There hasn't been a whole lot of music on the radio the last few years that I much care to listen to, so I've been happy with the rise of Pandora, which gives me the chance to put in the name of a song or an artist to create a channel which will play songs selected by some computerized algorithm that matches my song to others having some of the same tonal or instrumental or generic characteristics, or, as their web site has it, "everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony."
I've tried different channels, and some of them wind up giving back a pretty narrow band of songs just like what you thought you might get. But last week I tried basing a channel on Richard Thompson, and the thing about Thompson is that he's pretty much a category-buster all by himself: a folk singer most people have never heard of, an innovative and edgy lyricist, a rock legend who has never had, as far as I know, a song in the top twenty (or even the top fifty), and one of the most versatile and accomplished masters of the guitar ever to walk the planet. And so he seems to knock the algorithm-making machine sideways a bit, and it keeps spitting out a very weird and eclectic and surprising mix of songs by all manner of musicians across a whole bunch of decades (Thompson has been cranking out his eclectic music for 40 years), everything from Led Zep to Neil Young and Boston and Dire Straits on the one hand, to people I've never paid much or attention, like Bruce Cockburn, or even ever heard of, like Stephen Bennett or Colin Hay or Big Head Todd and The Monsters.
Anyway, the other night I was in the gym and suddenly found myself listening to Tom Rush singing "The Urge for Going," a song I used to love and had not heard in maybe 20 years. It's a great song for September, and his gravelly voice against the clean acoustic guitar lines really resonates with Joni Mitchell's lyrics. I particularly love the end of the song, where acceptance and appreciation swirl in competition with mourning and regret:
I'll ply the fire with kindling,
I'll pull the blankets to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out
I'll bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime
And have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going
I guess she'll have to go
And she's gets the urge for going
when the meadow grass is turning brown
All her empire's are falling down
and winter's closing in
I lived in New England for twenty-five years, and know only too well whereof he sings. Even though we don't have seasons in Hawaii (well, we do, but the differences between them are much more subtle), the song still reverberates with me, perhaps even more so as I approach birthday number 64, and September as begins to feel maybe a little optimistic. But that sun still feels good.