Monday, December 29, 2008

A Southern Baptist in Amsterdam, 1971

In the late '60s and early '70s, the desire to roam the world, or at least part of it, was being felt by thousands of young people, each wondering where they were going in their lives, then going nowhere in particular to find out. This nomad group appears to have been a narrow band of Baby Boomers born in the late '40s and early '50s. For us, the experience of going far from home, staying for extended periods of time, taking only what could fit in a bag carried on your back, was to become a singular life-altering commonality we would reminisce about, lament over, and seek to re-attain in years to come. No common thread tied us together - no occupation, education, or other noticeable attribute linked this wandering generational cohort. We did possess three qualities that made such an endeavor not only thinkable, but doable - youth, inexperience, and naiveté.

Thursday Oct. 14, 1971 - Amsterdam, Holland
(A Baby Boomer Travel Memoir - 1971)

Arrived Amsterdam in overcast skies, damping everything but my spirits. Took bus to center of town, then a 1 1/2 mile walk to the train station. Met Angelo from New York City. We stowed packs and my guitar at the station and wandered around for a couple of hours.

Amsterdam in 1971 was a crossroads where the youth of the world congregated - beards with headbands, peach-fuzz cheeks with goofy smiles, wide eyes behind tape-mended glasses - a cultural mall for the leading edge of the baby boom generation and equivalent generational segment from dozens of other countries.

Music was pervasive- folk, rock, folk-rock, metal, rock-metal, metal-folk, folk-metal-rock. Invisible clouds of sonic clutter drifted over the cobblestones, asphalt and concrete, over the benches and parks. Quarter notes and half notes drifted about, hanging above us in persistent suspension, refusing to disperse. It came from a thousand acoustic guitars, some in severe need of tuning, riding under the inevitable chorus of male and female voices some, like the guitars, in dire need of a good tune-up.

The Byrds were there in May. Pink Floyd showed up in June for a free concert. The Velvet Underground was slated for an October venue but didn't show.

On this particular Thursday morning in mid-October the city was alive with young people. I was a single face in a vast quantity of youthful exuberance disgorging from airplanes and buses, converging on the hapless Dutch, disparate soldiers of another, less welcome, Allied invasion, its troops complete with uniforms - blue jeans, hiking boots, sandals, long-sleeve loose-flowing shirts. We swarmed locust-like through the city, bent under overloaded backpacks, trudging toward cheap shelter.

Ten hours after leaving the U.S., touching down on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, found me smack in the middle of thousands of similarly aged and singularly fun-seeking companions congregating in ad hoc groups about the squares and parks in what we had been told - warned - was one of the world's most liberal cities.

A Southern Baptist in Amsterdam, 1971

(c) 2008 James R. Corley, I.B. Dog Music (ASCAP)

Verse 1

Mom and Dad, I made the plane,

Amsterdam's a bit insane

odors are so very strange,

on the streets of Amsterdam

smells like Uncle Harry's pipe

the one he fired up late at night

and talked of wars he did not fight,

while I dreamed of Amsterdam


Amsterdam, Amsterdam, long way from Birmingham

hop a plane, here I am, on the streets of Amsterdam

Verse 2

I know you don't approve of dancing, you don't approve of games of chance and

you don't approve of women in pants but, they wear pants in Amsterdam

headbands hold their stringy hair, they don't have underwear

no one even seems to care, they don't care in Amsterdam

Chorus Repeat


Mom and dad don't be concerned, there's so much here that I can learn

watching my candle burn at both ends…

Verse 3

I met a girl, a Mennonite, said I was wound too tight

said she's gonna make it right, make we right in Amsterdam

no brassier and a see-through shirt I'm a long way from Antioch Baptist church

if I had a camera a picture'd be worth a thousand words in Amsterdam


Amsterdam, Amsterdam, long way from Birmingham

hop a plane and here I am, on the streets of Amster -

Amsterdam, Am - ster - damn long way from Birmingham

take a toke, I'll be damn, I'm double damned in Amsterdam

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

WBHM Public Radio Interview

October 2008, Coleman Lipsey (at left with no hat) interviewed me for Tapestry, a weekly series on Birmingham, AL's public radio station. I was pleased to discover the interview remains in their archives. (Click the link in this posting's title.)

While our conversation didn't solve any pressing world problems, Coleman did an admirable job editing my too-long ramblings and making me sound more intelligent than I am. Thanks Coleman!

Two songs from my CD Never Too Late are on their website - A Southern Baptist in Amsterdam, 1971, and Why Can't Some People Change the Toilet Paper Roll?

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Penny More

The first cut on my CD Never Too Late, A Penny More was written following the Enron collapse. I hoped the message would at some point become old news and fade away. No such luck.

It is, to quote Yogi Berra, "...déjâ vu all over again."

The continuing disintegration of our dysfunctional greed-market economy is being felt not only in the board rooms, but in the living rooms, as tens of thousands of people who gave their time, their efforts, and their trust to corporate America are betrayed.

But lest we get too smug in our indignation, check the mirror next time you pass one. Reflected back at you is the face of the willing partners we have been with America's corporations in our quest for ever cheaper goods and our zeal for profits at any cost.

We have met the enemy, and we are it.

A Penny More
(c) 2008 James R. Corley, I.B. Dog Music (ASCAP)

Verse 1
This used to be a textile mill, jobs for everyone in town
it wasn’t easy labor, but nobody turned it down
now the windows stare like vacant eyes, boards across the door
corporation shut it down, moved to Mexico --
to make a penny more

A penny saved, a penny earned, a penny for your thoughts
they count the pennies, they don’t count the cost --
to make a penny more

Verse 2
This used to be a corn field, stretching out across the plain
drinking in the precious sun, soaking up the rain
it fed a million people long before you and I were born
corporation bought the land, paved over the corn --
to make a penny more

Repeat Chorus

Shut the mills, pave the fields, watch the profits soar
the hands that built this country, can’t find work anymore

Verse 3
Now the corn field is a parking lot, the runoff fuels the flood
there’re no crops to hold the water and turn it into food
the textile mill’s abandoned to the junkies and the whores
they’ll sell you anything you want --
to make a penny more

Chorus Repeat (then Chorus Variation)
A penny saved, a penny earned, how much can one man buy
give me a good return, I don’t care how you try --
to make a penny more

This used to be a textile mill, jobs for everyone in town...