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77 f In Byron’s Boots


Veteran songwriter Eric Andersen has recently got all literary. John Kruth hears about his delvings into the works of poets and authors.


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ike lots of kids my age (in America) I grew up collecting baseball cards, memorising the names of all the star players and hopeful rookies alike,


studying what position they played, their batting averages and whether they threw left-handed or right. I’ve always expected authenticity in my heroes. The crustier the better. A physical distinction like a scar or tattoo, or at least a big wad of


chewing tobacco stuffed in their mouths went a long way to convince me whether they were genuine or not. But baseball players were swiftly kicked to the curb the day my sister brought home a copy of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. The sight and sound of that dishevelled, curly- haired, blue-jeaned troubadour made me immediately trade in my muddy cleats for a pair of cowboy boots, which were ideal for a young, wandering bard in training.


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eyond Dylan and the dark Madonna of Harvard Yard, Joan Baez, I soon discovered an intriguing second string of itin- erant song-poets that included Leonard Cohen, already a published poet but who seemed old, even back then. There was the cool iconoclast, Fred Neil, the plain- truth crusader Phil Ochs, along with Richie Havens, Tom Paxton, and Judy Collins (who turned many of us on to Eric Andersen with her fine renditions of Violets Of Dawn and Thirsty Boots). Sing Out! magazine quickly became my bible and Folk City in Green- wich Village became my haj.


I was first introduced to Eric’s music by my cousin Debbie, an aspiring classical gui- tarist at the time. Beyond her love of high- brow pickers like Andres Segovia and Julian Bream, she had a pretty cool record collection. Every Thanksgiving we’d go up to her room and listen to a batch of the latest albums – everything from the rad. trad. of Pentangle to the latest slab of madness from Mothers Of Invention. And there amongst her eclectic collection was a disc with an intriguing cover which fea- tured a crew of ghost-faced musicians hanging around on the fire escape of a place called Tin Can Alley. Among garbage cans and cellos stood Eric Andersen, the skinny, disaffected maestro playing fiddle in a Choo-Choo Charlie cap. It was like one of Dylan’s surrealist ballads had come to life. I had to find out who this guy was.


There was a fractured vaudeville qual- ity to an album that captured the last whiff of optimism of the sixties, before the napalm and nightsticks came crashing down on that fragile dream. The record featured a mélange of honky-tonk piano, punchy brass and twanging electric guitars that supported Andersen’s homebrewed imagist poetry. It sure wasn’t folk music.


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