Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Don't Ask for All That Much; I Just Want Someone to Care

Steve Forbert was, I believe, the last of the New Dylans, or at least the last until Conor Oberst came along, following in the footsteps of Donovan, Loudon Wainwright III, Elliott Murphy, John Prine, Bruce Springsteen, and I'm sure I'm missing a few others. (If you don't see the footsteps of some of those guys, it's because that was when Springsteen was carrying them.) Unlike the other new Dylans, whose provenance was centered on their lyrics and who tended to sound a lot like The Times They Are a-Changin', Forbert had that rollicking, updated Blonde on Blonde thing going on, with piano and organ fills and sound bursting from the seams.

I was thinking about Steve Forbert after I posted that video of Steely Dan lip-syncing "My Old School," because Little Stevie Orbit made a video of his own for his hit "Romeo's Tune" in the waning days of the 1970s, and it is most pointedly not lip-synced. Forbert and his band perform the tune live, and it's a crackerjack enough unit to improve on the studio-version single. I like to think that CBS suggested that Forbert mime the lyrics, and he said, "Shoot, let's just play the dadgum song live!" (Forbert, like Rob Sheffield's hero Oil Can Boyd, is from Meridian, Mississippi, which is why I have him talking here as if he were Bobby Bowden.)

Forbert hasn't had any more Top Forty hits since "Romeo's Tune" went to Number Eleven in 1980, but he still is out there touring, making records, and keeping a blog, although he hasn't updated it since July, making it no threat to OPC. I liked this take on the Breeders: "Kim Deal is forever as American as French's mustard. The sound she and her twin sister, Kelly, make together is a kind of drug. [Ed. note: Kelley (sic) more than Kim.] 1993's The Last Splash was quite possibly the best rock-'n'-roll record of the nineties."

Here's Stevie Forbert meeting me in the middle of the day:


Joe said...

I bought that first album after reading the review in Rolling Stone. Lead review, paired with Ian Hunter's "You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic." Pretty good record.

But didn't Willie Nile's first album come after Forbert's? He might be the last of the New Dylans.

T. Nawrocki said...

Just to clarify, "Romeo's Tune" was on Forbert's second album, Jackrabbit Slim; his first album was 1978's Alive on Arrival. I suspect Joe is referring to Slim, which came out around the same time as the Ian Hunter record.

I would have mentioned Willie Nile, except that I have barely heard of him and didn't realize he was a new Dylan until just now. He did come after Stevie Forbert, though.

Joe said...

Okay. I looked it up. The review was by Paul Nelson. July 26, 1979. First Forbert album and "Never Alone With a Schizophrenic." Don't know why "Alive on Arrival" was reviewed after its initial release. It's possible Columbia was giving it a push. Maybe they picked it up from an indie. Maybe Paul Nelson had the juice to write about what he wanted when he wanted. He was the reviews editor then.

At any rate, here's Nelson on the Dylan thing: "People will tell you that Forbert sounds like the early Bob Dylan, but even if they're right, they should be ignored. In 1979, such an approach is misleading and won't get you to the heart of this or any other matter. Anway, people will tell you anything."

"Jackrabbit Slim" got slammed in November of '79. Debra Rae Cohen: "It feels like a betrayal from a friend." Yeesch.

In other news, the Rolling Stone digital archive makes a nifty Xmas gift. You'll love it.

T. Nawrocki said...

"Jackrabbit Slim" got slammed in November of '79. Debra Rae Cohen: "It feels like a betrayal from a friend."

I'm sure somebody said that about Bringing It All Back Home, too. I can't find a release date for Alive on Arrival other than 1978, but Nelson was at least over six months late on that one.

I wish I had known this before I wrote the original post, but "Romeo's Tune" was dedicated to the memory of Florence Ballard, the former Supreme who had died in 1976 at the age of 32 of a blood clot in one of her coronary arteries. Ballard was from Rosetta, Mississippi, which, despite what others have written, is not Meridian nor particularly close to Meridian.

Anonymous said...

Tom, I enjoy your blog.

Regarding this post in particular, Paul Nelson's pairing of the Ian Hunter album with the already several-month-old ALIVE ON ARRIVAL is simply an example of how Paul needed to be inspired in order to write about something. In this case, Forbert's first album, with which Paul had reservations, provided him with the perfect platform from which to review both ALIVE ON ARRIVAL and Hunter's album. It's also likely that Paul's friend--and, at the time, Forbert's manager--Danny Fields probably had spent several months lobbying for a review.

It's also interesting to note that, of the New Dylans mentioned, Springsteen, Elliott Murphy, and Willie Nile were all friends of Paul's (and Nile attended Paul's memorial service in September 2006).

T. Nawrocki said...

Thanks, Chidder, I very much appreciate your interest in my work.

Anyone interested in Paul Nelson - and he led a very interesting life - should have, I hope, read the lengthy retrospective on him by Neil Strauss in the year-end issue of Rolling Stone from the tail end of 2006. I never met Nelson, but certain people I know and respect greatly, such as the great David Fricke, speak very highly of him.