The Goodmans again

A series of exchanges with provocative reader SV has had me thinking about the Goodmans for most of the day, enough so that I just had to go back and listen to something of theirs and, not surprisingly, I ended up at the conclusion of the Live in Huntsville recording, “I Will Meet You In the Morning.” There’s an unremarkable first verse ensemble, then Tanya Goodman, who couldn’t have been terribly old at the time (late teens maybe?), gets the second verse. And, man, she makes a real first-rate hash of it, even for a kid. Just how much of a hash is brought into especially stark relief because Vestal takes the third and final verse (SV thinks Vestal stole it, which seems plausible enough because you certainly don’t want to lose the crowd on your closer, which Tanya’s singing was making very possible, no matter if it means stomping all over your niece’s Big Moment). Anyway, Vestal resuscitates the tune and gets things back on track for the two choruses that conclude the song and the evening’s performance. The choruses are glorious things. Like most of the Goodmans at their best, it’s all really more like performance art than sg or even music broadly considered. I listened to those two choruses over and over this afternoon, isolating each part one at a time, and it’s pretty apparent that each of the Goodmans sang in their own kind of musical orbit … sure, their voices overlapped in crucial ways and in important places, but it’s as if they’re each one singing solos at the same time in a way that just happens to work together harmonically - the effect is not primarily musical but theatric, dramatic. Another thing I noticed was that, while Vestal usually gets all the attention for her flashy manner and vocal histrionics (trilling her Rs, creating a new language of musical lyrics based solely on tortured dipthongs, inflecting her endings with that little yodel, etc.), Rusty is the real earthmoving force among the group, of course, because he seems to be most attuned to the finer points of nailing a moment (hard to do that and yodel at the same time) - as when in “I Will Meet You” he bridges the phrases “in the morning” and “just inside …” with a distant, anticipatory note that ramps up the dramatic tension by suggesting where the voices are going to climax in the coming phrase “over there.” And what a climactic moment it is, not least of all because the band is positively aglow in the background. Such a pace must have been exhausting in every respect - physically, emotionally, psychologically - both at the time and over the years. “Tortured artist” gets thrown around a lot, and I don’t know the exact extent to which the Goodmans were or were not tortured (though the fact that Vestal wanted to sing opera and Rusty wanted to sing the the Opry, as SV so efficiently reminded me, does begin to suggest the kind of lowered expectations and regret management that can be a real determinative factor in shaping a person’s character and the dynamics of a career). But a song like “I Will Meet You” captures in its way the torpid, volatile forces - of whatever kind - that have to be roiling beneath the surface in order for people to explode in the fantastic fashion of which the Goodmans were so often able.

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