Friday, May 7, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Panel


By Darrell James

On my way to an author panel last Sunday, I encountered a woman in the parking lot of the local Denny’s. She was loading music instruments into the back of an equipment van. On a guitar case was a sticker that read: New Christie Minstrels.

Now, for those of you who weren’t around in 1964, or who were too stoned to remember, they were a folk group of considerable fame. (Something along the lines of Peter, Paul, and Mary.) This day they were on their way to a performance in San Dimas.

I introduced myself as a fan, and told her where I was heading. The rest of the band was quickly summoned-round to meet the mystery writer Darrell James (no mention of the word famous in my regard).

They were gray-haired, and bleary-eyed at the early hour, but still out there touring and spreading their music to the masses. Four of them were of the original founding members of the group. I shook hands with each in turn and a lively discussion of their early work and my long-time fan-ship ensued.

See, I had only a couple of months earlier related to my wife Diana that there was an old song (by this group) that I would love to find, if it still existed. The song is titled El Camino Real, from the album Land of Giants. To my dismay, Cantebury’s in Pasadena had the album on CD, and I purchased it. I happened to be carrying it with me in my car at the time, and the entire band signed the cover.

It was a chance encounter, of little consequence to anyone other than me. (And perhaps the band, as they’d met someone who actually remembered them from the good 'ol days.) We exchanged business cards. I promised to try to catch one of their performances some day, they promised to read my first book when it comes out.

Maybe either will happen; maybe neither will. It doesn’t matter so much. I left feeling nostalgic and warm. And for the remainder of the day, the song in question played inside my head.

It tells the story of the early days of Southern California, of horse and rider, and of the fight for independence from Spain. The lyrics are powerful and provocative, the characters courageous and sad. I’ve never been able to repeat the complete lyrics without choking up.

My wife comes from the disco era, and if the music makes you want to dance, she’s down. Another friend tells me he has to be able to sing to it. For me, a folk-rocker from the Dylan generation, it’s all about story and about poetry and about words. Much of my writing is inspired by song lyrics.

What about you? Are you a dancer or poet, songbird or storyteller? What place does music play in your life?

15 comments:

Lisa Bork said...

That's a great story, Darrell. How wonderful just to bump into them!

I like to be able to sing along; even better if the song has a storyline like The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.

G.M. Malliet said...

Nice post, Darrell. I remember this group.

I think I fall into all the categories: "dancer or poet, songbird or storyteller."

Jess Lourey said...

Great story, Darrell! How awesome to run into musicians who inspired you. I'm afraid I never listen to lyrics. I also can't listen to books on tape. I have a wandering mind.

Mary said...

What sort of age are they now? In their 70s almost?

Darrell James said...

Mary- The four original members still remaining with the group or all in their seventies. The group was formed in 1961. But they looked great and excited to still be out there.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

So cool!

I bet they were thrilled to have someone so excited to see them, too.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Loni Emmert said...

What a great treat for you Darrell. I love music (that's why it's been my career for 27 years) and i find that sometimes it's more fun to meet artists after their heyday as they seem more appreciative of the recognition and most often I appreciate them as an artist more. P.i. and I have been making the rounds the last few years to see bands that we didn't have a chance to when they were "big" and it's been a blast. Last one was Loggins & Messina, before that Ian Anderson.

Keith Raffel said...

Darrell, That group has so many great alumni who went on to do their own thing like Kim Carnes ("Bette Davis Eyes"), Kenny Rogers, and Barry McGuire ("Eve of Destruction"). But don't you think the NCM song title that should be most relevant to us writers is "Green, Green" ? Thanks for the post!

G.M. Malliet said...

Kim Carnes? I had no idea.

Patti said...

Darrell, music was (and is) my life. It's why I grew up to work at Capitol Records and achieve my dream of meeting Paul and Linda McCartney (which I did--yahoo!) since age seven on (yes gasp!) Ed Sullivan! So, I completely understand your thrill to meet TNCM! Such fun!
Patti

M Pax said...

I use theme songs to help me set the mood of my novels. I see them in movie scene snippets againt the backdrop of music. Nice. Then I try to write what I see.

Darrell James said...

Keith- You're right! All those and a number of other alum got their start with the group. It's great to know someone else was listening.

GBPool said...

I still have one of their albums, Ramblin', from back then. The songs are still good. I like the words and the music. My heart sings and my soul dances.

Darrell James said...

Best said, Gayle!

Deborah Sharp said...

isn't music the most evocative thing? I can hear a song from the 60s, and immediately be transported back to the Gold Coast Roller Rink, ''Girl's Choice'' skate, and having my seventh-grade heart broken by the boy who said No when I chose ....
Nice post, Darrell.