Friday, February 13, 2009

Talkin' Blues and Greens

My very good friend Josh has a dad who happens to live with his wife (and Josh's mother) in my very own hometown of Portland, Or. I met David and Diane just once at Josh's wedding in New York City and we deduced that their favorite delicatessen in Portland is the very same one that my dad worked in after graduating from Reed College back in the seventies.

Another crazy coincidence is that my fiance, Jamie, grew up in Grass Valley, CA whose sister-city, Nevada City is the home of the well known and loved independent radio station KVMR. David used to have a show on the very same radio station, so its not unthinkable that a young Jamie might have heard the tunes and voice of today's guest blogger.

Latelty, I've been benefiting from David's wealth of musical knowledge after Josh sent him the Michael Nesmith post on WW&W and since then we've occasionally exchanged musical tid-bits, Blossom Dearie for one. Josh suggested I pick David's mind about some tunes for WW&W and this one was the first (of maybe more?). Here's what David has to say about Ramblin' Jack Elliot's "912 Greens":

Ramblin' Jack Elliot - 912 Greens

I first heard Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s song 912 Greens on one of the early free-form FM radio stations like KSAN in San Francisco, and although I barely knew what a “talkin’ Blues” song was, I knew what I liked, and this was it. This, and similar Dylan songs, and around the same time, Tom Rush’s take on the Bukka White song Panama Limited and ... and... well, there was a lot of stuff of this ilk to choose from, once you started looking. The title 912 Greens is a play on the address of the place Jack says he stayed in in New Orleans, 912 Toulouse Street. He says the song was a blues song, so he was going to call it 912 Blues, but for some reason he liked 912 Greens better. Anyway. This song has one of the best lines ever written by a white folksinger for a Talkin’ Blues song: “There was this girl there, who had once been an ex-ballet dancer”, which sets up a circular logic of staggering dimension. In the recording, it sounds natural, just a charming verbal faux pas, but he uses the phrase verbatim to this day when he performs this song.

Tom Rush - The Panama Limited

Ramblin’ Jack was a self-made cowboy from New York City who changed his name and persona in the early 1950’s and left for the open, bohemian, Woody Guthrie Cisco Houston Allen Ginsburg Jack Kerouac Road, singing, busking, telling lies and performing (and recording) with virtually every singer-songwriter of note in the latter half of the 20th century. His discography is staggering in its breadth and depth, although he very seldom, at least so far as I can tell, recorded songs with women. I don’t know why that is, it just seems to be so. He seems to love women; he has been married several times.

Anyway, this song, 912 Greens, perhaps the only one he was ever credited to have written, formed a secret, hidden soundtrack to a secret hidden life for me that was never to be. If I were to participate in the online game Second Life, my avatar would live out the life I always imagined from this song, travelin’ and singin’ and drinkin’ and stonin’ and profligatin’ and cowboyin’ and tellin’ stories and little harmless lies to any and all who might listen. And droppin’ every final “g” in the bargain. Jack Elliott, a truly self-made cowboy, entertainer, raconteur, singer, and original American Man. God bless him.

A biographical Documentary was made in 2000 by a daughter: it is called: The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack. It’s worth viewing.

No comments: