Sunday, February 07, 2010

The "Tumbleweed Connection" rolls on

Listened to Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection" as I drove through snow showers last night. Returning from a meeting in Casper and I was thinking I might see a tumbleweed roll out of the night and into the grill of my Ford. But the wind was strangely absent. Tumbleweeds were idling in the fields; the only thing rolling along was the country-rock on the CD player.

I wondered why Elton John and Bernie Taupin tackled the American West in this CD. I tracked down this Feb. 18, 1971, Rolling Stone review by Jon Landau:

Tumbleweed Connection centers around and is structured by Bernie Taupin's lyrics. Like the Band and Creedence, both of whom have influenced him, Taupin writes about the mythical American south and west and seems to prefer the past to the present as a subject. "There Goes a Well Known Gun" is about an outlaw on the run; "Country Comfort" concerns the pleasures of the farm. One of its verses brilliantly announces the coming of industrialization:

Down at the well they've got a new machine
Foreman says it cuts manpower by fifteen
But that ain't natural, well so old Clay would say
You see he's a horse drawn man until his dying day.

"Son of Your Father" is a moralistic tale which, after describing a fight between friends that leaves them both dead, concludes that "... charity's an argument that only leads to harm."

Violence is very much a part of the vision Taupin has created here. Besides in "Well Known Gun" and "Son of Your Father," it recurs in "My Father's Gun," which is distinctly reminiscent of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

I'm also a big fan of The Band and Creedence -- grew up with them. That's one reason I like the John/Taupin album so much. So it has something to do with nostalgia. Travel, too. Rolling through Wyoming on a February evening, listening to a country-rock album by a man who's now a "Sir," and considered by most people to be as far away from country as, say, Snoop Dog or Yo Yo Ma.

A year before this album, Bob Dylan recorded "Nashville Skyline" with Johnny Cash. In this case, Dylan was a folk singer and rocker from the Midwest and Cash was a country musician from the South who loved Rock 'n' roll -- was considered a rocker in the early days. So their roots are a bit more clear cut than are those of the two Brits.

Still, imagination is imagination. You don't have to live the life to write or sing about it. Dylan was a nice Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minn., who could sing convincingly about the plight of coal miners and hobos. Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones can play Robert Johnson's blues.

I've liked so many of the rock and country music collaborations. Recently, there was Jack White and Loretta Lynn, and Allison Krauss and Robert Plant. I go way back with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco and Little Feat. The Americana artists of today (Jayhawks, BoDeans, Wilco, Son Volt, Old '97s) continue the tradition. Wish there was a way to get the Cheyenne Frontier Days entertainment committee to book some of this alt-country instead of country pop like Taylor Swift. Steve Earle playing Townes Van Zandt at Frontier Days! Now you're talking.

Burn down the mission, if you want to stay alive...


mpage225 said...


nice memories. Debbie and I saw Elton when he opened the Sprint Center in KC about a year and a half ago and he still rocks! My daughter Tyler is excited because she is going to see Elton and Billy Joel soon at the same venue.

As for the Band and Bob Dylan, back in '74 just before you and I became roomies, Sandy and I and a couple (they had the car) drove to Atlanta to see Bob Dylan and the Band at the Omni, his first concert tour since '67. It was unbelievable-Dylan was in great form, but if it had not been his first concert tour in 7 years, the Band would have stole the show. They were so good and you could tell they were having a great time. Something about hearing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down in Atlanta...and Governor Jimmy Carter was in the audience. Drove all night back to Gainesville and the car pretty much died as we hit town-good times and still the best concert I have attended.

I think it was the next year Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder played at Florida Field and I think you went to it with me, but I am not certain.

Let me know if Frontier Days books Steve Earle so we can make plans...


Michael Shay said...

I would have loved to see The Band in concert. We did see Dylan and Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn and various others at the Rolling Thunder review in G-ville. I have pictures somewhere.