I was plunking around on my guitar the other day with the Kasey Chambers song "Runaway Train'' (How many songs have that title? A dozen, a hundred, a thousand? And which one is your favorite?) when I stumbled onto a different beat that sounded familiar but was severely testing my limited recall. Finally, after repeatedly downbeating an A minor chord, a few words tumbled out:
When the lights go down in the California town...
Ring a bell for you? I had no real recollection of the song, the artist or even the era during which I had listened to it. You know how the elements of a forgotten song -- the title, the artist, the lyrics or some other minutae -- will escape you and drive you crazy until you think of them? Many of us grew up in the pre-Google days when you either had to think of it yourself, make a phone call to a buddy at 1:30 a.m. (good luck) or become more and more irritated until, hours or possibly even days later, it finally came to you.
I took the easy way out, googling that one remembered line. The buzz in my head turned out to be "Gold'', by John Stewart, who took the song about the music biz to No. 5 in 1979.
When the lights go down in the California town
People are in for the evening
I jump into my car and I throw in my guitar
My heart beatin' time with my breathin'
Drivin' over Kanan, singin' to my soul
There's people out there turnin' music into gold
Hopefully Stewart collected some gold of his own, as a former member of the Kingston Trio whose writing credits include "Daydream Believer'', the Monkees' last No. 1 song, and also a hit for Anne Murray.
I clicked around until I found the sad news: an obituary on LA Weekly's website dated Feb. 6, 2008 and penned by Michael Simmons. A link folos, but you can read the lead here:
John Stewart — singer, songwriter, guitarist, artist, husband, father, grandfather, Californian, American — was scheduled to perform at McCabe's in Santa Monica on Saturday, February 2. He missed the gig, but he had a good excuse. Stewart suffered a sudden stroke at the age of 68 and died on January 19 in San Diego at the very same hospital he was born in.
They say obituary writing is an art, and who can argue?