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new Steve Goodman bio

'Steve Goodman,' by Clay EalsI cannot claim to have "gotten" Steve Goodman during his lifetime. I dug Arlo Guthrie and treasured my copy of "Hobo's Lullaby" with its recording of "The City of New Orleans." But, I'm not much of a folkie. The Jewish kid from Chicago, high school classmate of Hilary Clinton, may have spent his youth singing in his suburban Temple choir, but his musical heart and soul were in Americana--in the blues he soaked up in Chicago clubs, in the folk songs that he learned everywhere, and in his own compositions, from "My Old Man," to "Men who love women who love men" and the "Dying Cub Fan's Last Request." Like fellow Chicagoan Mike Bloomfield, Goodman may have come from Jewish ancestry, but it was not an overt part of any of his music. Nor was he overtly political. And his records, at least those I encountered during his life, never moved me.

I owned one of his LPs for several years—his second release on Asylum—the one featuring the Tom Lehrer-zany "Death of a Salesman," but it was an easy CD to pass on to another friend. Then, a few years ago, I encountered a definitive collection (No Big Surprise: Anthology) with a whole insane live disk, and the joy and craft that he brought to music began to sink in. Now Clay Eals has written the only (and definitive by any measure) biography of Goodman. At 8x10 and two inches thick (complete with accompanying CD) this is not a book to be taken lightly. As documentation of a remarkable life and incredible music, it excels. It's just one of those books worth reading because it's well-written. I suspect that it would have won Goodman even more listeners if it had been 1/3 the size, but I'm really not sure what should have been cut out. Goodman wrote incredibly good songs, performed like a demon, and until he took over making his records himself, at the very end of his very short life (he died of leukemia at 38), he made okay-to-mediocre records. Good friends and cohorts such as John Prine and Jimmy Buffet became more famous. (Think of those two in the same sentence.) But Goodman's songs remain with us—those he wrote himself, like "Chicken Cordon Bleus" or "Vegemetic" (his humorous songs are the ones the grab me hardest) and those by others, like "The Dutchman" that he first popularized. But the book isn't just about Steve, it's about a whole folk scene that gave us Goodman, Prine, and helped make Chicago a synonym for incredible folk music, along with the city's blues.

The book is called Steve Goodman: Facing the music, and it's just out, by Clay Eals. Check it out.