On John Stewart’s Death
A Fan’s Notes
In my bedroom in my small apartment in Manhattan there’s a big, framed poster under glass from the Bombs Away Dream Babies concert I went to in Cleveland. They weren’t selling posters; this one was the marquee of the evening. I went back the next day and got the place to give it to me. John looks like Gary Shandling in the poster.
I was about 30 then, so you can do the math. I first became aware of John Stewart when I was away from home in a Catholic boarding school. A quick friend of mine there played guitar and had a good collection of folk albums. He had one by the Cumberland Three and I noticed John’s voice. Later on a Limeliters’ album I obsessed over a song called ‘Heading for the Hills’. I looked to see who wrote it---(John Stewart). Of course I was buying all the Kingston Trio albums and paying close attention to John.
A few years later I’m in college in South Bend, Indiana. It’s I think 1966 or ’67 and the Kingston Trio is coming to town on their last tour. They’re not coming to Notre Dame this time though. They had earlier in the fall for a football weekend concert when I remember how haunting John’s voice was when he got a chance to do a couple solos. This time they’re playing downtown at a big, old theater. No one on the floor wants to go with me on the cold Saturday afternoon of the show, so I go out to the highway alone and hitch hike the short distance into town. Pretty soon a generic car stops to give me a lift. Well, I wouldn’t be telling you this if it weren’t the Trio that picked me up, in a rental car they’d driven in from Chicago. I remember the older-than-college-guy laughter and verbal confidence among them. Brother-less me, I felt so cool being with them.
I got married out there a few years later, moved to Cleveland with a little daughter who would crawl around the floor while I stood or sat in the top floor of a double-house apartment smoking Tareytons and listening incessantly to ‘California Bloodlines’.
That daughter is 38 now. There are two other grown daughters, and an ex-wife. On Sunday I emailed the three girls to tell them John Stewart had died.
I was in Boston for the weekend when I got the news. I had none of his music with me. It wasn’t till Monday night that I got back to it, and the big poster.
For over 40 years, with occasional, irresistible, obvious exceptions, I listened to John Stewart almost exclusively. You can imagine how I feel. Some of you know.