The very first record I ever owned was Under the Lollipop Tree by Burl Ives. Don’t judge me; it was a smash hit for second graders.
I was crazy about all the songs and I can still sing most of them, but the one that I love to sing to make The Fiddler laugh is “Old Witch Old Witch.” I blame Burl Ives (and my father, with his bluegrass and hillbilly music) for tuning my tastes to folk music, a temperament I’ve never outgrown.
In the 1970s I discovered Cat Stevens, enraging my father by dismissing his music and falling in love with scruffy troubadors in tie-dye everything. I used to sing “Longer Boats” at the top of my lungs with my best friend, Emily Boltz, harmony and all. I can still sing all the songs from Tea for the Tillerman, and those old vids of a young Cat still make me weak at the knees.
Those longer boats, whatever the heck they were (he once said the song was about flying saucers), were coming to win us, and the song encompasses my young adulthood. My generation grew up believing in things. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. 1001 Arabian Nights. Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. The Weekly World News. Aliens were possible. Everything was possible. Music, like the skies, was blue and wide open.
These days the sky has gotten a lot smaller and the horizons are empty of flying carpets and saucers. Jinnis and aliens got waylaid by the internets. Burl Ives sounds hopelessly square and Cat—now Yusuf—is a grandpa. But music remains the same.
With age I’ve grown less musically exclusive; I listen to nearly everything. My father’s old time and hillbilly twang is in heavy rotation with traditional Irish music, Billie Holiday, and Glen Miller. I’ve even got a Doris Day album that I love. Choosing a favorite song would be like choosing a favorite child. But I’ll leave you with “Elzic’s Farewell,” played on the claw hammer banjo. You can’t go wrong with that.