We’ve had two gorgeous autumn days this week , clear and in the seventies, perfect weather for raking leaves though sadly the leaves mostly haven’t turned yet here in Boston much less fallen. I will no doubt be out there instead on some damp, freezing day in mid-November.
Regardless, this week I offer my favorite autumn song, by raspy-voiced singer-songwriter Steve Forbert. Steve’s originally from Mississippi. He had one of the all-time great debut albums in the late seventies, Alive on Arrival, followed it up with a big hit, Romeo’s Song, but then couldn’t repeat that success which led to record-company friction and subsequently a long under-the-radar career consisting of solid-to-strong albums with the occasional homerun song. (For a similar career trajectory without the hit see Elliot Murphy.)
This is one of those homeruns, from Steve’s excellent 1978 Streets of This Town album. It’s mostly voice-and-guitar, a little bit of piano toward the end. In a voice filled with warmth and empathy, Steve opens with a lift from Wordsworth (“the world is too much with you/all of the time”) and then encourages someone–himself?–to search their heart to find a way through a state of gloom and doubt.
A typical rock ‘n’ roll pep talk, take a dose of self-reliance and call me in the morning, but what really makes the song is the long bridge section in the middle, where Steve contrasts the upcoming harshness of winter with the reassuring calm of autumn:
So just behold these golden days,
These days of fall, these golden days,
The golden clear, blue autumn days…
Songs about autumn (“Autumn Leaves,” “September Song”) often treat the season as a rehearsal for the despair of winter, so it’s nice to have one that instead tells us to bank its beauty for later, sort of like a squirrel with nuts. Every season should have its boosters!
Steve sings the lines of that bridge section as one great run-on line, not in the breathless way you’d expect from such an epic enjambment but slowly, leaning in to every word. During a two-year period back in the nineties, I heard two people bring the house down at the old Nighstage club in Cambridge with this section of the song: first Steve himself, and then Ellie Marshall, who was opening for Jonathan Richman. Both times you felt like the entire room was on the edge of their seats as those long lines accumulated and there was sponteneous applause when they ended. Why don’t more people cover this song?