I love folk music because it is about something, the vocals front the music unlike in rock and it is eminently memorable and singable.
My favorite folk artist, whom I have seen live maybe three or four times to my utter delight each time, is unknown to most people, but luckily not to his peers who today bestowed a Grammy lifetime achievement award both for his body of work and his influence on better known artists. (Awarded today, announced on the teevee tomorrow night.)
He is Tom Paxton, and if you have never heard of him, I am 100 percent sure you have heard his songs. Younger readers might even have sung them in school or at camp.
Older readers who are not that familiar with folk music might remember the commercial he wrote for Ken-L-Ration (“My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog.”) Parents probably have sung a couple of the songs while carpooling (“Daddy’s Takin’ Us to the Zoo Tomorrow”) and the universally known (“Marvelous Toy.”)
Social critics would know of his “I’m Changing My Name to Chrysler” (updated here) “Talkin’ Vietnam Blues” and the three-hanky “Jimmy Newman” – the GI who won’t wake up even though the chopper has come to take him home.
And who hasn’t heard, “Bottle of Wine” and “Wasn’t That a Party?”
For the sentimentalists among us there are “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” and the aching “Last Thing on My Mind.” (for country fans)Those two are the first of his songs I learned as a freshman in college from a guitar-playing folk wannabe as we sunned ourselves on the campus mall while others were dancing to the Beatles.
Growing old is where we were bound and growing old was the last thing on our mind.
But not too old to have some fun, as Paxton sang on a 2005 Grammy-nominated album:
Well I met this young girl at a folk club,
Like you do, like you do.
So I bought her a drink and we chatted,
Wouldn’t you, wouldn’t you.
And then after the show she invited me home,
And she said we were two of a kind,
Then she played me every record
That Tom Paxton ever made,
And you know that was the last thing on my mind.