Saturday, March 29, 2008

Steve Goodman Laughs at Death, Live

If you're not in Chicago, and not into folk-rock, "Steve Goodman" may not be a familiar name. He's best known for writing "City of New Orleans," which was made popular by most everyone who sang it, except him.
Short-lived (July 25, 1948 – September 20, 1984), Goodman was diagnosed with leukemia at 21, and the following year he got married and vowed to try and put together a good life and career with the time he had making music and getting paid for it.
He did it despite "the physical pain and time constraints of a fatal disease which he kept at bay, at times, seemingly by willpower alone," his wife recalled. A local phenom, Goodman recorded "Gathering at the Earl of Old Town" in 1971. After opening for Kris Kristofferson, Kris pulled some strings and got Steve signed to Buddah Records. Steve was still not well known when at a bar, a skeptical Arlo Guthrie agreed to allow Steve to perform a song for him in exchange for a beer. The song, "City of New Orleans," not only became a rare hit for Arlo, but became a hit a dozen years later via Willie Nelson's 1984 Grammy-winning version. But by then, Steve Goodman was gone. He got a posthumous Grammy for "Unfinished Business," released in 1988.
Goodman, like the folkies before him such as Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton, worked the clubs and rarely got radio airplay unless somebody else was covering one of his songs. Steve had a penchant for topical tunes that amused audiences but hadn't enough shelf-life to succeed as singles, and a fun-loving sense of humor, which included parodies of country tunes ("You Never Even Call Me By My Name" covered by David Allan Coe) and endless songs about the then-hapless Chicaco Cubs. Some of Goodman's ashes were actually scattered at Wrigley Field. His song "Go Cubs Go" has become a mainstay, heard at most every Cubs game.
Knowing "Cold Hand Leuk" was coming for him (to use his own term for the killer disease), Steve often responded with humor, and here he is, ridiculing death songs during a live performance. He has great fun with "Teen Angel," "Tell Laura I Love Her" and "(Laurie) Strange Things Happen," and his voice soars into the same register as Mark Dinning, Paul Peterson and Dickey Lee...somewhere between heaven and hilarity.
A bunch of rare Steve Goodman live performances were released on the posthumous set "No Big Surprise," and the royalties go to his wife and surviving children, who might like to see a decent check come in once or twice a year (no big surprise to most humans).

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