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Letters From the City -- The Story

One of the older songs on the CD is “Letters From the City,” which was written in 1973. After college, I spent a tumultuous period of time in Buffalo, New York, working to help some dear friends who had run afoul of the law regarding the military draft. On trial for breaking into the local draft board, they were a passionate group. In addition, I had the thrill of my first true love affair, and a tiny but growing reputation as a singer/songwriter. I supported myself with a number of lousy jobs, including driving a truck delivering and picking up diapers. (That’s right, kids, a “diaper service.” You got used to the smell.

We used to dream of leaving the city, finding a rural home, living healthy and productive lives…”Somewhere out in the West.” Talk, mostly; a few tried it, but most stayed stuck in the urban world. I couldn’t really see myself as hippie commune guy,

And then everything changed…the big trial ended, I quit the job, and my love affair crashed and burned. And to make things even worse, I was in Buffalo. To paraphrase the late great Nanci Griffith, Buffalo “looked like Cleveland with the color removed.” Cold, wet, and rusting, I had to get out of there. So I headed for the place where my family had vacationed for years, the utter antithesis of the city –Washington Island, Wisconsin, six miles of water removed from, well, everything.

I fell in love with the place, and decided to stay indefinitely. For a man wounded in love, in politics, and spirit, it was a place of peace. And my friends back in the city, baffled by my withdrawal, kept asking me why in the world I would choose such an isolated place, never understanding that it was not only lovely but a vibrant little oasis of arts and music. I found work, a place to live, and began smiling again. Friends and family were there as well.

The last verse in “Letters” recalls that first September on the Island, when the tourists and summer people leave and the community takes a deep breath and year-round residents settle happily into the serene months. The liberating thought that I don’t have to leave, that this is my home now, found its way into a song. I hope it’s clear what I mean when I sing “Over here, on the other side of life.” It’s not just a geographical distance (six miles of water) but an entirely different world. If I don’t come back at all, it’s all right.


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