Birthday greetings to Steve Forbert, who celebrates No. 57 today.
Once upon a time, Forbert was anointed “the next Bob Dylan,” if for no other reasons than they both wrote music, played harmonica and came from states that started with Mi. (Minnesota and Mississippi).
Of course, this made them no more similar than William Faulkner and Sinclair Lewis because they both wrote books. Forbert’s songs were simpler, peppier and younger; Forbert often wrote about his world, with “a young man’s ear;” Dylan wrote about the world around him with an old man’s eye.
“Being called the next Bob Dylan wasn’t exactly a good thing . . .,” wrote Steve Leggett on allmusic.com, “first because who on earth would want that hung around his neck, and second because his approach and style were nothing much like Dylan in the first place. It was a recipe for perceived failure . . .”
A career letdown for sure. Forbert’s Romeo Tune, on his second album Jackrabbit Slim in 1979, peaked at No. 11, but he never got that high again; of course he wasn’t the next Dylan because there’s no such thing, anymore than there’s a next Ali or Sinatra or da Vinci.
”It was just a cliché back then, and it’s nothing I take seriously,” Forbert said in a 2009 interview with NPR (npr.org). “I’m off the hook — I don’t have to be smarter than everybody else and know all the answers like Bob Dylan.”
Many of Forbert’s early songs were coming of age, and having come of age, material wasn’t as prevalent. He’s continued to write and perform, and his work has matured, even if you can’t tell it by looking at him. It’s hard to believe the artist staring back at you from 2009′s The Place And The Time, his most recent album, was then 55.
Or maybe age is in the eye of the beholder. Young and hopeful, Forbert went down to Laurel for love with “just a touch of madness in my eye” (“I’m glad to be so young talkin’ with my tongue, Glad to be so careless in my way”). He still looks young and hopeful, although even Forbert’s optimism didn’t spare Laurel (“It’s a dirty stinkin’ town yeah”).
(On a personal aside, we once wandered into Laurel, Miss. during the heyday of Forbert’s popularity on an overnight ride to New Orleans. I asked our server at the all-night diner if she knew that Forbert had written a song about her town. When she said no, I figured it best to spare her the details lest she spill the coffee. And though my memories are bleak, I don’t remember Forbert’s description being wrong).
A link to Steve Forbert’s Midsummer Night’s Toast below:
I got my fingers a-tapping on the hard,
I’m waiting for lightning and the rains to fall.
Young lovers are loafin’ with their sidewalk smiles
And all their rainbow dreams.
sources: allmusic.com, wikipedia.org, npr.org