Shivering trees…and the traitor cold

There comes a certain time each winter when I think of New England, and an old love who lives there, and this melancholy and beautiful song — written by Joni Mitchell and sung here by Tom Rush — starts drifting through my thoughts:

 

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I wish I had a river…

Here’s one for ‘the best baby I ever had…”

When the sun turns traitor cold….

Another cold, chilly, gray song….Another winter song to fit the wintry mood…Another emotional weather report…
Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” sung by New England’s own troubadour Tom Rush:

Cool songs, cold climes (a winter’s tale)

I’ve spent a lot of time in New England this winter, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid serious snow.

Lately, though, snow’s been following me around.

I just got back from two weeks in Virginia, at a writers/artists retreat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and my popularity skyrocketed when a fluke snowstorm hit and my fellow writers/artists learned I’d driven down there in my 4-wheel-drive Ford SUV.

Then I ended up leaving the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts one day early, spooked by weather forecasts of a freakish monster storm — good thing I fled, as the storm dumped upwards of 30 inches on the region.

And now I’m hunkered down in Central New Jersey as a blizzard or near-blizzard is barreling in, expected to leave behind as much as 18 inches of snow, which will be whipped around tomorrow by winds of 40 mph.

But I’ve got a warm place to stay, I’ve got food, I’ve got the two most recent issues of  two issues of the New Yorker magazine, I’ve got my laptop, I’ve got my cellphone and I’ve got a view of the N.J. Turnpike.

And I’ve got three perfect songs.  They’ve all got that stark, cold, lonely sound of winter.

New England’s own Tom Rush sings Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going”:

Lindisfarne performs the beautiful “Winter Song”:

But let’s not succumb to those Cabin Fever Blues…Albert Collins sings about being “Snowed In”:


Let it snow!

“We set out that night for the cold in the North…”

Well, not quite, since it was only mid-November, and right around then winter was bearing down hard on  Niagara Falls, New York, but it was warm enough that — fortified by strong alcohol and a strong sense of destiny — that my friend Phil and I set up camp that night outside the Niagara Falls Convention Center and waited to buy tickets in the morning for a show the next night by Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue.

We were so young. I remember thinking that it was amazing that Dylan was out on the road again, performing again, at the ripe old age of…what, I guess ol’ Bob was about 35 years old!

There was an afternoon show and an evening show on Nov. 15, 1975. We went to the evening show with two girl friends. Here’s the set list from the show we attended: (not including songs by other performers — the featured guest star when we saw Rolling Thunder was Joni Mitchell):

When I Paint My Masterpiece
It Ain't Me, Babe
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
Romance In Durango
Isis
Blowin' In The Wind
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
Never Let Me Go
Mama, You Been On My Mind
I Shall Be Released
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Tangled Up In Blue
Oh, Sister
Hurricane
One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)
Sara
Just Like A Woman
Knockin' On Heaven's Door
This Land Is Your Land

Friend Phil recalls this: I remember clearly the rendition of “Tangled Up In Blue’, when he changed the lyric “Some are carpenters’ wives” to “Some are truck drivers’ wives”.

Me, I remember that the most impressive and thrilling songs were the songs from the new album “Desire” — “Romance in Durango,” “Oh Sister,” “Hurricane,” “One More Cup of Coffee” and “Sara”; the powerful symbolism of Dylan and his merry band doing a finale of “This Land Is Your Land” in tribute to Woody Guthrie and with a nod toward the upcoming bicentennial (as an idiot wind blew from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol…); and, I believe, a duet with none-other-than Joan Baez on “Mama you’ve Been On My Mind.” I remember being in a bar in Niagara Falls when a girl I knew ran in and excitedly handed me a handbill she’d just been handed by some guy on the street — a handbill for the Rolling Thunder Revue.

I remember that a girl named Lee — blonde and beautiful Lee — came with me to the concert, to which I wore a stupid black fedora, which fedora Lee decided sometime during that evening to wear over her long golden locks, and I never saw that fedora again. As I recall, we had great seats in the middle orchestra, no more than ten rows back from the stage. I have a vivid image of Dylan wearing that clear plastic mask and a hat just like the hat he wears on the cover of “Desire” and he’s standing at the microphone without his guitar doing a sort of hipster pantomine as he sings “Isis.” I remember falling in love, alternately, with Joni Mitchell, Roni Blakely and Scarlet Rivera. I remember that the show opened with a song by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, who was dressed very much like Dylan and looked very much like Dylan and until he started singing many people in the audience were cheering because they mistakenly thought he WAS Bob Dylan.

Memories of Rolling Thunder from more than thirty years ago….still echoing as I listened last night to the sound of distant thunder and flashes of light in the northwest sky…as my son and I get ready to head North for this weekend’s show in Saratoga Springs featuring Bob Dylan and his band with LEVON HELM and others. I promise to not wear a black fedora and I promise to report back on this coming Sunday’s performance by the man my friend and fellow writer Steve Hart has dubbed “His Bobness.”