This review is written by Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8/03
Ask many performers why it is that their VHS/DVD releases sell so much more slowly than their audio CDs, and they will often shake their heads in wonderment. After all, the prices – particularly here in Britain – are not that much different. So you'd think, wouldn't you, that there would be NO CONTEST? To get a video of a performance is surely so much better a memento, than just an audio souvenir?
But the fact remains that fans generally aren't crushed in the rush to buy the video. However, that said, I predict that this release is going to change things.
In over 40 years of seeing great Folk artistes perform LIVE, there is nobody who made a greater impression on me than Steve Goodman. The man was quite unforgettable. I could just close my eyes and see the guy bobbing up and down inside my eyelids. And although it is nearly 20 years since he died so tragically young at just 36, my memory of him seemed SO vivid, that the lack of a commercially available video recording seemed simply REGRETTABLE rather than a VITAL omission. Surely, people like me who had been smitten by “Goodman fever”, would never forget a single mannerism of this most charismatic of performers.
That's what I thought, but I was wrong. Along comes this video (co-produced by his widow), and it showed me that the human brain forgets a lot in 20 years. Seeing the man again after all these years had a curious effect: I was now seeing him with my eyes aged another 20 years. And quirks I perhaps “took-for-granted” back then, seem endearingly idiosyncratic now. And with all the new artistes that have flowed under the “Performers' Bridge” since then, one perhaps now sees even more clearly just how great the man's talent was.
Along with 20 wonderful tracks, there are several interviews added. Quite engrossing stuff, especially the Prine and Kristofferson insights. And there is a particularly moving interview with Steve; it's made just a year before he died and he is at Wrigley Field, home of his beloved Chicago Cubs baseball team. He sings his “A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request”: and golly doesn't he deliver it magnificently! His voice sounds as glorious as I ever remember it. And I defy you not to have tears in your eyes at these Wrigley Field moments .
Other moments too. “My Old Man” is a song that always touched me with the beauty of its melody and the limpid poetry of its lyric: but here, with the lines “he was always trying to watch his weight/ and his heart only made it to fifty-eight”, the song became almost unbearably sad (i.e. when one recalls that the son only made it to thirty-six.)
It is a definite musical high spot of the 122 minutes. As are tracks 4, 6 and 20.
Track 4 incidentally, is the sublimely clever “The 20th Century is Almost Over” which he co-wrote with John Prine. Interestingly, 4 years ago, as we were counting down the days to the 1st of January 2000, NONE of the well-known Folk radio programmes here in the UK played the track! That speaks volumes, I reckon. Far too concerned with playing the latest “flavour-of-the-month" rookie young female singer, than playing THE track that was “made” for December 1999. It should have been on the radio once every HOUR, because not only was the Twentieth Century almost over, but also the Second Millennium! The perfect accompaniment with which to wave goodbye to the past 100/1000 years.
Okay, that off my chest, it's back to this VHS tape. And do you know, there really isn't a moment in the whole tape that is not a delight.
To start with, you see little evidence of Steve Goodman the guitar virtuoso. The first few songs see him just playing well, well within himself. Track 6 sees him start to open up: and before long he is “cooking with gas” alright.
Perhaps one criticism of the tape is that the original producer/cameramen seemed as much concerned with filming photogenic members of the Austin audience as they were of filming Steve's dazzling guitar work. Often just when you want a close-up of those ultra-fast hands, the camera cuts away to an audience shot! But that is a minor criticism, methinks.
As would be the absence of “standards” from the Goodman repertoire like “Penny Evans”. But I guess that if he did not do certain songs the nights the cameras rolled, then there is no way the producers can conjure them out of thin air. And talking of absent songs: a particular favourite of mine is also missing. I think it a candidate for the greatest song he ever wrote. “Lookin' For Trouble”.
But hey, is the glass half FULL, or what? More than “half” full, I'd say. It is 99% full. And full of the most glorious nectar.
Go buy this VHS tape without delay. If you never saw Steve Goodman, it will serve as a glorious testament to a towering talent. If you DID see him - and only here reading this have you become aware that finally now, in 2003, we have the launch of the videotape many of suspected was “out there” somewhere all along – well, if so, you won't need my recommendation.
This is also available in DVD. But, that said, perhaps here I should add a warning to owners of European DVD players: some of their machines do not play North American produced DVDs. Whereas this VHS tape does play on our VCRs without a problem. And it is cheaper than the DVD. From Amazon – at the time of writing - it's just $14.95. The bargain of the century. Also at the time of writing, it is not available from subsidiary Amazon operations in European countries, but just from the US Amazon HQ. But a paltry 25 US Dollars covers everything INCLUDING postage to Europe.
Before closing this review, I want to borrow somewhat from a great British critic of my boyhood - Harold Hobson – and apply the thought to this Goodman gem of a videotape.
If you have just 15 Dollars left to your name, do not spend it on grocery food, but use it to buy the nourishing MENTAL food that this VHS tape provides.
And if you have 30 Dollars?
Well, still don't buy food to appease the hunger pangs of your belly. Use the other 15 Dollars to buy a SECOND copy, and give it to a friend to provide a glorious suntan for their MIND.
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