Home / Random Shuffle – Louis Armstrong, Neil Young, Blues Traveler, and Bruce Springsteen

Random Shuffle – Louis Armstrong, Neil Young, Blues Traveler, and Bruce Springsteen

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“Hello Dolly” – Louis Armstrong
From The Definitive Collection
Download the mp3

I wouldn't begin to call myself a theatre buff. I performed in a few plays in high school. I worked for a dinner theatre in college where I did everything from run the box office, served as a waiter, ran the light board, and even acted as a corpse in Big River. I love to go to the theatre, but I my knowledge is slight.

A few years back while I was walking across my alma mater's campus, a friend of mine pulled his car up, rolled down his window, and asked, “I've got two tickets to see Hello Dolly in Birmingham with Carol Channing, wanna come?” I might not be that knowledgeable on all things theatre, but I knew enough to say "sure" and jumped in his car.

I don't remember much about that show now, but Channing was a hoot. She was way past her prime, but she still managed to charm the audience straight through. She even gave a funny little speech in the end.

“Hello….(looking down at a note card)…uh, Birmingham. It is so good to be in this fine city.”

Having turned down any number of invitations to see things I now fully regret having missed, I treasure being able to see Carol Channing in her signature show.

There was a time when Louis Armstrong got slagged for performing such a commercial pop song (musicals aren't jazz, don't you know?) but it became a huge hit (knocking The Beatles off the number 1 spot.) It's great fun, too. Not as crazy inventive as his early work, maybe, but still a fun song by a great musician.

“Hook” Blues Traveler
From Four
Download the mp3.

In college, like so many others, I spent my first couple of years living in dormitories. Small, rectangular rooms made from cinder blocks and duct tape. We never minded the dankness of our rooms though for we were having quite literally the times of our lives.

There are stories upon stories to tell about those days and at this very moment I am planning a reunion with those boys this summer and I look forward to long nights talking about the time we hunted for panthers in the field behind the dorm, or the “Peanut Butter Movie” and the time Mullins cranked up “Give Peace a Chance” put it on repeat and then left for the day, or the face on Pat Tidwell when he came into his room after we had plastered copies of “Black Tail” all over his walls.

Though concrete blocks were the walls, they were surprisingly thin and it was easy to hear music coming from our neighbors room. This was no more evident in the mornings after Mullins' girl had given him a mix tape.

“Hook” was the song of the moment and every day it seemed the catchy strains of Blue Traveler were blasted into our room way to early for boys of 19 and 20 (which means it was around 9 or 10.) I had masterfully planned my schedule so I didn't have classes until after 11 and here I was knocked awake by a pop song.

I'm older now and it has been a long time since I was sleeping late enough to be awakened at 9 o'clock. Those “Hook” morning are just memories now. As is college. As is life.

“After the Gold Rush” – Neil Young
From Apollo Hammersmith – Live in 1983
Download the mp3.

I'll be the first to admit that spending years desperately trying to find every live performance of Frank Sinatra or Bill Monroe or Bob Dylan or even the Grateful Dead is a little beyond silly. I'll stand on record stating there are as many mediocre quality bootlegs as bad studio albums. Yet there I am week after week downloading more shows, updating my list, and obsessing over my live concert collection.

This is why.

Neil starts this song with a little harmonica noodling. High pitched sounds of a man passing his breath through some little metal holes. It is sort of interesting, but nothing that wouldn't annoy me after more than a few seconds. That's when the organ comes in. Great sweeping sounds of the Church sliding over the croak of the harmonica. Then they blend together for a long moment as the melody slowly creeps in and it marvelous.

Recognizing what comes next the crowd howls in approval and I feel the anticipation of being on the cusp of something spectacular. Neil sings it like a Holy Dirge for God himself and it easily betters the version from the studio.

It is so delicate in its beauty that I feel like I might break at any moment. I am transported through time and space to that place where all great music takes me. Call it Paradise if you like – it is a place of beauty and peace and sometimes great sadness.

It is a great sweeping sadness that overtakes me in the final verse as Neil's voice cracks and the organ splashes over me like great waves. I am reminded of the friend who gave me this concert and whose heart I broke.

Then I drown inside my own sorrows and the music overtakes me.

“My City of Ruins” – Bruce Springsteen
from The Rising
Download the mp3.

There's a blood red circle
on the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door's thrown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregations gone

Sinatra once sang, “Regrets, I've had a few; but then again, too few to mention.” Like good old blue eyes I've made mistakes, I've got regrets. Sometimes I think my whole filthy life is nothing but one long mistake. There are dark nights when I regret the whole thing, and want to start fresh and clean.

This last summer I spent a few weeks in Oklahoma helping my dad out. As always the days were hot, and the work was dirty. It was hard, but real. Refreshing in ways. During those days, my wife called me. She was upset. She was crying. She had just found out about one of those mistakes.

A big one. A horrible. Selfish. Disastrous one.

I rode home the next day.

Now there's tears on the pillow
Darlin' where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
my soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?

The road from Oklahoma to Indiana was the longest, hardest ride of my life. My wife called me somewhere on that long stretch of interstate in Missouri. This time there were no tears, but anger. My wife is a kind, generous person usually but this time I got nothing but hurtful, resenting fury. It was then that I fully realized how bad things were.

I didn't know if I had a home to come back to. I didn't know what was awaiting for me when I returned. Quite literally my marriage. My home. My life. Was in ruins.

It was the loneliest I have ever felt. Across the plains of Illinois, construction blocked a lane and traffic backed up to a crawl. My mind was elsewhere, tears in my eyes. I didn't see the lines of cars slowed until it was nearly too late. Catching it just in time I slammed on the brakes, and without thinking I uttered:

“I don't want to die. Please, God don't let me die.”

Now with these hands/I pray Lord
Now with these hands/I pray for the strength, Lord
Now with these hands/I pray for the faith, Lord
Now with these hands/I pray for your love, Lord

I prayed that day. I prayed with my hands. With my lips. I prayed with my heart, with everything I've got. I prayed for my God to forgive. I prayed for my wife to find some small part of her heart not broken and to find some inkling of love. I prayed for that day to end.

I made it home that evening, my wife was waiting for me with anger, tears, and hurt. We talked and cried and fought and talked some more. It was a long, fearful night. The next few days came and went and we struggled, we fought like warriors to work it out. Slowly, and with great resolve, things got better. Forgiveness came. The fear, jealousy, and pain began to fade.

Come on, come on
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Rise up.

And we did.

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About Mat Brewster

  • wow.

  • Wow. Is all I’ve got to say. At this moment.


  • Wow. Is all I’ve got to say. At this moment.


  • Thanks. Thanks a lot. That last bit, the Springsteen one, I worked and worked on. I wrote it, edited it and then let it sit for weeks. Then wrote a different take and let it sit some more. Finally I got it right (I hope) and here it is.

  • Powerful stuff. Thanks.

  • I’ve long believed that “My City of Ruins” should be sung in every church in America. That’s a powerful hymn right there.

    Well done, Sir Brewster.

  • It’s a great song. The first time I hear it actually was on that trip and it nearly destroyed me. It still does actually. That final rise up is just awesome.

  • Bennett

    Exceptional blend of times good and bad.

    “Sometimes I think my whole filthy life is nothing but one long mistake. There are dark nights when I regret the whole thing, and want to start fresh and clean.”

    Ay, that’s the bane of aging with introspection. Well said Sir Brewster.

  • Gary Benz

    The verse you note regarding “…tears on my pillow” is my favorite Springsteen lyric of all time and I’m a major Springsteen fan from way, way back and all the way to the present. The song itself was really written with 9/11 in mind and that particular verse really refers to someone who is gone involuntarily, for example but not specifically, someone who died in the towers. But the great thing about Springsteen and his writing is how he can take that kind of situation and make it more universal, to apply under any number of circumstances including, of course, the situation you wrote about.

  • Thanks Bennett. It sucks to get old sometimes.

    Gary, I thought “My City of Ruins” was written before 9/11 and was actually about the decay of Springsteens hometown. It came in handy after 9/11 but I read it was written before those events.

    Is that false? Or did he write those more personal lyrics after 9/11?

    Great song no matter what.

  • I think “My City” was actually written about Sprinsgteen’s hometown, so you didn’t get that wrong, Brewster.

    The way it was applied to the 9/11 tragedy in it’s latter use on the Rising speaks volumes about Sprinsgteen as a writer whose songs can mean so many things, and be applied to so many different situations. Universal I belive is the appropo word, here.

    Oh, and Mat…that really was a great piece you wrote here…which is the actual reason I’m chiming in here. Really good stuff.


  • Sprinsgsteen…well, at least my speed typing is consistent…as in consistently bad.


  • Thanks for clearing that up Glen. I was pretty sure that was the case, but as I’m not the biggest Springsteen fan on the block I wasn’t sure. Pretty awesome that it was written about one thing, but then is so easily appropriated into the 9/11 tragedy and just as easily speaks to personal matters.

    Oh, and thanks.

  • CAR

    My City of Ruins was written about Asbury Park, Bruce’s adopted city. He was and is heartbroken with the deterioration of this once fine shore/ocean community. You gotta love him! And yes it’s totally associated with 9/11, however, having lost someone very near and dear to me on that tragic Tuesday, You’re Missing totally resonates the feelings of that day for me and my family. Bruce’s music is so cathartic.