Saturday, February 20, 2010

With Young People in Mind

Listening to this album again after so many years was a mind-altering experience for me. For some time I have had it on my to-do list to track it down -- but I didn't realize it would affect me so powerfully. It was, I believe, the first record I ever listened to, and for big parts of my childhood, I listened to it all the time. Most of the time when I would play, I liked to put on a record, and this was my first, and one of my favorites. It is possible I have listened to this record more times than any other, over the span of my life.

When I got the CD, and started to play it, the memories came flooding back so powerfully, just hearing the whistling at the start of "Come All Ye", that I had to stop it. It was overwhelming to suddenly be four years old again, sitting there in the living room of 146 Cedar Lake West, and be thinking about what the wide world might be like. I could only listen to it a song at a time, reflecting for long after each one. I hadn't listened to these songs for thirty years, and when I thought about the album, I could only name a song or two. I wondered if I'd remember the songs, or if they would seem alien to me. But they didn't -- each one, as I heard it, was as familiar as an old friend. I started to worry, though, if by listening to them now, that somehow, I would spoil them, somehow I would steal them from my childhood. But that's not what happened at all. Instead, it felt like I got a piece of my self back, a piece that was missing for years and years.

Is it just that I associate this album with childhood? No, I don't think so. There is something more here -- there is something in Richard Dyer-Bennet's voice, and his guitar playing, and in his song choices that resonates with me on a deep fundamental level. Whenever I hear these songs, I feel like I'm outside, in and among nature. It's not always a friendly place, but it's always very, very real. I remember, even very young, taking pleasure in the dark and sad parts of this album, as well as the happy parts. And it has a lot of dark parts. Consider the lyrics from "Three Jolly Rogues of Lynn":

In the good old colony days
When we lived under the king
Lived a miller, and weaver and a little tailor
Three jolly rogues of Lynn
Now, the miller, he stole corn
And the weaver, he stole yarn
And the little tailor, he stole broadcloth
For to keep these three rogues warm.
Now, the miller, he drowned in his dam,
And the weaver, he hanged in his yarn,
And the devil got his paw on the little tailor,
With his broadcloth under his arm.
Now, the miller still floats in his dam,
And the weaver still hangs in his yarn,
And the little tailor still skips through hell
with his broadcloth under his arm.
I don't think anyone would publish songs like this under the title "With Young People in Mind" nowadays. But I know that I found something so real, so genuine in these songs, even when I was quite young. They had a seriousness, and a sincerity, but at the same time, there was a kind of sense that, yes, terrible things will happen, but that's okay, terrible things happen, and we can survive them, and still be ourselves.

What's funny to me is, looking at the cover of the album, I kept thinking, this isn't right -- I don't remember these girls, and this horse, and where is the pond? And more Internet searching revealed the true cover (from the old LP), which is mostly the same, but a bit zoomed out to show the pond, and a lighter tint that deemphasizes the girls, and emphasizes the natural surrounding, instead -- it's funny what we do and don't remember.

I'm so glad to have found this again. It is sad the way that most of our childhood things are often destroyed -- houses sold, grandparents dead, families broken up, toys given away, friends grown apart. To have a pure, clean, gleaming part of my self suddenly return, reminding me who I am, and who I always will be, is a tremendous gift indeed.


  1. Sorry to send this to the company address. I couldn’t track down Jesse’s personal address. I’m writing in response to a blog entry Jesse wrote about Richard Dyer-Bennet.

    Jesse, my biography of Richard Dyer-Bennet (Richard Dyer-Bennet: The Last Minstrel) has just been published by the University Press of Mississippi. Just thought you might like a look at it since you liked his album With Young People in Mind. It’s available from

    Thanks, Paul Jenkins

  2. Wonderful! I just ordered a copy. Thank you!