Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


One of my favorite sounds -- the ambient crowd noise on radio baseball when the announcers take a rest and the pitcher is looking for signs. Last game of the season today, I tuned in while in the car. When I was a kid, summer nights, I’d fall asleep listening to the Tigers. Missed the traditional ecstatic group hug by the winners because I was en route somewhere, but I heard all about it on the radio. My beloved spouse said that she and the coming-on-two-year-old enjoyed the joy, and that the little dude saw all the men on TV hugging and turned to his mom and said, “Hug?”


As our shadow fell across the moon, the moon turned red and brown, and we met our neighbors standing on the streetcorner in the cold night air.


Sandburg published “The American Songbag” in 1927. 255 songs collected from all across America, many collected by Sandburg himself, many of them later in Woody Guthrie’s repertoire, many of them still widely known. St. James Infirmary (sung by Armstrong), Willie the Weeper (later known as Minnie the Moocher), I Ride an Old Paint, Cocaine Lill, Buffalo Skinners, John Henry, Casey Jones, C. C. Rider, The John B. Sails (sung by the Kingston Trio and the Beach Boys under a slightly different title), Hallelujah I’m a Bum, She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, Animal Fair (a fave of my son’s, and one my grandpa taught me, and his mother taught him, and which was, Sandburg informs us, a standard of minstrelsy), Pretty Polly, Frankie and Johnny, Red River Valley, Midnight Special (Leadbelly and Creedence), Careless Love, Who Will Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot (Everly Brothers), La Cucaracha, Mister Frog Went A-Courtin’ (recommended by Greil Marcus to Bob Dylan, who recorded it some 15 years later), Ain’t Gonna Study War No More (still sung at peace rallies), Gypsy Davy (subject of a brilliant chapter in Nick Tosches’s wonderful book “Country”). And on and on and on. A motherlode of Americana.

Sandburg’s prefatory material includes an introduction, a dedication, an apologia, and prefatory notes, in addition to which he introduces each song as it appears. Here’s his introduction to “Jesse James”:

“There is only one American bandit who is classical, who is to this country what Robin Hood or Dick Turpin is to England, whose exploits are so close to the mythical and apocryphal that to get a true picture of him we must read a stern inquiry such as Robertus Love’s book, ‘The Rise and Fall of Jesse James.’ For the uninformed it should be stated that Jesse was living in St. Joseph, Missouri, under the name of Howard, when, unarmed, he was shot in the back of the head, and killed, by his supposed young friend, Robert Ford.”

The very funny but sometimes overly cynical critic Tom Carson thought Dylan was being sarcastic when he complimented Sandburg in his recently published memoir.

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