Sometimes, you see the hand of God working.
Way back in 2005, when I was new to iTunes, I did a search for a song titled "Innisfree," based on the Yeats poem of the same name. Along with a predictable number of Innisfree songs, the app pointed me to a song with nearly the same title (ignoring the fact that hundreds of lakes in Ireland start with "innis," which, duh, means "lake" in Gaelic).
That song was "Inisheer" by Greg Trooper. (From his 2013 album Floating.)
Well, the fates were surely working for me that day. Having heard this one sweet nuanced heartfelt number, I had to find more -- which is exactly what iTunes (at least in 2005) was best at. It wasn't long before I had stacks of Greg Trooper CDs wending my way via Amazon.
And everything I heard I liked. No, scratch that -- loved. This is a guy who had so much heart, was so tuned into the human condition, that every track of his was lovable. He could be sneaky funny, he could bring you to tears. It was all about his humanity.
And now we've lost him. And I'm feeling peculiarly bereft.
So I need to go back to my Square One and appreciate what there was in this first song that made me know this guy was a keeper.
Normally I avoid posting videos of live performances, but in this case, the live footage is the best. How else could you catch the magic of seeing GT live?.
Okay, right off the bat: There's Troop's ineffably warm, textured voice, inviting: "If I asked, would you come with me dear, /To a place you've never been before?" It's all about trust. And who do you trust? A guy with a slightly gritty voice who nails those sincere line endings.
And then there's the plangent chorus: "So take my hand, my heart, my soul forever / Bring to me your burden and your fear / Let us wander through this world together / We will find our way to Inisheer." Yes, there's a little country-ish yodel lingering behind some of his melisma, but mostly Greg Trooper delivers a folk song with all the old country echoes that entails.
Images flash through the ensuing verses: "Streets of gold and pockets full of diamonds," "Rainbow eyes shining like the ocean" -- but we all know where we want to wind up: In the loving arms of this yearning singer.
A couple years later, I managed to snag an interview with Greg Trooper and came away feeling as if I'd made a friend. After that, I took a particular pleasure in going to his shows and having a chat afterwards. I'm kicking myself that I didn't do that more often, even after it became clear that time was of the essence.
Greg Trooper wrote so many fine songs -- often recorded by other artists (Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Billy Bragg). It was wistful to those of us who were his champions to see him plugging away at bars and house parties, when he deserved so much more exposure. His sizeable European fan base attests to how he connected with his fans.
How could you not love Greg Trooper?
And how could I not be devastated that he's gone?