Monday, January 17, 2011
Abraham, Martin and John
In 1968, following the murder of Robert Kennedy, Dick Holler wrote the second of the songs for which he is best known. The first was written two years earlier and recorded by the Florida rock band, the Royal Guardsmen. Based on a recurring theme from cartoonist Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip, it is called Snoopy Versus the Red Baron.
Holler's 1968 composition is Abraham, Martin and John.
If Holler never wrote this particular song, and if Dion had not recorded it, both of them would still be remembered for the other things that they did with their time and their talents. I don't believe that either man needed to worry about how good this would look on his resume.
Dick Holler created a simple, sad tune, and he fused it to a set of unpretentious lyrics. The first three verses are identical, save for the names of the three men that they honour - Abraham (Lincoln), John (F. Kennedy) and Martin (Luther King Jr.). There is no mention of their deeds, their accomplishments or their titles - Holler has taken it for granted that we're aware of those. Neither does he mention why they were gone, because we know that too.
The fourth verse begins as the others did, and concludes with the powerful, iconic image of the last character, Robert Kennedy, walking over the hill with his older brother and those other two good men.
Dion had matured and changed in 1968, and it's apparent in his performance. His clear, quiet, honest voice perfectly expressed the shock and sorrow that many of us were feeling. It didn't hurt that John Abbott's arrangement and Phil Gernhard's production of the record were seamless and flawless.
"Country music," says Harlan Howard, "is three chords and the truth." I suppose that might make this a country song. By any definition, it's a wonderful piece of work.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, and he should have been eighty-two years old last Saturday. In 1983, Ronald Regan signed a bill creating a US federal holiday in Dr. King's honour. The holiday falls on the third Monday in January. In 2011, that Monday is today.
Be well, friends - Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, neighbours.