I’ve always liked the idea of a grand artistic community informally springing up in the heart of a robust city. The brand of nostalgia that Woody Allen traffics in (before dismissing it with trademark cynicism) with Midnight in Paris has a high, almost undeniable appeal. If you love some form of entertainment art–theater, literature, painting, film–how is it not a thrill to think of artists at the peak of the form sparking off of one another, intermingling their inspiration like some big, crazy TV sitcom crossover. Pet Sounds is most interesting when considered against Rubber Soul which begat it and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which responded to it, felling Brian Wilson in the process. I love Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On on its own merits, but nothing about it pleases me more than Sly Stone answering six months later with an album entitled There’s a Riot Goin’ On. I’m hopelessly enamored of the idea of the pop landscape, in the broadest consideration, standing as a vast, ongoing dialogue between creative people.
Even back in college, when it was ridiculously easy to romanticize the outside intellectual world, I knew deep down that this was a highly fanciful notion. Great art doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but it’s also not typically created with one eye on the scene outside the window. While some modest versions of that communal spirit are undoubtedly always in place, I ultimately think Nirvana made great records because Nirvana made great records, not because there were a dozen other bands in Seattle that they were trying to best.
That belief caused me to especially appreciate the title cut from Kevn Kinney’s solo debut when it came out in 1990. Kinney was the lead singer for the band Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, which had done quite well at the station the year before with their album Mystery Road, so we were all primed for MacDougal Blues when it arrived. Downbeat and folky, the album was also blessed with a wry sense of humor, especially on that title song, which soundly demolished the myth of the inspirational life of a folk troubadour. When Kinney pits his fantasy–“I thought I’d see a million Dylans/ And a Joni Mitchell or two/ Maybe even Carole King”–against the reality of a largely indifferent roaming audience, it comes across as one of the most sadly honest depictions of the mundane disappointment that comes with being someone who makes their living with a few chords and a rhyme scheme. To be fair, it’s not all bad. I wouldn’t mind seeing Buster Poindexter at the Fishwich.
(Disclaimer: As best as I can tell, MacDougal Blues is out of print, although it seems to be available via digital download. That method, of course, doesn’t help the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store put biscuits on the table, and there’s a decent chance that Kinney himself won’t see a dime from such a purchase either. The song is offered here with that understanding and just a little dose of encouragement to go out and get some of the readily available Kinney music the record shop might have, or, in a more likely scenario, can order. I can’t speak to the quality of the more recent material, but it looks like the 1991 Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ album Fly Me Courageous is in print and that’s good stuff. Despite my convictions, I do understand how copyright works, even if many copyright holders seem to adamantly refuse to grasp the concept of “fair use.” I’m not looking for a fight, so I will quickly and gladly comply if asked to take the song down by someone who has a legitimate right to make such a request.)