This is a vote of thanks. An unashamed vote of thanks to someone who made my day brighter, my life brighter, and continues to do so. Jim Croce.
Jim Croce, born January 10, 1943, died September 20, 1973. A wonderful musician, and by all accounts a warm and loving husband, father and family man.
I remember the day when I first heard Jim Croce. I was in a record shop on Lindsay St in Calcutta, doing my usual trawl through new arrivals and trying to sweet-talk the man behind the counter into giving me some of his used publicity posters. [I was fifteen years old then, and music was an integral part of my life. Particularly folk-rocky poetic-singer-songwritery guitary music]. It was a Saturday, the 29th of September 1973. And the man in the shop had a new selection of albums that had come in, and he was sorting through them. I think there were only two companies making records in India in those days, The Gramophone Company of India and Polydor Records. Most of the people I used to listen to were released through Gramophone Company; a few “upstarts” , notably Jimi Hendrix, the Woodstock albums, the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton, were being released on Polydor, so I tended to go through both sets of releases.
It was a Saturday, the 29th of September 1973. And the man behind the counter, who was used to my hanging around there for eons, started unpacking the stuff that had come in. It didn’t matter that the albums were factory-fresh. He still went through the routine of taking each disc out of its polythene inner sleeve, checking for scratches and warp, and then gently replacing the disc. And he’d taken this disc out and was cleaning it lovingly when something about it caught my eye.
That’s all it appeared to have in the centre of the disc. A black and white vertiginous shape that shimmied and shivered. So I went to take a look at the album. It was by this guy I’d never heard of. But he’d written all the songs, played guitar for them, sung on them. Seemed interesting, it was the kind of guy I tended to like listening to. And I really really wanted to see how the label would look spinning around on the shop’s Garrard turntable. So I asked my friend the shopkeeper whether I could listen to the album. In those days, there were no headphones, no listening points or booths. If you wanted to listen to something, you needed to smooth-talk the shopkeeper. Who happened to be a friendly guy. So he put the record on.
September 29, 1973. And I heard the strains of You Don’t Mess Around With Jim for the first time. Predictably enough, he had me on “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim”. So I stayed on, listened to the rest of the album, also called You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, loved it, bought it and went home with it.
I couldn’t stop listening to it. All starting with the foot-stomping raucous tough-guy act of the title song. The gentle optimism of Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a Brighter Day, segueing into the story-song of New York’s Not My Home. Then back to foot-stomping with Hard Time Losing Man, only to be suckered into the incredible soft beauty of Photographs and Memories. And led by hand from there to Walking Back to Georgia to end the side. Then you caught your breath and switched over reverently. The second side started with another gentle story-song, Operator. And then the haunting melodies of Time In A Bottle, written for his son AJ. Then, just in case you were getting too laid back, the rapid-fire Rapid Roy. And you were into the long straight home with Box No 10, another haunting story-song and A Long Time Ago, a beautiful ballad. And finally gentle optimism again with Hey Tomorrow.
September 29, 1973. I was so happy. Those were times when it was easy not to have a care in the world. And then I read that week’s Time or Newsweek. And found out that Jim Croce had died in a plane crash nine days earlier. Yup, there were tears in my eyes. [I was that kind of kid; when I read Love Story, there was a football in my throat; when I went to see the film, the football came back.]
If you haven’t heard Jim Croce, don’t waste any more time. Stop reading here, and go to Amazon or emusic or itunes and just buy this album. You won’t regret it.
Everything I’ve found out about Jim Croce says he was my kind of guy, the kind of guy I would have gotten along with. I’ve only been to San Diego twice in my life, and both times I haven’t been able to make it to Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar. One day I will. And maybe I’ll have the chance to tell Ingrid Croce just how grateful I am to her husband for enriching my life with his music. Maybe I’ll have the chance to tell AJ Croce just how grateful I am to his father for making this world a better place with his music.
Jim Croce, I salute you. Thank you for the wonderful memories you gave me with your music.
A coda. You can follow Ingrid Croce and Croce’s Restaurant on twitter.