Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Steve Goodman - In Memorium

The Earworm wasn't feeling well this morning so I gave him the day off and will concentrate instead on one of the best singer-songwriters this country has ever produced.

Steve Goodwin passed away around this time of year thirty years ago, dying of kidney and liver failure as a result of leukemia in Seattle Wash. on September 20, 1984. I didn't realize it had been that long.

I first heard of Steve probably around the same time you did with the release of the Arlo Guthrie hit "City of New Orleans" which Goodman penned while campaigning for Edmund Muskie in the 1970's.

Guthrie tells the story that, after he had finished a  late night gig in New York, he was asked by his friend to listen to "this young dude who's been pestering me." Arlo saw this little guy out of the corner of his eye with a guitar in his hand. He thought..."Oh no! Not now. I'm really beat. Some other time." But Steve was persistent and Woody's boy finally said..."Ok. Buy me a beer and as long as I'm drinking the beer you can do what ever you want." Steve bought the beer. Arlo listened and a while later he recorded what would become for Goodman a song that, as he later said...."Saved my ass!"

My brother gave me a couple of his vinyls in the mid 80's ("Artistic Hair" and "Santa Ana Winds" which were both pressed on his own label, Red Pajamas) and told me to listen to this guy. I would like him. I did and I do.

He plays a mean guitar and has a very self depreciating style of delivery with a pleasant voice that never bores you. And prolific? Well I guess.

Steve discovered he had leukemia around the summer of 1967 while attending Lake Forest College in his home town of Chicago where he was born into a middle class Jewish family on July 25, 1948 and decided to spend the rest of what life left him; focusing on songwriting and performing which he had been doing since before 1964.

Despite critical acclaim, Goodmans recording never sold particularly well (Bob Dylan even played piano as Robert Milkwood Thomas on "Someone Others Troubles.") and by 1973 he was still living in a $145-a-month apartment just a few blocks from where his beloved Chicago Cubs blundered into obscurity every fall. "The doormat of the National League...." he would pen in his classic song, "A Dying Cub Fans Last Request" which I had a chance along with another gentleman to perform in my brother Garys show, "Play Ball" which hit the boards in the Players Ring in Portsmouth a few years ago. It's a great song and, just a few days after his death in 1984, The Cubs clinched first place in the National League East for the first time since 1945. And a song he wrote called "Go Cubs Go" is still played today when the Cubbies win. "Hey Ernie. Let's play two."
Steve wearing his beloved Cubs hat.

Then came "City of New Orleans" and a firm foundation for Steve to stand on and go forward.

I love his songs. They are warm, uncomplicated and speak deeply of our fears, our hopes and dreams along with gentle humor. Even when things go wrong. Which happen to all of us occasionally. His rendition of "My Old Man" brings tears to my eyes, but, on the Youtube clip, his guitar strap slips off his guitar before he sings, (Tell me about it!) and in a live album, "Artistic Hair" when he sings a holiday standard, "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" he forgets the words at one point but easily covers it by singing....."It's really absurd. When you don't know the words. To "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." Beautiful!

Please find and play some of Steve Goodman's stuff. I recommend "Affordable Art", "Santa Ana Winds" and "No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology".  there are also many artist's besides Arlo who have covered him including John Prine, John Denver, David Allan Coe and Joan Baez.

Hopefully the Earworm will be feeling better tomorrow.


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