A collection of ephemera.
I’ve been playing John Prine’s “Fish and Whistle” on guitar a lot lately, mostly because it’s such a seemingly simple song that’s deceptively hard to play. It’s lyrically dense and there are a lot of chord changes — although, like most Prine songs, the chords themselves are easy (mostly Gs and Cs).
But I’m also playing it because the song has a great back story. I saw Prine perform recently and he joked about the song. He said he had finished writing an entire album, but that his producer demanded he write one more song. Prine was so annoyed that he intentionally tried to write a song he would hate. Thus: “Fish and Whistle.”
Prine said he hated the song for many years until he woke up one day and decided he kind of liked it after all, and now it’s among his most-requested. There’s a reason for that. I’ll never write a chorus as good as this one, for example:
Father, forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us and we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ’til we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishin’ in Heaven.
That’s a lot of philosophy packed into four simple lines. There are whole religions that should put this advice in their owner’s manuals.
Someone searched for this phrase today on the site:
…which is a joke I’ve used here before: The difference is that a municipal bond eventually matures and makes money. Just for the heck of it, here are a couple of my favorite musician jokes:
Q: How do you get the harmonica player off your porch?
A: Pay him for the pizza.
Q: What did the drummer get on his I.Q. test?
Dexter’s more clingy than he used to be. He seeks comfort more often, especially when something unexpected changes in his world. The last time we brought him back from the kennel he loves, he sat between us and howled in delight while we scratched him.
The couch is starting to be a challenge. There was a time when he could jump five feet vertically from a sitting start. Now he has to take a run to get up on the couch, and the bed would be impossible without steps.
Winters are harder on his back. He’s been on Rimadyl for a few years now, but he’ll have trouble getting comfortable when the drug wears off, and it will take him a long time to curl up and nest himself Just So.
His face has gone white.
He’s not as active as he once was. He still knows how to herd/annoy/hassle us when he wants a walk, and he still attempts to bend us to his doggie will, but he stops trying after a while when his desired goal isn’t being reached.
I worry about the next bit. Old dogs can grow senile or get dementia. He’s never been a terribly social dog as it is, and if he starts to turn against people, we’ll have to have a difficult conversation.
Jacks typically live to about 15, if they avoid untimely incidents, and Dexter is 12 now. He’s been a great dog. I just don’t want time to simply march right over him.
Check out the bulleted hed below. Now, THERE’s a brave stand:
It’s 4 a.m. The Norwegian Pearl is north of St. Barths, heading back home to Miami on a two-day voyage. At a bar near the stern, I’ve been jamming with a half-dozen guitarists of various skill sets, along with Brian Buchanan of Enter the Haggis, Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek and (lately) The Decemberists, a couple of Irish musicians who are fantastic and apparently famous in their home country, and a husband-and-wife team on guitar and dobro who ducked out before I could find out who they are — a development that I will regret forever because I was hoping they were from my neck of the woods and we could form a band.
My wife, who has watched me play since the mid-1990s and is amused by all of this, has been sitting at the bar nearby and reading a paperback. But what she’s really been doing is chatting up the other passers-by and listening like a good journalist. She comes over to me.
“Walk around the corner to the staircase right now,” she says. I do what I am told.
At the landing of the enormous aft staircase is Sean Watkins (Sara’s brother and a really good musician in his own right) along with Joe Purdy. Sitting on the steps are various hangers-on, along with staffers from the company that chartered the ship and freaks like me who are still out at this hour. David Ryan Harris tries to sneak by, apparently on his way to bed, but the entire crowd chants “DA-VID! DA-VID! DA-VID!” until he joins Watkins and Purdy on the landing. And they all play.
Watkins nods to Purdy, who asks the small crowd what they want to hear. “Play a guilty pleasure!” someone yells. Purdy launches into “Like A Rolling Stone.” After the second chorus comes around, I pull out a harp and start playing the solo in there. People really seem to like it, although it’s a long song and I don’t want to annoy people with too much harmonica from someone who’s not a performer on the boat.
The jam goes on, covering some Creedence here, some Stones there, a little bluegrass, a little soul. I get to sing a little and play a little at times. And finally Watkins says he’ll do one last song, and the whole group launches into “The Weight,” the old chestnut from The Band that almost everyone on board could sing by heart. We kick around a few verses out of order, and then a crowd member starts singing verses from other songs that fit perfectly. One example (and again, remember that this verse was set to the melody of “The Weight”):
A little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane
Two American kids doing the best they caaaaan
Jackie’s gonna be a football star
Diane’s doin’ time in the back seat of Jackie’s car
Take a load off, Fannie…
And on and on and on. And that was the highlight of Cayamo for me.
I cruised for more than 2,000 miles on a megaship, visited the Dominican Republic, St. Maarten and St. Barths, listened to dozens of folkies, old rockers, country people, Americana and alt-whatever artists, watched the final concert from The Civil Wars before the duo flew off to L.A. mid-trip and picked up two Grammys, finally got to hear John Prine, Iris Dement and James McMurtry after all of these years, wondered how I missed out on Shawn Mullins for so long, couldn’t figure out why I never thought of Chuck Cannon as anything other than a songwriter, sidestepped most of the sets from the sensitive-folk-women-with-guitars, which is just not my thing (addendum: see the comments), saw Lucinda again, thought the Ryan Montbleau Band could smoke most of the musicians on board and watched the Belle Brigade kick 12 kinds of butt. I also played some blackjack, tossed around the dice a few times and ran up a scary bar tab.
But it was that moment, as I sat on the staircase of the ship at an hour when I usually get up and go to work, that will stick with me forever.
I hope to go back to Cayamo some day. It’s an expensive vacation, even for a music freak like me, and it’s a lot to ask of my not-music-freakish wife to go along for such a pricey self-indulgence again. But I’ll never forget this week ever, ever, ever. And if any of the musicians I met need a harp player…well, look me up.
Update 2/28: If you are a Facebook member, you can see a nice slice of the jam here. And below is how the jam started, with Sixthman staffer (and Atlanta musician) Sonia Tetlow hitting some very cool guitar riffs…and then Sara Watkins walks up…and things just went from there:
Hokum is written by Randy Lilleston, a Washington-area journalist. This blog contains a variety of insignificant thoughts. I started it in March 2006, but a
stupid unfortunate event in November 2007 led to the accidental deletion of all posts before August 2006. Enjoy.