“Curtis John Tucker had a lot to do with it”

In Music on July 12, 2009 at 9:56 pm


M. Standfast, Kyoto

I recently downloaded “Nothing Left to Lose,” a Kris Kristofferson tribute (the second such in my collection).  On it, Howe Gelb, of Giant Sand fame, covers the song “The Pilgrim.”  You know the song; it goes: “He’s a poet/ he’s a picker/ he’s a prophet/ he’s a pusher/ he’s a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he’s stoned/ he’s a walking contradiction/ partly fact and partly fiction/ taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.”  You know the one.

It’s a good song, and Gelb turns in a sound version, but Howe’s spoken introduction is what caught and has retained my attention.  Before starting the tune, Gelb says the following:

“I guess when Kris wrote this song he wrote it for Chris Gantry–he started out doing it though by–ended up writing it for Dennis Hopper, Johnny Cash, Norman Norbert, Funky Donny Fritz, Billy Flot, Paul Seibel, Bobby Neuwirth, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ramblin’ Jack Eliot had a lot to do with it/ Me I ended up learning this song for Vic Chesnutt, Jason Lyttle, Evan Dando, Polly Jean, Paula Jean, Patsy Jean, Juliana, Victoria, Bobby Neuwirth, Bobby Plant, Curtis John Tucker had a lot to do with it.”

The alliterative Bobbys and the the matching of Ramblin’ Jack Eliot and Curtis John Tucker make this little speech into a mini-poem of sorts, and we know some of the protagonists; Dennis Hopper and Johnny Cash of course; Jerry Jeff Walker and Ramblin’ Jack Eliot are folk singers; Bobby Neuwrith is a folk singer, multimedia artist, and Dylan confident in Don’t Look Back; but who Norman Norbert, Funky Donny Fritz, Billy Flot, and Paul Seibel are–well your guess is as good as mine.  Similarly, Vic Chesnutt, Jason Lyttle and Victoria (Williams) are folk singers, Evan Dando, Juliana Hatfield, and P.J. Harvey are alt rock superstars, Bobby Plant is presumably Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame, Bobby Neuwrith is Bobby Neuwrith, and Curtis John Tucker, well, he had a lot to do with it.

But here’s the point, after listening to Gelb name drop Funky Donny and Curtis John, I feel an affinity for them–were I to bump into Funky Donny in an airport lounge or a bar, his presence would resonate with an essential familiarity–even if I didn’t know precisely that it was he, I would recognize immediately that he was indeed funky, not to mention a serious problem when he’s stoned.

What Gelb hints at both in his evocation of the circumstance surrounding the creation of the song, and in his description of his coming to know of it, is the presence a community behind the writing of the song, and a community behind Gelb’s coming to know of it.  Behind or beside every Kristofferson, Gelb implies, is a Norman Norbert, every Dylan is a Bobby Neuwrith, every Howe Gelb a Curtis John Tucker, every Kafka a Max Brod.  This thought fills me with a little jealously and a little sadness; I’m not at all sure that such communities of practice are as common as they once were.  Maybe I’m wrong about this, maybe the grass is always greener and I just don’t recognize my own Funky Donny in the sea of imminently replaceable cardboard cut-out stick figures that seem to populate my days.  Or again, maybe I’m right, and something about the atomization of human affairs in the first world in the 21st century means that the idea of an artistic community where minor but still vital players such as Norman Norbert is no longer viable.

Whatever the case, the humanity and camaraderie inherent in Gelb’s intro remind one that communities are indeed important in the creation of lasting artistic production–Neuwrith may not have been essential to Dylan’s art in the mid-60’s, but he was instrumental in its vitality; Kristofferson wrote “The Pilgrim” but would it have been as good without Paul Seibel? and let us not forget that Curtis John Tucker had a lot to do with it.

As for this post, Villa Maria’s Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc had a great deal to do with it.  What does this tell you about the age in which we live?

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  1. These kinds of communities do still thrive into this century, in fact easy communication access allows us to spread out and still stay close. It’s just a matter of building ties based on common interest such as the love of a damn good country song. Richard Carstens had a lot to do with it, and Steve Banks.

  2. Why I have a Villa Maria 2006 Merlot/Cab Sav in my cupboard at this very minute. I shall think of you when I quaff it.

  3. It is actually–I think very highly of Villa Maria.

  4. That a good kiwi wine will cure all ills.

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