Tuesday, January 17, 2017

R.I.P. Greg Trooper (1956-2017)

"Inisheer" / Greg Trooper

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 islands in Ireland start with "innis," which, duh, means "isle" 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?


Kevin said...

I think Greg made friends everywhere he went. He was such a sweet, funny, interesting character. Seeing the outpouring of love and admiration directed toward him and his family the past couple days has been a beautiful thing. It's obvious he touched people's lives through his art and will be remembered so fondly. "Inisheer" is a beautiful song. I always liked it, but it became even more special once I realized Some of the lyrics were almost exactly what I was feeling about my girlfriend (now wife). I told Greg I considered it "our song" and she joked that usually the woman picks the song. He suggested we go to Inisheer on our honeymoon, but we weren't able to do that. We are wandering through this world together, maybe we'll find our way there yet...

Holly A Hughes said...

What a lovely tribute. I'm so glad Greg had a chance to know how his song touched you. I feel that that sort of connection was what fueled him as an artist. Hey, we're all wandering through this world.

wwolfe said...

I've only heard, or even heard OF, Trooper because of your posts about him here. So thanks for that. I love this couplet: "Streets of gold, pockets full of diamonds/That's a road that leads us to despair." The second half goes in a very unexpected, and illuminating direction, which I really enjoy. A lovely song.

Tertonmike said...

An Irishman writes:

Actually ("duh!") "inis" means "island" in Irish!
Inisheer (Inis Oirr) is the smallest of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland in Co. Galway, as he mentions in his intro. The clue is in the full title of the Yeats poem - "The Lake ISLE of Inisfree"

And, while I'm here, a propos your comments on "Oliver's Army" above, the pejorative abbreviation for Protestants is "Prods" with a "d", notwithstanding the spelling of the full word.

Sorry for being captious about these things. Love your stuff and learn a lot from reading you (e.g., that bit about Oliver Lyttelton - never knew about that reference before!); but in the interests of accuracy etc!

Holly A Hughes said...

My copy editor heart leaps with joy to get some good corrections. I should have known better about Innis (Lough means lake, duh). In the US we use Prots, but I'm guessing that for Oliver's Army, Prods should have been the operative term. Thanks, Tertonmike, for adding to the hive mind! (You'll see that the post above mysteriously now has erased all faulty terms....)