Monday, September 19, 2016

Fred Hellerman, the LAST OF THE WEAVERS

For some of us, the road to Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs and the other singer-songwriters, began with The Weavers.

For a variety of artists, including Bob and Phil, and most certainly the Kingston Trio and Peter Paul and Mary, The Weavers were the first and the best; they taught by example. For many generations, the first music they heard was either church hymns or folk music.

The Weavers updated "To Tell Aunt Rhody" and "My Darling Clementine," and added a vast repertoire in concert.

One of the first albums to influence me was "The Weavers on Tour," which had a wonderful segment of comic folk songs.

The Weavers were Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. I was able to pay my respects to Pete and Fred. With Pete, I could mention that not only was I delighted with his own comical "Talking Blues" on that Weavers record, but how he supported and validated the young stars who came after him, including Phil Ochs.

With Fred, I mentioned how much I loved "The Frozen Logger" on that record. Pete Seeger set up the story, with Hellerman as the love-lorn waitress. Why not Ronnie Gilbert? It was funnier from Fred.

Fred Hellerman (May 13, 1927 – September 1, 2016) was more than a fourth of The Weavers. He had an active solo performing career, and he was even a producer ("Alice's Restaurant" for Arlo Guthrie). Like Seeger, he was very active in his old age, and was often on hand at gatherings of folk greats. If you check for photos on Fred, you'll see him hanging around with a guitar in hand, with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, among many others.

One of the least appreciated aspects about folk music is its humor. Maybe that's because it's actually pretty hard to create a really good comic song. "The Frozen Logger" is just such a tall tale, relying as it does on humorous imagery. Here's a guy so tough that he gets rid of his whiskers by driving them in with a hammer, and biting them off inside.

Like the stories by everyone from Jack London to Mark Twain, the fun is in the imagination, and in this little song, there's a sweet, ludicrous element of wistfulness in love lost and perhaps found again some day.

It's a bit sad that the window from childhood to adulthood is so narrow now. The time for enjoying a melodic little song is shorter. Too soon reality interferes, and very quickly "hipness" and "coolness" are all that's important. The rag doll is kicked under the bed and stays there, along with the crayons and the drawing paper. It's more important to fiddle with a computer and a cellphone. A teddy bear is nothing compared to a sleek piece of plastic that can help you get free porn, free noise and a chance to collect non-existent Pokemon blips.

A documentary on The Weavers was called "Wasn't That a Time." Wasn't it? The Weavers. Peter Paul and Mary. The Beatles. There was a time when discovering music was a joyous thing. Your favorite performer didn't strut around on stage sticking her tongue out and waving a dildo.

There was some humanity in stories about life on "Penny Lane," about Puff the Magic Dragon, and about a waitress recalling her lover: "There's none like him today." No. And not like Fred Hellerman, either.

FRED HELLERMAN The Frozen Logger

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