Tom Paxton, The Honor of Your Company (Cherry Lane Music Company, 2000)
Tom Paxton is a legend! It says so right on the front cover of this book! But I said it first... I said he was a legend and then I looked at the cover to confirm it. Geez, the guy wrote "The Last Thing On My Mind." If that was his only song he would be legendary. The Move recorded it! The Move! That's right, Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne. Loud and spooky. And Rick Danko, Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld, they did it too. Glen Campbell, the Kingston Trio, Neil Diamond, Bananarama (!!!), Gram Parsons, Flatt & Scruggs... I found almost 200 listings! And that's just one tune. Yes, Tom Paxton is a legend.
Legends are wont to write their autobiographies, while they're sitting around being legendary, and Mr. Paxton is no exception. Except, he did what all smart songwriters should do... he made it a songbook. The Honor of Your Company starts off with the basics: where he was born, who his parents were, and how he wrote his first song. It was a stinker, by the way! But once he reaches the stage in his development where the tunes and the lyrics started to come, the book takes shape, it presents chords, music and lyrics for eight-nine songs.
"My Ramblin' Boy," "The Marvelous Toy," "My Dog's Bigger Than Your Dog," songs that I thought were part of the folk tradition... were written by Tom Paxton. The songs are accompanied by anecdotes of their creation or who played them, or what was happening when he wrote them, and it makes for fascinating reading. This is also a great book to have if you want to play along. I saw Tom Paxton in concert recently, and was amazed at the number of familiar songs that he had written. I was also struck by the quality of songs that I was not familiar with. It's not for nothing that his new album Looking at the Moon was one of Green Man's albums of the year (for 2002).
His life may not have been one of the most fascinating, as lives go... but he was there on the front lines of the '60s folk revival. His stories are interesting and his voice warm and friendly. His love for his wife and family resonates through the book. The pictures are intimate. The Honor of Your Company is a model for songwriters' autobiographies, and should be used as a template for all that follow. I spoke to Mr. Paxton the night of the concert in Brantford; we talked about The Move and their recording of his song. He didn't remember ever hearing it. I told him that any version of "Last Thing..." was a favorite of mine. The song was just so darn good. He thanked me, and signed my copy of the book. I thanked him, for the honor of his company.