Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Christmas To All!


25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel!"

"That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
--John 1:9

Have a great holiday, friends!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

BIG AL'S JOVIAL JUKEBOX #9: "Summer Wages" by IAN TYSON, 1986

Albie's Note:  I first heard this "modern cowboy song" on the 1967 Ian And Sylvia album SO MUCH FOR DREAMING in the early '80s.  I liked it OK, but didn't think of it as more than an interesting stab at writing a modern "working-man" type of folk song.  Later, in about 1987 when I bought Ian Tyson's now-legendary solo outing COWBOYOGRAPHY-- where he had re-recorded the song the year before with subtle lyric changes and in a much more western arrangement-- I really came to appreciate what a fine piece of poetry it is. 

Hard to believe I have now loved this song for decades... but that's what the song's about in the firstplace: passage of time.  Not only did Tyson -- a real-life Canadian cattleman and musician-- write an authentic song as far as the northern itinerant workingman's peculiar reality, but he really composed a doggone great metaphoric lyric about life in general. The message? I think it's something like this: All of life is fleeting... and it will be gone before we know it... and "dealers" and "hookers" and "beer parlors" and false friends-- of one kind or another-- well, they're just plain everywhere, partner.

The moral? Make wise decisions, my friends.  And hold fast to things that are true.

(Ian Tyson)
Never hit 17 when you play against the dealer
For you know that the odds won't ride with you
And never leave your woman alone
With your friends around to steal her
She'll be gambled and gone like summer wages.

And we'll keep rollin' on 'til we get to Vancouver
And the lady that I love she's livin' there
It's been 6 long months and more since I've seen her
Maybe she's gambled and gone like summer wages.

In all the Beer Parlors all down 'long Main Street
The dreams of the season get all spilled down on the floor
'Bove the big stands of timber, waitin' there just for fallin'
The hookers standin'-- watchful and waitin'-- by the door.
Gonna work on the towboats with my slippery city shoes
Lord, I swore I would never do that again
Through the grey fog-bound straits where the cedars stand a-waitin'
I'll be far off and gone like summer wages.
In all the Beer Parlors all down 'long Main Street
The dreams of the season get all spilled down on the floor
'Bove the big stands of timber, waitin' there just for fallin'
The hookers waitin'-- watchful and standin'-- by the door.
Never hit 17 when you're playin' against the dealer
For you know that the odds won't ride with you
And never leave your woman alone
With friends around to steal her
She'll be gambled and gone like summer wages...
And the years are gambled and lost like summer wages.

Copyright Ian Tyson, Slick Fork Music-SOCAN
Recorded by Ian and Sylvia, So Much for Dreaming, 1967, Vanguard.
Also by Ian on Coyboyography, Stony Plain 1986

Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.
- Proverbs 23:5

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
--James 4:14


Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I am a MAJOR fan of both Christmas and O. Henry [William Sydney Porter September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910] so of course I love the story GIFT OF THE MAGI, first published in the Dec. 21, 1905 edition of the New York World Sunday Magazine.  It is doubtless Bill Porter's most famous, if not his best, short story, which is actually fitting, as it's twin themes of sacrificial love and loyalty are staples of the great man's legacy.

I also like the unique Big Band revival group THE SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS, and so I was delighted to find that they had set the tale to music for their Christmas album.  Gotta love songs that tell stories!

My heart is sad, my soul is weary

Though Christmas day is fast appear

I have no silver I have no gold

To buy my wife a gift this year

To see her sad on Christmas morning

Is a thing I cannot bear

I'll pawn the watch my father gave me

To buy a comb for her hair

Oh Mother, Mother what shall I do?

Though Christmas day is fast appear

I have no silver, I have no gold

To buy my love a gift this year

For I am poor and I'm a beggar

Not a cent have I, no dime I claim

I'll trade the golden hair that is our pleasure

Buy for your watch a golden chain

Darling, darling today is Christmas

What has become of your golden hair?

For I've traded our only treasure

These silver combs for you to wear

Darling, darling we've lost our treasure

My gift to you is a golden chain

Though we've pawned away our only pleasures

These gifts we give are not in vain

The wise men came on Christmas morning

Their gifts of love they came to bear

From that day on always remembered

Our own true love forever share



Sunday, December 9, 2012

HYMN TIME #12: "Life's Railway To Heaven"

Albie's Note: I love this old hymn with a railroading theme.  You don't hear it sung much congregationally these days but it remains in many if not most American Gosple Hymnals. According to The Cyber Hymnal website:

"The or­i­gin of this song is murky. Eliza R. Snow may have writ­ten the orig­in­al lyr­ics, with M. E. Ab­bey (a Bap­tist min­is­ter in Georg­ia in the 1890s) sup­ply­ing the chor­us. There is a sim­i­lar po­em/hymn by Snow, called “Truth Re­flects upon Our Sens­es,” which Charles Till­man put to this same tune in 1909. At any rate, Ab­bey and Till­man co­py­right­ed “Life’s Rai­lway to Heav­en” in 1890. It has long been a fa­vo­rite in the rail­road­ing com­mun­i­ty."
Another online writer says that Snow was a Morman poet whose original poem was modified by Abbey, whose composite poem was then set to music by Tillman, a popular Southern "Singing Evangelist" who set many poems to music and also entirely wrote the great hymn "Old Time Power."  To be fair, Snow's neat original poem, which can be read HERE, is so different from "Life's Railway" that they are essentially 2 different songs as near as I can see.   In any case, the hymn that sits in hymnbooks today is a real classic, and if the metaphor of Jesus as "the great engineer" seems trite today, it is a profoundly TRUE bit of triteness!

Many artists have recorded this timeless song-- and Johnny Cash, the notorious train buff, recorded it himself at 3 different times!-- but my favorite version is by Johnny on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1989 album "Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol 2," the original video for which I found to be wonderfully available on good ol' YOUTUBE.  As you watch, notice the presence of not just Johnny and all of the NGDB, but also three late Carter Sisters (Anita, Helen and June) on backing vocals, Mark O'Connor on fiddle, Earl Scruggs on banjo, and Jerry Douglas on Dobro. Whew, that was a quite a session!

Life is like a mountain railroad, with an engineer that’s brave;

We must make the run successful, from the cradle to the grave;

Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels; never falter, never quail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.


Bless├Ęd Savior, Thou wilt guide us,

Till we reach that blissful shore;

Where the angels wait to join us

In Thy praise forevermore.
You will roll up grades of trial; you will cross the bridge of strife;

See that Christ is your Conductor on this lightning train of life;

Always mindful of obstruction, do your duty, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.


You will often find obstructions; look for storms of wind and rain;

On a fill, or curve, or trestle, they will almost ditch your train;

Put your trust alone in Jesus; never falter, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.


As you roll across the trestle, spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,

You behold the Union Depot into which your train will glide;

There you’ll meet the Superintendent, God the Father, God the Son,

With the hearty, joyous, plaudit, “Weary pilgrim, welcome home!”

"For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death."
--Psalm 48:14


Wednesday, December 5, 2012


First Publisher: Signet,
First Published February 4, 1975

I have decided I really like the late Lewis B. Patten (January 13, 1915 – May 22, 1981) as a western writer. It's actually kind of amazing that I am just now discovering his work after an adulthood full of reading western books,  but I guess I just always thought of him as one of those writers who came along after the pulp period and specialized in those slapdash written-on-the-fly paperback westerns that clutter up the bookstore shelves. I am actually not sure how I arrived at this bit of prejudice against him, but I officially repent of it now.  Lew Patten has a newfound fan in Albie!

I first encountered Patten's spare and powerful prose in a short story called "Winter Of His Life," that I found and read in an old WWA paperback anthology.   This story, a vignette about the final days of a western old-timer in a current urban setting, so impressed me that I knew I should give Patten's novels a chance once and for all.  I am now glad I decided to check him out more fully.

My first choice among his novels turned out to be a real winner:  ORPHANS OF COYOTE CREEK from 1975.

First published just 6 years before the author's death, ORPHANS was kind of like a hardcore, realistic take on the hackneyed Disney-ish idea of orphans alone on the frontier. [I am not being snobby, by the way... to this day APPLE DUMPLING GANG is one of my favorite movies.] 

In this novel, three children-- a boy of 12, a girl of 8, and another boy of 4-- are orphaned abruptly when both their parents are killed instantly in a freak wagon accident. The oldest, Jason Huntzinger,  has to suddenly make some quick decisions to keep the 3 of them alive. All of this happens literally within the first five pages of the book, and it is amazing how convincingly Patten is able to make both the circumstances, and the childrens' reactions to those circumstances,  seem real.  Making children seem like real, plausible characters is always a challenge for ANY writer of fiction, and Patten not only does this capably but even creates a memorably and complexly driven character in young Jason.   Throughout the book Jason rises to the occasions that challenge him, and evn finds his true purpose as a result, adopting it  as his supreme goal in life to keep he and his siblings alive and together.  The forces against him range from bitter cold and possible starvation,  to a vividly-drawn murderous drifter named Al Gruber and some well-meaning "bleeding heart" women encountered at a stage station, who actually-- and ironically-- cause more trouble for the kids than just about any other factor.

Just about the only adult who does the kids any good at all is a great character named Andy Tippett, the driver of the stagecoach that happens into the story.  Tippett is a likably wise and world weary character who sees through all the facades and hypocrasy  that constantly surround him.  I really liked the following exchange he has with the boy Jason mid-way through the book:

"You figure you can support the three of you?"

“I reckon so." There was a world of assurance in Jason’s voice.

“Some of them Denver busybodies get hold of you and they'll..." Tippett stopped. He didn't know what would happen to the three orphans in Denver, and there was no use scaring the boy.

Jason asked, "They'll what?"

"Nothin'. I'd just stay as far as you can away from do-goodin' women if I was you.”

"Plan to." Jason grinned.
Also, Patten gives a memorably sympathetic look at a small group of Arapaho Native Americans-- led by a well-drawn character named Walks Fast--who help the children and literally get massacred for their trouble. Only the kids and Tippett even seem to care or see the Indians' side of the whole mess, which gave the book a dark side that was appropriately handled but still kind of startling.  With regard to the Indians, here's another great piece of description from Patten:

An Indian is as curious as anybody, and a single gunshot required investigation. Walks Fast immediately turned his horse toward the sound, and the others fell in behind.  
There was no chittering back and forth between them, as ther would have been had they been white. They rode in single file, each perhaps twenty-five or thirty yards behind the one in front.  White men, by contrast, ride abreast whenever possible and keep up a steady stream of talk.
As you can see, Patten has this way with decription that often manages to be poignant, comical and profound all at once.  He won the SPUR award for western fiction twice and I can definitely see why. He also-- based on my first reading of one of his novels--  seems to have had a strong sense of location in his work [this one took place mainly on the plains of western Nebraska] and he gave his characters-- both the good and the evil ones-- strong, realistic motivation.  He was a real pro.

In short, I downright loved this old western.  It was just the kind of individualistic, nervy tale that makes the best November afternoon read.  If you like un-pretentious westerns well-told, grab you up some Lewis B. Patten!