Steve Goodman - guitar, vocals
Guest: Jim Rothermel - clarinet, recorder, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, recorder
Guests: Members of Joy of Cooking (track 18)
A consummate performer and prolific singer-songwriter with pointed observations about world events and a wicked, politically-charged sense of humor, Steve Goodman had no problem entertaining a crowd for a full hour just by his lonesome. In the grand tradition of such political humorists as Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and Bill Maher, the Chicago native unleashed his acerbic wit at the Great American Music Hall, accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar. Like a northern counterpart to Mose Allison, Goodman channels his outrage about injustice, corruption, and the human condition into song, often with the all the subtlety of a sharp stick in the eye. But then he also has the capacity to deliver poignant, melodic gems like "City of New Orleans," his most famous composition and one that became a hit in 1972 for Arlo Guthrie.
Goodman opens his December 12, 1979 GAMH concert with his take on current events. Back then, America was embroiled in the Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 US citizens were taken captive after a group of Islamist students and militants seized the US Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 in support of the Iranian Revolution. (The hostages would remain captive for 444 days, ultimately released on January 20, 1981). Goodman takes aim at that topic and others ripped from newspapers of the day, including the mysterious crash of American Airlines flight 191 that killed 273 people near O"Hare International Airport in May of that year and the ensuing government investigation ("They know everything about it, but why that plane fell out of the sky").
Next up is a tongue-in-cheek ditty he composed with lyrics by National Lampoon humorist Sean Kelly entitled "What Were You Expecting" that pokes fun at New Wave, reggae, and other musical trends of the day. "The Ballad of Dan Moody" is a Michael Smith folk tune about a born-again rodeo cowboy, while "The 20th Century Is Almost Over," which he co-composed with John Prine and which was covered by Johnny Cash, is an existential anthem about the changing state of the world that includes a prophetic reference to global warming.
San Francisco clarinetist Jim Rothermel, a member of the Jesse Colin Young band at the time, joins Goodman for the Dixieland-ish "What Have You Done For Me Lately." Goodman then takes aim at expatriated Americans who relocate to various "Banana Republics" to escape lovers, the IRS, and other responsibilities. The tune originally appeared on Goodman's 1976 recording Words We Can Dance To and was covered the following year by Jimmy Buffett on his best-selling Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.
"There Are Men Who Love Women Who Love Men" is based on Goodman's pointed observations while standing on the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan and noting the assorted aberrant homo-sapiens coming out the Port Authority bus terminal. For a change of pace he reaches into the songbook of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys for a cover of the Texas Swing classic, "San Antonio Rose," then follows with a poignant cover of John Prine's "Blue Umbrella." The audience responds instantly to "City of New Orleans," Goodman's perfectly constructed bit of musical storytelling about a scenic train ride from Chicago to the Crescent City ("Good morning, America, how are you? Say don't you know me, I'm your native son…").
Again reaching into the past, Goodman covers "Rockin' Robin," a hit for Bobby Day in 1958 that was subsequently covered in 1972 by Michael Jackson. From that upbeat ditty, Goodman heads into more thoughtful waters on "The Dutchman," a poignant song about unconditional love between an elderly couple living in Amsterdam. Goodman and Rothermel are then joined by the opening band, Berkeley's own Joy of Cooking, for a raucous jam on the traditional "Mama Don't Allow It," which appeared on Goodman's 1975 album, Jesse's Jig and Other Favorites.
Goodman continued to tour and record for the next few years, though he was fighting leukemia toward the end. He died on September 20, 1984 at age 36, less than five years after this gala performance at the Great American Music Hall.
A lifelong devout fan of the Chicago Cubs, Goodman wrote three songs about his beloved baseball team: "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" (which the Cubs GM Dallas Green deemed "too depressing"), "When the Cubs Go Marching In," and "Go, Cubs, Go" (which has frequently been played on Cubs' broadcasts and at Wrigley Field after Cubs wins.) Four days after Goodman's death, the Chicago Cubs clinched the Eastern Division title in the National League for the first time ever. Eight days later, on October 2, the Cubs played their first post-season game since the 1945 World Series. Goodman had been asked to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the game. Jimmy Buffett filled in, and dedicated the song to Goodman. In April 1988, some of Goodman's ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
He was survived by his wife and three daughters. In 2006, Goodman's daughter, Rosanna, issued My Old Man, an album of a variety of artists covering her father's songs. The following year saw the release of Clay Eals' biography, Steve Goodman: Facing the Music. Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn declared October 5, 2007 Steve Goodman Day in the state. In 2010, Illinois Representative Mike Quigley introduced a bill renaming the Lakeview post office on Irving Park Road in honor of Goodman. (Milkowski)