Sixty for 60: 8. Peter Stampfel

To celebrate my 60th birthday, I asked my social media friends to nominate a favourite song from 2021 – 60 to commemorate the fact I am 60.

Today, it’s the turn of Collapse Board mainstay (and way talented musician and writer) Scott Creney to make a suggestion – ‘Long Ago And Far Away’ from Peter Stampfel’s 20th Century 5-CD box set. “This limited release comes complete with 88 pages of liner notes with full descriptions of the songs and stories from Peter’s career replete with tales for Holy Modal Rounders fans,” states the Bandcamp page.

In near every great American folk singer there is an element of Kermit (the frog).

“Here’s the best music thing I’ve heard all year so far,” Scott writes. “[I] feel like you might feel a certain kinship with a project like this.” I can see why he says this – through my own limited musical resources (just one man singing badly over an out-of-tune and barely mastered piano), I am engaged in a mammoth project that sometimes feels like I am trying to document my own experiences as a music fan and hater through the second half of the 20th Century and beyond. All I try to is to capture the essence that lies within, sometimes buried deep within, the songs – by necessity my versions brings the focus away from the marketing and production and back onto the words and melodies. I like to think there is a little of ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ (Gavin Bryars) in some of my longer, more introspective pieces. Occasionally, folk mention Ivor Cutlet – a high compliment indeed.

Culter, not Cultet.

Stampfel is way more accomplished than me, but he does not let this stand in the way of his interpretations. Often (and I’ve listened to several of his versions now while typing this blog entry), he recalls that wonderful series of YouTube videos documenting singing collaborations between Sesame Street stars and celebs. His music is mischievous, playful – not disrespectful though. Not disrespectful. Maybe a closer reference might be that excellent album of Disney interpretations Stay Awake. He can sound old man beautiful on some of the earlier songs, which I am sure is partway the intention (and something I am often aiming for). All of which merely adds up to me wanting to throw one of those flip comparisons your way that made a generation of pop kids rightly hate slick music critics: I wanna say this sounds like I’ve always imagined Mr Rogers covering Tom Waits would sound like.

Damn.

Childish, but that has never been an insult.

Does it make me want to throw in the towel, hearing such beauty and joy on quite a similar project? NOT AT ALL! The more voices singing, the more voices clearing a path through the murk and despair of 2021, the better. Also, I greatly prefer my own versions most everywhere – see, for example, his slightly raucous cover of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, also his not-tentative-enough version of ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. Here is a link to my take on the former (you can access Peter’s version via his Bandcamp page).

There again, I prefer the sound of my own voice to near every voice I have ever heard.

Let’s leave it to the man himself to have the last word. Scott says: “Hey R.E.M fans, I’d urge you to check out this cover that I really, really like of my least-favorite song on Out Of Time.” Damn Americans. Never could spell favourite.

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