Third Rate Romance


Third Rate Romance (Jesse Winchester, 1974).
Third Rate Romance (Amazing Rhythm Aces, 1975).
Third Rate Romance (Flip City).
Third Rate Romance (live with Flip City, 1975).

Jesse Winchester was just out of college when he received his draft notice. Perhaps it was an act of manly courage; it probably felt like callow cowardice – it might just have been good common sense, not to want to go to Vietnam – but he hightailed it to Canada and lived a decade in exile. Louisiana born and Tennessee raised, Winchester worked the folk clubs in Quebec and Montreal and wrote music that turned the American South he remembered into a magical place, always visible and never reachable. One of his most famous songs – thanks to a cover version by Jimmy Buffett, Winchester himself never attaining mainstream fame – sketches a distant view of a summer day on the Gulf Coast that shimmers like a painting:

Down around Biloxi
Pretty girls are dancing in the sea
They all look like sisters in the ocean
The boy will fill his pail with salty water
And the storms will blow from off toward New Orleans…

The tone of Winchester’s writing, not to mention the exquisiteness of detail in the lyrics, was surely part of what attracted Robbie Robertson, hard at work on his own project of romanticizing America. A stack of Winchester demos reached him somehow, and after recruiting fellow Band-mate Levon Helm to come along to the Great North and play on the record, he produced Winchester’s self-titled first LP in 1970. Perhaps the album’s signature song, “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” wraps longing and love and distance and despair up into a gorgeous, shy, penitent farewell:

Oh my, but you have a pretty face
You favor a girl that I knew
I imagine she’s still in Tennessee
And by God, I should be there too
I’ve a sadness too sad to be true

But I left Tennessee in a hurry, dear
The same way that I’m leaving you
Because love is mainly just memories
And everyone’s got them a few
So when I’m gone, I’ll be glad to love you…

Winchester later recalled that this was the first song he ever wrote. We should all kick off our careers half so promisingly. Read More

Poison Moon

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Poison Moon.
Poison Moon (live in Brescia, Italy, 2016).

Step into my time machine, friends! That’s right, I’ve invented a time machine. Why do you think it takes me so long between blog posts? It’s because I’m very busy tinkering in my lab. Anyway, strap yourselves in, because we’re going back exactly forty years from today – to August 15, 1976, the first day Elvis Costello’s voice would ever be heard on the radio. Half a world away, another Elvis is embarking on the final year of his life. Here in suburban London, a new Elvis begins the first of his.

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