Monday, January 02, 2006

Resolution #9

Deliver unto the people the music of Bill Fox.

Yes! Last night I was digging into When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock and Roll, a massive collection of pre-rock gospel and folk recordings, when I tripped upon "Mary of the Wild Moor" by the Blue Sky Boys. It was recorded in 1940 by the Bolick bros., Bill and Earl, whose sweet hillbilly harmonies presage the Louvin Bros. I soon recalled that Bill Fox, the mysterious and illusive folk-rock genius, covered this on 1998's Transit Byzantium. His version adds a weird Motown bass line, hand-claps and a harmonica. He was probably riffing on the Dylan version. Johnny Cash covered it, too. The song goes back to the British Isles. It was copyrighted by an American in the 19th Century and the sheet music is beautiful.

It's hard to know why Bill Fox didn't emerge as one of his generation's great songwriters, but we hear tell of personal dilemmas that set him back and sidelined him from the music business altogether. Mental and emotional fragility infuse his songs, which are often the sound of idealism dog-paddling to stay above the cynical waters of modern life, as on "Down to Babylon."

You know all roads lead to Babylon
My dying leads to death
Right now I'm moving in between
And I'm trying to catch my breath.

In that space, he seemed all too aware of the transitory nature of pop, ever and tragically in sway to a deeper personal and historical root. He pretty much says it all in "Thinking of You."

'Do I want to do a 7-inch?'
Somebody asks me from the Deacon's bench
And I tell him, 'Pick any track, you know that it's yours...'

Before he went folk and before he went down and out, Fox was building pristine pop pyramids to the sky in the late 80s indie pop band The Mice. "Guarding You" is found on For Almost Ever Scooter, a compilation issued last year by Scat Records. You can hear the raw, quivering hope. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Cleveland, Cleveland, Cleveland. City of outmoded yet weirdly futuristic dreams.

Speaking of which. Earlier I proclaimed my adoration for "Mountain Greenery," the Rogers and Hart number. I came to it through the Bing Crosby version, which I figure is definitive, knowing Bing. In spirit and outlook, this song is instructive and inspirational. A blueprint for people who suffer from Grass-is-always-greener-ism, which is a chronic disease for some of us. Without unpacking too much of its personal meaning for me and Dewey, let's just say it's a call to arms if you live in the dirty city toiling for impossible happinesses. It's also a vision of spring, of things to come, of great, green hope. It's the closest Bing came to being a hippie, maybe. Did i mention I hate winter? I do! Therefore: We resolve to look past it and into the wild blue future that lies just beyond. This is essential for any headin' up the country soundtrack. We'll get there!

[See a previous post on Bill Fox here.]

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