Saturday, August 22, 2020

Yeah, Put Out That Fire In Your Head-With Patti Griffin’s Song Of The Same Name In Mind

Yeah, Put Out That Fire In Your Head-With Patti Griffin’s Song Of The Same Name In Mind   

By Fritz Taylor 
[Sam Lowell and I have known each other for a long time, since a time back in the 1970s when our paths met at an anti-war veterans’ conference in New York (a conference which would wind up setting up a Vietnam Veterans Against the War [VVAW] chapter in his hometown area in Boston and mine in my hometown Atlanta, Georgia area. We would see each in places we were protesting one or another egregious acts of the American government, the American military against some poor benighted country that got caught in the cross-hairs of some fool president. Later, after the ebb tide of the anti-war, the Vietnam anti-war had happened we connected in other ways via our veteran connection and I would, at his request, write something veteran-related that he could not put a handle on. Something that Allan Jackson, who was the editor then when this publication was in hard-copy form, would accept and for when I needed some ready cash.
The subject matter of this piece, Sam’s not being at peace with himself is done with his permission since it is such a personal and emotional matter. None of us men from the Vietnam era, soldier or civilian, political activist or not, have been as forthcoming as the younger men who have come after us, our children and now grandchildren (I dare not say great-grandchildren but I know some of us ae in that category). We were all about change and seeking a newer world as a guy named Markin, also a vet, who didn’t make it through used to say but we were more like our World War II fathers when it came to speaking of personal matters. A shame. This piece while not a breakthrough since we have been mulling things over the past few years, is a big step for Sam and me, Sam to narrate and me to write about such matters.
The conversations we had around putting this piece together actually happened a couple of years ago just after, as will be noted below, his long-time companion, Laura Perkins, not wife, for he had had three of those and they both agreed they were better off just living together since she had been married twice had left their house (Sam had made us laugh one time when he mentioned that it was cheaper too between alimony and child support). This piece was, is something of a therapy session for Sam’s angst at Laura’s leaving and his inability to put out the fire in his head. We decided to put it aside for a while until it made sense to publish the results of those conversations. Better Sam and Laura have been talking again since both recognized that the bonds between them were very strong and they both, frankly, my frankly, missed each other’s company. Sam is really sending Laura a bouquet on this one.  And I am glad to play the florist. Fritz Taylor]       
Sam Lowell was, is a queer duck, an odd-ball kind of guy who couldn’t stop keeping his head from exploding with about seventeen ideas at once and the determination to do all seventeen come hell or high water. And not seventeen things like mowing the lawn or taking out the rubbish but what he called “projects” which in Sam’s case meant political projects and writings and other things along that line. Yeah, couldn’t put out “the fire in his head” the way he told it to his long-time companion, Laura Perkins, one night at supper after she had confronted him with her observation, and not for the first time, that he was getting more irritable, was more often short with her of late, had seemed distant, had seemed to be drifting into some bad place, a place where he was not at peace with himself. That not “at peace” with himself an expression that Laura had coined that night to express the way that she saw his current demeanor. That would be the expression he would use in his group therapy group to describe his condition when they met later that week. Would almost shout out the words in despair when the moderator-psychologist asked him pointedly whether he felt at peace with himself at that moment and he pointed responded immediately that he was not. Maybe it was at that point, more probably though that night when Laura confronted him with his own mirror-self that told Sam his was one troubled man.  
Yea, it was that seventeen things in order and full steam ahead that got him in trouble on more than on occasion. The need to do so the real villain of the piece. See Sam had just turned seventy and so he should have been trying to slow down, slow down enough to not try to keep doing those seventeen things like he had when he was twenty or thirty but no he was not organically capable of doing so, at least until the other shoe dropped. Dropped hard.      
It was that “other shoe” dropping that made him take stock of his situation, although it had been too little too late. One afternoon a few days after that stormy group therapy session he laid down on his bed to just think through what was driving him to distraction, driving that fury inside him that would not let him be, as he tried to put on the fire in his head. That laying down itself might have been its own breakthrough since he had expected, had fiercely desired to finish up an article that he was writing on behalf a peace walk that was to take place shortly up in Maine, a walk that was dedicated to stopping the wars, mostly of the military-type but also of environmental degradation against Mother Nature. 
Sam, not normally introspective about his past, about the events growing up that had formed him, events that had as he had told Laura on more than one occasion almost destroyed him. So that was where he started, started to try to find out why he could not relax, had to be “doing and making” as Laura called it under happier circumstances, had to be fueling that fire in his head. Realized that afternoon that as kid in order to survive he had learned at a very young age that in order to placate (and avoid) his overweening mother he had to keep his own counsel, had to go deep inside his head to find solace from the storms around his house. For years he had thought the driving force was because he was a middle child and thus had to fend for himself while his parents (and grandparents) doted on respectively his younger and older brothers. But no it had been deeper than that, had been driven by feelings of inadequacy before his mother’s onslaught against his fragile head.        
As Sam traced how at three score and ten he could point to various incidents that had driven him on, had almost made him organically incapable of not ever having an active brain, of going off to some dark places where the devils would not let him relax, that kept him going around and around he realized that he was not able to relax on his own, would need something greater than himself if he was to unwind. Laura had emphatically told him that he would have to take that journey on his own, would have to settle himself down if he was to gain any peace in his whole damn world. Sam suddenly noticed after Laura had expressed her opinion that she had always been the picture of calm, had been his rock when he was in his furies. Funny he had always underestimated, always undervalued that calmness, that solid rock. He, in frustration, at his own situation asked Laura how she had maintained the calm that seemed to follow her around her world.         
Laura, after stating that she too had her inner demons, had to struggle with the same kind of demons that Sam had faced as a child and that she still had difficulties maintaining an inner calm, told Sam that her daily Buddha-like meditations had carried her to a better place. Sam was shocked at her answer. He had always known that Laura was drawn to the spiritual trends around their milieu, the “New Age stuff” he called her interest since it seemed that she had taken tidbits from every new way to salvation outside of formal religion (although she had had bouts with that as well discarding her Methodist high heavens Jehovah you are on your own in this wicked old world upbringing for the communal comfort of the Universalist-Unitarian brethren). He had respected her various attempts to survive in the world the best way she could but those roads were not for him, smacked too much of some new religion, some new road that he could not travel on. But he was also desperate to be at peace, a mantra that he was increasing using to describe his plight.    
Then Laura suggested that they attend a de-stress program that was being held at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston as part of what was billed as HUB-week, a week of medical, therapeutic, technological and social events and programs started by a number of well-known institutions in the Boston area like MGH, Harvard, MIT and others. Sam admitted to being clueless about what a de-stress program would be about and had never heard of a Doctor Benson who a million years before had written a best-selling book about the knot the West had put itself in trying to get ahead and offered mediation as a way out of the impasse. Sam was skeptical but agreed to go.
At the event which lasted about two hours various forms of meditative practice were offered including music and laughter yoga. Sam in his skeptical mind passed on those efforts. The one segment that drew his attention, the first segment headed by this Doctor Benson had been centered on a simple technique to reduce stress, to relax in fact was called the relax response. Best of all the Doctor had invited each member of the audience to sample his wares. Pick a word or short phrase to focus on, close your eyes, put your hands on your lap and consecrate, really try to concentrate, on that picked term for five minutes (the optimum is closer to ten plus minutes in an actual situation).          
Sam admitted candidly to Laura that while attempting fitfully focusing on one thing, in his case the phrase “at peace,” he had suffered many distractions but that he was very interested in pursuing the practice since he had actually felt that he was getting somewhere before time was called. Laura laughed at Sam’s response, so Sam-like expecting to master in five minutes a technique that she had spent years trying to pursue and had not been anywhere near totally focused yet. He asked her to help him to get started and they did until Sam felt he could do the procedure on his own.
We now have to get back to that “other shoe” dropping though. Although Sam had expressed his good intentions, had felt better after a while Laura had felt that he needed to go on his journey without her. She too now felt that she had to seek what she was looking for alone in this wicked world despite how long they had been together. So Laura called it quits, moved out of the house that she and Sam had lived in for years. Sam is alone on his journey now, committed to trying to find some peace inside despite his heartbreak over the loss of Laura. Every once in a while though in a non-meditative moment he curses that fire in his head. Yeah, he wished he could have put out that fire in his head long ago.       

The Magnificent Seven- Potshot-A Spenser Crime Novel by Robert B. Parker-A Review

The Magnificent Seven- Potshot-A Spenser Crime Novel by Robert B. Parker-A Review 

Book Review
By Sam Lowell
Potshot, Robert B. Parker, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2001 
Of late I have been on something of a Spenser crime detection novel run, you know those sagas of the Boston-based P.I. with the big burly  physique and the no nonsense grit and determination to see a case through to the end, the bitter end if necessary, written by the late Robert B. Parker. I started out several reviews of those books by explaining that most of the year when I review books I review high-toned literary masterpieces or squirrelly little historical books fit for the academy. I also said that come summer time you never know will turn up on your summer reading list and why. So blame this run on the summer heat if you must.  I confessed that like any other heated, roasted urban dweller I was looking for a little light reading to while away the summer doldrums. Then I went into genesis about how I wound up running the rack, or part of the rack, after all there were some forty Spenser books in the series before Parker passed away in 2010.  I will get to the review of his 2001 effort Potshot in a minute after I explain how I came to read yet another Parker crime novel for crying out loud.
See, as I have mentioned elsewhere of late in reviewing some of the other Parker-etched books every year when the doldrums come I automatically reach for a little classic crime detection from the max daddy masters of the genre Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett from my library to see the real deal, to see how the masters worked their magic, in order to spruce up (and parse, if possible) my own writing. This summer when I did so I noticed a book Poodle Spring by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker. This final Philip Marlowe series book was never finished by Chandler before he died in 1959. Parker finished it up in 1989.
Robert B. Parker, of course, had been a name known to me as the crime novel writer of the Spenser series of which I had read several of the earlier ones before moving on to others interests. That loss of interest centered on the increasingly formulistic way Parker packaged the Spenser character with his chalk board scratching to my mind repetition of his eating habits, his culinary likes and dislikes, his off-hand racial solidarity banter with his black compadre Hawk, his continually touting Spenser’s physical and mental “street cred” toughness and his so-called monogamous and almost teenage-like love affair with Susan. They collectively did not grow as characters but became stick figures serving increasingly less interesting plots.
Checking up on what Parker had subsequently written in the series to see if I had been rash in my judgment I noticed and grabbed another Chandler-Parker collaboration or sorts reviewed in this space previously  Perchance To Dream: Robert B. Parker’s Sequel To Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Since I was on a roll, was being guided by the ghost of Raymond Chandler maybe, I decided to check out Spenser again. And because we still have several weeks left of summer and crime novels have the virtue of not only being easy on the brain in the summer heat but quick reads I figured to play out my hand a little and read a few other Parker works. Now we are all caught up on genesis.

The Foibles Of The Mayfair Swells -The Film Adaptation Of Edith Warton’s The Age Of Innocence” (1934)-A Review

The Foibles Of The Mayfair Swells -The Film Adaptation Of Edith Warton’s The Age Of Innocence” (1934)-A Review

DVD Review

By Film Critic Sandy Salmon

The Age of Innocence, starring Irene Dunne, John Boles, based on Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name, 1934   

A couple of points before I dig into a short review of the film under review, the cinematic adaptation of Edith Wharton’s classic Mayfair swells novel The Age Of Innocence (or maybe New York Knickerbocker society is better as a way to designate the high society in Manhattan around the turn of the 20th century). Edith Wharton like expatriate Henry James certainly knew the ins and outs, the mores, morals, and custom of New York high society and could write reams about it. Also I thought that only we Irish neighborhood bred denizens (brought up by grandparents Dan and Anna Riley in my case) were not the only ones who had a taboo against “airing dirty linen in public” if a view of the film is any true indication of what was going on in those inner city mansions and brownstones.

That said this story line done in a flashback form in a conversation between a grandfather and his errant grandson centers on the potentially illicit romance between a married woman, the Countess, played by Irene Dunne and a love struck high society lawyer, Newland Archer, played by John Boles who nevertheless is engaged to a proper young high society prospect which will unite two families like glue upon consummation. The drama, or maybe better put, melodrama, is the built up to the final decision by the Countess, a woman who has left her husband and was in the throes of seeking a divorce, very taboo in gentile society, hell, maybe all society then once she warms up to Newland. The tensions among the engaged and then newly-wedded couple, Newland’s infatuation with the Countess and the high society matrons attempts to put a lid on the affair drive the film. In the end Newland stays with his wife and spent the rest of his life longing for the Countess.        

An Encore Presentation-“Searching For The American Songbook” With New Introductions By Allan Jackson-Smokestack Lightning, Indeed- With Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf In Mind

An Encore Presentation-“Searching For The American Songbook” With New Introductions By Allan Jackson-Smokestack Lightning, Indeed- With Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf In Mind

Allan Jackson Introduction

I have been around the publishing, editing, writing business a long time so I know when the dime drops it can drop for thee. Know first-hand having been the subject of a vote of no confidence by the younger writers at this publication aided and abetted by my long-time hometown high school friend Sam Lowell who cast the deciding vote for my ouster based on his notion that “the torch had to be passed.”  Naturally I was pissed off although maybe in the end Sam was half-right to do what he did. In any case that is politics in this cutthroat business and it comes with the territory. After the purge and my exile Sam sent out an olive branch to me in what he too called my “exile” and got me back here to do a plum job doing the Encore Introductions to the very successful and sweated out The Roots Are the Toots rock and roll series which I fathered and which I claim was the best job of editing, cajoling, whipping, nagging, etc. I ever did in my long career.
That assignment though whetted my appetite to do more encore introductions (although definitely not looking to get back the site manager’s job which fell to Greg Green whom I actually brought in to do the day to day operation which I was heartily sick of and who wound up with the whole ball of wax) and I was fortunate enough to get Sam, now head of the Editorial Board put in place after my exile to ensure that there would not be a return to “one man” rule, to get me an assignment doing the encore intros for the Sam and Ralph Stories about the improbable life-long friendship and political activism of two very different working-class guys who met on the “battlefields” of the struggle against the Vietnam War.
 Then, apparently, I pressed my luck when I asked to do the encore presentations for the Film Noir series which really was my baby despite the fact that Sam Lowell did all the heavy lifting and Zack James most of the best of the writings. I tussled with both Sam and Greg over this to no avail. Sam for obvious reasons wanted to do what he considered his baby and Greg because I don’t think he though it was a good idea for me to be continuing to work here even as a contributing editor. I proved to be wrong and I should have slapped my hand to my head when I thought about it in this damn cutthroat business. Sam pulled rank, pulled his chair of the Ed Board card and Greg fell down and payed homage to his request. As the next best thing in the universe today I got this highly regarded assignment which Si Lannon was supposed to do but begged off of having been ill for a while and passed off to me.

Of course Searching for the American Songbook, the idea behind it anyway was, is very far from the devotion that we of the Generation of ’68, those who came of age in the mid-1950s paid to rock and roll, now called the classic age of rock and roll, the age begat by Elvis. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and a ton of other talent that got us on our dancing feet. Frankly, as Sam mentioned in one of his introductions, we were rebelling, naturally rebelling looking back on the times, against our parents’ slogging through the Great Depression and World War II music from the likes of Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters heard wafting (Sam’s forever-etched in the brain word) through the early 1950s house on the family radio). Having now gone through a couple of generations of changes in musical taste, guess what, those latter generations have up and rebelled against our “old fogie” music. What age and experience has taught though is that the mystical mythical American Songbook is a very big tent, has plenty for everyone. Even that music from our parents’ generation that sounded so “square” has made a big “comeback” even if the emotional roller-coaster for a lot of us who used that musical uprising as a big step toward our own understandings of the world have never quite calmed down, the battle of the generations never quite settled at anything but an “armed truce.” (Truth to tell the passing on of that parental generation has left many of us with things that now can never be resolved.)          
Which brings us to the idea behind the idea. This series for the most part was Bart Webber’s “baby” since he was the first guy to “break-out” of the classic rock and roll music we lived and died for in the 1970s. No, that is not true, not true as many things are not true in dealing with events and personalities of guys from the old neighborhood, the old Acre section of North Adamsville. The driving force toward the big tent look at the American Songbook was done by one Peter Paul Markin, forever known as the Scribe, who was the first guy out of the blocks to make the connection between ancient blues and the roots of rock and roll. Was the first guy who caught the whiff of that “folk minute” from the early 1960s and dragged some of us in his wake. All Bart did was expand of those understandings to visit jazz, Cajun music, Zydeco, be-bop, and a host of other musical genre including those World War II pop hits that used to drive us crazy. Two things you need to know going forward-the sketches will be very eclectic as the big tent idea implies and the reason that Bart Webber was tagged with this assignment originally was the still bitter fact that the Scribe had given up the ghost long ago murdered through his own hubris and delusions down in Mexico on a busted drug deal in the mid-1970s. A big fall from grace, a very big fall which we still mourn today.
From The Pen Of Bart Webber   

Sometimes a picture really can be worth a thousand words, a thousand words and more as in the case Howlin’ Wolf doing his Midnight Creep (the capitals no accident since we always reverently used that term once we had heard in one of his songs) in the photograph above taken from an album of his work but nowadays with the advances in computer technology and someone’s desire to share also to be seen on sites such as YouTube where you can get a real flavor of what that mad man was about when he got his blues wanting habits on. In fact I am a little hesitate to use a bunch of words describing Howlin’ Wolf in high gear since maybe I would leave out that drop of perspiration dripping from his overworked forehead and that salted drop might be the very thing that drove him that night or describing his oneness with his harmonica because that might cause some karmic funk.
So, no, I am not really going to go on and on about his midnight creep but when the big man got into high gear, when he went to a place where he sweated (not perspired) profusely, a little ragged in voice and eyes all shot to hell he roared for his version of the high white note. Funny, a lot of people, myself for a while included, used to think that the high white note business was strictly a jazz thing, maybe somebody like the “Prez” Lester Young or Duke’s Johnny Hodges after hours, after the paying customers had had their fill, or what they thought was all those men had in them, shutting the doors tight, putting up the tables leaving the chairs for whoever came by around dawn, grabbing a few guys from around the town as they finished their gigs and make the search, make a serious bid to blow the world to kingdom come. Some nights they were on fire and blew that big note out in to some heavy air and who knows where it landed, most nights though it was just “nice try.” One night I was out in Frisco when “Saps” McCoy blew a big sexy sax right out the door of Chez Benny’s over in North Beach when North Beach was just turning away from be-bop “beat” and that high white note, I swear, blew out to the bay and who knows maybe all the way to the Japan seas. But see if I had, or anybody had, thought about it for a minute jazz and the blues are cousins, cousins no question so of course Howlin’ Wolf blew out that high white note more than once, plenty including a couple of shows I caught him at when he was not in his prime.         
The photograph (and now video) that I was thinking of is one where he is practically eating the harmonica as he performs How Many More Years (and now like I say thanks to some thoughtful archivist you can go on to YouTube and see him doing his devouring act in real time and in motion, wow, and also berating the father we never knew Son House for showing up drunk). Yes, the Wolf could blast out the blues and on this one you get a real appreciation for how serious he was as a performer and as blues representative of the highest order.
Howlin’ Wolf like his near contemporary and rival Muddy Waters, like a whole generation of black bluesmen who learned their trade at the feet of old-time country blues masters like Charley Patton, the aforementioned Son House who had his own personal fight with the devil, Robert Johnson who allegedly sold his soul to the devil out on Highway 61 so he could get his own version of that high white note, and the like down in Mississippi or other southern places in the first half of the twentieth century. They as part and parcel of that great black migration (even as exceptional musicians they would do stints in the sweated Northern factories before hitting Maxwell Street) took the road north, or rather the river north, an amazing number from the Delta and an even more amazing number from around Clarksville in Mississippi right by that Robert Johnson-spooked Highway 61 and headed first maybe to Memphis and then on to sweet home Chicago.  
They went where the jobs were, went where the ugliness of Mister James Crow telling them sit here not there, walk here but not there, drink the water here not there, don’t look at our women under any conditions and on and on did not haunt their every move (although they would find not racial Garden of Eden in the North, last hired, first fired, squeezed in cold water flats too many to a room, harassed, but they at least has some breathing space, some room to create a little something they could call their own and not Mister’s), went where the big black migration was heading after World War I. Went also to explore a new way of presenting the blues to an urban audience in need of a faster beat, in need of getting away from the Saturday juke joint acoustic country sound with some old timey guys ripping up three chord ditties to go with that jug of Jack Flash’s homemade whiskey (or so he called it).
So they, guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Magic Slim, Johnny Shines, and James Cotton prospered by doing what Elvis did for rock and rock and Bob Dylan did for folk and pulled the hammer down on the old electric guitar and made big, big sounds that reached all the way back of the room to the Red Hat and Tip Top clubs and made the max daddies and max mamas jump, make some moves. And here is where all kinds of thing got intersected, as part of all the trends in post-World War II music up to the 1960s anyway from R&B, rock and roll, electric blues and folk the edges of the music hit all the way to then small white audiences too and they howled for the blues, which spoke to some sense of their own alienation. Hell, the Beatles and more particularly lived to hear Muddy and the Wolf. The Stones even went to Mecca, to Chess Records to be at one with Muddy. And they also took lessons from Howlin’ Wolf himself on the right way to play Little Red Rooster which they had covered and made famous in the early 1960s (or infamous depending on your point of view since many radio stations including some Boston stations had banned it from the air originally).
Yes, Howlin’ Wolf and that big bad harmonica and that big bad voice that howled in the night did that for a new generation, pretty good right.  

For The Late Rosalie Sorrels-A Rosalie Sorrels Potpourri- Utah Phillips, Idaho, Cafe Lena, Childhood Dreams and Such

For The Late Rosalie Sorrels-A Rosalie Sorrels Potpourri- Utah Phillips, Idaho, Cafe Lena, Childhood Dreams and Such

If I Could Be The Rain I Would Be Rosalie Sorrels-The Legendary Folksinger-Songwriter Has Her Last Go Round At 83

By Music Critic Bart Webber

Back the day, back in the emerging folk minute of the 1960s that guys like Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, Josh Breslin, the late Peter Paul Markin and others were deeply immersed in all roads seemed to lead to Harvard Square with the big names, some small too which one time I made the subject of a series, or rather two series entitled respectively Not Bob Dylan and Not Joan Baez about those who for whatever reason did not make the show over the long haul, passing through the Club 47 Mecca and later the Café Nana and Club Blue, the Village down in NYC, North Beach out in San Francisco, and maybe Old Town in Chicago. Those are the places where names like Baez, Dylan, Paxton, Ochs, Collins and a whole crew of younger folksingers, some who made it like Tom Rush and Joni Mitchell and others like Eric Saint Jean and Minnie Murphy who didn’t, like  who all sat at the feet of guys like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger got their first taste of the fresh breeze of the folk minute, that expression courtesy of the late Markin, who was among the first around to sample the breeze.

(I should tell you here in parentheses so you will keep it to yourselves that the former three mentioned above never got over that folk minute since they will still tell a tale or two about the times, about how Dave Van Ronk came in all drunk one night at the Café Nana and still blew everybody away, about catching Paxton changing out of his Army uniform when he was stationed down at Fort Dix  right before a performance at the Gaslight, about walking down the street Cambridge with Tom Rush just after he put out No Regrets/Rockport Sunday, and about affairs with certain up and coming female folkies like the previously mentioned Minnie Murphy at the Club Nana when that was the spot of spots. Strictly aficionado stuff if you dare go anywhere within ten miles of the subject with any of them -I will take my chances here because this notice, this passing of legendary Rosalie Sorrels a decade after her dear friend Utah Phillips is important.)

Those urban locales were certainly the high white note spots but there was another important strand that hovered around Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, up around Skidmore and some of the other upstate colleges. That was Caffe Lena’s, run by the late Lena Spenser, a true folk legend and a folkie character in her own right, where some of those names played previously mentioned but also where some upstarts from the West got a chance to play the small crowds who gathered at that famed (and still existing) coffeehouse. Upstarts like the late Bruce “Utah” Phillips (although he could call several places home Utah was key to what he would sing about and rounded out his personality). And out of Idaho one Rosalie Sorrels who just joined her long-time friend Utah in that last go-round at the age of 83.

Yeah, came barreling like seven demons out there in the West, not the West Coast west that is a different proposition. The West I am talking about is where what the novelist Thomas Wolfe called the place where the states were square and you had better be as well if you didn’t want to starve or be found in some empty arroyo un-mourned and unloved. A tough life when the original pioneers drifted westward from Eastern nowhere looking for that pot of gold or at least some fresh air and a new start away from crowded cities and sweet breathe vices. A tough life worthy of song and homage. Tough going too for guys like Joe Hill who tried to organize the working people against the sweated robber barons of his day (they are still with us as we are all now very painfully and maybe more vicious than their in your face forbear)Struggles, fierce down at the bone struggles also worthy of song and homage. Tough too when your people landed in rugged beautiful two-hearted river Idaho, tried to make a go of it in Boise, maybe stopped short in Helena but you get the drift. A different place and a different type of subject matter for your themes than lost loves and longings.  

Rosalie Sorrels could write those songs as well, as well as anybody but she was as interested in the social struggles of her time (one of the links that united her with Utah) and gave no quarter when she turned the screw on a lyric. The last time I saw Rosalie perform in person was back in 2002 when she performed at the majestic Saunders Theater at Harvard University out in Cambridge America at what was billed as her last go-round, her hanging up her shoes from the dusty travel road. (That theater complex contained within the Memorial Hall dedicated to the memory of the gallants from the college who laid down their heads in that great civil war that sundered the country. The Harvards did themselves proud at collectively laying down their heads at seemingly every key battle that I am aware of when I look up at the names and places. A deep pride runs through me at those moments)

Rosalie Sorrels as one would expect on such an occasion was on fire that night except the then recent death of another folk legend, Dave Von Ronk, who was supposed to be on the bill (and who was replaced by David Bromberg who did a great job banging out the blues unto the heavens) cast a pall over the proceedings. I will always remember the crystal clarity and irony of her cover of her classic Old Devil Time that night -yeah, give me one more chance, one more breathe. But I will always think of If I Could Be The Rain and thoughst of washing herself down to the sea whenever I hear her name. RIP Rosalie Sorrels 


Music For The Long Haul

If I Could Be The Rain, Rosalie Sorrels, Folk-Legacy Records, 2003 (originally recorded in 1967)

The first paragraph here has been used in reviewing other Rosalie Sorrels CDs in this space.

“My first association of the name Rosalie Sorrels with folk music came, many years ago now, from hearing the recently departed folk singer/storyteller/ songwriter and unrepentant Wobblie (IWW) Utah Phillips mention his long time friendship with her going back before he became known as a folksinger. I also recall that combination of Sorrels and Phillips as he performed his classic “Starlight On The Rails” and Rosalie his also classic “If I Could Be The Rain” on a PBS documentary honoring the Café Lena in Saratoga, New York, a place that I am also very familiar with for many personal and musical reasons. Of note here: it should be remembered that Rosalie saved, literally, many of the compositions that Utah left helter-skelter around the country in his “bumming” days.”

That said, what could be better than to have Rosalie pay an early musical tribute (1967) to one of her longest and dearest folk friends, her old comrade Utah Phillips, someone who it is apparent from this beautiful little CD was on the same wavelength as that old unrepentant Wobblie as well as a few of her own songs. I have reviewed Rosalie’s recent (2008) tribute CD to the departed Utah “Strangers In Another Country” elsewhere in this space. Here Rosalie takes a scattering of Utah’s work from various times and places and gives his songs her own distinctive twist. Those efforts include nice versions of “If I Could Be The Rain”, “Goodbye To Joe Hill” and “Starlight On The Rails”. From her own work “One More Next Time” and “Go With Me” stick out. And here is the real treat. Rosalie’s voice back in the old days was just as strong as it was in 2008 on “Strangers”. Nice.

If I Could Be The Rain-"Utah Phillips"

Everybody I know sings this song their own way, and they arrive at their own understanding of it. Guy Carawan does it as a sing along. I guess he thinks it must have some kind of universal appeal. To me, it's a very personal song. It's about events in my life that have to do with being in love. I very seldom sing it myself for those reasons.

If I could be the rain, I'd wash down to the sea;
If I could be the wind, there'd be no more of me;
If I could be the sunlight, and all the days were mine,
I would find some special place to shine.

But all the rain I'll ever be is locked up in my eyes,
When I hear the wind it only whispers sad goodbyes.
If I could hide the way I feel I'd never sing again;
Sometimes I wish that I could be the rain.

If I could be the rain, I'd wash down to the sea;
If I could be the wind, there'd be no more of me;
If I could hide the way I feel I'd never sing again;
Sometimes I wish that I could be the rain.

Copyright ©1973, 2000 Bruce Phillips

(Bruce Phillips)

Let me sing to you all those songs I know
Of the wild, windy places locked in timeless snow,
And the wide, crimson deserts where the muddy rivers flow.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

Come along with me to some places that I've been
Where people all look back and they still remember when,
And the quicksilver legends, like sunlight, turn and bend
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

Walk along some wagon road, down the iron rail,
Past the rusty Cadillacs that mark the boom town trail,
Where dreamers never win and doers never fail,
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

I'll sing of my amigos, come from down below,
Whisper in their loving tongue the songs of Mexico.
They work their stolen Eden, lost so long ago.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

I'll tell you all some lies, just made up for fun,
And the loudest, meanest brag, it can beat the fastest gun.
I'll show you all some graves that tell where the West was won.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

And I'll sing about an emptiness the East has never known,
Where coyotes don't pay taxes and a man can live alone,
And you've got to walk forever just to find a telephone.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

Let me sing to you all those songs I know
Of the wild, windy places locked in timeless snow,
And the wide, crimson deserts where the muddy rivers flow.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

(Bruce Phillips)

I can hear the whistle blowing
High and lonesome as can be
Outside the rain is softly falling
Tonight its falling just for me

Looking back along the road I've traveled
The miles can tell a million tales
Each year is like some rolling freight train
And cold as starlight on the rails

I think about a wife and family
My home and all the things it means
The black smoke trailing out behind me
Is like a string of broken dreams

A man who lives out on the highway
Is like a clock that can't tell time
A man who spends his life just rambling
Is like a song without a rhyme