Not Fade Away

Iconic singer-songwriter Eric Andersen leads his own folk revival with You Can't Relive the Past

In a way, Andersen's whole career has been one long free association, veering from folkie to classic Seventies singer-songwriter to country dabbler to rootsy rock 'n' roller. His life has encompassed such extremes as starring in an Andy Warhol movie (1966's Space) and supplying a theme song for presidential candidate George McGovern. These experiences provided plenty of raw material for his songwriting, which consistently bucked trends--even those closely identified with him. When protest politics were the thing, Andersen mostly eschewed polemics in favor of love songs full of literary allusions, grown-up complications, and a strain of eroticism that was rare at the time. Only "Thirsty Boots," about the civil-rights freedom riders, dabbled in the topical.

When Andersen tried to play by the elusive rules of the music biz, fate conspired against him. Vanguard repeatedly delayed the release of albums, deflating their popularity. He had agreed to a management deal with Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 1967, with a promise of big things ahead, just months before Epstein's sudden death. All he got out of it was some memorable escapades with the Beatles in London the week Sgt. Pepper's came out. He remembers running into a velvet-clad Jimi Hendrix and eating hash under the table at a club with John Lennon. And he was riding the crest of Blue River's success when the tapes of his nearly completed, highly anticipated follow-up album were mysteriously "lost," just as his mentor, then Columbia president Clive Davis, was being fired. (They were finally found unmarked in the Columbia archives 17 years later and issued in 1991 as Stages: The Lost Album.)

Andersen harbors a certain resilience that has allowed him to weather the twists of his sometimes star-crossed career and avoid the fortunes of so many of his contemporaries. "I didn't get bent out of shape like I probably could've," he allows. "I never thought that way, because I got into the work more because I just loved writing."

American troubadour Eric Andersen
American troubadour Eric Andersen

Now that there's a perceptible buzz about his work again, he talks confidently of a new studio album, maybe doing a live album at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, maybe taking the Mississippi band on the road. "I'm just trying to hobble along with the torch as long as I can," he says, a memory of the future as past perfect.

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