Log Cabin Chronicles

TOM PAXTON: STILL SEEING IT AND SINGING IT STRAIGHT

Tom Paxton

Digital Image © 1999 John Mahoney ~ Tom Paxton and long-time fan

JOHN MAHONEY

Sunday, March 14, 1999
MIDDLEBURY, VERMONT

Tom Paxton, icon from the pantheon of Sixties folk singers, proves that old guys can still have the right stuff.

He's 65 now and a grandfather and in mid-March he had the 200 self-celebrants, a lot of them graying and getting long in the tooth themselves, in the palm of his hand the minute he walked onto the small stage at the Knights of Columbus Hall here. He was the season's closing act in the local After Dark music series.

Paxton, backed up by the talented Geoff Bartley, sang in his good, strong voice and if you closed your eyes you could hear echoes from those heady days nearly forty years ago when a whole lot of people were coming together to find other ways of being other than the conformity demanded by our dreary mainstream culture. His songs, past and present, seemed to reaffirm choices made and actions taken long ago.

He's lost none of his keen eye for distilling down to the essence just what's wrong in this world. When Paxton sang about the slaughter of 6000 Muslim men and boys in Bosnia by Serb militiamen -- "From the road to Srebrenica" -- the room was silent until the end of the song.

There were contemporary songs about the hopelessness of the homeless ("Beneath the Bridge"), the plight of very young girls having babies and very young boys packing guns.

The room roared with laughter at his musical depictions of two of the main penis people of the late 20th century - President William Jefferson Clinton and John Wayne Bobbitt. There was the one about Linda Tripp, the Friend from Hell, and many of us in the room saw ourselves in his spoof about growing older and receiving that golden agers' slick mag, Modern Maturity.

And when we all sang "Rambling Boy" and "The Last Thing on my Mind," well, he had us right where he wanted us - in the palm of his hand.

Paxton is a prolific artist: More than 30 albums with new works on the way, a hefty stack of children's books, seemingly hectic concert touring, and he still has time to teach.

I'd like to report he was a warm, fuzzy guy but I didn't sense that at all. Maybe to close friends and family. But I watched as he sang and, although he came across as committed and genuine, his eyes were the eyes of a watcher.

Tom Paxton

It was the same when he obligingly signed the many compact discs of his older songs - wonderful, older songs - that people bought. He smiled, he responded, but I didn't sense any real contact. But hell, that's probably just a defense mechanism learned the hard way during the long haul. Everybody wants a piece of you when you're famous.

It was fine being in that room with Tom Paxton. I first heard him in the mid-sixties and our four sons grew up with his music. They loved it then and still do today and now their children are starting to sing his songs.

That's three generations and that says a lot for a tall, lanky Oklahoma baseball player who has written so many songs that have become imbedded in the culture.


Amazon.com has a long list of his available CDs and children's books. To check Paxton's touring schedule, go here.


Geoff BartleyGeoff Bartley has four CDs out with Waterbug Records. This excerpt is from his page on Waterbug's site: Bartley was born in New York City, into a musical family, and grew up on Maryland's eastern shore, switching from clarinet to guitar along the way. His family's taste in music ran from classical to show tunes but Geoff soon discovered traditional music and began to inhale it in all its forms; from folk to jazz to roots blues; from Robert Johnson to Bob Dylan and all points in between.


Home | Stories | Columns


Copyright © 1999 John Mahoney/Log Cabin Chronicles/3.99