‘My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling bad or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was to keep swinging.’ (Hank Aaron)
‘You have to walk, that’s the element of time, which forces you to move and change. It’s in the fall, and there’s leaves and dust and dirt in the air – and things are gonna stick to you.’ (Steve Forbert).
Growing up in America most young boys indulge a fantasy where on their Major League debut they get to hit a home run off the opponents’ star pitcher at Fenway Park or Dodger Stadium.
Rounding the bases to ecstatic acclaim they nonchalantly wave their hat to the adoring crowd pausing only to catch the eye of the hometown sweetheart who has travelled hundreds of miles to share the moment.
In my own version of this story (slipping the bonds of time and chronology as you’re allowed to in dreams) I hit a homer off Whitey Ford at Ebbetts Field for my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.
Taking my seat in the dugout Jackie Robinson says, ‘Good hit, Kid’ and punches me on the shoulder.
The music business version of this myth might follow the following arc.
A 21 year old kid from Mississsippi moves to New York City carrying an acoustic guitar and a harmonica rack.Embed from Getty Images
Armed with the fearlessness of youth he busks at Grand Central Station before landing a regular club gig at New Wave/Punk headquarters CBGB (opening for both Talking Heads and John Cale).
The script naturally segues into the scene where the famous manager says, ‘You got something Kid – I can get you a record deal!’
And, sure enough he does. And wouldn’t you just know it the debut album showcases a series of winning songs fizzing with wit, youthful charm and irresistible energy.
The second album adds seasoned musicians and produces a tremendous calling card hit single.
A hot shot critic for Rolling Stone notes that he makes listeners think that they actually do know him – and that this rare gift might just make him the next American Superstar!
And, that folks is the first act of, ‘The Steve Forbert Story’.
Time, I think, for us to fade up the soundtrack. From the aptly named, ‘Alive on Arrival’ the feisty, ‘Goin’ Down To Laurel’.
Straightaway Steve Forbert announces his artistic virtues.
He has a hoarse, reaching for that farther star, voice that charms as it plucks at your heart.
He sure can spin a story that’ll lodge and linger in the mind. With a wide and knowing grin he beckons you into the story of a shooting the breeze young man who is part straight arrow Tom Sawyer and part rapscallion Huck Finn:
‘Glad to be so careless in my way
Glad to take a chance and play against the odds
Glad to be so crazy in my day’
This is a red blooded young man who relishes the rush of life with his harmonica rhythmically rhyming with the wheels carrying him down to Laurel and the moon and sun above.
He’s more smart than you might think – he glories in being so young and carefree yet he knows those cares are waiting up ahead. For this great life can always end and love is a funny, funny, state of mind.
So, time to enjoy every wonderful moment spent with the girl who is a fool for him – well worth the trip to a dirty stinking Town.
Not time now to dwell on the serial marriages and breakdowns all around, the rain in the clouds somewhere above, the trains taking young men out of town leaving burning buildings behind them.
Yes, love is a funny state of mind and isn’t it marvellous to discover that for yourself. Love does make the world go around and boarding that carousel makes the head spin and the heart pump faster and faster.
Steve Forbert, from the get go, do something that defines writers and performers who matter. His songs have quick vitality plunging us into a life we recognise and through the verve of performance winning our attention and allegiance.
Captured, we want to know how the story pans out. We want to stick along for the ride – wherever it may take us for we sense there are more fine, echoing stories ahead.
And, indeed there were. On his second record, ‘Jackrabbit Slim’ Steve nailed a song he had been working on for a long time. ‘Romeo’s Tune’ explodes with dizzying exuberance and joy.
You are swept along by the I can’t contain myself vocal and the surging melody.
It has, ‘this ones just got to be a hit’ and keeper written all over it.
Steve Forbert will be singing this song for the rest of his life and every audience that hears him sing it, for the first or the thousandth time, will sing with him.
Surely everyone wants Southern kisses and wants their lover to embody the the smell of The Moon for precious moments.
Of course, the years will rise and fall. They must. They must.
Yet, every day we wish for someone who will share that rise and fall with us. Someone who will care. Someone who will laugh with us as we sneak on out beneath the stars and run!
So now we move on to Act 2 wherein our hero encounters and endures a reversal in his fortunes. There is drama, disappointment, what some would call disloyalty, puzzlement, treachery and perfidy.
It is, after all, The Music Business!
Contrary to informed expectation and the spreadsheet projections of managers, record company bean counters and executives his follow up records did not produce chart topping hits and fill stadium bleachers.
Mogul patience runs out. Spectacularly so. A fifth album is recorded. But not issued. And, no one else can issue it either.
And, you got to understand this Kid .. you can’t record for anyone else either!
This is what we call a test of mettle. Steve hits the road, writes songs, ascends for year after backbreaking year the rocky slopes of purgatory.
Stubborn perseverance pays off when The E Street Band’s Gary Tallent appears on a metaphorical white horse ready to produce a ‘comeback’ album.
When it is issued, ‘Streets of This Town’ turns out to be a magnificent album of deeply felt songs that could only have been written by an artist of rare talent.
One bloodied but unbowed by the tempests he had survived. It is a record of hard won insight and tender empathy. The Kid is now unquestionably a Man. A man with visions to turn to when storms assail your own life.
Here’s a man who has realised that the promises made to you when you sign on the dotted line are often not honoured and that you might well lose a lot more than you gain in the transaction if you’re not very careful.
The skills of wheeling and dealing and knocking people down to get your way on the streets of this town must encourage him to light out for the territory even if it is with tears in a grown man’s eyes. Time to take off the uniform and abjure the crazy norm.
Streets of This Town was a major critical success as was its excellent follow up, ‘The American in Me’. But, this is real life not a film.
Critical hosannas did not turn into public acclamation. Record stores were not besieged by hordes of fans desperate to reintroduce themselves to the mature work of that guy who wrote that Romeo song.
So, Steve did what he had always done. He wrote engaging, literate songs that reflected his own struggles and joys and the life of the communities and generations around him.
He kept on keepin’ on. Always heading for another joint.
And, as he did it turned out that there was always an audience for songs that nourished the heart and stimulated the imagination.
Life flowed on for him and his audience so that songs written in youth took on new layers of meaning when recreated in performance decades down the track from their birth.
Here’s a tender, deeply moving, version of the powerful and poignant, ‘I Blinked Once’ that will surely have resonances in every life that has felt the chill wings of time’s winged chariot rushing by.
It could be, it might be … It is, A Home Run!
Steve Forbert sings reveal a man in full. An artist who speaks to how we live our lives in youth, in early maturity and middle age.
We recognise ourselves in these songs and understand that their author has kept the faith and is still running his race with purpose and determination. Long may he run!
In the coming months Steve Forbert will bring his bulging backpack of songs filled with wit and hard won wisdom to Milwaukee and Wilmington and Decatur.
If you’re within a couple of hours driving distance make sure you go!
He has great stories to tell that will remind you of the flowing tides of your own life and he knows how to tell them.
I’m delighted he’s still out there, crazy in his way, still swinging for the fence.
Still swinging for the fence.
First of all many thanks to the man himself for sharing this Post through his official Twitter feed.
A warm welcome to fans of Steve now introduced to The Jukebox.
Steve Forbert, like Nick Lowe and Southside Johnny, is an artist I have enormous fondness for in addition to admiration for his writing and performing abilities.
This post has concentrated on songs from the first 15 years of a career which has now clocked up nearly 40.
I plan to write a further post on the later period of his career to stress how he has continued to write fine songs worthy of your attention.
Alive on Arrival (1978)
Jackrabbit Slim (1979)
Streets of This Town (1988)
The American In Me (1992)
Any Old Time (2002 – a wholly charming collection of Jimmie Rodgers songs)
Over With You (2012)
Steve is an excellent live performer.
I treasure all his live records and DVDs – my favourite being ‘Here’s Your Pizza’ from 1997 and ‘On Stage at World Cafe’ from 2007.
Great piece Thom (How the hell did I miss it?). And you are absolutely right about the “Live” thing. As usual we have common ground on so many of these great music makers.There’s a few of us Steve fans out there.
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Maybe time for The Jukebox to take another look at the treasury of Forbert songs!
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I think we both have a few more Forbert takes. He’s right up there in my stack. In fact for me he trumps many of the more popular artists that get the mass love.
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Yes ..a songwriters songwriter and secret hero!
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“Secret hero”. I like that one.
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