I was in high school, and my friends and I all went up to the Troubadour in Los Angeles to listen to Don McLean (you know, the 'American Pie' guy) and we were hit in the face by material too strong to ignore, by performances too good to forget. By the next week we all had copies of this record (I have mine to this day) and I think we all still listen to it.
Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly Killing Me Softly is actually ABOUT hearing McLean play at that very same club. We are priveliged to swim in the waters of greatness. Today we had better stick to the record at hand.
HOMELESS BROTHER IS A MASTERPIECE. GREAT songwriting, like 'The Legend of Andrew McGrew' The story of a one legged hobo who lost his other leg hopping a freight and got mummified and sold to a carnival where he toured for the next fifty years. Here's the introduction and first verse:
There was a mummy at the fair,
All crumpled in a folding chair,
The People Passed, but didn't care,
That the mummy was a man,
So tell us, if you can,
Who are you? Who are you?
Where have you been?
Where are you going to?
Well Andrew McGrew must have lost his way,
Cause though he died long ago he was buried today.
Down on nightmare alley, where the shady people sway,
A hobo went a hiking, on a salty summer day
Well he hopped a freight in Dallas,
And he rode it out of sight,
But on a turn he slipped and he lost his grip, and he fell into the night.
It goes on. This is actually a true story, gotten very wrong. A small time crook named Elmer McCurdy was shot and killed robbing a Texas train in 1911, mummified and sold to a carnival (thence changing hands several times) and ending up in a dark ride at the Long Beach Pike where he was finally discovered and buried in the mid 1980's. Life is strange. But McLean's version is so compelling, so vivid and well imagined, that I simply cannot imagine that it isn't true.
Other wonders abound. Homeless Brother contains one of those lines that songwriters dream of writing, as follows:
The ghosts of highway royalty have vanished in the night,
The Whitman wanderer walking to a growing inner light,
The children have grown older and the cops have gripped us tight,
There's no spot round the melting pot for free men in their flight
On top of that, the music is stunningly beautiful. Don's voice is in the top of his form, his guitar is sure footed and artful. This album is a high water mark in american folk, like blood on the tracks, or moving.
And there are a couple of cover versions to really bring it home. Crying in the Chapel is covered with the amazing Persuasions Street Corner Symphony and finally a banjo version of 'Sail Away Raymond' by George Harrison.
I didn't mention so much that's on this record, and yet here it sits, almost forgotten. Laugh along, Sing along, Cry along--this is the good stuff. Take my word for it.