by Larry Fyffe
Leon Redbone, a Helgalian Romantic, trifles with the lyrics and music of yesterday to mesh them in with modern times – country, blues, ragtime, woggie-boggie, tin-pan-alley-pop, whatever, but for Redbone the history of good music stops with the coming of the nonvocalized big band ‘dance sound’.
Once upon a time, there were archetypical ‘hobo’ railroad songs like those of Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie:
You bet your life she was a pearl She wore the Danville curl She wore her hat on the back of her head Like high-tone people all do The very next train come down the track I bid that gal 'adieu' (Woody Guthrie: Danville Girl ~ traditional)
His family having fled to Canada from the trauma of war, Leon Redbone sought personal solace in his art, not in the politics and conflicts of the day.
Though he did it on his own terms, Leon is often considered a ‘sellout’ to the music industry by those who feel the need for political protest in the hypocritical “Candy Land” of capitalist greed and militarism.
Singer/singer writer Bob Dylan, whose family fled to the United States from oppression, moved on from political protest songs. America might be a New Babylon, but, relatively speaking, it’s not all bad.
In some ways America, the New Promised Land, was like the great white moon-mother of yore envisioned by Romantic Robert Graves.
History is somewhat cyclical as envisioned by other Hegalians, and by the imagination of a number of artists; there are good eras, bad ones; the wagon wheels of time turn and turn again.
Seems like a long time ago Long before the stars were torn down Brownsville girl with you Brownsville curl Teeth like pearls Shining like the moon above (Bob Dylan: New Danville Girl ~ Dylan/Shepard)
But for Redbone, as for some Hegalians, history has pretty well come to a stop – at least as far as music is concerned.
In “Candy Mountain’, a dark-humoured, end-of-era movie, Elmore Silk’s daughter (married to wheelchair-bound Henry, played by musician Dr John) is given money by Julius Book if she launches him across the Rubicon (as it were) in search of her Godot-like father.
Book is a lackadaisical guitar-player in quest of the crafter of what are considered the ‘holy grail’ of guitars; Elmore Silk, that guitar-maker, secludes himself up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Leon Redbone calls Julius “Mr. Brook” in this, what else, Silk Road movie.
Julius thinks he’s in the right place at the right time. But he does the right thing for the wrong reasons. With “greed is good” as the spiritual creed of the new era, the ‘bounty hunter’ hopes to make money by arranging deals between the elusive producer, and musicians who desire to own one of the special guitars.
“Local constable” Leon Redbone, a shotgun-carrying lion, so to speak, stands in Julius’ way. With his father, ‘the justice of the peace’, Leon makes it difficult for Book to carry on with his mission.
After he gets into an accident, Julius is locked up; gets out by handing a bribe to Leon’s father.
Thereby Redbone plays the guitar, and with his movie father, performs a little ditty that indicates this mini-Odyssey is gonna have a funny, if fiery, ending:
I'm the justice of the peace My law you can't resist Put'm in jail, you hear'em wail He's on the road to nowhere (Leon Redbone: Justice Of The Peace)