Saturday, July 05, 2014

FINDING OBSCURITY..


Georgia on my Mind (Ray Charles)
I left my heart in San Francisco (Tony Bennett)
The Streets of London (Ralph McTell)
Penny Lane (The Beatles)
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
California Dreaming (Mamas and Papas)

.......all songs we`ve heard, all places we`ve heard about and many more besides with their names etched in the lyrics of countless songs.   But some are a bit obscure:-

Stainsby Girls (Chris Rea)
Down to Margate (Chas and Dave)
Coldharbour Lane (Tom Robinson)
Bleecker Street (Simon and Garfunkel)

......and I think I may for many years have known the song and the place that represents the true essence of obscurity in song writing.

Can`t recall why but in my wayward youth I became a great fan of The Kingston Trio and until one of Mrs. Snopper`s occasional `sort outs` I had most of their vinyl albums.  I suppose what attracted me to Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds was the quality of harmony, the tightness of their guitar and banjo playing and the range and depth of their output.   Sadly, Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds are no longer with us and Bob Shane, now 80, is `in a bad way.`

But their songs live on in my memory and in my YouTube history.  Songs like MTA, The Long Black Rifle, Shady Grove, Lonesome Traveller, New York Girls.....and the haunting South Coast.   And South Coast is where it gets obscure.   It tells the tragic story of Juan Hano de Castro, whose father was a Spanish grandee; and who "won his wife in a card game and to hell with the lords o`er the sea."  And the action takes place around the south coast of California and in particular, the `settlement` of Jolon in Monterey County.

And `it happened in Monterey, a long time ago` (Frank Sinatra) in Jolon`s frontier days, when it was known for its gambling and when winning a wife in a card game was not unknown.   Jolon was established in 1860 to serve the needs of miners on their way to the coastal mines but went into decline with the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad; the township was bought by William Randolph Hearst in 1920 but he sold it to the US Army in 1940, in whose ownership it remains as part of Fort Hunter Liggett.   Today, the `community` of Jolon consists only of the original General Merchandise Store, now empty (pictured above,) and a small church that is still used by the dwindling Jolon locals.

But its name and its colourful past lives on in the song.  `South coast, the wild coast is lonely. You may win at the game at Jolon.  But the lion still rules the barrancas.  And a man there is always alone.`   Here it is:-




And in a curious yet fitting way, the haunting tragedy of the song seems to mirror the obscurity that Jolon has always possessed.  As such, it could well find its way onto my bucket list of places to visit.......after all, I `do` obscurity very well indeed.

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