Songwriters’ Special (May 8th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Nothing special on this day–other than the songs. I experienced a sudden craving for pithy, 2-to-3-minute country songs, which sometimes get crowded out by my striving to hear everything, stay on top of new releases, and the ascension of jazz as my musical respite of choice. Used to be, around here, that every weekend, especially Saturdays and Sundays, country was always on the box; the friends we saw regularly were also dedicated to the stuff, as well as drinking beer and yelling along with songs. We’re older, busier, and many of our boon companions are raising kids. As well, though there’s plenty of good country songwriting, the singers seem safer–better for them, not so much for the music, and us.

I guess I experienced a flash of reminiscence and had to go back to the well. And in the well was some golden elixir: tales told by a gravedigger suddenly $40 poorer, a daughter realizing that time’s snatched her mourning, a Stetson-less Texan who’s just as big as you are, a heartbroken lover demanding the taverns close so his baby can’t get in, a rounder whose eighth-grade education doesn’t mean he was born yesterday, a leather-clad redhead whom Death gifts a motorcycle, a murderous cuckold lost in the cave of his crime, a scared greenhorn who can’t find the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge…that’s just scratching the surface, but how can one resist their stories.

I’ve prepared a playlist with some highlights. The singers aren’t always the songwriters, but in those cases the songwriters show up as singers later in the playlist. I recommend this to readers who think they don’t like country, or who are startin’ to hate country (but still love cowboy songs).

Short-shrift Division:

Free jazz I find hard to shake. I listened to the whole of David S. Ware’s Live in The World: three discs of sweeping, dramatic music within which Ware and his pianist Matthew Shipp vie to snatch your heart out of your chest. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard this band take “The Way We Were” into the cosmos; they also push Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite” off the edge of the planet, and Ware’s own “Aquarian Sound” and “Mikuro’s Blues” hold their own with both. A terrific intro to a tenor saxophonist who was gone too soon (the artistic offspring of Ben Webster and Pharoah Sanders!) and a classic quartet that was fairly inarguably the turn of the century version of Trane’s. No shit.

Literary/Photographic Note:

Billie Holiday fans are directed to check out Jerry Dantzic: Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill, a collection of Dantzic’s 1957 photographs of Holiday assembled by Dantzic’s son Grayson. The book opens with a blazing Zadie Smith story in which she inhabits Holiday’s gone soul and looks back on its final days; I advise listening to Smith read it–the inhabitation reaches beyond the written word. Half of Dantzic’s photos capture the singer so incandescently that it’s unfathomable that she’d be dead within the next year; the other half suggest that a termite loneliness is eating her from within. A haunting collection.

Apropos of nothing but The Reaper…a plug for an old, simple George Jones documentary that might stun you.

I can’t shake mortality off my mind. I have been playing the hell out of Hag and Prince; after having recently read a book a piece about Gaye and George Jones, I’ve also been jamming those guys and scoping vids.

I must tell you: if you are a Possum fan and haven’t seen this documentary, which I picked up for $3 at a grocery store VHS sale in the early ’90s, you’re cheating yourself. It’s a very simple production (by Charlie Dick–yeah, that Charlie Dick), with somewhat corny narration, and its packaging does the product no favors. However, it is loaded with treats. Loaded

*Great clips of a happy, healthy George, just hanging out at the hacienda, joyously offering up impromptu versions of gospel (“Lily of the Valley”) and Jones (“No Money in This Deal”!!!–just a couple of lines, but holy shit!) classics on acoustic guit for the director.

*Wizened and oft-hilarious testimony from bizzers like Gabe Tucker and Don Pierce (old Starday hands) and Billy Sherrill (reminiscent of Rip Torn’s Artie on The Larry Sanders Show), and peers like Cash, Jennings, Lynn, Hall, Twitty, and Owens. I was gonna call Cash and Jennings old, but when this video was made they were my age. Or close.

*Fantastic performance clips: Jones knocking “Into My Arms Again” out of the park on The Ozark Jubilee; exchanging Cheshire cat grins with master fiddler Johnny Gimble as he defies mild hoarseness and kills on “Bartender’s Blues” (see below) and “He Stopped Loving Her Today”; winding up for a somewhat disturbing mock punch during the “…as they fight their final round…” line while jocularly dueting with Tammy on “Golden Ring; and totally sticking the landing (as he was so often wont to do on last lines) while craftily moseying his way, in deeply loving fashion, through the greatest version of Hag’s “I’ve Always Been Lucky With You” anyone will ever do.

*Sobering and moving testimony from Jones on the trials and tribulations of booze and drugs, as he recalls dropping to 105 pounds (backed up by a shockingly gaunt, diminished Possum desperately working through “Someday My Day Will Come” on a country show in the mid-Eighties) and 72 points of IQ (backed up by the infamous highway patrol arrest footage you may have already seen).

Sorry to run on–but it is that good. I think I’ve watched it 20-some times. Used to do a music documentary series once a month at the high school I used to teach at. When I screened this, the audience consisted solely of me and this young kid with a special ed diagnosis who wrote and sang Hank Williams-styled songs. We sat together on the front row and didn’t speak or blink for an hour.