Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Power of a Song

I woke up at 3:30 am, and the words just started pouring out. I scrambled to find something to write on. It was 1990, and the big news in Burlington, Vermont was the proposed Pyramid Mall to be built in nearby Williston. Burlington had a fragile but promising retail economy at the time, and this proposed mall full of chain stores was sure to kill it dead. My subconscious must have been churning about this for days because I wrote all the verses in one five-minute blast. Then I went back to bed.

I'd been working on some music projects with my friend Mark Ransom, and I showed the lyrics to him. He came back two days later with a melody and a great chorus. We assembled a studio band to record it, with Robert Crenshaw (Marshall's brother) singing the lead. I sent of copy of the master tape down to WIZN, the major rock station in the area, and to our surprise they put the song in high rotation, playing it nearly every hour.

Jerry Greenfield (of Ben & Jerry's) heard the song on his radio and tracked me down. “We should make a music video,” Jerry said. He’d been a supporter of Citizens for Responsible Growth, a group trying to stop the mall. It’s a nice idea, I replied, but video production can be quite expensive. Jerry told me he’d get back to me.

He did get back to me a few days later. He had a video production company, a director from New York, actors, lighting, everything. All for free. That’s how important this issue was to the community.

The Back to the Pyramids music video played on the local public access TV channel multiple times a day. Copies were also made available, for free, in all the local video rental stores. Instead of copyrighting the video, we encouraged the public to share it.

Finally, the mall project got rejected by state planners. The Syracuse-based Pyramid Company had never seen anything like this. It was a terrific victory for locally owned retail businesses.

Months later, at the annual Vermont Ad Club awards banquet, the Back to the Pyramids music video took the top prize of the evening. It was a sweet moment.
Back to the Pyramids (1990, Burlington, Vermont)

Lyrics by Todd R. Lockwood

Music by Mark Ransom

Performed by The Sold Americans

Robert Crenshaw, lead vocalist and drums
Mark Ransom, bass guitar and vocals
Bill Mullins, guitar
Douglas Jaffe, keyboard

Video directed by Allan Nicholls

Produced by Todd R. Lockwood, Stephen Murphy and Jerry Greenfield with help from Citizens for Responsible Growth

Music recording by White Crow Audio

Produced and Engineered by Todd R. Lockwood

Video Production by Lake Champlain Productions

Camera: Stephen Murphy
Editor: Marianne Eaton