To My Old Brown Earth by Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger
Cover of Pete Seeger

Paul Winter dropped a reminisce about Pete Seeger in my e-mail Inbox the other day. I’d like to share it with you.

Dear Friends,

Our long-time friend and mentor, Pete Seeger, passed away on Monday. I was privileged to meet Pete at the Newport Folk Festival in 1966, and he then gave me encouragement as I was creating a new ensemble that became the Paul Winter Consort.

In the early 90s, sensing that Pete’s recordings were not being heard by younger generations, I suggested to him that he record an album of his Earth songs. He said, “My voice is shot, but if we can have a chorus to carry the melodies, I could sing along.” My Living Music colleagues and I produced the album Pete in 1996. It won a Grammy, Pete’s first. The final song, “To My Old Brown Earth” (lyrics below), is one Pete had written for a friend’s funeral. It’s the most moving “goodbye song” I’ve ever heard.

We’d like to offer it as a free download for anyone who would like to hear it. And please feel free to pass it along to your friends.

With gratitude,
For living music,
Paul

TO MY OLD BROWN EARTH

Inline

To my old brown earth
And to my old blue sky
I’ll now give these last few molecules
of “I”

And you who sing
And you who stand nearby
I do charge you not to cry

Guard well our human chain
Watch well you keep it strong
As long as sun will shine

And this our home
Keep pure and sweet and green
For now I’m yours
And you are also
Mine

— Words and music by Pete Seeger, 1958

About the song, Pete wrote: “In 1958 I sang at the funeral of John McManus, co-editor of the radical newsweekly, The Guardian, and regretted that I had no song worthy of the occasion. So this got written.”

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Freewheelin on Jones Street in Greenwich Village

My son took me on a revelatory side-excursion in Greenwich Village yesterday as he turned me on to a “new” vinyl record store, Record Runner. Matthew loves to shop there and I became an immediate fan. As an avid music collector these past 50+ years I savor the moments spent browsing vinyl stacks in well-organized and managed record stores.

Record Runner is located on 5 Jones Street, New York City, NY. I was taken with the store owner’s interaction with customers as Matt and I flipped through the bins. It was fun to see him assume the role of tourist guide with Japanese customers as he explained the significance of Jones Street in record album photographic history.  Bob Dylan is a favorite son when it comes to the Village. Many of the local record stores feature Dylan’s music recordings lining their walls.

The famous photograph of Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo was taken in February 1963 by Don Hunstein. Dylan lived a short ways away at 161 West 4th Street at the time. It is a beautiful romantic moment held in time by the camera lens as the couple traverses slush filled Jones Street.

The late Suze Rotolo wrote about her life in Greenwich Village in the book, A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties.

Here is a picture of Jones Street from the Bleecker Street end, note Record Runner in the lower right corner of the picture.

I have every intention of going back to Record Runner soon with Matt to purchase Bob Dylan’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” remastered on 180 grade vinyl. 😉

Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)

I become intimidated when it comes to writing about Bob Dylan. I chalk that up to the fact that there are music journalists who write more authoritatively about Bob Dylan than I ever could hope to accomplish. They are the writers I have been reading and following for decades, Dylan musicologists if you will.

I noticed in my Facebook stream this morning that there would be breaking news about Bob Dylan’s next music project release, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971).

Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us#ixzz2ZDvftiRc

I am enthused to learn that the Bob Dylan bootleg series curation was revisiting the era of the Self Portrait and New Morning recordings. The years 1969 and 1970 figured strongly in my life as well as the evolution of popular music. I purchased both albums when they were released. I didn’t connect very well with Self Portrait but New Morning was a warm and constant phonograph companion.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) has helped me to reacquaint the music of our heart with the original tracks on Self Portrait and New Morning. My first order of business was to relisten beginning to end to those recordings so I can better appreciate what Another Self Portrait creates for us.

I did not fathom that Bob Dylan had just a small nucleus of musicians on Self Portrait, notably David Bromberg and Al Kooper. They each appear on the Another Self Portrait trailer speaking about the sessions and music recorded.

As the trailer audio indicates we are in for some astounding music to make clear our understanding about this phase of Bob Dylan’s recording career.

I mean after all aren’t we all entitled to Another Self Portrait in this life. Right Greil Marcus : -J

Dave Van Ronk, The Anthology of Folk Music by Harry Smith

Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger
Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been sheer joy listening to Dave Van Ronk‘s memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street on Audio CD. Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald guide readers along like Robin Hood and His Merry Men on a passionate journey through the colorful past of Greenwich Village’s folk music scene. The story has added significance as our son lives right in the heart of the neighborhood. He is next to Washington Square Park and Dave Van Ronk Street across from Sheridan Square.

The book has rekindled my dormant flames of interest in folk music. I got the yearn for musicology when I attended the University of New Haven minoring in music. Thankfully that interest continues to guide my conscious flow. The first album by Dave Van Ronk  that played endlessly on my hi-fi was Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger (Prestige). I had no idea until I heard the book how important Izzy Young‘s Folklore Center (pictured on the cover) was to Dave and the folk music idiom.

Which brings me to the folk music foundation classic, The Anthology of Folk Music by Harry Smith. I first learned about the uniqueness of Harry Smith from Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids. Patti Smith and Harry Smith (no relation) were neighbors and close friends residing at The Chelsea Hotel. Harry Smith was also friends with Allen Ginsberg who captured his image in the last week of his life.

“Harry Smith, painter, archivist, anthropologist, film-maker & hermetic alchemist, his last week at Breslin Hotel Manhattan January 12, 1985, transforming milk into milk.” – Allen Ginsberg, Photo by Allen Ginsberg, Courtesy of Allen Ginsberg Trust and Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

After hearing Dave Van Ronk speak his praises of this essential box set I have to ask myself why haven’t I seen fit to add these essential recordings to my music collection. Arguably the most important release of all-time (1952), The Anthology is a collection of old-time music from the late 20′s and early 30′s that spawned the folk and blues revival of the 60′s and influenced everyone from Dylan to the Grateful Dead.

I must rectify that situation and trust me I will, soon ;). For the music of our heart is incomplete until I have the works by Harry Smith safely listened to and tucked away in my music library.

Inside Llewyn Davis and Dave Van Ronk

Yesterday I blogged about the six week music education series Rhapsodic City: Music of New York presented by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It just so happens the third week focuses on the Folk Music Revival in New York that took place in the 1950’s and ’60s. Greenwich Village became the artistic setting for performers, artists, and club owners.  The Village invokes a warm nostalgic feeling within the music of our heart. Our son lives there today and we love to visit the clubs, restaurants, and stores around this historic neighborhood.

Building on the April 2nd event Sing Out! with Elijah Wood I reconnect with Dave Van Ronk. Elijah Wood and Dave Van Ronk co-authored the book Dave Van Ronk: The Mayor of MacDougal StreetThe book is a memoir of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village. It has inspired the Coen Brothers to make the film, Inside Llewyn Davis

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS follows an aspiring singer-songwriter (Isaac) as he navigates the 1960s folk-music scene in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  Grammy®-winner T Bone Burnett produced the film’s soundtrack which includes music performed by, among others, Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford and Justin Timberlake.  Robert Graf served as executive producer, T Bone Burnett served as executive music producer and Marcus Mumford as associate music producer.

The film has completed shooting in New York City and the International release date will be November 6, 2013 (France). Projected US release dates are unknown as of this writing. I have ordered the audio edition of the memoir to better immerse myself in the experience. The first trailer fascinates me to no end. Listen closely to the Bob Dylan track “Farewell” that plays underneath.

I think you will be asking as I  have been who does Llewyn Davis represent? Is he Dylan, Van Ronk, Phil Ochs or is a he a microcosm of that male folk singer of the time? Llewyn Davis will strike a chord in hopeless romantics who identify with living the life of a folkie in that halcyon age from our American culture. Perhaps this picture clues us in 😉

There are several reasons why I relish Dave Van Ronk’s spirit. I find him funny, compelling and engaging as an artist. He was quite the character as his recordings and live performances attest. He was a mentor and inspiration for Tom Paxton, Christine Lavin, Joni Mitchell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan (who described Van Ronk as “the king who reigned supreme” in the Village)[27]

I had the rare opportunity to meet Dave Van Ronk in person in Hermosa Beach, California one Sunday afternoon years back. My brother-in-law and I attended an early evening solo appearance at The Lighthouse Cafe. We sat at the bar before the show and shared drinks, stories, holding an intimate conversation with Dave Van Ronk. My brother-in-law was the one who turned me on to Van Ronk from his record collection when I started dating my wife in 1969. I went on to feature Dave Van Ronk regularly on my college FM radio shows in the mid-70s.

This early 80’s opportunity to sit across the bar and comfortably chat with Dave Van Ronk was a privilge. He answered our questions openly like an friend indulging old friends. He wiped away that fans talking to a legend sensation to show who he truly was a down to earth soul of a man. He spoke about Bob Dylan in a fatherly way which I liked a lot. We ended up being just two of the 12 people who stopped by that night to hear him play a raucous 90 minute set that was quite animated. Dave Van Ronk played excellent guitar and I will never forget his gravely yet pearl toned voice.  “Cocaine Blues (Rev. Gary Davis Traditional)” was the highlight and we thanked him for playing that song for us all. 🙂

Al Stewart – Historical Folk Rock

I was shopping yesterday when I heard Al Stewart‘s “Time Passages” come over the Muzak sound system. I had forgotten how much I loved this song. It was a staple on the progressive FM radio station WNEW-FM 102.7 in the late 70s. This Metromedia affiliate station has left an indelible impact on my musical listening tastes.

I also reflected on the time frame when I was a college disk jockey at WVOF-FM 88.5 on the Fairfield University campus. I often played tracks from Al Stewart’s Past, Present and Future (Janus Records) on my show. The track I played the most often from this 1973 vinyl LP was “Nostradamus”

File:Pastpresetfuture.gif

Al Stewart has performed music for more than 40+ years. I especially liked his partnering with Alan Parsons as his engineer. Their first collaboration genius effort resulted in Modern Times with one of my favorite album covers.

File:AlStewart ModernTimes US.jpg

Alan Parsons and Al Stewart then produced together his two largest hits, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages”.

Al Stewart is an artist I am hoping to finally see perform live in 2012.