Melbourne, December 2018
I blinked once and Steve Forbert had recorded another 14 albums. Fourteen. I’d bought his first four back when I was a uni student: Alive On Arrival (1978), Jackrabbit Slim (1979), Little Stevie Orbit (1980) and Steve Forbert (1982). You might remember his hit Romeo’s Tune, a sweet slice of folk-rock pop from Jackrabbit Slim.
Forbert played acoustic guitar, he played harmonica so – voila – lazy journalists talked about another ‘new Dylan’.
I enjoyed those four albums. Energy, charm, melody, introspection but not self-indulgent navel-gazing. What was there not to like? But it was an enjoyment I kept to myself because sometimes that’s just the way it is. As far as I know, Forbert has never toured Australia, he was never on Countdown, he was never on the cover of Juke or RAM or Rolling Stone.
So it was just me and my four second-hand albums and Steve Forbert and his songs. Say Goodbye to Little Jo, Complications, It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way, Goin’ Down To Laurel…
I did wonder if I was the only person in Melbourne, in Australia, listening to Steve Forbert. A one-man fan club. A secret society. A lone, solo follower.
I managed to keep up with most new releases by Jackson Browne, Springsteen, Rickie Lee Jones, Paul Kelly, Van Morrison, and – yes, Dylan – but somehow Steve Forbert slipped through my fingers, drifted from my gaze, floated from my thoughts.
Forbert came to mind recently when watching young new Melbourne band Oliver Northam & The Elsewheres. (Disclosure – my son Reuben is the band’s drummer.) They were playing their sweet, energetic folk-rock to family and friends on a weeknight at a pub called The Grace Darling. In that uncrowded room, with a clear view of the small stage, I thought: Is this what it was like for Forbert all those years ago before Romeo’s Tune catapulted him into the public eye? Playing good, strong songs to Mum and Dad and mates and fellow musicians?
At home the next day I play Jackrabbit Slim and Little Stevie Orbit, and I get on the interweb and the algorithms take me to a 2016 YouTube clip of John Oates and Bekka Bramlett singing a song called I Blinked Once.
Further searching and clicking takes me to Forbert singing the song on BBC TV in 1988. It’s a song from an album called Streets Of This Town and it’s about things that pass you by: childhood, wonderment, romance, money, a father… (Oliver Northam sings a fine song about his grandfather.)
Fourteen studio albums, I’m thinking. Plus some live recordings. And compilations.
I blinked once and married Julie in January 1988.
I blinked once and we had a mortgage.
I blinked once and we had three children.
I blinked once and our parents had passed away.
I blinked once and lost a job, got a job, lost a job…
I blinked once and wrote a few hundred stories.
I blinked once and we’d been married for 30 years.
I blinked once and Steve Forbert recorded another 14 studio albums. Down In Flames, Streets Of This Town, Evergreen Boy, Flying At Night, The Magic Tree…
And he wrote a book: Big City Cat: My Life In Folk-Rock
And here’s his tour schedule: Europe in February, the US in March…
I can’t imagine Steve Forbert coming to Australia after all these years but if he does I’ll be in the front row. And I can recommend a support act.