IN MEMORIAM: THE DAYDREAM BELIEVER
by JOHN ALLEN SMALL
Note: Mr. Small is an award-winning
newspaper columnist and broadcaster who resides in Ravia, Oklahoma. A
life-long fan of folk music in general and the Kingston Trio in particular,
he has been known to throw heavy objects at people who don't like the
sound of the banjo. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is an expanded version of John A. Small's tribute to John Stewart that appeared in the January 24, 2008,
Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper in
IN MEMORIAM: THE DAYDREAM BELIEVER
By John Allen Small
I never met John Stewart. But I've known him all my
life, and it's been a better life because of it.
My father introduced us. He never met Stewart, either
- but he had every album Stewart had recorded between
1962 and 1967 as a member of The Kingston Trio, the
group that had launched the folk music boom in 1957
with its Grammy-winning recording of the song "Tom
Stewart hadn't been with the group then; he joined the
Trio in '62 when founding member Dave Guard left to
form the Whiskeyhill Singers. Dad had all the
Guard-era Trio records, too, and my brothers and I
loved 'em all - but there was something about
Stewart's records with the group that just really
grabbed me during those formative years.
Maybe it was his spirit - his vocals were always so
energetic, full of verve and emotion; one minute he
could have you on your feet grooving to uptempo
renditions of such folk standards as "Jesse James" or
"Rovin' Gambler," and the next minute move you to
tears with "Song For A Friend," which he wrote upon
hearing of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Maybe it was his songwriting - he was the original
folk-pop singer-songwriter, blazing a trail for the
likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Steve Goodman and
Harry Chapin. Nobody - and I mean NOBODY - could come
away from listening such Stewart compositions as
"Those Who Are Wise," "If You Don't Look Around" or
"Children Of The Morning" without realizing that John
Stewart was "the real deal."
Or maybe it was because he got to live the dream -
having started as a fan of the Kingston Trio, he began
his professional career by writing songs for them, and
eventually became a member of the group. There's not a
fan of ANY musical act out there - folk, rock,
whatever - who hasn't fantasized about being in that
situation; Stewart actually lived it, brothers and
sisters, and gave us all hope that some of our dreams
might come true as well.
Whatever the reason, I had become a Stewart fan for
life well before my age could be counted in double
digits. Over the years I followed his ups and downs.
His success as a songwriter was best exemplified by
the songs "Daydream Believer," which he wrote for The
Monkees, and "Runaway Train" (a huge hit for Rosanne
Cash). As a recording artist he managed to score only
one hit single for himself - 1979's "Gold" - but
recorded over 45 solo albums that earned him the
loyalty of fans worldwide; his first solo album,
California Bloodlines (Capitol Records, 1969), was
once cited by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 100
Albums of All Time.
For all that, Stewart was largely ignored by the
masses throughout his post-Trio career; while such
contemporaries as Simon, James Taylor and John Denver
became bonafide superstars, Stewart (much like
Goodman, the writer of "City Of New Orleans") was
strictly relegated to cult status, beloved by his
small but loyal legion of fans but undiscovered by
millions - one writer once referred to him as "the
greatest songwriter you never heard of."
John Stewart died last Saturday - Jan. 19, 2008 -
after suffering a massive stroke the day before. He
was 68 years old. Friends say his death actually came
as something of a blessing; last summer, I've since
learned, he had been diagnosed as being in the initial
stages of Alzheimer's disease, and one of those
friends said he was was able to take solace in the
fact that this great communicator would be spared the
ravages of this terrible sickness.
That's a valid observation. And yet I can't help
feeling this terrible void in the center of my soul;
the realization that this great talent who wrote more
than 600 unique and highly personal songs shall write
But those songs were a great gift, one which those of
us who have loved his work for so long will forever
cherish. Perhaps one day he will finally get the
acclaim he so richly deserved in life.
I never met John Stewart, but I knew him all my life.
Many of us did, and we all considered him a beloved
friend. The wonderful thing about John Stewart is that
he felt the same way about us.
And it's that love that we'll miss most, I think
Cheer up, Sleepy Jean...
(Copyright © 2007, by John A. Small)