Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Yarbrough’

Saturday Single No. 506

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

The news came in last evening: Glenn Yarbrough, folk singer, member of the folk trio the Limeliters, and featured performer on the turntable in the rec room of my youth, passed on yesterday in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 86.

Yarbrough was never a superstar in the world of music. He was, though, a bright light in the folk universe. With the Limeliters from 1959 to 1963 and then on his own, he was a folk singer who became a gentle interpreter of music ranging from Rod McKuen’s sentimental poetry to songs from some of the great popular songwriters of the rock era.

And the glow of Yarbrough’s light mattered to me. As I’ve noted a few times over the years, Yarbrough entered my life when my sister’s Vietnam-bound boyfriend left her two of Yarbrough’s albums in 1968: The Lonely Things, a 1966 collection of McKuen’s sad (and sometimes manipulative) songs, and For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, a 1967 album on which Yarbrough interpreted songs by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Stephen Stills, and Phil Ochs, among others. I likely listened to them more than she did, and the two albums became part of who I am to this day; they remain a central portion of my musical universe, a universe that nearly fifty years ago had very little congruence with the musical universes of those with whom I went to school and shared my day-to-day life.

It’s hard to be different, of course, and when I was fifteen, I felt utterly out of place in the world of high school games (not realizing for many years, of course, that nearly every one of the others who crowded the halls of St. Cloud Tech High School felt utterly out of place as well). One of the balms for me in those years was the music on those two Yarbrough albums; as their music filled the basement rec room, it filled as well some of the empty space inside me. From early 1968 to mid-1972 (when my sister got married and moved to the Twin Cities, taking her records with her), those two albums were never far from what these days we would call my playlist.

When I was lovelorn, there was “The Lonely Things,” the title tune of the album of McKuen’s work; the same record at those moments offered sad solace with “People Change” and “So Long, San Francisco.” When I was hopeful, the For Emily . . . album supported my dreams of a special someone with “Gently Here Beside Me” (written by the duo of Marc Fontenoy and Anne Saray), mixed with the romantic but hard-edged realism of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go.” Those left me with a view of romance that was certainly less sappy and also less cynical than McKuen’s view, even with that latter view filtered through Yarbrough’s clear, sweet tenor voice.

After my sister left with her records, it took me some time to find good copies of those two albums (and the rest of her relatively small collection, as well), but fairly clean copies of the two Yarbrough albums of my youth now sit in the LP stacks, joined by about ten more of the singer’s albums (and they will all survive the winnowing process currently underway), and I have CDs of those first two as well.

Individual tracks from those CDs – or from several other Yarbrough albums – pop up occasionally when I have the RealPlayer on random, and all of For Emily . . . and The Lonely Things are among the mix on the iPod, as is Yarbrough’s only Top 40 hit, “Baby The Rain Must Fall,” which went to No. 12 in 1965 (and went to No. 2 on the Billboard chart now called Adult Contemporary). When the tracks slide in at random, they’re a sometimes bittersweet reminder of a time and place that had a great deal to do with forming the person I see in the mirror each morning.

And when on occasion, I put one of the two CDs – For Emily . . . or The Lonely Things – into the bedside player as I retire, I’m almost always transported back nearly fifty years to the times when an uncertain teen found comfort and some counsel in the work of a gentle man who ended a portion of his journey through time yesterday. In those late-night moments, I’m grateful to Yarbrough as I have been for decades, grateful for that comfort and counsel. I’m sure I was not alone in finding those things in Yarbrough’s music over the years, just as I’m sure that many – maybe even millions – share my sorrow this morning.

“All my world, somehow changing,” Yarbrough sang on “Comes and Goes” from For Emily . . . “Could it be all things pass into time?” He knew, of course, the answer to that rhetorical question, for the song (written by Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley) ends, “Helpless but thankful am I, for I know that it’s just one more change when I die.”

To mark, to celebrate, and to grieve that “one more change,” Glenn Yarbrough’s “Comes and Goes” – found on the 1967 album For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her – is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 431

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

About three years ago, having run across an obscure single by Rod McKuen in a Billboard Hot 100 from 1962, I remembered seeking out a couple of volumes of McKuen’s poetry in high school:

Why? A couple of things contributed, I imagine. I’d been listening frequently to the Glenn Yarbrough album The Lonely Things, a 1966 LP of McKuen’s songs that my sister had received from a boyfriend before he headed off to Vietnam. And there was my embryonic interest in writing my own verse and lyrics. Those two bits of my life united, I think, into the realization that even if matters of the heart did not unwind as I might wish they would (and they did not, though at sixteen, how could they have done so?), something worthy might be salvaged from the sorrow.

So I read the two volumes, recognizing a few of the pieces from the Yarbrough album and dipping into those that were not familiar. I found some of them affecting, I remember, and I found some of them not to my taste. Assessing them from a distance of more than forty years – and not having read many of them for that long – I now see much of McKuen’s work as manipulative, pushing his loved (and lost) one’s buttons, as it were, instead of truly grieving. And his poems and lyrics – even those on the Yarbrough album, which I still love – all too often tap sentiment instead of true emotion.

Hmmm. Until I wrote those words, I didn’t know I felt that way about McKuen’s work. As I used to tell my reporting and writing students: If you want to know how you really feel about something, start writing about it and follow the words. But anyway, back to work . . .

And I still feel that way about the work of McKuen, who passed on in California two days ago at the age of eighty-one. But that’s (mostly) the dismissive assessment of an adult. As an adolescent, as I noted in that piece from three years ago, I found many of his works affecting, and – especially when filtered through the voice of Glenn Yarbrough – touching. Sentimental? Yes, I still think so, but I’m also aware that the reliance on sentiment – by McKuen and other writers alike – is one of the things that pushed me toward being a writer, toward using the events and feelings of my life as foundations of my own work.

And there we come to one of the points of this blog: How the music I’ve loved over the years has brought me to where I am, as a writer and a person. And the fact that I have come to be far more critical of McKuen’s work in the forty-five years that have passed since I was a high school junior does not negate the value I found in some of McKuen’s work then nor its influence since those days on my writing and my life.

That value and that influence came most of all from Yarbrough’s album The Lonely Things. So to remember Rod McKuen and to acknowledge his place in my life, here’s one of the pieces from Yarbrough’s album that I found most affecting in 1970. Even as I recognize the song’s flaws today, I still find the combination of McKuen’s words and Yarbrough’s voice a potent mix, which only means that I am both sixteen and sixty-one as I listen to it this morning. Here’s “Stanyan Street, Revisited,” today’s Saturday Single.

‘And The Night Comes Again . . .’

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Phil Ochs wrote “Crucifixion” in reaction to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas fifty years ago today. I’ve shared Glenn Yarbrough’s version before, but it’s the only thing that belongs here today. It’s from Yarbrough’s 1967 album, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.

And the night comes again to the circle-studded sky
The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie
’Till the universe explodes as a falling star is raised
The planets are paralyzed, the mountains are amazed
But they all glow brighter from the brilliance of the blaze
With the speed of insanity, then he died

In the green fields a-turning, a baby is born
His cries crease the wind and mingle with the morn
An assault upon the order, the changing of the guard
Chosen for a challenge that’s hopelessly hard
And the only single sign is the sighing of the stars
But to the silence of distance they are sworn

Images of innocence charge him go on
But the decadence of destiny is looking for a pawn
To a nightmare of knowledge he opens up the gate
A blinding revelation is served upon his plate
That beneath the greatest love is a hurricane of hate
And God help the critic of the dawn

So he stands on the sea and he shouts to the shore
But the louder that he screams, the longer he’s ignored
For the wine of oblivion is drunk to the dregs
And the merchants of the masses almost have to be begged
’Till the giant is aware, someone’s pulling at his leg
Someone is tapping at the door

Then his message gathers meaning. It spreads across the land
The rewarding of the pain is the following of the man
But ignorance is everywhere and people have their way
Success is an enemy to the losers of the day
In the shadows of the churches, who knows what they pray
For blood is the language of the band

The Spanish bulls are beaten, the crowd is soon beguiled
The matador is beautiful, a symphony of style
Excitement is ecstatic, passion places bets
Gracefully he bows to ovations that he gets
But the hands that are applauding are slippery with sweat
Saliva is falling from their smiles

So dance, dance, dance
Teach us to be true
Dance, dance, dance
’Cause we love you

Then this overflow of life is crushed into a liar
The gentle soul is ripped apart and tossed into the fire
It’s the burial of beauty, it’s the victory of night
Truth becomes a tragedy limping from the light
The heavens are horrified, they stagger from the sight
And the cross is trembling with desire

They say they can’t believe it, it’s a sacrilegious shame
Now, who would want to hurt such a hero of the game?
But you know I predicted it, I knew he had to fall
How did it happen? I hope his suffering was small
Tell me every detail, I’ve got to know it all
And do you have a picture of the pain?

Time takes her toll and the memory fades
But his glory is growing in the magic that he made
Reality is ruined, there is nothing more to fear
The drama is distorted into what they want to hear
Swimming in their sorrow, in the twisting of a tear
As they wait for the new thrill parade

The eyes of the rebel have been branded by the blind
To the safety of sterility, the threat has been repined
The child was created, to the slaughterhouse he’s led
So good to be alive when the eulogy is read
The climax of emotion, the worship of the dead
As the cycle of sacrifice unwinds

So dance, dance, dance
Teach us to be true
Dance, dance, dance
’Cause we love you

And the night comes again to the circle-studded sky
The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie
’Till the universe explodes as a falling star is raised
The planets are paralyzed, the mountains are amazed
But they all glow brighter for the brilliance of the blaze
With the speed of insanity. Then he died

‘Only Say That You’ll Be Mine . . .’

Friday, November 1st, 2013

When one wanders through the vast field of American folk songs – the songs that arose here in the years before recorded music, that folks sang at home and passed on via oral traditions, and that provide at least part of the foundation of today’s popular music – one finds mayhem of all sorts. Take a listen to numerous entries, for example, in Harry Smith’s massive Anthology of American Folk Music, and you’ll find jealousy, robbery, rape, accidental death, murder and more.

At least two of those are present in “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio” as recorded in 1936 by the Blue Sky Boys. The song wasn’t included in Smith’s original three volumes in 1952 (reissued in 1997 in a six-CD box), but it showed up in a 2000 release of a fourth volume Smith never completed. In that song – released on the Bluebird and Montgomery Ward labels (and used in 1973 in the soundtrack to the movie Paper Moon) – the Blue Sky Boys sing:

Come my love, let’s take a walk,
Just a little ways away.
While we walk along, we’ll talk,
Talk about our wedding day.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

I drew my knife across her throat,
And to my breast she gently pressed.
“Oh please, oh please, don’t murder me,
For I’m unprepared to die you see.”

I taken her by her lily white hand.
I let her down and I bade her stand.
There I plunged her in to drown,
And watched her as she floated down.

Returning home ’tween twelve and one.
Thinking of the deed I done.
I murdered a girl I love, you see,
Because she would not marry me.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

Next day as I returning home
I met the sheriff standing in the door.
He said “Young man, come with me and go,
Down to the banks of the Ohio.”

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

The song, according to Wikipedia, comes from the 19th century, and many versions with different verses have arisen since. In the first recorded version of the tune, performed in 1927 by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers, the young lady confesses that she loves another, and that spurs the narrator to murder. In that 1927 version, however, the sheriff makes no appearance, leaving the murderer to grieve on the banks of the river.

Okay, so jealousy and murder were not uncommon in song (and still are not, perhaps especially in county music, the most direct descendant of the folk songs Smith collected), but it was still startling to see earlier this week in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971, that Olivia Newton-John had a hit with a gender-flipped version of “Banks Of The Ohio.” The single went only to No. 94 here in the U.S. (No. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart), but it was No. 1 for five weeks in Australia. Here’s a 1971 television appearance:

Newton-John’s version trims out the verses that provide motive for the murder, that tell of the drowning and that bring in the sheriff, yet it’s still a jarring song for 1971 when one listens to the story. Well, maybe not; 1971 was also the year that the Buoys hit No. 17 with “Timothy,” a barely disguised tale about a cave-in and cannibalism. But I wonder how many folks who sang along with the pretty chorus of Newton-John’s hit shook their heads when they realized that things were not as pleasant as they seemed along the banks of the Ohio.

Newton-John’s version of the song is the only one that’s hit the Billboard Hot 100 and AC Top 40. No version has ever reached the R&B or Country Top 40s. Finding it in the R&B listings would have surprised me, but a greater surprise was its absence from the country chart. In the years before and after Newton-John’s cover of the song, there have been plenty of other countryish covers, both as “Banks Of The Ohio” and “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio.” (Wikipedia notes a couple other titles, too: Henry Whittier recorded the song in the 1920s as “I’ll Never Be Yours,” and the song has sometimes been titled “On the Banks of the Old Pedee.”)

As I wandered through numerous covers of “Banks Of The Ohio” in the past few days (and I won’t note all of them; you can go to Second Hand Songs and find the list I used as a starting point if you’re so inclined), a few stood out. I liked the version by Howard & Gerald with the Starlite Mountain Boys that was released in 1970 on Mountain Doer (or Mo Do) Records of Marion, West Virginia. The same was true of the version the Kossoy Sisters included on their 1956 album, Bowling Green and Other Folk Songs from the Southern Mountains. And a current artist named Tom Roush recorded a very lush take on the song for his album My Grandfather’s Clock: More Music of 19th Century America, released just this year.

But the most fascinating version of the old song I’ve found in the past few days comes from a very familiar artist. The person who posted it on YouTube called it “the creepiest version” of the song, and I can’t disagree. Here, from his 1957 album, Come Sit By My Side, and studded with dissonance, is Glenn Yarbrough’s take on “Banks Of The Ohio.”

‘Beauty In That Rainbow In The Sky . . .’

Friday, May 17th, 2013

So, about “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” . . .

As I noted yesterday, and as was the case for a couple of other sturdy songs I’ve written about in the past ten days or so, it was Glenn Yarbrough’s 1967 album, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, that introduced me to “Tomorrow,” which I’ve long thought to be one of Bob Dylan’s most beautiful songs.

The first released version of the song was recorded by Ian & Sylvia for their 1964 album, Four Strong Winds. Regular reader David Leander noted in a comment yesterday that “at one point Dylan told them he’d written it for them to record, but I think he told anybody that might record one of his songs that he’d written it for them.” I’ve read in a number of places that the song was inspired by Dylan’s early 1960s relationship with Suze Rotolo (the young woman shown with Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), but that doesn’t mean that he might not have had Ian & Sylvia – or Judy Collins (from her Fifth Album in 1965) or someone else or no other performer at all – in mind when he wrote the song.

As I also noted yesterday, Dylan has officially released two versions of the song: The first recorded, a demo, was officially released in 2010 as part of the ninth volume of Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series, and – according to Wikipedia – has been available as a bootleg for years. The second version he recorded, a live 1963 performance of the song in New York City, was released in 1972 as a track on Dylan’s second greatest hits album. Wikipedia also notes that a “studio version of the song, an outtake from the June 1970 sessions for New Morning, has also been bootlegged.”

The first Dylan version I heard of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was on that second greatest hits package. (The only video I can find at YouTube with that 1963 live version is from an episode of The Walking Dead. Zombies and a love song don’t match well for me.) By that time, of course, I’d absorbed the Yarbrough version from his For Emily album:

Over the years, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” has been a generally popular song for covers. Second Hand Songs lists a total of thirty-one English-language versions, and more (I didn’t bother to count) are listed at Amazon. I imagine that iTunes and other similar sites would have more yet. As is generally the case, the list of folks and groups who’ve covered the song include the unsurprising and the surprising alike: Among the first category are the Brothers Four, the We Five, the Kingston Trio, Linda Mason, Chris Hillman, Bud & Travis, the Silkie, the Earl Scruggs Revue and Sandy Denny. Less expected (or even unknown in these parts) are Hipcity Cruz, Deborah Cooperman, Barb Jungr, Sebastian Cabot, Magna Carta and Danielle Howell.

I’ve heard at most bits and pieces of those covers in the above paragraph, but over the years, I’ve listened to many other covers of the song, and I’ve tracked down even more in just the past couple of days. One version that’s been mentioned here at least twice in the past six years is the version by Elvis Presley that showed up in his 1966 movie Spinout. Regular reader Porky noted yesterday that Elvis “supposedly learned it from Odetta’s version,” which was on the 1965 album, Odetta Sings Dylan. I like Elvis’ version more than I used to, but the austere dignity which Odetta brought to her music doesn’t seem to work for the song.

I was surprised to find the name of Hamilton Camp among those who’d covered “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” Camp, a mid-1960s folkie, released the song on his 1964 album Paths of Victory. That album is likely better known for his version of Dino Valente’s “Get Together,” which became a No. 5 hit for the Youngbloods in 1969 (after being a No. 31 hit for the We Five in 1965).

Another, far more recent name that surprised me was that of the country-folk group Nickel Creek, which put the song on its 2005 album, Why Should the Fire Die? I enjoyed the group’s self-titled debut in 2000, but wasn’t at all pleased with the follow-up, This Side, in 2002. I may have to give the group another try.

The most enjoyable version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” that I came across this week came from a one-off album from 1973. Several blogs have featured the album Refuge by the duo calling itself Heaven & Earth, and one of my favorite blogs, hippy-djkit, calls the album a “psych folk funk beauty from the early 70’s featuring the gorgeous voices of Jo D. Andrews & Pat Gefell.” There are a couple of other notable covers on the album, specifically takes on Stephen Stills’ “To A Flame” and the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, “60 Years On,” but the best thing on the album – and maybe the prettiest version I’ve ever heard – is Heaven & Earth’s take on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

Reference to “Get Together”  corrected June 8, 2013.

‘Perhaps You Just Been Bought . . .’

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

A week ago, while discussing Glenn Yarbrough’s cover of “The French Girl,” a song first recorded by its writers, Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker, I noted that Yarbrough, specifically on his 1967 album, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, did me a major favor. Yarbrough, I wrote, “introduced me, in those days when I was not listening to pop and rock, to the work of some of the finest folk and folk-rock songwriters of the day. The songwriter credits on Yarbrough’s For Emily album alone contain some impressive names: Paul Simon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Stephen Stills, Phil Ochs [and] Bob Dylan.”

And I wondered for a moment which cover on Yarbrough’s album might be the least likely. The tune that came to mind right away was “Everybody’s Wrong,” a Stephen Stills’ song that was on the first album by the Buffalo Springfield, a self-titled release from 1967. I’ve got the Springfield version, though I admit I haven’t paid much attention to the track since I got the LP during the mid-1990s.

The song is “one of Buffalo Springfield’s (and Stephen Stills’) lost early masterpieces,” says Matthew Greenwald at All Music Guide. Greenwald calls the song, “a minor folk-rock tour de force containing many classic elements of the form, yet maintaining a wholly original approach.” He goes on to say that in the song, “Stills captures emotions of confusion and uncertainty without sounding overly downcast – slightly lost and confused (and maybe a little depressed) at the state of things, yet very strong of constitution at the same. All this is not too far removed from Bob Dylan’s songs of the mid-’60s, yet ‘Everybody’s Wrong’ is by no means an imitation.”

Pretty high praise. I wondered what AMG had to say, if anything, about Yarbrough’s version, so I went looking. After generally dissing the entire album’s production as not doing justice to either Yarbrough’s voice or the songs, Richie Unterberger writes, “the clash of orchestration, country-ish folk-rock, and raga-tinged guitar on ‘Everybody’s Wrong’ rank(s) as the LP’s oddest venture.”

As I dug, I recalled another review of the For Emily album – I cannot lay my hands on it this morning – that said something to the effect that Yarbrough’s covering “Everybody’s Wrong” was the most eccentric choice on an album full of eccentric choices.

Well, maybe.

I know that my affection for Glenn Yarbrough’s catalog is itself eccentric. My pal jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ noted during a crate-digging session a few years ago that I am the only Yarbrough enthusiast he knows, and he knows many people who love many types of music. But as is clear to any music lover of any age, it is the music we listen to during our teen years that stays with us most vividly for the rest of our lives. And I spent many quiet afternoons and evenings during my mid-teen years absorbing the sounds of Yarbrough’s For Emily and The Lonely Things, so it’s no wonder that his music, especially those two albums, has come along with me through the years.

Anyway, here’s Yarbrough’s version of Stills’ “Everybody’s Wrong.”

‘She’ll Leave You Lost Some Rainy Morn . . .’

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

A ringing guitar chord followed by an insistent riff came from the speakers last evening, causing me to look up from whatever I was doing. The riff was repeated twice, and then came the vocal:

Three silver rings on slim hands waiting,
Flash bright in candlelight through Sunday’s early morn.
We found a room that rainy morning . . .

I’d recognized the song from the first three words: “The French Girl” by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker. But I did not know the record, so I checked the RealPlayer. It was by the Daily Flash, a band name I did not recognize. The mp3 had come to me a few years ago when I scavenged a good portion of the Lost Jukebox series from various boards and blogs.

The Daily Flash, it turns out, was from Seattle and had about a three-year run of recording and performing in the mid-1960s, during which it released singles on Parrot (a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately”) and on Uni, which in 1967 released the band’s take on “The French Girl.” The second single, says Wikipedia, did well enough to net the group an appearance on the television show The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., which led “to a regular spot as a house band on a local Los Angeles teen-oriented TV show Boss City.”

Learning all of that was fine, and I may dig more into the band’s story another time. (Wikipedia tells the band’s tale here, and the revived band’s website is here.) But I was more interested in the song. There isn’t a lot of information out there about “The French Girl,” as far as I can tell. My favorite tool in that regard, Second Hand Songs, doesn’t have an entry for the tune. A folky version by Bill Staines is available at Amazon, where a countryish cover by a band called the Snakes is listed but not available. At Discogs.com, I learned that a band named Ashtray Boy released a cover of the song as a single in 1996, thirty years after Ian & Sylvia included the tune on their 1966 album, Play One More. I don’t know how Ashtray Boy’s version sounded, but here’s what Ian & Sylvia did with the song.

I know of two other covers of the tune (though I’d guess there are more out there): A version by Gene Clark of the Byrds showed up on the Flying High anthology in 1998, and a note by Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide leads me to believe that Clark recorded the track in the mid-1960s, around the time of the release of the 1967 album Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. Clark’s version of “The French Girl” is a bit pallid to me.

The other cover I know is the first version I ever heard of the song: The version by Glenn Yarbrough on his 1967 album For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her. The album was, as I related some years ago, one that my sister had received from a boyfriend who was headed to Vietnam. I don’t know how often she played the record, but the record and Yarbrough became favorites of mine. And listening to Yarbrough introduced me, in those days when I was not listening to pop and rock, to the work of some of the finest folk and folk-rock songwriters of the day. The songwriter credits on Yarbrough’s For Emily album alone contain some impressive names: Paul Simon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Stephen Stills, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan . . . and Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker, the writers of “The French Girl.”

First impressions matter, folks tell us when we’re young (and maybe not so young). And yes, they do. So it’s no wonder that the version of “The French Girl” that I like the best is the one I heard first. I know that Yarbrough’s lilting tenor might not be the best match for the song. I also know that Ian & Sylvia recorded the song first, and that deserves some respect. I know as well that the more muscular version offered by the Daily Flash is pretty darned good. (And if the Snakes’ version is ever available at Amazon, I’ll probably like it a lot.)

But it’s Yarbrough’s cover of the song that came to me first. And it’s Yarbrough’s version that takes me back to the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard, the haven where I took in the frustration of the song’s narrator – “but her friends down at the French café had no English words for me” – and then pondered my life’s own mysteries, which sadly included no French girl.

A Date Forever Wrapped In Sorrow

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

I don’t know that I’ve ever rerun a post here at Echoes In The Wind, but I’m going to do so today. Just seeing today’s date has made me feel old and weary and sad (and I doubt that I’m alone in that). Here’s a piece I wrote four years ago this week:

Blank stares. That’s the thing I remember most about November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was killed.

I was ten and in fifth grade that November, and for some reason, I’d had lunch at school that Friday. I usually walked the five blocks home for lunch, but Mom must have been away from home that day for some reason, a church women’s event or something like that. So I was in the classroom as lunchtime was ending and Mr. Lydeen came into the room with an odd look on his face.

He told us the news from Dallas, and we stared at him. I think some of the girls cried. And we spent the rest of the day milling around the room, gathering in small groups, the ten or so fifth-graders and ten or so sixth-graders of our combination classroom. We boys talked darkly of what should be done to the culprit, were he found. We were angry. And sad. And confused.

At recess, we bundled up and went out onto the asphalt and concrete playground, but all we did was huddle around Mr. Lydeen, our backs to the northwest wind. I don’t recall what we said, but I think we were all looking for reassurance, for explanation. Mr. Lydeen had neither for us; I remember seeing him stare across the playground and past the railroad tracks, looking at something beyond the reach of his gaze. The blank look on his face made me – and the other kids, too, I think – uneasy.

Mom was listening to the old brown radio on the kitchen counter when I got home from school that day – a rarity, as the radio was generally on only in the morning as we prepared for the day. And it stayed on through dinnertime, bringing us news bulletins from Dallas and Washington and long lists of weekend events cancelled or postponed. Not much was said at the table, as I recall, and I saw that same blank look on my parents’ faces that I had seen on Mr. Lydeen’s face that afternoon.

That evening, I sought solace in my box of comic books and MAD magazines. By chance, the first magazine I pulled out of the box had a parody of a musical film, one of MAD’s specialties. But the parody poked gentle fun at the president and his cabinet, and if it seemed wrong to laugh that evening – as it did – it seemed especially wrong to laugh at that. I threw the magazine back into the box and went in search of my dad, who was doing something at his workbench in the basement.

I watched him for a few minutes as he worked on something he had clamped in the vise, and then I just asked, “Why?”

He turned to me and shook his head and said he didn’t know. And I realized for the first time that the people I looked to for explanations – my parents and my teacher – were unable to understand and explain everything. That was a scary thought, and – being slightly precocious – I pondered its implications for a few days as we watched the unfolding events on television with the rest of the nation.

Sometime in the late 1990s, about five years before Dad died, I was up in St. Cloud for a weekend, and he and I were drinking beers on the back porch. For some reason, I asked him what he remembered of that day. He’d been at work at the college (not yet a university), and he remembered young women crying and young men talking intensely in small groups. And, he said, he remembered not being able to give them any answers at a time when they so needed them.

I nodded and sipped my beer. I thought of the cascade of events that followed John Kennedy’s death, the twelve or so years that we now call the Sixties: The civil rights movement and the concurrent violence, the long anguish in Vietnam, the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots and police riots, the National Guard and the police opening fire and killing students at Kent State and Jackson State. I thought about draft cards, protest marches and paranoia and about the distrust and anger between black and white, between young and old, between government and governed.

And I looked at my dad and said, “Yeah, John Kennedy’s death is when it all started.”

Dad was a veteran of World War II, part of the generation that came to adulthood during the Great Depression. His generation, after it won its war, came home and lived through a hard-earned era of prosperity that will likely never be matched anywhere in the world ever again, a time of Father Knows Best and the New York Yankees. From that perspective, my father looked back at November of 1963 and then he looked at me.

“No,” he said, “that’s when it all ended.”

“Crucifixion” by Glenn Yarbrough
From For Emily Whenever I May Find Her (1967).

Edited slightly from first posting.