million times on the air. From 23 gold singles, 100 million records sold world-wide, and 9 platinum albums, Tommy is always in conversation with millions of people. What truly sets Tommy James apart is that his music is forever changing and musically malleable as it lends itself to dialogue with other beacons of influence. From Billy Idol, Dolly Parton, Prince, Kelly Clarkson, RM, Cher, Tiffany, Tom Jones and over 200 more, Tommy James’ ability to create music that has been covered various times and in various styles makes him an incredibly interactive artist. From conceptualization to execution, a work is called complete when a piece is left alone and still. Pieces that are intergenerational, and consequently never ending, never finish their formation as they are brought into new meanings where they are delivered to new perspectives. “When you’re creating something new one of the toughest decisions is to decide when it’s finished,” said Tommy as we discussed his ripples of influence and his new versions of his classic hits. With over 32 Billboard Hot 100 Chart Hits, it’s hard to imagine that even once distributed a piece can be reformed. Tommy James and the Shondells’ music has been featured in 65 films, 53 TV shows and numerous commercials, which means these works are never fully complete. Backstage, I was able to talk to Tommy about his immense power to influence and shape the present landscape of music.
Tommy, when speaking of the amount of times he’s been covered, said “I look out at our concert crowd now and I literally see three generations of people. They may not necessarily know each other, but they know the music.” Tommy’s music is in constant conversation with the ever-expanding lake of time in which his splash has created ripples that will rock generations. Being able to experience “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mony Mony ” live felt almost hallucinatory because of how intangibly legendary these hits are. In Walter Benjamin’s essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he writes that the aura of an original work is lost with every reproduction. Conversely, Tommy James’ live performances seem all the more monolithic due his recorded tracks’ universal presence and never-ending reproducibility. When one hears music of this iconic magnitude it is like witnessing Davinci’s Last Supper; every other time you’ve seen it flashes back to make you feel its severe significance. Tommy James’ music has this effect because it is interactive and constantly forming itself into higher understandings. Even during the show, Tommy James continued the sonic conversation with himself by reinterpreting his own music. “I Think We’re Alone Now” was played twice; once as we remember it and once as it will additionally be remembered. In this new version, Tommy James has reimagined “I Think We’re Alone Now” for a new film based on his autobiography, “Me, The Mob and The Music.” The film is being produced by Barbara DeFina, the producer of Goodfellas, Casino and Cape Fear. This upcoming project is a true testament to Tommy James’ ability to still create new work that resonates.
During this show at the Royal Oak, the crowd rode a musical rise tied with a raise of excitement until its end. It was rather immaculately impressive to see so many ages move along with Tommy James and his band. I was just another fan. Another member of their multigenerational family. Their presence and inarguable popularity now is a testament to their power back then and their impact to come.
To hear Tommy James bring new music into the landscape of forever please listen to his Sirius XM radio show called, “GETTIN’ TOGETHER WITH TOMMY JAMES.” It plays on channel 73, which is the “60s Gold” channel from Sundays 5-8pm est.
(Article and Photos by Chris Vinan – Photo Editing by Panayotis Fillipis)
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