Saturday, February 17, 2007
Greg Brown Is Good
Maybe it's not a great recommendation to say that the first song you ever heard from a particular artist remains your favorite. Greg Brown has written scads of great songs, so it's not a one-trick pony thing. It's just that back in 1997, the poet and translator Geoff Brock (see link in sidebar) asked if I was a Greg Brown fan, and I had to admit I'd never heard of him. And Geoff seemed shocked, like I'd been living under a rock. Which I had -- rock AND ROLL, you snooty elitist folkie academic bastard! [insert heavy metal hand gesture here]
So Geoff says, "Oh, you gotta hear this," and puts on "Brand New '64 Dodge." It's slow, with the guitar intro walking down into a root cellar, where Greg's voice lives. I mean, that first booming growl and I was hooked.
Money comes out of Dad's billfold
Hankies come out of Mom's purse
The engine hardly makes a sound
Even when you put it in reverse...
The song is every suburban boy's childhood in Camelot, just before the end of Kennedy-era America ("It's November of '63 / And the brand new Dodge is a '64"). If you're a baby boomer like me, that time resonates so hugely at the end of the song, your coming-of-age years start flickering and floating through you like a Zapruder film of the inside of your own psyche. It's just a staggering piece of songwriting.
I love a lot of Greg Brown songs (he's put out nearly 20 albums), but nothing since has come close to that first listening experience.
His daughter, Pieta Brown, is a rising star on the folk scene now. She sounds like a female Bob Dylan. My daughter saw the two of them perform and said Greg was so drunk nobody could understand a word he said or sang, and then Pieta came out and blew everybody away.
Greg is married to Iris Dement (I'm still not a fan of HER voice, despite its Grand Ol' Opry verve -- but I wanna be a fan, because Ted Kooser is). Greg and Iris live here in Kansas City. He still sings like a thunderstorm over a cornfield somewhere in Iowa. And "Brand New '64 Dodge" is still on my list of favorite songs. At least in the top 20 or 25.
Hmmm... top 25 songs... next post, maybe....