Posts Tagged ‘Dylan’

“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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Of Lincoln, and the Country of my Birth

In Life as Lived on January 25, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Editor’s Note: What follows is a diary entry from 15 months ago assessing life at 33. It will be obvious that this was before Obama’s election, before indeed, he had become a household name, and from a time when the coming economic crisis was already fairly apparent. It should be noted that Sympathies is not a political blog, and this is not primarily a political piece. Still, it reflects a disquiet with the state of the world that, while I certainly don’t retract, has given way, at least temporarily, to a cautious optimism. In other words, for a variety of reasons, it is time for an updated assessment of matters both public and private, but before taking stock of where we are it is wise to recall where we have been. So, without further ado, here is a piece from the time capsule.

young-abe-lincolnIncreasingly, I feel a crisis coming, a point of decision that has been postponed far too long, avoided in fact because of a weakness of will. Either one is destined for action and achievement, or one is not…rather, either one makes the decision to act and to achieve, or one fails to summon the resolve and strength of will, all the while finding new reasons why this should be so.

Case in point: I am a reader and writer first, maybe a talker. What living there is for me lies in these realms; what achievement lies within my grasp ditto. But for a decade I have allowed the regular slide into lassitude to hinder forward movement. Fobbing off the notion that what is done at work is work enough is an unacceptable weakness. But are one’s lack of discipline and minor vices the cause or the symptom of the problem? The answer is the latter; the problem lies deeper. It lies in the character of the age.

People are born into all kinds of situations, situations which imprint their values and norms, their psychoses and their crusades, their taboos and unquestionables. I was born into nothing particular. Or rather, I was born a diffident, private intellectual into a mostly secular household without a governing ideology. Encouraged, but hardly pushed academically, it took me years to even figure out how to approach my potential, and all along the way I have been but infrequently challenged. Have I sought to avoid challenge–fearing that I would not measure up? This is possible. Have I created the conditions for mental atrophy? People have done great work in a variety of life situations–from the depths of debauchery; from the staidness and satiety of the suburban middle-class; from prisons and madhouses; from the gutter and from the palace. Context and daily company cannot be used as an excuse. Continue Reading