Wesley Stace

by Carole Verona

A version of the following article appeared last year before Stace played the July 13 show at Pastorius Park.T

You may have run into singer/songwriter/novelist Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) at Hideaway Music, Weaver’s Way, Kilian’s Hardware, Palladio Custom Frames or the Top of the Hill Farmers Market – a few of his favorite Chestnut Hill haunts. But for the first time ever, you’ll have an opportunity to see him perform at Pastorius Park at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 14.

Pastorius Park is at the corner of Millman Street and Hartwell Lane. If it rains, the show will move to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee Street. The free Pastorius Park Summer Concert Series is produced by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and is supported by the Chestnut Hill Community Fund and Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Stace, born in Hastings, East Sussex, England, has lived in the United States since 1991. He moved to Mt. Airy seven years ago with his wife, Abbey, an artist, and their children Tilda, 10, and Wyn, 7, both students at Germantown Friends School. Abbey grew up in this area and also attended Germantown Friends.

An internationally renowned musician, Stace performed with Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Roseanne Cash, to name a few. He released 17 albums under the name John Wesley Harding and reverted back to his given name in 2013 when he released his most recent album, “Self-Titled.” Look for a new album, recorded in Minneapolis with the Jayhawks, in February 2017. Stace is also the author of four critically acclaimed novels.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Stace explained that he adopted the name John Wesley Harding, taken from the title of a Bob Dylan album, because he needed a name to hide behind in case his music career tanked. For the album “Self Titled,” he wrote autobiographical or what he called “confessional songs” in which he referred to himself as Wesley Stace. “It seemed ridiculous to be Wesley Stace, call myself Wesley Stace, refer to myself in the songs as Wesley Stace and release the album under John Wesley Harding. So, that was decided. My move toward the personal might as well include a move away from the “persona,” he wrote.

What will you hear Stace sing at Pastorius Park? He said that many fans – some of them going back to the late 1980s – request the funny or satirical songs he’s done, such as “When The Beatles Hit America” about the Beatles getting together or more recently “Jason Bourne, The Outlaw,” about the protagonist of a series of novels by Robert Ludlum. People also want to hear “I’m Wrong About Everything” from the movie “High Fidelity”; “The Devil in Me,” an early song that was also his first video on MTV, and “The Person You Are,” which he said is his most successful song.

“Overall, I think people are generally happy with what I want to present,” he said.

Stace credits the secret to his longevity in the music business to lack of success.

“I never had that big hit song that I had to live up to,” he said. “There are no bad videos of me with bad hair playing it on TV. I never had to make the great compromises that come with success. I’ve only had to deal with following the path that I wanted to follow.

“I’ve always been able to do exactly what I wanted with very little audience expectation. The people who like me know what they like about me and they know I keep delivering it. Perhaps some of the things I do are a little too traditional, too folky for some people or a little too rock and roll for others.

“The traditional folk people never accepted me wholeheartedly, and probably rightly so. And I’m not really rock star material. So I’ve fallen into a singer/songwritery kind of world somewhere. Stace also does a lot of teaching, which he loves because it gives him the opportunity to tie it all together and “bring all that knowledge of having done it for ages.” He taught at Swarthmore College, Princeton University and Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“I always tell my students, ‘All you can really offer the world is the best you that you can be.’”

Are his kids aware of his rock star status?

“We went to the Jayhawks the other night and I took my daughter,” he said. “I played a couple of songs with the Jayhawks and it was really fun. As I walked through the crowd at the end, a lot of people were coming up as they do and saying ‘hey man, good show’ and that kind of thing. Tilda had my hand in hers and said, I really like being here with you, dad, and everyone knowing that I’m your daughter.’ She was proud and that was a lovely feeling for me,” he concluded.

More information is available at wesleystace.com. Stay tuned to the Chestnut Hill Local for previews of each upcoming band or go to chestnuthill.org for more information about the Pastorius Park Summer Concert Series.