Some Stability & Some John Stewart

Originally posted November 19, 2007

As I was recording today’s album, I got to thinking about small town living and stability.

The album, John Stewart’s Bombs Away Dream Babies, came out in 1979, and as I pondered the year, I realized that 1979 was the first year since 1972 that I had not moved at least once during the year.

That’s not that unusual for folks in their twenties, I guess. I’ve long been aware of the transient nature my life took later, during the years from 1987 into 1992, a stretch I’ve mentioned here before that saw me move eight times in a little less than five years. What made that stretch stand out, I guess, was that I was in my mid-thirties. The earlier stretch, when I moved nine times during the years from 1973 through 1978, came during my twenties, and neither I nor my family and friends seemed to think there was anything odd about my shifting homes and locales as frequently as I did.

And so stability came to mind when I thought about 1979, living in the same place, with the same neighbors and the same job of being a reporter for a weekly newspaper in a small Minnesota town. Weekly newspapering can be demanding, but the job was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had, covering the news – large events and small – that went on in Monticello and also in the nearby small town of Big Lake. It was hard work, and it frequently ate up more than forty hours of my time in a week, but it was rewarding, too.

As I wrote a little more than two years ago in a “Where are they now and what did they learn here?” column for the Monticello paper, “I learned much during my time there, from my colleagues and from the Monticelloans I wrote about and lived with. I learned about perseverance, about the value of effort and attention to detail, about the worth of belonging to and believing in something greater than one’s self – whether that be a business, a civic organization, a community or the cosmos. I learned that one can overcome setbacks and repair the damage of errors, in work and in life both.”

I was just beginning to realize those things in 1979. Another thing I was continuing to realize – having been with the paper for just more than a year as 1979 dawned – was that reporters at a small town weekly are pretty visible around town. Early on, perhaps a week after I’d gotten to town, I stopped off at a small grocery store on my way home for milk or cigarettes or something. The store was nearly empty, and the proprietor glanced at me as I came up to the counter. He nodded. “You must be the new fellow at the Times,” he said. Startled, I nodded, then introduced myself.

That happened at least five more times in the next four weeks. Eventually, of course, I was no longer the new fellow, but through my entire tenure of nearly six years, wherever I went, I was recognized. That’s typical, as I say, of small towns, and Monticello at the time had a population of about 3,000. It took some time for me to adjust, having come from a city of about 40,000 (and that didn’t include all of the 12,000 students at St.. Cloud State).

So I was settling into small town life in 1979, the year that John Stewart’s “Gold” began to burble from radio speakers, reaching No. 5 in the middle of the year. What else was coming out of the radio on those evenings when my significant other of the time and I sat home on a Saturday evening?

Well, the Bee Gees were still hoofin’, with “Too Much Heaven” hitting the top spot on the charts in January, followed by Rod Stewart’s nadir: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Gloria Gaynor reassured herself and us in “I Will Survive,” and the Doobie Brothers sang “What A Fool Believes.” Later in the year, Donna Summer told us about “Bad Girls” and Anita Ward asked someone to “Ring My Bell.”

Until I turned the pages, checking out 1979, I’d forgotten about The Knack and “My Sharona.” (How soon can I forget again, please?) Robert John got (or stayed, many would say) wimpy as he sang about “Sad Eyes,” and the Eagles hit No. 1 with “Heartache Tonight” at the same time as The Long Run topped the album charts for nine weeks.

And in October, Fleetwood Mac released its long-awaited Tusk, the follow-up album to 1977’s Rumours. Like the earlier album, Tusk was Lindsey Buckingham’s product and carried the sonic marks of his intricate and idiosyncratic production techniques. It was, in fact, a sound similar to the one that Buckingham had provided at mid-year for John Stewart’s Bombs Away Dream Babies.

With Buckingham playing a fair amount of guitar and he and Stevie Nicks providing backing vocals, Stewart’s album sounds a little like a Fleetwood Mac product with Stewart singing lead vocals. If the track “Gold” were not so familiar, allowing a listener to ground him- or herself in Stewart’s identity, listening to the album could be disconcerting.

As it is, however, it’s a pretty good album. Buckingham’s productions have never been anything less than professional, of course. The three singles from the album are nicely done – “Gold,” the lovely “Midnight Wind” (No. 28) and “Lost Her In The Sun” (No. 34) – and Buckingham brings some nice touches to some of the album tracks. Those that stand out particularly for me are “Somewhere Down The Line,” with its kalimba, and the driving “The Spinning Of The World.”

I’ve included in the zip file the single edit of “Midnight Wind.” There are a few pops throughout the album, but I think it’s listenable.

Lost Her In The Sun
Runaway Fool Of Love
Somewhere Down The Line
Midnight Wind
Over The Hill
The Spinning Of The World
Comin’ Out Of Nowhere
Hand Your Heart To The Wind
Heart Of The Dream
Midnight Wind single edit (RSO single 1000)

John Stewart – Bombs Away Dream Babies [1979]


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