I Got My Name From Rock and Roll

Brad Lindert

I just turned on my MP3 player. I scrolled through the artists and found my Greg Brown songs. The first song to come on was “Boomtown,” which some of you might remember as the exit music from LU’s production of “Boomtown” during first term. It’s a witty little number about the new America we face. This is an uncharacteristic song; it’s got a poppy beat and some bright and shiny organ. Most of Brown’s songs lend themselves to a folksy sound with nothing but guitar for rhythm. The picture he paints takes you to the middle of nowhere, with characters like “Billy from the Hills,” who lives in “Dusty Woods” or “Down at the Mill” and acts “Wild Like a Sonny Boy.” All Brown’s songs sound like they are from a forgotten time, when a “Brand New ’64 Dodge” was as modern as it got. Greg Brown is an immense talent who rivals Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. But his sound is completely his own.
When Greg arrives at the chapel this Saturday I’ll be sitting in the front row, singing along to the few songs I know. Sadly, I only have three of his twenty-something albums – the back hills bluegrass of “Slant 6 Mind,” the sweet quiet folk of “Further In,” and the eclectic masterpiece “The Poet Game” – so I won’t recognize a majority of the songs, but I will no doubt enjoy the show.
I first saw Brown live when he toured with Ani DiFranco and Gillian Welch in 2000. Like the rest of my friends, I went to see Ani. But I came away that night mostly in awe of the low-voiced growling of Greg Brown. He looked like a man who had just come in from a day of fishing, but he sang such amazing love songs that you couldn’t help but be enchanted by this rural-Iowa singer.
But after all this is said, why was Greg Brown chosen to head up the Earth Day concert? Well, most of his songs deal with the love of nature and paint modern life in a not-so-lovely light. In “Whatever It Was” he sings, “Can’t go to the country – the country isn’t there / It got chopped up and mortgaged and vanished in thin air / It’s a paint-by-number and it costs a million bucks down at the pawn / I was looking for what I loved, whatever it was, is gone.”
So after you spend the morning outside taking in the Earth Day festivities, come inside to the chapel and listen to an American poet. A poet who was raised in the Midwest and who will bring you farther into the woods than most people would nowadays. So far into the woods that your cell phones will stop working. Once there, you’ll kick off your shoes and dance like Greg does – “just kind of jump around and grin.” You can’t help but dance when you listen to him, so be ready to do a barefoot dance on the chapel floor.