Today, one of my neighbors was walking up the steps toward the Metro playing a banjo. I heard it first and looked out the window. When I saw him, I opened the sash and gave him a shout. We laughed about a banjo being hard to ignore and he said he was “taking it to the streets.” Last summer he played it up on the plaza between some office buildings and it was always nice to hear. I’ve been reflective lately, trolling through my music, old and new.
It’s made me check in on people I hadn’t played for a while to see if they have something new out or a tour planned. I’m surprised how many of the artists whose music I’ve loved are dead. Some recently so, like John Prine. When I first heard of his passing I thought how hard that would be for his family, and then I thought, “I hope Steve Goodman met him at the pearly gates and they’re jamming now.”
I came to John Prine’s music through Steve Goodman. They were buddies in Chicago folk clubs and wrote songs together as well as sang together. Goodman wrote The City of New Orleans, which Arlo Guthrie recorded, Banana Republics, which Jimmy Buffet recorded, and a boatload of other songs, including Go Cubs, Go (his family gave the rights to that to the Chicago Cubs) and The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request among a lot of others. He was a small-statured bundle of energy on stage and apparently in the rest of his life as well. In this clip, he sings Banana Republics and The 20th Century is Almost Over. That crazy bouncing and dancing in the second song is typical of his concert enthusiasm, and for some reason the song seems oddly topical and contemporary. He and Prine also sang together fairly often, as in this rendition of Prine’s Souvenirs.
So without Goodman, I might not have learned of Prine so early. One of the first of his songs I heard, Paradise, was about strip mining and became an anthem of protests against its effects. His songs could be lovely and lyrical or unvarnished and true. Mostly they were stories that pointed to some truth–like Hello in There, recorded by quite a few people–Bette Midler and Joan Baez among them–about an elderly couple with a history. There was Sam Stone, about a soldier come back from war with a heroin habit, and Angel from Montgomery, recorded by Bonnie Raitt, about a woman worn down by life. He said once in an interview that if you write a song and record it you’d better like it because if it’s a hit, “you’ll be singing it the rest of your life.”
There is a lot of joy and fun in his songs, as in The Glory of True Love and Lonesome Friends of Science. Two of my favorites are The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, recorded by Nanci Griffith, among others, and Summer’s End off his 2018 album, Tree of Forgiveness. What a lovely album that last one is.
I listen to a lot of music and like most of it, from classical to jazz to blues to rock to punk and new wave, and have dipped my ear into rap. There is something about singer-songwriters though, that draws me. I do like the way country music and blues and bluegrass rolled into the potent tidal wave of rock and roll and continue to change. So I guess this is part of my Covid Coping. I’ve seen that hashtag on Twitter and for me, a little music, a little walking in nature, a little gardening, a little baking, and a few friends are keeping me sane, for the most part. Have a lovely week.