Clay Eals (clay-eals) Wed 5 Sep 07 08:05
As long as you're mentioning official releases, I should note that I often get this question from people who are unfamiliar with Goodman or who haven't listened to his recordings in awhile: If I were to obtain just one official release that would introduce or re-introduce me to his music, what's the best one to buy? My answer has been consistent, and it's not a CD. To experience Goodman best, you need to see as well as hear him. So my recommendation is the DVD/VHS called "Live from Austin City Limits ... and MORE," released in 2003. It consists of most of Steve's two stellar one-hour shows for the acclaimed PBS-TV show from 1978 and 1982 (the latter including Jethro Burns and John Prine), plus a couple of other rare gems and a spate of reflective interviews of Prine, Arlo, Kristofferson, Steve's widow, Nancy, and others from 1995 and 1997. If you're after audio only, the best CD package to obtain is the 2-disc 1994 anthology called "No Big Surprise," the title stemming from a phrase in a little-known song by Goodman and Bill LaBounty, "In Real Life."
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 5 Sep 07 08:50
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David Gans (tnf) Wed 5 Sep 07 10:00
Ordering the DVD now. Thanks!
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 5 Sep 07 10:02
I am Steve Goodman fan and just got caught up on this discussion. Clay, Prine and Steve almost always performed Souvenirs when they played together. Is there a backstory to that or did they just like the song a lot?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Wed 5 Sep 07 10:18
"Souvenirs" is a Prine song, though many people mistakenly think it was a co-write with Goodman because the two played it together so often and the theme certainly speaks to their relationship. Prine actually wrote it in a hurry in about 1970 in the car while driving to the tiny Fifth Peg club in Chicago. It was one of the songs the two often played during their co-bills. Goodman would open, Prine would close, and Goodman would come onstage to join Prine for the last few songs, including "Souvenirs." As much as the lyrics evoked their friendship, Prine told me he equally appreciated Goodman's harmonies and guitar work on the song -- and on any song. Im not a very good harmony singer, and Im not a guitar picker where I can just get up and pick on anybodys song, Prine said. Steve, though, was just the opposite. He could jump in the middle of any of my songs and sing the lead or the harmony or play the lead or background. If we could have figured a way for me to pick on Steves songs, we would have just done the whole thing as one show. But I wasnt then and Im not now that dexterous, and Steve always put a couple of really hard chords in his stuff. I didnt write such simple melodies on purpose, like thats all I knew, but Steve knew all the old standards like Lady, Be Good and what Id call nine-fingered chords, where you need nine fingers to hold em down. I didnt know those things, so Steve would be the helper. Steve was typically self-deprecating in talking of his own contributions to their joint performances of "Souvenirs." Addressing the duet recording of the song that appeared on his "Affordable Art" LP in 1983, Goodman said he was trying to imitate John's voice so that it would be hard to distinguish between the two. He cracked, "My wife calls me the Zelig of folk music." Nowadays, if you go to a Prine concert, you'll notice that Prine nearly always includes "Souvenirs" as the third or fourth song of the evening, and he always dedicates it to Goodman, drawing warm applause from every audience.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 5 Sep 07 10:30
Thanks. All the snow has turned to water Christmas days have come and gone Broken toys and faded colors Are all that's left to linger on I hate graveyards and old pawn shops For they always bring me tears I can't forgive the way they rob me Of my childhood souvenirs Chorus: Memories they can't be boughten They can't be won at carnivals for free Well it took me years To get those souvenirs And I don't know how they slipped away from me Broken hearts and dirty windows Make life difficult to see That's why last night and this mornin' Always look the same to me I hate reading old love letters For they always bring me tears I can't forgive the way they rob me Of my sweetheart's souvenirs
David Gans (tnf) Wed 5 Sep 07 10:43
"Nine-fingered chords," yes! And "The Zelig of folk music" is also great. > He could jump in the middle of any of my songs and sing the lead or the > harmony or play the lead or background. If we could have figured a way for > me to pick on Steve's songs, we would have just done the whole thing as one > show. That's the thing. Goodman knew how to be a sideman as well as an utterly riveting solo performer, and he was a fantastic bandleader - or Mongolian clusterfuck organizer - as well. Guys like Prine, Kristofferson, Buffett, et al. don't have the same skill set, so their collaborations usually had to center on their songs or standards, with Goodman playing the support role. Which brings up a question. Given that Goodman was so great at bringing groups of musicians together onstage for spontaneous thrills, I wonder why he got so pissed off when a friend walked on and joined him on a song. I've read two accounts of such episodes so far... What's up with that?
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Wed 5 Sep 07 10:46
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Wed 5 Sep 07 11:07
One example was Claudia Schmidt singing harmony unannounced on "Old Fashioned." She explains in the book that Steve's ire likely stemmed from Goodman wanting the song to be a singular statement of love to his wife, so a female harmony voice -- especially that of a female other than his wife -- wouldn't fit into that vision. Another instance was in Phoenix, where the night's headliner, Jerry Jeff Walker, strolled onstage to join Goodman in the middle of "You Never Even Call Me by My Name." I have tape of that, and it's clear that Walker's off-key, off-rhythm "assistance" robbed from Goodman's long-honed, tour-de-force timing and shtick with that song. Still, Goodman's irritation was strictly private, related to me years later by his road manager, Steve Cohen. Onstage, immediately after Walker's impromptu appearance, Goodman told the crowd, "Yknow, that was really lovely of Walker to do that. That was, what a sweet cat. Oh, is he out there. Hes a Martian." There's no question that Goodman was an intense guy and that he didn't roll well with every single spur-of-the-moment, would-be collaboration. The best way to answer your question may be to say that Goodman was well attuned to what made for the best show, and he instinctively understood the instances in which a surprise guest would be more of a hindrance than a help.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 5 Sep 07 11:41
So these were likely isolated instances. Fair enough!
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 5 Sep 07 11:50
Jerry Jeff was probably a little, uh, under the weather.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 5 Sep 07 12:02
And while we're on the subject of "outlaw" excess, how about that David Allan Coe! He had a hit with "You Never Even Call Me By My Name," but he told a big lie about it that annoyed our hero...
John Ross (johnross) Wed 5 Sep 07 12:57
Clay, hoow much was Goodman a product of the particular time that he moved beyond the Chicago scene andd into national prominence? That period around 1970 (plus or minus a few years) was after the Great Folk Scare, but there was a supportive community of working performers, and a circuit of coffee houses, folklore societies and festivals that could both sustain an audience and provide a living for touring acts. It was mostly under the radar of both mainstream and "alternative" media, except for the specialty radio shows and such like. Seems like that was the ideal time and setting for him to develop and refine his craft.
FROM SUSAN PECK (davadam) Wed 5 Sep 07 13:04
Susan Peck writes: "Thanks you both, author and interviewer, for this fascinating look inside the life of one of my all time favorite singer-songwriters. Having grown up in the Chicago area, I was lucky enough to see Goodman perform there (nobody checked ID in those days, thankfully!) and also one last time, near the end of his life, up here in Alaska in a very small, very intimate setting. I so look forward to reading the book and the rest of this interview. Many thanks!" And I'll slip in a reminder here that those of you reading along who aren't WELL members are encouraged to participate by sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Wed 5 Sep 07 13:24
Yes, David Allan Coe is still convinced he had a role in instigating the final verse to "You Never Even Call Me by My Name" -- or at least that's what he told me. But that's the wonderful thing about research. You can learn things you didn't know and can set straight the apocryphal. Coe inserting himself in what became the hit version of that song initially rankled Goodman until Shel Silverstein told him, "Y'know, that's the first time a songwriter was ever mentioned in a song." That realization, plus the success of Coe's hit, tempered Goodman's ire. Eventually, in shows, Goodman tipped his hat to Coe, thanking him for the tune's "full-length Technicolor version." John, you make a good point about the context of the early 1970s. It was a time when singer/songwriters had become the rage, as with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, and even the mainstream seemed to embrace the occasionally substantive song. This is probably a partial reason that Arlo's version of Steve's "City of New Orleans" caught on so well. Guthrie was known as a counterculture figure, but when he so captivatingly interpreted "City," it became a way for the mainstream to embrace him -- and, on his coattails, Steve Goodman. As stated earlier, so-called "underground" FM radio stations had a lot of leeway to promote these serious, alternative artists, in contrast to the mechanized radio of today. The causes of the day, from peace to feminism to civil rights, were laid bare and held visceral appeal. An undeniable factor as well was the sheer size of the baby-boom generation. Add into the mix the warmth that Goodman brought to the table, combined with the undercurrent of mortality in many of his lyrics, and you had a coincidence of timing that allowed Goodman to flower, not just in Chicago but also nationally. In a sense, Goodman became part of an alternative mainstream that thrived via communication that was more real-time and in-person, a milieu decidedly foreign to the fragmented mishmash of today, which is dominated by the largely faceless Internet. I don't want to get too romantic about the early 1970s, because that period had more than its share of angst and societal clash. But the era did embody a confluence of circumstances that certainly nurtured the aware and engaging Steve Goodman, and America may never see such a time again.
John Ross (johnross) Wed 5 Sep 07 13:47
Clay, I wasn't thinking so much about the singer-songwriters as the folkies. That was a time when old-timers like Martin-Bogan-Armstrong (among many others) were still around, but there were also a lot of younger performers on the circuit. And there was the kind of supportive community around that scene that included people like Paula Ballan in New York and the Haynes Family in Philadelphia (both of whom you mention in the book) who were there to provide a support system for Goodman and many others.
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Wed 5 Sep 07 13:55
"Coe inserting himself in what became the hit version of that song initially rankled Goodman until Shel Silverstein told him, "Y'know, that's the first time a songwriter was ever mentioned in a song." Shel always saw the big picture. Always.
Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 5 Sep 07 14:09
I want to interject a brief complaint. David has already complimented you on the book's length, Clay, and I certainly agree that it is well-written. But I also feel overwhelmed. If you aren't a Steve Greenman nerd, do you =want= to know when he probably lost his virginity and details of so many gigs? To me, they begin to run together and I find it hard to get a sense of the scene itself or what it all meant. The wonderful scene in which Steve plays almost a full half hour past curfew at the Philadelphia Folk Festival nails so much about who this person seemed to be. More long vignettes, less details of the less notable might have worked. Frequently, as I make my way through the book, I find myself thinking, "less would be so much more" and not at all sure I understand the context. The extra info could surely be made available online and updated over time as more became available. But a shorter book would surely pull more people in to discover the person and the music? But maybe I misunderstand fandom. I also appreciate the labor of love that this book represents--that definitely comes through--so I don't want to seem overly critical....
Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 5 Sep 07 14:13
Quick question. In one of the picture captions of a concert (Philadelphia?) ~1975, one of the accompaniests is captioned as playing klezmer horn (or klezmer something). Did the person really describe himself as playing klezmer style in 1975? That's very early for the klezmer revival, and at a time when the old klezmorim were pretty invisible to the general folk community.
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Wed 5 Sep 07 17:21
John, you're right that the early 1970s was a fertile time for the folkies, and certainly people like Paula Ballan and the Haynes family were indispensable components of the scene. But I also would argue that the popularity of singer/songwriters at the time was also a boon, and Goodman was a guy who crossed all those borders. Ari, no worries about your "complaint." I actually think the book's girth works in its favor, not just in commanding attention for Goodman and his times, but also in fleshing out the life of an individual whose story is both unique and easy to identify with. In my many interviews, I have not shied away from the book's size (800 pages, 547 photos, 400,000 words, 4,700 index entries). To the contrary, I have often quoted a line given me several months back: "Most people want to write a book that you can't put down, but you've written one that you can't pick up." Yes, it always gets a laugh, but I think there's a deeper meaning and rationale. Because this would likely be the only book about Goodman, I wanted it to be comprehensive. Further, I wanted it to fully place him in the context of his times. The details of which you speak, Ari, are embedded in all kinds of context -- at least that was my aim. None of what's in the book (except the discography at the end) is a mere laundry list. I've tried to bounce back and forth between summary sections and exploded anecdotes. I would hope that with a second look at the narrative you could find rationale for the former that allows you to revel more deeply in the latter. I agree that the 1976 Philly festival overtime story is among the book's most compelling. It's an example of how I tried to write as many of the sections of the book as cinematically as possible. In that respect, I tried to emulate the down-to-earth, concrete imagery and storytelling to be found in Goodman's own lyrics. The 1976 Philly section is one of many places in which I hope your mind's eye can "see" what's going on, minute by minute. Is the book too long? I can only misquote Yogi Berra: Ninety percent of this game is half-subjective. You say that a shorter book might pull in more people, but I would argue just the opposite. I think a shorter book would have been more easily dismissed, whereas this brick truly has an impact wherever it lands. I've seen it hundreds of times. When I place it in people's hands, their hands literally bounce -- a little like Steve himself onstage. The intrigue is immediate. I also would beg for a different definition of myself. Yes, I've long been a fan of Goodman, but in relation to this book, I have always seen myself first and foremost as a journalist. One of my fatal flaws in journalism has been writing long (witness my answers here on The WELL). Then again, I believe that too many biographies out there are shallow. Good journalism is shoe leather, and with my extensive research I wanted to place us all in Goodman's shoes, to identify with him, to embark on his journey and to therefore reflect a bit more on our own. I once read that a biography tells more about the biographer than it does the subject. A corollary is that if 10 people were to write a biography about the same subject, you'd have 10 widely varying books. Commercially, it's a miracle that there is even one biography on the market about Goodman. I'm grateful that I was given the opportunity to have it err on the side of comprehensiveness. Thanks, Ari, for reading the book so carefully and for your thoughtful question. As for your Klezmer query, can you please let me know which page you're speaking of? From your brief description, the reference doesn't immediately leap to my mind.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 5 Sep 07 17:58
> Because this would likely be the only book about Goodman, I wanted it to be > comprehensive. I'm really, really glad you did such a thorough job. > I wanted it to fully place him in the context of his times. That is one of the things I love the most about this book. I have learned a lot from all that detail. Who knew "Terry Cashman and Tommy West" were pseu- donyms? And the "Good Morning Starshine" guy, Oliver - nice to know there was more to him than I woulda thought. I'd heard of Jim Post but had no idea he was half of Friend and Lover ("Reach Out in the Darkness"). Etc. And who would have expected Hillary Rodham Clinton to be a recurring charac- ter in this tale? I've been circling the names of songs and people I know from other contexts, and there are tons of 'em. I was surprised to find the name of Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir: not that anyone but me gives a shit, but Weir and Goodman appeared together in a Gibson Guitar ad in Guitar Player magazine. Even the names of record company personnel rang bells for me (I'm trying to remember where I might have encountered Jerry Sharell in my own travels). Maybe I'm more of a music geek that I'd care to admit, but I don't read nearly as many music biographies as maybe I oughta; ths one is a major delight as far as I'm concerned.
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Wed 5 Sep 07 18:17
Thanks for the kind words, David. Anyone out there who is reading this conversation but doesn't have the book, please feel free to go to my Internet site, clayeals.com, where, among many other pages, you can visit the acknowledgments page. There, you'll find the names of my 1,067 interviewees, as well as an equal number of others who helped by providing clippings, tapes and other help and support. You may be surprised to see many people you recognize!
John Ross (johnross) Wed 5 Sep 07 19:56
Let me rephrase my original question. Do you think Goodman's success was a product of the times and places where he lived and performed, or would his undeniable talent as a songwriter and performer have emerged had he been, say, fifteen years younger or older?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Wed 5 Sep 07 20:33
That's an intriguing what-if question, John. Arguing for the former are the many Chicago-based songs in his catalog, the most prominent of which, of course, is "City of New Orleans." The song has timeless appeal, but it also was incredibly timely in 1970, when he wrote it, and 1972, when Arlo's version took off, because of the takeover of the nation's failing railroads by Amtrak, along with the introduction of ZIP codes, which led to the closure of sorting centers next to railway stations. "The disappearing railroad blues" touched a nostalgic nerve at a time when travel by auto (especially on the new interstate highways) and plane had taken off. Further, a jaunty, down-to-earth Chicago style permeated his persona, so much so that it probably made him stand out amid the more self-involved personalities of musicians based on both coasts. Part of that persona was his immersion in the wide-ranging musical genres he relished while spinning the radio dial as a child. Had he been 15 years younger and grew up in Chicago, he might have competed with Bob Gibson in building the bedrock of the folk revival. Then again, he would not have been a baby-boom son of Depression/World War II-era parents and therefore may not have been influenced by his father's gregarious, car-salesman drive and his mother's perfectionism, perhaps losing some of his driven nature. Had he been 15 years older, he would have come of age in the early 1980s. Perhaps he would have found a way to learn from and embrace the music of previous generations and somehow forge a musical persona amid the wasteland of that era. But radio had already begun the relentless slide toward pabulum and Reaganist complacency had set in, so Steve's gritty gumption may have had difficulty finding any traction. One thing for certain is that had Goodman been born 15 years later, he much more likely would be alive today. Advances in leukemia treatment and research had soared by the 1980s, and if he had been diagnosed with leukemia in 1984 instead of when he actually was, in 1969, he might have been cured by a bone-marrow transplant. Of course, who is to say if he would have been diagnosed with leukemia if he had been born later. His high-school neighborhood was the suspected (but unproven) site of a so-called cancer cluster in the late 1950s, so perhaps if he had been born later, leukemia would not have been a factor in his life at all. This may be seen as just so much useless and idle speculation, but I think it serves the purpose of really anchoring Goodman in his times. Perhaps the point it proves is that, to a greater degree than we may wish to admit, we all are a product of our times.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 6 Sep 07 00:16
I think you're right on the money. A guy like Goodman would have an even tougher time in the record business - what's left of it - today. On the other hand he was one of the first artists I now of who said t'hell with the labels and started puttig out his own records. If he were alive today he'd probably be playing a lot of club gigs and charming the hell out of his fans at the march table afterwards.
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