The cover version, oft maligned but occasionally transcendent.
This in my humble opinion may be the greatest version of Modern love not done by David Bowie ever recorded and if you don’t agree with me you are either a cloth eared nincompoop or you do not appreciate the lap steel guitar to it’s full extent.
Sometimes things just happen for the best. Some time ago I ordered a reissue of Hawkwind’s Warrior on the Edge of Time. It was supposedly remastered and in glorious yellow vinyl.
I was quite excited about this. It seemed like a good use of money and it looked cool in the pictures. I waited and waited and it never arrived. Dismayed I contacted the seller who without complaint gave me my money back. Then I found a United Artist reissue in a junk store and was happy. Yes it wasn’t yellow but it sounded awesome.
Then today I came home and on the doorstep was an unsolicited parcel. Opening it I discovered the long lost reissue of Warrior. It also contained a nice note from the seller telling me to enjoy. Sometimes people are nice.
Of course now I have two copies but can you really ever have too many copies of Warrior?
There are some albums that hit you hard, they make you think, they make you cry, sometimes with their beauty or their perfection but more rarely some are just so honest. Townes Van Zandt Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas is one of those rare honest albums.
A man, a guitar and an audience. That rare thing a performance captivating and magical. Van Zandt sounds strong and honest when singing and insecure and shy when telling his awkward jokes or faltering introductions. A unique and flawed talent that burned brightly despite the self destructive elements and mental illness.
There is more rock’n’roll on this four sides of acoustic songs than on many a rock album of testosterone fueled peacockery. You get the feeling Townes had lived every one of these songs and his liver and lungs and emaciated body bore the scars. Standing in the sunlight through the window on the cover like a cowboy version of Iggy Pop, there is a fragility to the image of Townes that truly speaks to the power of the songs. Townes doesn’t sacrifice his body to the power of the song like Iggy but bares his soul and comes out bloody and bruised just the same.
I met Townes once after a gig in Southport. It was a good gig and I hope I did not embarrass myself too much. I was drunk and so was he. We sat and drank from a whiskey bottle on the steps of the Southport Arts Center for an hour. I have no idea what we talked about but his gentle spirit and generosity is what I remember and the sight of that tall lanky Texan taking off into the dark with a guitar case in hand. I hope he made it to wherever he was going that night.
His songs have carried me through some dark times and happy times. He has managed so often to capture the thought or idea that was eluding me and sitting and listening to him is always an experience.
Without a Net was the first ever Dead album I bought new. I bought it in a gas station somewhere just north of San Francisco on I.5 in August 1991. Most albums I have bought I can’t place the time and place of buying that well. This one is different as I was on my honeymoon and we were about to enter San Francisco in a beat up Jeep and it seemed like we needed a soundtrack other than classic rock radio as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.
I was desperately trying to find a Moby Grape album with 8:05 on so I could time our arrival as a Skip Spence homage, such are the thoughts of the musically obsessed.
In the end the only appropriate album in the revolving rack was Without A Net, it then became the only album we had for the whole journey, it was played as we approached Universal Studios, whichever Disney franchise we went to and as we got caught on high ground during a flash flood in Joshua Tree, and yes we found Gram Parsons last resting place.
It was played as we drove through the redwoods, and then up Highway 101 on the pacific coast and as we arrived back in Portland Oregon before flying back to Liverpool at the end of August.
It’s a fine later Dead live album with the at times annoying squelchy synths of Midland and the treated Garcia guitar that has little of the feel or tone of the seventies. It has some lovely controlled jams, some essential songs, Cassidy is brilliant on it as is the ubiquitous China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider section it also has Branford Marsalis blowing for all his might on Eyes of the World.
It introduced me to the work of Traffic outside of Hole In My Shoe as it contains a great cover of Dear Mr Fantasy which led me to root around in the Traffic discography.
The joy of the album for me is obviously the memories that it brings. It was also fun this last two weeks to steep myself in an inordinate amount of nostalgia as I struggled my way from one crises to the next. Over the last few days I have listened to this album three or four times, it is far from my favorite Dead album but as with all nostalgic albums it takes you to a place that is special and comforting and sometimes that is all you need, the other album I have taken solace in is the Pink Fairies, What a Bunch of Sweeties but that is a whole other tale.