Monday, June 06, 2005

The Colorblind James Trio, part I

Chuck was more than excited to hear that not only did I play guitar, I had a housemate who played upright bass. Thad was more than happy to join in, and the first rehearsal took place in the living room of Chuck & Jan's cold-water flat. I think what struck me most about the first batch of songs I heard was the levity, the fun of the music and the lyrics: their deceptive simplicity that made me smile a worried smile. As quite a few people who consider themselves songwriters have believed, I too thought the songs were easy, fun and I could just as well write like that. The first song Chuck taught me was Purple & Gold:

Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
I got the blues for my baby wearin' Purple & Gold
Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
She never liked no colors 'cept for Purple & Gold

The song is a fast polka in vein similar to Chuck Berry's car songs: Maybellene, Jaguar & Thunderbird, You Can't Catch Me, etc. The heroine's car in this fable was "a '57 Chevy with the 4-on-the-floor" and it was painted purple & gold. By the middle of the song, like the great tragedy songs of the early 60's, things took a deadly turn:

Drivin' on a Sunday, she was drivin' too fast
The car pulled off the highway, it flipped over and crashed
Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
Everywhere was scattered bits of Purple & Gold

that's followed by the funeral (which appears in more than a few of Chuck's songs):

The day of the funeral it was rainy and cold
The people at the service wore purple and gold...

Finally, the flowers for the grave:

I'm goin' to the store where the flowers are sold
I'm buyin' one dozen roses, six purple six gold
Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
She never liked no colors 'cept for Purple and Gold.

It would be years before I would put together a lyric that, matched with the appropriate rhythm, would even approach the wit, irony and pathos of Purple & Gold.

From the start, Chuck's vision was to have fast, danceable music that embraced lyrics that dealt with pain & suffering. Pain & suffering were the realities of life, the music was hope. The hope was seen in the reckless abandon with which the fans would dance to songs of sadness, loneliness, about common folk who got dealt a bad hand. Reckless abandon was spirit, and spirit, to Chuck, was bigger than pain & suffering.

I discovered much later in life the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I didn't realize at the time that Chuck was attempting to transform his own sorrow & suffering into joy & happiness through his writing.

1 comment:

Don Argus said...

The lines we remember from "Purple and Gold" are:

Sometimes we used to listen to the radio,
Never liked to listen to the news.
Never liked none of that Classical stuff,
Just Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues!