The song below has been running through my mind for several days. This darkly comedic treatment of the horror of the Stalin years comes from Al Stewart’s fine album Between the Wars:
During the future Baron’s young years he absorbed Al Stewart’s music. Already possessed of a love of history, especially the two world wars (the poetry of WWI; the aviation tactics of WWII) his almost eidetic memory allowed him to retain whatever he read or heard. He also had the gift of perfect pitch and was able to sing a capella whatever tune he’d listened to a few times. [I remember his obsession with the music to the film, “Requiem for a Dream”. During one of his college breaks, he played the first measures for me — I’m musically challenged — and asked, “what is this?” I replied, “Some kind of requiem, isn’t it?” He’d understood the mode perfectly.]
These two characteristics stood him in good stead when we attended an Al Stewart concert. [The Baron and I don’t get out much so our attendance at this show was a Big Deal]. As is often the case with this under-appreciated musician, the venue was small: a coffee house in Pennsylvania whose acoustics left something to be desired.
On impulse, I approached Mr. Stewart at the break and asked if he was going to do this song in the second set. He looked at me blankly and said, “That old thing? I don’t think I can even remember it…” His response left me disappointed. Again on impulse, I asked if my son could sing it to start the next session. When Stewart repeated that he didn’t remember it, I assured him the fB could sing it a cappella. At that point, he scoffed, asking me if I knew how many people had requested to be allowed to sing, only to go blank when they faced the audience. I assured him this would be different. OMG, I’d morphed into a stage mother in an instant!
To my surprise, Mr. Stewart acceded to my request. [Looking back, I think he was glad to have the extra rest — he ended up leaning against the back wall of the stage during most of the song.] It was at this point I had to cajole the fB into performing. He blanched — it had been several years since he’d sung it. Then, as accommodating as ever, he retreated to a stool at the coffee bar and closed his eyes, deeply concentrating. Not having his gift for memorization, I wondered how he went about dredging up the material, but he did it, as I’d known he would — even though the process remained a mystery to me. Just as Stewart got up on stage, the fB nodded: he had it down.
I’ll never forget that performance. The audience were die-hard Stewart fans so they remembered the song well, even if Al didn’t. By the second verse, they were stomping, Russian-dance style, in a rhythm that fit the words and tune perfectly (if anyone ever re-issues this gem, it ought to be accompanied by those mythic ‘dancers”). By the last chorus or so, Stewart chimed in with the chords.
The resounding and sustained applause at the end of the song, plus the money people gave him, convinced the fB he’d acquitted himself well. As indeed he had.
Some nice soul sent us a CD of the whole performance. The sound quality isn’t so good, but what mother would care? Since the song was haunting me I dug out the CD and played it again. I realized the fB is still a tenor but his voice is much stronger now. A few years as a tenor in an Anglican choir after college did that.
I’ll bet if I asked, he could still sing this song — and any others he’s heard more than once.
As he continues to ‘grow in wisdom and grace’, the fB remains a prodigious reader of history, moving from the theaters of war to focus on the Scots-Irish in America from their very beginnings. He believes these folk are not only the spine and sinew of America’s military but will eventually shake off the government’s heavy hand-outs and return to their old ways. For our country’s sake, may he prove to be right in his assessment.
The lyrics to “Joe the Georgian” are below the fold along with some particularly perceptive reviews of the album Between the Wars.