Momentum: THE WIT AND WISDOM OF FRED EAGLESMITH
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- If there was anyone left in Nashville with a brain, F= red Eaglesmith would be selling CDs by the millions.
Instead, if you like sheer wildness, irreverent humor, fast cars, famil= y farms, eccentric love stories and train songs, he remains the best singer= and songwriter you've never heard of.
Fred, however, is not exactly an unknown. He's won awards in his native = Canada, and his songs have been recorded by the Cowboy Junkies and Dar Will= iams.
Fredheads -- and there are many -- fall into two categories (according= to Fred) -- the barflies who yell out, "I love you, maaan," and the well-e= ducated professionals who follow him like lemmings. I have one foot in each= camp.
Fred's songs are, to say the least, useful. Whenever unsteady piles of = books, newspapers and magazines threaten to push me out of my house, I chee= r myself up with an uptempo chorus of "When, exactly, did we become white t= rash?"
Whenever the politicians do something exceptionally stupid, which is mos= t of the time, I calm myself with a rousing chorus of "Time to Get a Gun," = the song that keeps Fred from being booked by the earnest promoters of the = major folk festivals. ("Time to get a gun. That's what I was thinking. I co= uld afford one, if I did a little less drinking.")
Whenever another rock star bites the dust, Fred's brilliant "Alcohol and= Pills," a hymn to Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons= and Jimi Hendrix, says it all:
"You think they might've been happy with the glory and the fame. But = fame doesn't take away the pain, it just pays the bills. And you wind up on= alcohol and pills."
Fred rocks. Presenting himself as a hell-raiser, he prides himselfon hi= s wild, wild ways. His songs feature women that other men cross thestreet t= o get away from, like the lady in "Good Enough."
On parole and packing a knife, she "wasn't like anybody that you ever kn= ew."
When she leaves him for "some guy who looks like he's in junior high,"= Fred steals a car, covers it with gasoline and sets it on fire. But it le= aves him with an empty feeling: "It's not the same when she's not with me."
Fred likes trains -- fast trains. He chases after them, dreamsabout them= , and celebrates them in a series of songs that make your heartrace: "I wis= h I was a freight train baby, I wish I was a diesel locomotive.I'd come whi= stling down the track, crashing down your door."
Fred's most heartbreaking songs are about the loss of family farming -- = his own family's farm was repossessed when he was 14.
In "Harold Wilson," a man explains why he's living at the Paradise Mot= el.
"Did you ever try to farm a farm with a pick and a shovel? Try to put a= field into corn just wouldn't grow nothin'?
"Starin' down, across the town, you wonder why you even bother.
"When up the road there's a vacant room with climate control and color, = and you can stay there by the month for a hundred dollars."
In "John Deere," a young man reluctantly writes to his father:
"It's rained for weeks, and it flooded the creek, and I lost the whole c= rop of grain. And the man at the bank wouldn't loan me the money to plant t= hat field again. So today, Dad, I sold the old John Deere.
"The man who bought it is going to fix it up and put it in a museum. = I guess that's where this whole thing's gone. A picture for people to pay t= o look upon.
"'That's how they lived in the old days, son.'
"Sheep's in the meadow, can't find the cows, Little Boy Blue's got a j= ob in town."
Fred's love songs are miniature novels. In the haunting "Summerlea," he = tells the story of a cowboy and the town-bound woman who loves him. "But he= only gets into town twice a month and he gets out as fast as he can. And = he don't have a phone so she can't call him up and she never knows where he= is... She's been in love a couple times before but never quite like this."
My personal favorite, "Lucille," is a crowd-pleaser. Lucille is an o= lder woman who once was his girlfriend. On their dates, they'd go screaming= around town in his '65 Ford with its Cobra Jet 428 engine. Many years late= r, Fred's wife restores the old car as a 40th birthday present. Fred drives= out to the old age home, picks up Lucille, and they go out for one last ri= de -- "We took off like a dustbowl hurricane... It was crazy, but it sure w= as good."
Fred is one of the most dynamic stage performers around. If you want to = hear what his shows sound like, Signature Sounds has just put out a terrifi= c Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels live CD called "Ralph's Last Sho= w." I recommend that you buy it now, because, as Fred sings, "I like to dri= ve at 105, better hurry up if you want to catch me."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist from Dummerston whowrites about c= ulture, politics, economics and travel.