Sunday, October 1, 2000

The Prodigal Poet

Dave's Dating Lesson: Choose a partner that drives a beat-up old nearly broken down obsolete automobile. That way when you break up you won't be reminded of her every time you see a similar car on the road. In this day of embarrassing prosperity you are less likely to see the broken down types around town (or maybe that's only where I'm hanging out). There is no more sure painful a reminder than seeing a similar car as the one that took the two of you all around and got you to many places you never thought you'd be.

This valuable lesson is similar to another I learned at Macalester College, that heady institute of higher learning. During my freshman year at good ole freaking Mac I was rooming with Dr. Peter Seline of Albert Lea, Minnesota. Dr. Pete and I didn't get along too well. Let's just say that Dr. Pete thought I was the biggest loser he had ever seen and I never quite forgave him for the time he threw up in my heirloom-like waste paper basket.

One of the few pleasant exchanges between us came after I had meandered down to our local Cheapo to buy Paul McCartney's brand spankin' new LP, Pipes of Peace. I put it on our stereo as Dr. Pete and I were at our desks studying (I'm sure he was studying some biology or something that would lead him down the path to his medical degree. I was studying the profound meaning behind Mr. McCartney's new songs). I was a bit disappointed in the LP, the follow-up to one of my still favorite LPs of all time, Tug of War. I expressed my displeasure to Dr. Pete and he actually had some words of kindness to share. Something about how he sort of liked the record (Dr. Pete hated my taste in music and I wasn't too keen on his) and that I should cut Paul a break. It's hard to produce great music every time out especially seeing the impressive length and quality of Paul's career blah blah blah.

This lesson came to mind when I picked up a copy of John Hiatt's newest CD, Crossing Muddy Waters. Hiatt remains one of my favorite writers- and his workmanlike career now spans nearly 26 years of prolific and worthwhile music. Crossing Muddy Waters is his 14th studio LP/CD and like most of his other work, it's an impressive collection of distinctive songs. Hiatt said the sound he was shooting for was a "back porch" sound- and he effectively accomplishes the task. The CD was recorded in four days with two members of his touring band, Davey Faragher on acoustic bass, and David Immergluck on mandolin. The eleven breezy blues songs sound like they've been around forever bouncing around the banks of the Mississippi, echoes just waiting to be heard.

Common themes abound- imagery of cars, trains and riding down the river invoke feelings of whimsical wanderlust and voluntary displacement. Curiously six out of the eleven songs mention either "tears" or "crying" and yet the overall feeling of the CD is one of atonement and the rustic splendor of moving forward. The CD is the type you can put on as background music- bluesy folk with a tinge of bluegrass- the swampy sound is infectious- jangly guitars and Hiatt's loose vocals are enough to get your feet a-tappin. At the same time the deeper you listen the more rewarding the disc is. Hiatt remains a clever and gifted lyricist. It's hard to imagine another songwriter who with seemingly little effort continues to throw us lines like- "red tail hawk shooting down the canyon/put me on that wind he rides/I will be your true companion/when we reach the other side."

In a recent interview with to promote the new CD Hiatt revealed an insight about why he continues to write and why his writing means so much. When asked if some of the raw emotions he has exposed in his music makes it difficult to listen to past songs he responds, "Oh, no. The songs are what got me through. It's kind of like only the song survives. It's not my real life in these songs. It's inspired by bits of it, but it's inspired by a lot of different bits. The songs were my release; the music makes me free. I've always felt like there's nothing I couldn't write my way out of."


My last best college roommate Spunky sells medicine of a different kind than Dr. Pete- being the CFO of a winery. His continued friendship is probably the best thing I got out of my Macalester experience. On Wednesday night Spunky and I hopped on over to the Borders in Richfield to hear Hiatt perform a brief set of his new songs. This definitely was not a "back porch" setting. The standard conglomerate book store layout seemed an odd setting for such personal homilies and yet there was something touching about hearing John alone on his acoustic guitar performing his new songs to an appreciative suburban crowd. Hiatt recently left his old label, Capitol to join the folk label Vanguard. His new CD is also available for download at for ninety-nine cents per song. In conjunction with this new way of getting his music to his fans he also is playing several free shows at different Borders across the country. He seemed in his usual joyful mood this particular night. Concluding the all too brief set with an old song, "Riding with the King" he proved among other things that memories and longevity can be intertwined.

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