Some might think that popular music is the domain of the young. Well, 67-year-old Van Dyke Parks is a walking refutation to anyone holding this misconception. The man has American popular music running through his veins, and a resume that rivals any musician past or present. Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1943, Parks has dotted the American pop culture map, both behind the scenes and in the forefront, ranging from a recurring role on The Honeymooners to producing, arranging and playing on albums for everyone from The Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen, U2, Randy Newman and many, many others.
Parks has also released several albums of his own: seven LP’s that span the last four decades of the twentieth century. One review of his first album Song Cycle (1968) described Park's music as
an audacious and occasionally brilliant attempt to mount a fully orchestrated, classically minded work within the context of contemporary pop...which attempts to embrace the breadth of American popular music; bluegrass, ragtime, show tunes—nothing escapes Parks' radar, and the sheer eclecticism and individualism of his work is remarkable.
Though his first album was released in the 1960s, Parks’ hand in popular music has not flagged in the new millennium. In 2006, he served as arranger for Joanna Newsom's ornate opus Ys; he played on the late Vic Chesnutt's album Ghetto Bells in 2005; and besides working on many other musicians’ albums he has also toured with Vic Chesnutt and Clare and the Reasons. What keeps Parks’ popular music blood pumping and hands composing seems to be his faith in the power of the arts. He says, “I want to illuminate, and I want to excite, and agitate young people—especially musicians. The answers are in the arts.”