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THE BEAT GOES ON

by Richard Lewis

 

One of my favourite artists is Eric Andersen. I first came across him in the pages of “Sing Out” and “Broadside” magazines around 1964/5. In the November 1964 issue of Sing Out (Vol.14 No.5) there is a wonderful David Gahr photo of Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen and Phil Ochs backstage at Newport 1964. Paxton and Ochs both look like student journalists whereas Andersen with his longer hair and dark glasses just exudes that same sort of cool that Dylan does. The first real profile about him was about a year later in Sing Out (Vol.16 No.1) from Feb/Mar 1966 when they printed his song “Thirsty Boots” already made famous by Judy Collins. At that point I had still not heard him sing as his first album had passed me by and I don’t think his second album “‘bout changes & things” was even released over here.

It wasn’t until I went to America in 1967 that I really heard him properly when he was one of the guests at Al Kooper’s ‘farewell concert’ at the Café Au Go Go in New York on July 27th. Eric Andersen was backed by a three-piece band that included the wonderful Paul Harris on electric piano. Amongst other songs he sang “Thirsty Boots” and some new ones “Tin Can Alley” and “Rolling Home”. Whilst in New York I bought his 3rd album which was called “ ’bout changes ‘n’ things take 2” and was an electrified version of his second album featuring the previously mentioned Paul Harris along with Harvey Brooks and Herbie Lovelle. It was wonderful and included the beautiful version of “Close The Door Lightly” that the early Fairport Convention would soon add to their repertoire. It also had on it the good news that “a new album, Songs from Tin Can Alley, by Eric Andersen, featuring all of his latest compositions, will be available shortly.”

I first mentioned my admiration for Eric Andersen back in Freewheelin’ No. 52 which amazingly was some 13 years ago in December 1989. Then I quoted from a long letter that Eric had written to Gordon Friesen and Sis Cunningham and which was published in the March ’66 issue (No.68) of Broadside magazine. Having mentioned Kennedy, youth, songs, poetry, rock, folk, Newport ’65 and the folk-rock debate he concludes with this paragraph about Dylan

And Dylan, the young American Millionaire, who has no circulation problems, still prowls the streets like a ragged priest in pursuit of a sight, a soul or a sentence. About all he has to show for it are the strains of a rugged concert schedule, a couple new polka-dot shirts, and tables of empty and half empty glasses of drinks he bought for people. The rest is for stash, hid somewhere for the jealous ones to worry about. He is still after only one thing, and he pursues it like it was God…the next best thing…his words. The only thing all his critics have in common is their jealousy. And if they don’t burn him for one thing, they’ll crucify him for another. But people have killed for less. What they don’t realise is that he is a very religious person and haunts himself like a saint. His only temple of worship is his words and songs. And those critics who don’t believe in him but still buy his records, they should stop and not attend. They should turn away to building their own churches and believing in them. Or become Episcopalians.

At that time in late 1989 Eric Andersen released his first album for some years called “Ghosts Upon The Road” having spent much of the 80s in self imposed exile in Europe. The title track is a ten-minute piece that he describes as “something closer to a narrative without melody, like a short story, set to rhythm and music, that would incorporate abstract sounds”. It is set in the winter of 1964 and moves between Boston and New York. Along the way we meet David Blue who teaches him a song that eventually becomes “The Blind Fiddler”, Dean Moriarty, Georges Clemenceau, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and finally Jack Kerouac himself. It is a fine song and a fine album. The reference to Kerouac is just the start of his continuing involvement with what is often referred to as “The Beats”. Then Eric Andersen returned to Norway and only emerged to issue a couple of albums made with Rick Danko and Jonas Fjeld. The first of these albums like “Ghosts Upon The Road” features liner notes by the late Robert Palmer, one of the better writers from Rolling Stone.

In 1997 he contributes to a CD tribute to Kerouac called “kicks joy darkness” by reading the unpublished chorus 10 from “The Brooklyn Bridge Blues” whilst actually on the Brooklyn Bridge. It is in 1999 that a new solo album finally comes out. This is “Memory of the Future” and as well as a superb version of his friend Phil Ochs’ “When I’m Gone” it has a major new song called “Rain Falls Down In Amsterdam”. The latter is one of those songs that just rocks you back on your heels as it sends goose pimples up your spine. Each hearing makes it get better. You owe it to yourself to hear this track. Also in 1999 he writes an article for Rolling Stones’ “Book of the Beats”.

The following year gives us the surprising blues based “you can’t relive the past” featuring collaborations with Lou Reed and R L Burnside. Again there is an exceptional song that moved me to tears the first time I heard it and can still have that effect when I hear it now. This is “Eyes of the Immigrant” and should be compulsory listening for those reporters who spend their time abusing asylum seekers. And now in 2003 a brand new double CD emerges called “Beat Avenue”. On the second CD is the title track “the song “Beat Avenue” is a 26-minute story about a 24-hour day in November 1963, when Eric Andersen was a 20-year-old singer-songwriter living in San Francisco. One evening, after a poetry reading in Haight-Ashbury, Eric attended a gathering in the San Francisco hills along with Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Neal Cassady, Michael McClure and David Meltzer. It was November 22nd 1963, the day President John F Kennedy was assassinated.” As some of you may remember from my article in November 1997 that day was also my 16th birthday.

Inside the CD is a photo of Eric under a sign saying “The Times” and above the photo is this quote from Bob Dylan:

“It’s all about livelihood. It’s all about going out and playing. That’s what every musician who has crossed my path strives for.”

The CD is “Dedicated to Bob Dylan: true poet, hard worker, man of constant wonder, good friend, teacher, the master.”

Worth a listen, I think.

 
 
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