Saturday, November 11, 2006

It’s Much Too Late to Worry

In the aftermath of the recent elections, I have been reflecting on the coming socialist-tinted Congress we face in January. Not a pleasant prospect, so perhaps we can gain some historical perspective on Pelosi’s Politburo. For instance, we can meditate on the vagaries of the life of one Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, former seminary student and mass murderer. A little history to provide a vantage point from which to consider the next two years. Surely no one but Donald Rumsfeld will be sent to the gulag.

Some time ago, in the comments on this blog, I told the story of “Joe the Georgian” as it applied to the future Baron Bodissey. As most of our readers know, our family is devoted to the music and lyrics of Al Stewart, who is not only a talented musician but also an astute historian. He’s an amateur in the original meaning of the word. Frequent commenter Yorkshireminer is another — though he has never said that he sings.

I love this story, since it features the prodigious talents of my youngest child, and especially his powerful memory, as this anecdote will illustrate.

The story begins in February, 2002, a few short months after the Baron and I had been to New York City to stare into the hole at Ground Zero. 9/11 was a constant humming thought in the background, a frozen image with only the sound of death to relieve the silence.

We discovered that Al Stewart would be performing in Pennsylvania and hastily bought tickets for the show. It turned out to be a small venue — a college-town coffee house — where Mr. Stewart was to perform solo with an acoustic guitar. Long before then, the future Baron had memorized whatever lyrics he could find; he sang and played Al Stewart’s songs for fun, almost from the first time he learned to use a guitar (he’d been a piano man up to that point). He also liked to sing some of Stewart’s work a cappella. “Joe the Georgian” was one of those — I can still picture him at the age of ten jumping on the rebounder and singing about Stalin.

With that background in mind, here is the story of our one and only live concert with Al Stewart. Little did we know when we entered the coffeehouse that the fB — by then sixteen — was going to experience his moment of fame.

It wasn’t that he’d never performed before. He used to win local talent contests by donning a fedora, a vest, and chewing on a cigar while he noodled on the piano and sang “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “As Time Goes By.” Way back then, for someone who didn’t shave and whose voice hadn’t changed, he did a fair imitation of Hoagy Carmichael.

So in we went. The place was crowded and warm, smelling wonderfully of coffee on that cold February night. The first set had sold out, but we had tickets for the second. By the time we got in, we were grateful to be there. We found good seats — the place was small enough that there weren’t really any bad ones.

As Mr. Stewart performed, I remembered the future Baron singing “Joe the Georgian” for an old man who remembered Stalin well and was amazed by the song. It gave me an idea: as soon as the break came, I went over to Mr. Stewart and said my son had learned most of his songs by heart. Mr. S. was a bit skeptical; hadn’t he been hearing that since 1980 or so? But I insisted that the fB was particularly adept at “Joe the Georgian.” Mr. Stewart laughed. “That old thing? I don’t even remember it. I’ll tell you what — he can give it a try, but if he blanks on it, we’ll move on.” I agreed — perfect stage mother that I am — and then told the future Baron what I’d plotted for him.

He gulped and sat down at the bar. Then he proceeded to put his hands over his eyes and dredge up the words to “that old thing.” It might have been five years since he’d sung it. I could see his hands tapping, his lips moving. Would he be able to recall the whole thing before the end of the break?

What do you think? Would I be telling you this story if he had flubbed?

Al Stewart and the future Baron BodisseySo the second half began and Mr. Stewart invited the fB up to perform. Mr. Stewart admitted he didn’t remember the chords; it had been too long since he’d performed it himself. So the Boy began on his own, his young voice amplified by the microphone and the P.A. system. After the first nervous line, he found his stride and took off. Mr. Stewart stood leaning against the wall, smiling in… what?… bemusement, perhaps? By the second verse, the crowd began clapping and stomping like Russian peasants — in fact, they supplied a surprising authenticity. And then Mr. Stewart recovered the lost chords to his own song and started strumming in the background. By the time the song finished with that magnificent last line — “When Joe the Georgian gets here, we will dance!” — it wasn’t just a performance, it was a rousing participation by everyone in the room.
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Later, several people came up and gave the fB some money for his effort. He had really revved the audience for the rest of Mr. Stewart’s set. And while I never harbored any desire for my son to become a full-time musician, it was a good moment for all of us.

The only other memory that stands out from that evening, besides the long, satisfying walk back to the car, was the man sitting at the table next to us. During a lull between songs, he leaned over and confided that he lived in New Jersey and was channeling the voices of the people who died in the Towers… since this was less than six months after 9/11, I decided that trauma does strange things to us.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Here’s the song from that evening. I had always liked it (the future Baron was right: it makes good rebounder music), but now it has a special emotional resonance for me… I call it “The Night the fB Sang With Al Stewart as Backup.”

Joe the Georgian

by Al Stewart

Joe the GeorgianNow I’ve got my payment
For the service that I gave
They’ve given me my ticket
To this place beyond the grave
I suppose it’s kind of funny
I suppose it’s kind of sad
Thinking back on all the times we had

But it’s kind of hot and smoky
In this ante-room to Hell
And I won’t make up a story
‘Cause you know the truth so well
It’s much too late to worry
That we never had a chance
And when Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance, dance, dance
When Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance

We all set off together
On this sorry ship of state
When the captain took the fever
We were hijacked by the mate
And he steered us through the shadows
Upon an angry tide
And cast us one by one over the side

But it’s kind of hot and smoky
In this ante-room to Hell
And I won’t make up a story
‘Cause you know the truth so well
It’s much too late to worry
That we never had a chance
And when Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance, dance, dance
When Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance

There’s Kamenev, Zinoviev,
Bukharin and the rest
We’re sharpening our pitchforks
And we’re heating up the ends
We’ve got a few surprises
For the mate when he appears
I hope he likes the next few million years

And it’s kind of hot and smoky
In this anteroom to Hell
And I won’t make up a story
‘Cause you know the truth so well
It’s much too late to worry
That we never had a chance
And when Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance, dance, dance
When Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

“Joe the Georgian” is from the album Between the Wars, which seems to be out of print. The last time I checked, there were five copies available on Amazon, starting at $51.00. It’s hard to understand why one of his finest CDs could go out of print.

The collection includes songs about the Spanish Civil War, William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, Charles Lindbergh, Britain’s inter-war prime ministers, and Woodrow Wilson — all different, each spellbinding in its uncanny ability to summon up a lost era. Ironically, it seems to be an era we are determined to relive: one just as filled with foreboding, just as prescient about the coming bloodshed, with people just as determined to go on with life as usual.


X said...

Oddly enough, ln, it's the fault of the french. Funny how they keep popping up in history like that... they enriched our language, brought us amazing cultural artefacts and still managed to be arrogant SOBs whenever they could.

Remember the word "villain"? It comes from the french "vilein", or peasant. Or possibly slave. It meant the common man, those under aleigance to their baron or king. You see, in France, the peasantry weren't freemen, they were part of the land and therefore owned by the landowner. These "common men" were seen as little better than dirt. The idea was imported wholesale to England during the norman conquest where, prior to the Normans taking over london and inventing bureaucracy, all men were land owners and all men were free. Though the norman aristocracy adopted english as their language so they could cry God for King Harry in time for the 100 years war, their attitudes weren't changed from those of their norman french forebearers, but merely modified. To these people, the villein, the common man, was nothing but a servant, and so the common word for the common man became a common insult amongst the gentry.

Blame the french. It always works. :)

Yorkshireminer said...

Dear Dymphna ,

I am sorry lass but I can't sing, when I try it tends to come out as a high pitched whine, as many readers of this Blogg have most likely noticed. I liked the article and thoughly endorse the pride you show in your progeny. I am now going to go and watch a church service from England on the satalite television, it is Rememberance Sunday today in Britain when we remember all our war dead. It is always the Sunday after armistice day, which was yesterday the 11th of November. I am going to sit down and ponder the remarks made by Gordon Brown (Prime Minister in waiting ) yesterday. Nick Griffin and another member of the British National Party were been cleared in a re-trial of making remarks liable to cause racial hatred. This is what he said ISLAM IS A WICKED AND VICIOUS FAITH. Gordon Brown as reported in the Daily Mail comments.

( race laws may have to be changed after British National Party leader Nick Griffin was cleared by a jury of stirring up racial hatred.
Mr Brown said most people would find some of Mr Griffin's words offensive and pledged a legislative rethink if necessary to stamp out racial hatred. )

If ever a country is in need of a “Bill of Rights” it is mine. End of high pitched whine and enjoy your Sunday.

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

Ah, but Gordon Brown IS a shrieking socialist, who wishes to make marxist morality legally binding.

I rushed to the BBC website to read some inspirational story about the triumph of British justice about Griffin's acquital, but considering that Griffin was charged on the basis of a BBC broadcast the story seems inexplicably to have been dropped from the BBC page after only a day. It did turn up in a google search, where to the journo's credit the codefendent was Mr Collett was quoted accurately putting the boot into the beeb :
"[the BBC] are a politically correct, politically biased organisation which has wasted licence-fee payers' money to bring two people in a legal, democratic, peaceful party to court over speaking nothing more than the truth."


Dymphna said...


I mayn't have mentioned that Al Stewart is British. From Scotland, originally (I think). He lives n the US now, but his formative years and young adulthood were spent in England.

His knowledge of British history is quite good, and the fact that he can evoke not only the moment in history (thru his lyrics) but also the mood (thru his music) makes his work special. I don't know anyone else who writes songs about history.

Do you remember the song,"A Man For All Seasons"? That was his.

Now he has settled, in his late fifties, early sixties, in the US. A song on his latest album, "Catherine of Oregon" is a delightful little piece about settling into the last stage of life and doing as one wants...defintitely one of the perogatives.

We have memorial day here, too, but it passes by, barely noticed. Perhaps it is because we weren't flattened into smithereens like some of our confreres. We have only 9/11 (so far) -- and it will be memorialized for generations to come.

Dymphna said...

BTW, y'all -- thanks for taking care of that first commenter. I don't remember seeing him here before...perhaps it was just a Saturday night hit-and-run.

When the Baron told me about the comment late last night, I was tempted to turn the computer back on and respond. The Baron said, "Don't bother. He didn't say anything intelligent or reasonable. Besides, the other commenters will take him to task for his gratuitous remarks."

And the Baron was right.

Gratias plena, y'all.

Pastorius said...

Cool story, Dymphna.

Way to go, fB.


Clovis Sangrail said...

I am very proud of my daughter, who has just paraded at our local Remembrance Day parade in her ATC (Air Training Corps) uniform.

On a separate note (shameless advertisement), and in reply to Yorkshireminer and Fellow Peacekeeper, I have just put up a long and (I admit) confused post on the subject of the BNP acquittal. Any informative comments gratefully received.

Lastly, may I compliment Glenmore on his gracious put-down?

James Higham said...

Doesn't matter what they say, Dymphna - Al Stewart is king.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

Pelosi's Politburo. that is priceless, and more true than the left wants to admit.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Great story.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

tyreea said...

Thanks for sharing that. I have two of Al's albums in my garage with no turntable to play them on. I need to stop and pick up some CD's. "Flying Sorcery" was always one of my favorites. Please forgive if I have the name wrong, it has been a long time for the words written on my eyes, but the music endures forever young in my soul.

Wally Ballou said...

What sense on earth does it make to deny that Democrat "liberals" are, in fact socialist? They are indeed. In any other country they would be upfront about it; in this country the word "socialist" has always been shunned, so they call themselves "progressives", but in what single respect do these progressives differ from their counterparts in the democratic socialist parties of Europe?

The terms "left-wing" and "right-wing" are tired and misleading, the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are often deceptive, but "socialist" fits to a tee.

It's hardly churlish to call a spade a spade.

Wally Ballou said...

And come to think of it, I think this comment:

Oh, and news for you; Al Stewart is far far from the master songwriter you pretend he must be. Facile lyrics and an irritating voice.

Definitely qualifies as "churlish". Chacun a son gout, my "educator" friend, Teddy. Are you, god forbid, a teacher of English? Let's hope not, when you are capable of mangled syntax like "you pretend he must be".

Vinegar Joe said...

Interesting......I was just listening to "Constantinople" of Stewart's 24 Carrots album......:

"I see the hosts of Mohammed coming
I dreamed I stood like this before
And I'm sure the words that I heard then
Were much the same
It's just an old Greek tragedy they're acting here
Held over by popular acclaim
So here in the night
Leave your home it's time for running
Out of the light
I see the hosts of Mohammed coming"

Callimachus said...

Thanks for this post.

Al Stewart has a unique sensibility in rock; he brings a historians' touch and a voluminous memory to the genre in a way that U2 and REM and Sting and Springsteen can only wish they had. He's basically a folkie, which is why he didn't get far in the rock world.

I had the good fortune to interview him a couple of years ago. He's an eccentric, and his passion for human history is genuine.

Cool Blue Waters said...

I have been listening to Al for the past 20 years or so.

It really is hard to believe (and a touch sad indeed) that one of his best albums, Between The Wars, is out of print - considering that it's probably the only musical document I've ever heard about those in-between years 1919-1939. Thankfully I have my own copy which I will, from now on, guard with double care.

To Al's detractors, I'd have this to say - I know of NO ONE in the history of rock music who can bring home (or has even TRIED, or even CARES) the blood, snow and death of Hitler's failed conquest of Russia in "Roads To Moscow". I consider that no mean achievement, it's the only song I've ever heard about something that changed history forever. No one around in rock music for the past 40 years has even tried to do this.

"Roads To Moscow" was so was like being there and watching the event unfold. And I've heard this said by people who've actually been to Russia and examined the terrain that the song so convincingly inhabits.

Thanks, Dymphna, for this wonderful post, it really made my day :)