is our Cross to bear...'
What does anyone want to get out of a particular gig? For me,
it's for those few moments of emotion. Without them a gig can
be good, but not really unforgettable. Swallowing, even a little
bit, is definitely part of it. The artist doesn't have to be famous
nerve with his public. It helps if your name is Pavarotti, but it
can also be a name far less known by many, like John Gorka for instance.
Gorka is an American folk singer following in the footsteps of Hank
Williams, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, the early Bob Dylan, Loudon
Wainwright III, Townes Van Zandt. He's around fifty now, and with
his guitar in hand he travels from club to club. His peers rate
him one of the best singer-songwriters of his generation.
My youngest daughter suggested going to see him play in the village
hall of Lage Vuursche near Baarn last Friday evening. A fun co-incidence
resulted in him playing the Netherlands again for the first time
years. Two Dutch guys, friends and Gorka fans, had reached the joint
age of 110 and decided Gorka was the ideal performer for their party.
They traveled to Philadelphia, spoke with the surprised artist after
a gig there and persuaded him to come to Holland. Several other
small gigs were organised in Bakkeveen in Friesland, in Lage Vuursche
and Venlo. We were added to a waiting list but my daughter persevered
and got the tickets. A small triumph for me as well, because when
I bought my first Gorka cd, I Know back in 1987, she was just 12
years old. She and her sister were devoured by a different kind
of music at that age (Bananarama!) yet some snippets of beautiful
Gorka songs such as I Saw A
With Your Hair and Love Is Our Cross To Bear must have reached them
even then. A fact they kept well hidden from me at the time, and
rightly so, because obviously as a child, you're supposed to assume
your father's favorite music is rather absurd. More than twenty
years later, half way through the gig in Lage Vuursche my daughter
says to me: "He will do Love Is Our Cross To Bear, won't he?". And
even if I do say so myself, on that point you didn't do too badly
then as a parent. And of course Gorka did Love Is Our Cross To Bear.
He is a refined performer and knows how to reach out to his public.
He is the only artist (that I know of) who from the start will say:
"I have no set list, just give me your
A really kind and modest man, was how one of his Dutch hosts described
him. He hadn't been back to Europe because he has a family with
young children. Maybe that's the snag with Gorka. Unlike many of
his colleagues he hasn't done booze or drugs. Which is great for
his baritone, but bad for his legend. He can only live on through
his songs, not his life story. But some of his songs are strong
enough to achieve just that. For the first time in my life I heard
him do a live version of Let Them In, a masterful anti-war song:
Let them in, Peter/ They are very tired/ Give them couches where
the angels sleep/ And light those fires. And yes, that's why you
go to that kind of gig.