Bloomfield heads West for Library gig – Essex News Daily

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Marc Berger, with the group Ride, performs this past Saturday, May 21 at the Little Theater at the Bloomfield Public Library.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — “I don’t see any library staff, so we’re going to go, you know, with the show.”

Thus began a tour of the American West through songs written by former Bloomfield resident Marc Berger, who sang and played acoustic guitar and harmonica, backed by his three-piece band Ride. The hour-long concert, presented Saturday, May 21 at the Bloomfield Children’s Library Little Theater, was the Bloomfield Public Library’s latest monthly theatrical offering.

Berger’s first number was bedrock western, a song about trains and the end of the line. “Nobody Gonna Ride on the Railroad” begins hauntingly, a few lonely notes played by Berger then Marc Shulman on electric guitar, followed by Deni Bonet on violin. A standing bass was played by Jeff Eyrich. The solitary phrasing gave a sense of earthly space and loss: “Say a prayer for every soul on the line / No one rides / On the train that made this great land mine.”

The second song, “Take It On the Chin”, feels at home in a saloon.

“The next song is about a cowboy who thinks he’s got it all figured out until he meets a horse and he can’t figure out how to stay on top of it,” Berger said.

This song pits a man against a wild, unmanageable horse, with some deeper metaphors. Again, the music starts out simple, with Berger strumming and Shulman providing a catchy, beautiful vibrato, his body and guitar shaking.

“And you can feel it in your chest / When she backs up and kicks / You’re dying to own her.”

Between songs, Berger’s speech was autobiographical and engaging.

“As you can tell by the first two songs, I’m from New York,” he said. “But I’m from New York and I took a trip out West. I was living in Bloomfield, NJ, on Franklin Street, about to start law school at Rutgers in Newark.

He and a friend decided to have a summer adventure. They had never camped before, but they bought a tent, got into a car and drove west.

“We didn’t know how big the whole thing was, he said. “Our point of reference was the Northeast.”

Upon his return, Berger began law school, but said his life had changed forever. All he wanted was to go back west. For the next five summers, while living in Manhattan, he would pick a destination out West and just drive.

“I lived on 23rd Street, a weirdo,” he said. “Out West was therapeutic. But those experiences that I had are no longer available, because I didn’t have a cell phone. Once in the car, I didn’t speak to anyone who recognized the sound of my voice or my face. This experience is no longer possible.

He said that after passing Chicago, travel became interesting along U.S. Route 2 because “the environment becomes closer to the car.” On one such trip, he visited Montana.

“These high plains of eastern Montana are Big Sky country,” he said. “And the plains begin to rise towards the Rocky Mountains and there are no more trees. … You can see the earth’s surface in all directions because of it.

Berger said he was driving and had not seen another vehicle for two hours. In all directions he could see for hundreds of miles. He stopped the car, got out and started screaming at the top of his voice. It was then, he says, that he realized this experience would be with him for the rest of his life.

To capture that sense of freedom he felt, the band played “Montana.”

“I don’t know my mama, I don’t know my father / I don’t know my name or my birthplace / But when I took a look at the land of the Big Sky / I knew that I had a home on this earth.”

Berger said living in Manhattan made him think everything was hugely important. But in the West, he realized he was this little thing and nothing was important.

“I loved that feeling,” he said.

But misfortune, as expressed in “Time Waits For No Man”, is the flip side of that freedom when a woman sends a man to buy booze just to steal his van.

Berger began writing songs while in law school, eventually taking some to a publisher. To his surprise, he signed a contract and never practiced law a day in his life. His song, “The Last One”, was covered by Richie Havens. Berger’s album, “Ride”, is available on Spotify.

Corina C. Butler