It’s tough to write about someone when you are their No.1 fan. Stage fright, I guess. It’s like talking to somebody you really, really want to talk to, somebody who you maybe never thought you ever would be talking to, and then you can’t think of anything to say. That is what this is like, because who knows? Greg Brown might read this. My hope is that I at least know him and his music well enough that he will give this little piece his wholehearted thumbs-up if he does read it. Hi Greg.
And, Sr. Brown, if you are in fact reading this, could you do me a favor and play “Poet Game”? And “Spring Wind”? I haven’t heard “Laughing River” in a while. And I know we’re not in Oregon, but the rains have finally come and it feels kind of like Oregon and it feels so good after this long hot burnt-out summer, so could you please play “I Must Be in Oregon”? Thanks Greg.
Sr. Brown is about more than just music. His words reach deep and wide, leaving you feeling like you have just laughed, and cried, and learned something important, and had your heart broken and then put back together.
Part of what’s great about Greg Brown is that he has never really left Iowa, and probably never will, yet the man has clearly been around the block and back. He’s probably fished more rivers than David James Duncan raised to the power of Norman Maclean, but I bet he would tell you he’s had some of his best days fishing back home in Iowa. I recall a song he wrote which described a boyhood fishing trip with his buddy Jimmy, how they caught two five-pound bass and made liars out of the grown-ups who told them that the creek was dead. “Jimmy, if I had known, I’da stopped fishin’ right then ...” Ow, it hurts, and it feels so good. Greg Brown is the children. His music is an “Our Body, Ourselves” version of the human condition.
His arrangement is usually pretty simple. Something like this: his guitar, maybe hung on his shoulder with a piece of twine but sounding like beams of light shining through water; his deep, up-beat melancholy voice that reaches down in there and buzzes, and hopefully his buddy on the bass. But I’ve only seen him five or six times, and he’s played thousands of gigs. What do I know? I am not yet ready to leave the monastery.
I know that he’s as soulful as the Delta Blues wandering upstream like a slick of black gold, mixing with his Church Gospel childhood and whatever else from America at the time. It doesn’t hurt that he is a master on the guitar. He can tear it up and pick it apart and twang it (when appropriate) and strum it nice and soft (but not too many grinding ballads this time, Sr. Brown, por favor). He wields the guitar with such habitual ease; his voice, his words.. I tell you my friend: He is the presence of down-home greatness.
I predict a meltdown performance to a packed house under autumnal Indian summer skies.
In their continued effort to “generally have a good time,” the Missoula Folklore Society presents Greg Brown with special guest Karen Savoca in concert Friday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. in the University Theater on the University of Montana campus. Call 1-888-MONTANA.