Liner Notes – Rare Songs

 

Rare Songs – Notes and Lyrics

I had originally thought of naming this album, What Thou Lovest Well after a poem by Richard Hugo called What Thou Lovest Well Remains American. The songs on the album are distinctly American and many of them are particular to some geographical point on the American map. Then, as I went back to read Hugo’s poem, I discovered that Hugo had written his poem after a poem by Ezra Pound, What Thou Lovest Well Remains, a poem I am embarrassed to say, I did not know. It has some of the most moving lines: What thou lovest well remains,/the rest is dross/What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee/What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage… And so I had more the reason to use the idea as the title. For coming out with an album of 14 of my songs after a more than twenty year hiatus from recording and touring, at the ripe old age of 68, there seemed to be something about this possibly being the last recording I make (though, of course, not a certainty) and a sort of “true heritage” in that songs are what I lov’st well and what they are concerned with is what I lov’st well.

In the end, though a great idea and perhaps a great title for a poetry collection, it does not necessarily work for an album of songs. And so, I offer you Rare Songs, a grouping of songs that are rare, that is, songs that I am not known for, mostly non-political, songs old and new that I have not, previously to this album, performed that much, if at all. The songs I have had in my pocket for a few years, some for many years. And they are American, or I think of them as American, they’ve been inspired by and written in many different parts of the country and represent perhaps something core inside me and the trail I have left crisscrossing the American continent.

I began to think about making this album a couple of years before I retired from my job as a fulltime officer of Local 802, the musicians’ union in New York City. I had left my touring and singing career in 1996 to work as an organizer and union representative for jazz musicians in New York. This was a world I knew little about. I think I had one jazz record, a Sonny Rollins recording, that I liked quite a bit. I soon met some important figures in the jazz scene, among them, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Benny Powell, Wycliff Gordon, Dennis Mackrel and Bob Cranshaw. I started listening to jazz and fell in love with the sound of horns in small ensembles, bop jazz, as it is known. It’s what I was listening to when I listened to that Sonny Rollins record. I also started listening to a lot of Michael Hurley, a wonderfully eccentric folkie songwriter, and noticed that he used a horn occasionally on his recordings, sometimes his mouth trumpet with a real trumpet harmonizing. So when I began thinking about this album, I was intrigued by the idea of using horns on a folk album. The only folk albums I knew of with horns were Hurley’s records and one by Jack Elliott in which he added clarinet to some Jimmy Rogers songs (a really fabulous album, I might add, originally released in1960 in England.)

But how would I pull this off? I asked a friend, fellow Local 802 executive board member and trumpet player, Bud Burridge, if he might help me. Bud had played in a make-shift bop quintet that I hired for a wedding party in 2012. He also recorded a really great jazz CD of his own tunes and arrangements that he is way too shy about telling anybody. After I retired, we sat down one afternoon at Bud’s Manhattan apartment with my guitar and his horn and I sang to him some of the songs that I wanted to put on the album. It was a clash of universes. Bud knows little about the kind of music I do and I know nothing of charts and horn arrangements, but he is a generous and accommodating soul and I am eternally grateful to him for not laughing me out of his apartment. Our collaboration was a perfect leap of faith.

Another leap of faith, though not a great leap, was using my friend, Tom Chapin’s daughters, Abigail and Lily as singers. They are the Chapin Sisters (thechapinsisters.com) and they have made some very nice records and sound great together, as siblings usually do. (The fact that they had done an album of Everly Brothers songs kind of clinched it for me.) So I reached out to them for some harmony vocal blends, and they were gracious enough to accept my invitation. We hit it off and I really enjoyed working with them; it brought back the days of working on vocal parts with my compadres in Shays Rebellion.

My brother, Chris, sings harmony on one song, The 211. We used to sing one of those songs off the Jack Elliott record of Jimmy Rodgers songs, “Campbell”, and yodeled the high parts in harmony. Alas, neither of us have the tenor pipes we used to. But I’m glad I was able to get Chris in the studio for at least one song.

The guitarist and banjo player on the album, Matt Munisteri, I met serendipitously in the small town of Franklin where I live in Central New York State. He and an accordion player had bought a house on the same country road where I have my house. I met him through our mutual involvement with the local summer theater company, Franklin Stage Company. One night at a get-together, sitting around a fire, my brother and I and a few others were playing guitars and sharing songs when Matt sat down with his guitar and began singing a Jimmy Rodgers song. My brother and I, as we listened to his playing, felt our jaws begin to drop. It’s easy to see why Matt is one of the most in-demand guitarists in New York City. When I asked him to join me on the album, he agreed immediately. He has his feet in several traditions of American music, from the Carter Family to Willard Robison. His presence on this album is significant.

The result of all this is Rare Songs, 14 songs of mine and one by Paul Tinker. Eleven of the songs feature at least one woodwind or brass horn. Paul Tinker’s song is included because it’s a song that I often end my concerts with, a gem I’ve loved singing since I heard it in Song Circle in Seattle during the 80s. I don’t do a lot of covers in my shows and this one feels a lot like an adopted child I love as one of my own. I have no idea where Paul Tinker is. I made an effort to find him through the internet and Seattle connections. I owe him a little money, so if someone knows where he is, put him in touch with me. I hope he likes what I did with his song.

Finally, I made the album memoriam of Bob Cranshaw, the well known jazz bass player, who toured for many years with Sonny Rollins. Besides being a fantastic musician, Bob was a dedicated unionist who worked tirelessly to bring justice to jazz and other musicians through his advocacy of the union’s pension plan and the mission to expand it more widely into the jazz world. When I was elected as an officer of Local 802, Bob came into my office and asked how he could be of service. I was utterly humbled by the gesture. I asked him if he would serve on Local 802’s executive board and he was more than happy to accept. Bob played bass on a couple of gigs I had in New York over the years. I thought he was clairvoyant when we first rehearsed, always seeming to know where I was going with the changes. When I first started thinking about this album, he was the first person I asked to play on it and he was totally up for it. Bob was struggling with cancer the last few years I knew him. Never thought it would get the best of him, but it did and he died the December before we started recording.

Musicians

John O’Connor
Matt Munisteri
Mark Vanderpoel
Ben Perowski
Bud Burridge
Aaron Heick
Michael Boschen
Pete Sutherland
Abigail Chapin
Lily Chapin
Chris O’Connor

 

It’s A Rare Day

John: guitar, vocal
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Aaron: clarinet
Bud: trumpet

This song was the gift of global warming. On a crazily unseasonable day one November, it came to me as I was riding my bike in the hills or Colrain, Massachusetts. I imagined it to be a spring day, the rarest of days. But after singing the song for a while, I’ve come to realize the song is about those days when for no reason you have a clear mind and a peaceful soul in the middle of a world of trouble. A day when you might be tempted to say something like, “Life is good.” The world can be quite beautiful if we pay attention to it and know that we are among those who trying to take care of it. Nevertheless, you can tell the song was written by an Irish Catholic by the lyric, “I don’t know why I deserve such a day…”

Now Old Man Winter had stayed around too long
But this morning Mrs. Robin sang to me her song

It’s a rare day, birds are singing in a lilac tree
Pretty fair day casting a spell on me
It’s a rare day made for the likes of a buzzin’ bee
And I dare say it’s got a hold on me
I don’t know why I deserve such a day
I feel like making mud pies, jumping in the hay
It’s a rare day, as rare as clover in the China sea
It’s a rare day ‘cause nothing’s worrying me

It’s a rare day, clouds are walking slowly through the sky
Hey, what care they the least bit for hurrying by
It’s a rare day, the weeping willow doesn’t even cry
And I barely can hear her breathing a sigh
This day has turned me into a hopeless case
I cannot wipe this stupid grin off of my face
It’s a rare day, apples, peaches, baby, pumpkin pie
It’s a rare day ‘cause trouble’s passing me by
Trouble’s passing me by
Trouble’s passing me by

Girl From Boothbay Harbor

John: vocal
Matt: Guitar
Mark: bass

A true story. I washed dishes in Portland Maine a long time ago after coming off the road from Iowa and fell in love with a girl from Boothbay Harbor.

I loved a girl from Boothbay Harbor
Oh, you salty wind and sea
She lived a life of a shipman’s daughter
Never meant for me
Never meant for me
She lived a life of a shipman’s daughter
Never meant for me

Came to Portland on an outbound
Oh, you salty wind and sea
From the Midwest on a Greyhound, See what I could see
See what I could see
From the Midwest on a Greyhound, See what I could see

Broken down and out of money
Oh, you salty wind and sea
Looking ragged, mighty funny what a sight by gee
What a sight by gee
Looking ragged, mighty funny what a sight by gee

In a cafe washing dishes
Oh, you salty wind and sea
Just like answers to my wishes when she spoke to me
When she spoke to me
Just like answers to my wishes when she spoke to me

Took a ride on a Casco ferry
Oh, you salty wind and sea
Oh, what dreams that bay did carry for the likes of me
For the likes of me
Oh, what dreams that bay did carry for the likes of me

Had I been an old time whaler
Oh, you salty wind and sea
I’d have known just how to sail her windward and the lee
Windward and the lee
I’d have known just how to sail her windward and the lee

But there was nothing I could give her
Oh, you salty wind and sea
Where I came from just a river was the poor man’s sea
Was the poor man’s sea
Where I came from just a river was the poor man’s sea

So I sang her Shenandoah
Oh, you salty wind and sea
I built a vessel just like Noah in my memory
In my memory
I built a vessel just like Noah in my memory

I loved a girl from Boothbay Harbor
Oh, you salty wind and sea
She lived a life of a shipman’s daughter
Never meant for me
Never meant for me
She lived a life of a shipman’s daughter
Never meant for me

 

On the Edge of Town

John: guitar, vocal
Abigail and Lily: vocals
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Bud: trumpet

The most nostalgic song I know is one I wrote myself. Written after a trip back to Portland years later following the love affair in the previous song.

 

No need to welcome be back into your town
It’s been so many years since I have been around
Some of the old streets have been paved
Some of the landmarks have been saved
It’s a wonder they haven’t torn the whole thing down

No need to meet me at the train at half past two
‘Cause I just bummed in this morning like I used to do
The fellow dropped me off at noon
On his radio a tune
That used to play back in the days when I knew you

Chorus:

I can hear the whistle blow on the edge of town
So many years ago. Still a familiar sound.

No need to welcome me back into your town
Especially since I don’t know if you’re still around
Remember when you lived upstairs
The building isn’t even there
I guess some folks just don’t know sacred ground

It seems a pity so many things have changed
Nobody knows my face or knows my name
And even Benny at the Bee didn’t recognize poor me
But I wonder how much I look the same?

Repeat chorus

Now all the ships are loading in the bay
I guess that I should just be on my way
Amid the traffic and the noise
I can somehow hear your voice
Oh, weren’t we a pair back in our day?

I can hear the whistle blow on the edge of town
So many years ago. Still a familiar sound.
On the edge of town.

 

Greenfield

John: vocal
Abigail and Lilly: vocals
Matt: guitar, banjo
Mark: bass
Ben: drums

I moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts after living in Seattle for many years. Greenfield was a tool and die factory town on the Green River where the United Electrical Workers organized the union. I was born in New England and somehow I felt oddly at home, though I didn’t know a soul when I moved there. In Seattle it seemed as if everyone was from somewhere else, but in Greenfield almost everyone I met had roots going back generations. I once read something Wendell Berry wrote. I can’t locate the quote but it went something like this: If you want to really know a place, sit down in one spot for a hundred years. In the last verse I’ve stolen a line from a famous Frost poem.

 

Well I drove the road today from Boston
Crossed over bridges, I crossed over hills
I was going home, my head was lost in
Thoughts of the ridges, thoughts of the mills

Chorus:

Oh, oh, oh, I know where I’m going
And it’s ‘cause I know where my hear was sealed
So won’t you take me home to that green valley
To that Green River, back to Greenfield

There’s a covered bridge ‘neath the pumping station
Where I used to swim when I was young
Well, it all goes back several generations
Down through the years the same river runs

Repeat chorus

Oh, my granddad worked at the tap and dye shop
And my grandma too when the war was on
Would’ve taken my place if the work had not stopped
That way of life, you know, is dead and gone

Repeat chorus

There are folks I know who like to keep on movin’
So many miles before they sleep
But I’ll never know what they think they’re provin’
Give me the place where roots are deep

Repeat chorus

Back to Greenfield

Back to Greenfield

 

 

Calendar Highway

John: vocal, guitar
Abigail and Lily: vocals
Matt: acoustic and electric guitars
Mark: bass
Ben: drums

Decades ago I had a friend named Glenda who worked at a place called the Quickserve in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I wrote this song with her in mind.

 

Tell me why you find yourself so anxious to leave my side
In the morning when I wake I find you gone
What have you got to hide?
For years I’ve known the touch of your hand
Your voice is as clear as the rain
But when I turn my head around I find you gone again

And I don’t want to marry that boy from the city
His dreams are full of stocks and bonds
And I’d rather live with your songs and denim
Than a pool and a new mowed lawn

My father wanted the best for me
That’s why we don’t talk much
Mama sent me a letter from Spain
Telling me to keep in touch
They’re out in Europe and your down in Austin
And I’m here in this greasy spoon
My paycheck comes every Saturday night
The mailman is here by noon

And I don’t want to marry that boy from the country
He works everyday of the year
And believe me I don’t want to marry you
But its nice just having your near

So where are you going to night, my friend
Will you ramble till your soul bleeds free
And what of these arms and this love-bleached heart
And what do you want from me?
I’d cry if I thought you were listening to me
But your eyes are on the door
And I’ll think of you tomorrow when I look down to see
Your boot marks on my floor

And I don’t want a marriage license to hold me
Your arms will do just fine
And the news from your calendar highway don’t bore me
But do you wonder what I do with my time?

 

Green Wisconsin Hills

John: vocals
Abigail and Lily: vocals
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Pete: fiddle
Aaron: clarinet

I think of Wisconsin as the Vermont of the Midwest. Apples and beautiful colors in the fall. Lots of dairy farms and winters that could freeze the ass off of any Scandinavian, which is why so many of them settled there. When I lived in Iowa, Southeast Wisconsin was a destination for long weekends and camping trips. We’d drive the roads along the Mississippi and into the green Wisconsin hills, making sure to stop in Potosi and buy some of their great beer.

 

Way back out on that old prairie I’ve got a friend who thinks of me
Every time she hears that train pull into town
You know, she smiles when the whistle blows
She’s got no doubts because she knows
That someday one of those trains gonna bring me ‘round

Up in those green Wisconsin hills they’re growing apples in the Dells
And the Mississippi’s calling out my name
I can hear that big blue heron call and feel the cold snap in the fall
In the place where everything remains the same

So thank you ma’am and yes sir if you please
Wouldn’t I love to be back in the land of butter and cheese

How I remember the winters there putting on my union underwear
And cuddling up to that gal of mine
And when she whispered I love you she was wearing her longjohns too
You know we froze our tails but we were laughing all the time

So don’t you put away your walking shoes, you got no cause to sing the blues
I’ve got that ticket right here in my hand
I ain’t no fool cuz I can see that the city life it ain’t for me
And I’ll be coming right back to that dairyland

And thank you ma’am and yes sir if you please
Wouldn’t I love to be back in the land of butter and cheese

Way back out on that old prairie I’ve got a friend who thinks of me
Every time she hears that train pull into town
You know, she smiles when the whistle blows
She’s got no doubts because she knows
That someday one of those trains gonna bring me ‘round

 

Moon In My Pocket

John: vocal, guitar
Abigail and Lily: vocals
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Bud: flugelhorn
Aaron: saxophone
Michael: trombone

There is a place we all want to go at one point in our lives or another; a place that doesn’t really exist, but we are tempted to throw everything aside and go there forever, to “call that friend who’s got an old skiff that will take me to the end of the sea.”

 

Six in the morning and I walk to the kitchen for coffee
And I look at the calendar on the wall by the wooden ice box door
Another two hours I’ll be sitting on bus bound for Bristol
And while reading the paper I wonder what I’m leaving for

Chorus:
But I think I might like to be somewhere where the mercury climbs faster
And I’d sing to the gulf stream if I thought that the east coast could hear me
Put the moon in my pocket and wait for the stars to come sailing
I’ve got a friend who has an old skiff that will take me to the end of the sea

Well, I’m much to polite for the noises that approach me this morning
I hear the milk truck on Pine Street though it hasn’t been driven for years
My eyes and my fingers have for long been the objects of fancy
Oh, they close and suggestions that time is a quiet frontier

You can leave all my mail with the man who change the locks next weekend
Say goodbye to my friend who used to sweep the hallway floor
Don’t you know this silver city ain’t got enough dreams to offer
Oh, the telephone is ringing but I’m already half way out the door

 

But I think I might like to be somewhere where the mercury climbs faster
And I’d sing to the gulf stream if I thought that the east coast could hear me
Put the moon in my pocket and wait for the stars to come sailing
Call that friend who has an old skiff that will take me to the end of the sea
Where’s that friend who’s got an old skiff that will take me to the end of the sea?

 

Here I Am

John: vocal
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Bud: trumpet
Aaron: clarinet
Michael: trombone

This song and the next were written around the same time. They’re unusual for me in that the lyrics are enigmatic. Don’t ask me. Just enjoy the ride.

 

Down in a dirty hotel here I am
Put on my shoes and I wash myself spic and span
I’ll be on the town tonight, tomorrow I’ll be out of sight
But tonight look at me ‘cause here I am

I fear for the lives of the ducks in the old mill pond
The winter’s gonna come and the ducks are gonna be gone
They may fly south too late and end up on somebody’s dinner plate
We’ll turn off the radio and turn the oven on

I’m sorry my friend, but tell ya that I just don’t know
Who it is that turns out the light when it’s time to go
I’d stick around till 3 but I’m afraid of the dark, you see
So light up the candle, keep it burning sweet and low

There’s a 14 carat Packard sitting in the drive
They say that it’s worth more dead than it is alive
I’ll be away from here soon and that Packard’s gonna be gone by noon
The morning will be dusty by the time I arrive

Well, you look at me like I’m a blue-nosed son of a gun
Well, I always look this way when I’m ready to run
But I ain’t got nothing to hide, I’ll feel better when I’m on the other side
I’ll California, I think she might be the one

They took all money out of Cleveland and ran away
Now the sewers don’t work and the police, they don’t get paid
I feel like Mack the Knife or Henry the 8th without a wife
But I’ll make sure the curtain’s drawn and the bed is made

Who’s gonna talk your future over when I’m gone?
Who’s gonna clean out your garage and mow the lawn?
When it’s fair thee well I say, I’ll be sad and you’ll be gay
You’ll be in Boston, I’ll be down in San Antone

Down in a dirty hotel here I am

Put on my shoes and I open up a can of Spam
I’ll be on the town tonight, tomorrow I’ll be out of sight
But tonight look at me ‘cause here I am

 

 

She Calls Herself California

John: vocal, guitar
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums

I don’t know where Quincy Station is any more than I know who this person is who calls herself California. I think her real name might be Wandelrust.

Living beneath the border of a little town in paradise
I dug in my roots and I set up my teepee there
The shower was out of order but my plants were growing nice
And the lucky old sun only had to come out half the year

I took a trip to San Francisco just about a month ago
I canceled my paper but I’ll bet I left the TV on
I was stalking the wild disco but brother I didn’t know
When you leave a lady dancing the only way she go is gone

She calls herself California. She’s on the road to Jerico
Won’t you say a couple prayers for the folks until we get back home
I never had the time to loan ya, but honey, why’d you have to go
Is that damned old interstate the only place she’s ever known?

I guess I need a new connection and I’ll be on the top again
Won’t you fill up the cider jug and pass it over here
It’s just for my own protection. She may just be my closest friend
When she walks across the water and makes my troubles disappear

I freed myself from Quincy Station. My mind was in a quandary there
The narrow edge was shallow and I flirted with the evening sun
But out of all this jubilation the gray was counted in my hair
By all these painted women, by god they had a lot of fun

She calls herself California; she looks a lot like Idaho
So I’ll say a couple prayers for myself until I get back home
I feel it only fair to warn ya, when the road is gone it’s time to go
I don’t know how I thought I could ever make it on my own

If I knew myself a little better I could trade it in to save my soul
But I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath
I could send the kid another letter but that would never be my goal
She’d only try to tell me which side was her better half

She calls herself California when she dresses up in calico
And she says a prayer for everybody that she’s ever known
If I only had a dime to phone ya we could catch the train in Buffalo
And sing a couple songs to each other till we get back home

 

It’s A Man Again

John: vocal, guitar
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Bud: flugelhorn

This song speaks for itself. It’s about the tragedy that some people experience in their search for love. I’ve had people cry when I sing this song and I’ve had people get angry at me for singing this song. But it contains some truth that is hard to deny. I’ve always been puzzled by the use of the word “need” in love songs. When someone needs another person, is that really love?

Janey comes to have some tea, you smile sympathetically
And you chat about the kids and their new school
Then she lifts her hand to meet her brow, you know just what she’s going to tell you now
And she sighs a bit and feels just like a fool
Cause it’s a man again and don’t you know she sure picks from a sorry row
And you wonder why she stays with ones so cruel
But she’s lonely and she doesn’t want to lose him

Oh, tell me now what do you see behind these eyes of misery
And why would anyone treat herself so
It’s easy to blame the man, it’s true, when you think of all the things he’ll do
Before she’s willing to admit that it’s no-go
And she gets so desperate and so blue, is it worth all that she’s going through
And you hope she’ll look back to you and say, no
But she says, yes, because she’s lonely and she needs him

She takes another sip of tea and asks you rather seriously
Why a good man is impossible to find
And as you start to laugh it occurs to you that maybe what she’s saying’s true
Although you known a couple in your time
And you say maybe she should let him go, she sighs a little and says, no
Sure he’s callous but she doesn’t always mind
And wouldn’t she be worse off now without him?

Oh, do you remember your first love and how the stars moved up above
It was so long ago but it seems like yesterday
And now you’re a woman and not a girl, you’ve learned some things about the world
How it goes around and how its edges fray
And soon your kids will come in through the door and maybe you’ll love them a little more
Because you know how you would like them to be someday

And Janey has to get home to her own, the groceries and the telephone
Ain’t sad, ‘cause she’d be better off without him

 

Are You Coming With Me, Jim?

John: vocal, guitar
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Aaron: clarinet

I met this fellow at the big homeless shelter in Seattle’s Pioneer Square years ago, where I was working when I wasn’t on the road touring. Most of the souls who slept at the shelter had various alcohol and drug problems or mental illness issues that kept them homeless. But occasionally you’d run into a drifter, someone who back in the day may be have been called a hobo. This fellow told me his story about how he had worked a career off and on as a merchant seaman and now he was done with nowhere to go but inland. This song followed.

 

Down along the waterfront across the streetcar line
Two men were passing around a bag, a bottle of cheap wine
And one with whiskers deep and dark and a scar along his chin
Said I’ll be taking the next freight out. Are you coming with me, Jim?

Now Jim had been a merchant seaman whose years had worn him thin
The ports of the world and called him out but his drinking had brought him in
And here at the sight of his last go-round and the last ship that he sailed
In the cool of the rain with his partner Wayne was a world of the lost and the failed

Oh, the moon shown down from out of the clouds that were dark and moving fast
And the smell of the rain was in the street and a slow train was moving past
Oh Jim took a swig from the bottle, wiped his mouth off with his sleeve
Said I’m tired staying and tired of going but I guess that it’s time to leave

So he walked across the puddled streets and stood by the side of the track
And Wayne lit a smoke and he told a bad joke and he shifted the weight on his back
Then he grabbed a hold of a midway car and he flung his duffel in
And he looked back down at his partner and said, are you coming with me Jim

Oh some sail the oceans far and wide, the exotic ports of call
No family, no home, just passion to roam on the ships with the stacks so tall
But deep in the heart of America are the big ships’ next of kin
Where the seas are the rails and the ports are jails, are you coming with me, Jim?

 

The 211

John: vocal
Chris: vocal
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Bud: trumpet
Aaron: saxophone
Michael: trombone

When I arrived in Seattle in 1977, there was still present some of the spirit of the old rough and tumble Seattle. Some of the haunts would fill up with those who remembered Seattle before the Boeing boom and bust years. Skid Road hangers, Wobblies, seamen, dockworkers, nomadic first Americans. Around Third and Pine there were beer joints, flops and one fantastic pool hall called the 211. We used to shoot pool there on the second floor and in warm weather the broad windows would swing open horizontally to let in the odor of sea and creosote from the piers down below on the waterfront. It was a sad day, indeed, when news came that someone had bought the building and would soon be tearing it down. Capitalism doesn’t care whose heart it breaks.

 

Rack ‘em up, Tony, on table three
I’ll get the pitcher, the beer is on me
But you better shoot fast and you better shoot clean
They’re shutting down the poolroom manana first thing

Chorus:
There goes another eight in the hole
There goes the building for someone’s bankroll
Never mind the life and beer spilt in this hall
They’re tearing down the Two Eleven, Tony, that’s all

You open up the elevator, inside you go
There’s only two buttons, there’s only one show
You push the button up, you’re out on the town
You shoot a game of cutthroat, you’re on your way down

You can shoot your game in the taverns, boys
But the table’s so small and there’s all of that noise
I want something real, if you know what I mean
Just give me the poolroom where there’s plenty of green

They put up this building back in 19 and 10
But 70 years don’t mean nothing to them
It’s in with the new and it’s out with the old
And they won’t be finished till everything’s sold

Now I’ve done a little gambling in my time
But the game that they’re playing is really a crime
You count up your score and chalk up your cue
We’re all behind the 8-ball, it’s sad but it’s true

 

Waiting

John: vocal
Abigail and Lily: vocals
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Bud: trumpet
Aaron: saxophone
Michael: trombone

A song of revolution. When the wealthy and their governments use violence against the people, they call it “spreading democracy”. When the people have had enough and rise up, they will call it terrorism.

There’s a hand on the trigger, there’s a hand on the gun
There’s a hand on the floor where the blood has run
There’s a hand on the face buried deep in grief
For the life of a child that was so brief

Chorus:
And my brothers
And my sisters
We are waiting
To rise up

The big black boot, the strap cross the chin
She asks where is her husband and the dark eyes grin

Beyond the walls of the compound where the screams are heard
In the far off night above the whispered word

The great plantation where the coffee trees grow
O’er the bones of the people buried long ago
And the rich land owners ever wanting more
And the crops fertilized with the life-blood of the poor

The guns and the fortress and the death machine
Bought with crisp new money where the dollar is green
In the halls of congress, both sides of the aisle
And their cynical plaudits, at each other they smile
And their green lined pockets from the fortune few
And their words of democracy from their gullets spew
And their lawyers and their realtors and the stock market crowd
Play the hands of the tailor on the people’s shroud

When the poor are defended by their own honest hand
And they stand in the struggle for their children and their land
The rich and conceited with their flags unfurled
Will swear there’s a terror spreading through the world

 

The Best Thing We’ve Got

John: vocal, guitar
Abigail and Lily: vocals
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Bud: trumpet
Aaron: saxophone
Michael: trombone

The best thing we’ve got is each other, but somehow we are never able act on this one great truth to our advantage. The media and the powerful profit from selling the news of our differences. One great day we will overcome and live as brothers and sisters in this crazy old world.

I don’t know why we can’t look in the eye
That mean old stranger that comes around here
Turning the wrenches and tightening our defenses
That no one even knew we had near

And I do declare when I was a fair
headed lad climbing trees and playing with toys
That I never thought the love that I got
From my friends was a matter of choice

Chorus:
We read all the news as we grow so old
That we are more separate than not
But of all that is bartered and bought and is sold
I know we are the best thing we’ve got

Now, people find niches and hide in deep ditches
In order to grow to be women and men
And it may be they’re closed to what’s under their nos-
es – To the ties to their families and friends

So my friend, sit by me and let me plainly see
Your arms and your fingers and those two eyes so blue
And tell me I’m not from some other lot
And what I though when I was young is still true

‘Cause I do declare when I was a fair
headed lad climbing trees and playing with toys
That I never thought the love that I got
From my friends was a matter of choice

So damned all the news as we grow so old
That we are more separate than not
But of all that is bartered and bought and is sold
I know we are the best thing we’ve got
Of all that is bartered and bought and is sold
I know we are the best thing we’ve got

 

Big Bend Boulevard
Paul Tinker

John: vocal
Abigail and Lily: vocals
Matt: guitar
Mark: bass
Ben: drums
Bud: trumpet
Michael: trombone

I learned this song from someone a long time ago in what was known as “song circle” back in Seattle. Paul Tinker wrote the song about riding a bike through the streets of St. Louis. I love singing this song and often end my concerts with it. I feel when I am singing the song much like I am riding a bicycle. Like the first bike I ever rode down the other side of Camel’s Back Bridge in Kensington, Connecticut. Such a thrill to take your first ride downhill on a bike. And then you realize no one taught you how to stop. Such are the vicissitudes of life!

 

I ride my bike, I don’t need no car
I’m here to there like a shooting star
Burn no petroleum, I guzzle no gas
I get to laugh at the pumps I pass

Chorus:
On the many hills of Big Bend Boulevard
A few I’ve known, I’ve known few, a few I have known
From Rock Hill Rd. to hilly High Del Mar
My home I call, I call my home, I call my home

Now Big Bend used to be a narrower street
Shady trees kept it out of the heat
Now it’s wider than a parking lot
And in the summer it gets pretty hot

In University City
There’s a stretch that’s still real pretty
Covered over by a couple of score
Of U City’s pretty sycamore

But now they’re talking ‘bout cutting the trees
So all the gas-guzzlers won’t have to squeeze
Why do they have to make the streets all wider
Look at all the cars with just one rider

So if the price of gas is raIsin’ your ire
Get out the clunker and pump up the tire
Push on the pedals, watch the two wheels turn
If nothing else you are sure to learn

 

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