A 70th Birthday Tribute

I have many musical favorites and I go through periods when I find myself particularly drawn to the music of one or another of those favorites. Sometimes, it’s my mood that dictates my choice. But, often just hearing one song from a favorite musician reminds me how much I miss hearing his or her songs and I begin to play them over and over again.

It happened to me a few days ago. Ellen and I were traveling in Northern Michigan just after Christmas and as we walked down a very quiet Front St in Traverse City seeing the faded Christmas decorations, feeling the cold wind, a melody and lyrics suddenly jumped into my mind. A sad, sad holiday song with a glimmer of hope that “it doesn’t have to be that way”:

Snowy nights and Christmas lights

Icy windowpanes

Make me wish that we could be Together again
And the windy winter avenues

Just don’t seem the same

And the Christmas carols sound like blues

But the choir is not to blame

I hope many of you recognize these words and will immediately run to your cd cabinet or itunes or youtube and listen to the beautiful melody and one of the sweetest, expressive voices that country rock or folk rock or whatever you might want to call it has ever produced. The timing of my rediscovery of his music was  ironic for, had he lived, Jim Croce would be 70 years old today, January 10. His tragic death in a plane crash in 1973 was such a t loss and 40 years later, his music still is among my favorites.

Unlike Harry Chapin, Lennon and McCartney or Jim Steinman (who wrote many of MeatLoaf’s songs), I don’t think I’ve ever quoted Jim Croce in a sermon (although I might try it this week). I don’t know that his words inspire the kind of spiritual thoughts that the others I mentioned do for me. But, his gentle expressive voice and the emotionally charged lyrics have stood the test of time.

If all you’ve heard of Jim Croce’s music is Bad Bad Leroy Brown or Time in A Bottle or I’ve Got a Name or Operator, (all fine songs), you owe it to yourself to find some of the others: Alabama Rain, One Less Set of Footsteps, Lover’s Cross (my favorite), his beautiful version of Old Man River  and, of course, It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way.

So many of songs have a melancholy character to them, of love lost, of disappointment, of reminiscence and each of them in their own way is so beautiful.

In one of those moments that just seem to be “beshert” (meant to be), on the day after we wandered down Front Street and the Jim Croce Christmas song came to my mind, Ellen and I were in a gallery in Suttons Bay, Michigan when suddenly the sound of “Lover’s Cross” filled the room. But, it wasn’t Jim Croce singing. I didn’t like the version quite as much but it was the first time I had heard the song sung by anyone else. I did a bit of searching on the internet and found the version I had heard. In fact, it was recorded by Jim’s son, A J Croce. Suddenly, I appreciated once again the power that music has to span years and lives.

I wonder what direction Jim Croce’s music would have taken. Maybe I would have liked his “later songs”, maybe not. But, some would have loved them even more while many of us (most likely including me) would have just kept singing the old songs over. Sadly, new songs were not to be. But those of us who love his music can listen with great appreciation for his enormous talent shared for much too brief a time.

Although it really doesn’t matter in terms of my appreciation for the man and his music, and I didn’t know this until a few days ago, Jim Croce converted to Judaism and is buried in a Jewish Cemetery. So, it seems particularly appropriate to say that his music keeps him bitzror hahayim, in the bond of life, as we play and sing his beautiful songs. May his memory- and his music-be for a blessing.

4 thoughts on “A 70th Birthday Tribute

  1. Renee Kozminski

    As always, I am deeply moved by your writing. I always loved Jim Croce’s music, and I will go and find the songs that you mention. Music had always been a very emotional aspect of life for me, and for a long time, until the beginning of last year, I had forgotten how healing it could be for me. My iPod has been the best medicine for me over the last twelve months, and I look forward to hearing more of Jim Croce’s music through my earbuds now. It has been a long time, thanks so much for causing me to remember him.

  2. Michael Appel

    His greatest hits album was one of two I bought with a gift certificate from by bar mitzvah. My first two albums. The other was john Denver. Gotta love the 1970 s.

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