‘Guilty For The Rest Of My Life . . .’

Originally posted January 1, 2008

Gift card in hand, I spent a couple hours last week wandering around an outpost of one of the nation’s major book and music retailers. It was my second gift card of the season for that particular emporium – I’d used the first one for the splendid coffee-table volume called The Football Book produced by Sports Illustrated – and I was focusing on music.

Having come late to CDs – in 1998 rather than a decade or even five years earlier – I still work at duplicating digitally at least some of the classic rock and blues that I have on vinyl. So when I come to a place like the book and music emporium, I find myself digging past a multitude of CDs released in the past five years. Now, it’s not that I never buy new stuff – I do from time to time. But more often than not, I flip through the new stuff, looking for things to fill gaps in the historical record.

On my latest trip, last week, I went first to the F’s, having been reminded by Dan Fogelberg’s recent death that I had none of his stuff on CD. I found Nether Lands, looked at Phoenix, grabbed the first – as it was budget-priced – and left the second for another visit. And I began wandering through the racks, looking for something else, not entirely certain what.

As I wandered the small CD department, I became aware that my movements were paralleling those of a woman who was, I would guess, in her mid-twenties. I didn’t want her to think she was being stalked by a portly graybeard, so I spent some time in the blues section, dithering over anthologies of work by Big Mama Thornton and Big Maybelle. Either would have been a fine addition to my R&B/blues collection, but that wasn’t what I had in mind today. So I wandered back to the rock section.

Almost aimlessly, I rifled through the Springsteens, and there, at the back, was a copy of Lucky Town, the 1992 release that seems to get little respect among Boss fans. I didn’t remember ever seeing a copy of it anywhere, although I have to admit I haven’t looked that hard. As it was one of the few Springsteens I did not have on CD – I picked up the vinyl the day it was released in 1992 – I grabbed it.

I could buy one more CD with my card and the remains of the earlier gift card. So I looked across the swath of pop and rock, casting about for an idea. I saw Bonnie Raitt’s name and headed to her section.

As happens every time I think about Bonnie Raitt’s music, one song began to play inside my head. As I wrote in the early days of this blog: “I first heard [Bonnie Raitt] through the walls of the hostel room where I lived during my college year in Denmark, hearing her take on Randy Newman’s ‘Guilty’ time after time until it took on forever an aura of beer-soaked regrets and midnight grief.”

The song had popped up on the RealPlayer the other evening, its slow, sad piano intro signaling sorrow to come. And Raitt’s vocal slid out of the speakers as I closed my eyes, half of me listening to the song in the here and now and the other half of me recalling my room – Room 8 – at the hostel in the middle of a winter night and recalling as well the muted sounds of Bonnie Raitt’s “Guilty” seeping through the wall with its mix of sadness and resignation.

I never asked the girls in Room 6 who it was, and it took me years after I came home to find out which song I had been listening to through the walls (my searching was admittedly sporadic). And then – once the Nineties had come – it took years more to find a good vinyl copy of Takin’ My Time, the 1973 album that ends with that bleak song. Now, at the store, recalling the many times I’d heard “Guilty” with both sadness and satisfaction, I moved to the section holding Bonnie Raitt’s CDs. And there, in the back, was a copy of Takin’ My Time, the home of “Guilty” and – as I’d learned over the past few years – a lot of other good music. So it came home with me.

“Guilty” came from the pen of Randy Newman, who included it on his 1974 album Good Old Boys, which means that Raitt’s version of the song came out first. The list of others who have covered the song includes such little-known names as John Autin, Jimmy Barnes, Beth Hart and Steve Klink. On the other side of the ledger, versions also exist by such well-known performers as the Blues Brothers, Christine Collister, Nazareth and Joe Cocker. But my ears hear Raitt’s take on “Guilty” as the definitive version.

Guilty – “Bonnie Raitt” [1973]


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