Hello Stranger from Issue #24
The inherent lag time involved in magazine deadlines is an ever-present little annoyance, often making moot any concerns about timeliness and frequently requiring rush-jobs on advance deliveries of new releases. Our answer, in part, is to present pieces that are timeless because of their quality. But inevitably the calendar throws a few curves, causing us to cover things that wind up being delayed, or to miss something significant between the time we go to press and the time we hit the racks, or to force a writer to review a Christmas-themed album when it’s still 90 degrees outside (sorry about that, Roy).
To that end, it seems a bit late to be turning in our “what I did on my summer vacation” essays for the Nov.-Dec. issue, but that’s the way the deadline bounces sometimes. Grant’s report takes up the “Screen Door” page at the back, while I rambled on for a couple pages in this issue’s “A Place To Be” feature.
One aspect of my travels that I didn’t end up addressing in that piece is the simple pleasure that playing music on the road brings, and how you sometimes hear things in a way that might not have connected on the living-room stereo. For example, I’d listened to Freedy Johnston’s Blue Days Black Nights and Dave Schramm’s Hammer And Nails at home, but it didn’t occur to me until hearing them both in the car how perfectly they would complement each other on the A and B side of a cassette. And I’d eyeballed that Gordon Lightfoot four-disc box sitting on a shelf in the office for more than a month, wondering when I’d have a chance to delve into it; suddenly, several hundred miles of the Trans-Canada Highway confronted me, and I knew exactly what the soundtrack for the journey should be.
Nothing affected me quite as much as one single song, though. I’d brought along Fallen Angels, a UK-only compilation I’d written about a couple issues ago and had listened to several times. I put it on while driving across Ontario one afternoon; about halfway through, I was struck by a tune that had just breezed by on previous listenings: “A Song I Heard”, by Swampwater.
When I got home, I did a little research and learned that Swampwater had briefly been Linda Ronstadt’s backing band and had recorded two albums in the early ’70s. The writer of the song, Maury Muehleisen, played guitar with Jim Croce and was killed in the same plane crash that took Croce’s life on September 20, 1973. “A Song I Heard” seems too good to be forgotten, though 25 years later it could almost be a song about itself:
When I was young I heard a song I’ve never heard again/It haunts me every night just like it haunted me back then/It stays just inside the edge of my soul/And just outside my mind…
I suspect we all have songs like that, lurking amidst the cobwebs of our memories. I’m just glad this one found a way to come to life again for me.