FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Daydream Believer

John Stewart — singer, songwriter, guitarist, artist, husband, father, grandfather, Californian, American — was scheduled to perform at McCabe’s in Santa Monica on Saturday, February 2. He missed the gig, but he had a good excuse. Stewart suffered a sudden stroke at the age of 68 and died on January 19th in San Diego at the very same hospital he was born in.

His friends called him Johnny Stew, including Lindsay Buckingham who wrote a song by that name. He lived much of his life in Southern California (the rest up north) and was a presence in Malibu for years.

In 1961 he joined the Kingston Trio with whom he sang “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” and “Greenback Dollar.” He wrote songs for NASA and became pals with astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. He also marched for civil rights in Selma and was smuggled out of there, along with Harry Belafonte, on the floorboards of a Chevy to prevent the Klan from taking potshots.

His solo career began in 1968, the year he joined Robert Kennedy’s last campaign and became house folkie and confidante to the Senator and his wife Ethel. That same year the Monkees recorded John’s “Daydream Believer,” which kept him in donut holes — his avowed favorite food — for life.

Stewart recorded more than 45 solo albums for various labels and in 1979 reached number five on the charts with “Gold,” a paean to the musicians of Los Angeles. Anyone who was half-sentient in 1979 (and there were many of us who were only half) remembers that rumbling rocker: “When the lights go down in the California townThere’s people out there turnin’ music into gold.” Johnny Stew was the Golden State’s own Guthrie/Cash/Dylan and remained a working musician until his dying day.

It was decided that the February 2 gig at McCabe’s would go on. The tiny guitar shop, walls lined with mandocellos and other arcane, stringed instruments, is full of mostly middle-aged fans — lifers who are here to celebrate the Lonesome Picker. (Stewart had more handles than a polygamous truck driver). Dave Batti, Stewart’s bassist and left-brainiac, and John Hoke, his guitarist and co-producer play host. Batti introduces Jeremy Stewart and Amy Stewart Kaplan, two of John’s adult offspring, Dennis “The D-Man” Kenmore, John’s longtime drummer, Andy Fergus, a club owner from Scotland who regularly booked Stewart (“If anyone wants to talk to Andy, I’d be glad to interpret,” quips Batti), and others, including me, who played roadie, adviser, and companion for Stew more times than I can count. Batti and Hoke then sing John’s “Runaway Train,” which was a massive hit for Roseanne Cash, a dear friend of Stewart’s, and “Jasmine,” a recent composition. (By Stew’s own estimate, he wrote 5000 songs.)

Batti parks his bass and reads the eulogy that Luke Stewart, John’s youngest son, gave at his father’s funeral, which includes lines such as:

“My Dad invented sarcasm

My Dad would always buy me that CD I wanted when I was a kid, even if it had a parental advisory sticker on it

My Dad always rooted for the underdog

My Dad didn’t care what ANYBODY thought

My Dad’s heroes [were] John F. Kennedy, John Glenn, and Elvis

My Dad had a great laugh if he thought you were funny

My Dad had a great look…if he thought you weren’t

My Dad was always late…he was even late today, I think

My Dad’s favorite way to say goodbye to me [was] ‘ bye buddy, call if you get work’

My Dad is a legend”

Batti pauses to compose himself before continuing.

“My Dad is loved

My Dad is missed

My Dad is remembered

Forever.”

Batti tells the gathering that Stew was “the Miles Davis of folk music. He would improvise, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. John Stewart never played the same song the same way once.”

Paul Surratt, who produced a documentary about the Kingston Trio, shows clips from Stew’s television appearances with the Trio, including a “Hard Day’s Night”-like pilot called Young Men In A Hurry. We see solo Stew on The Joey Bishop Show (introduced by Regis Philbin), on Playboy After Dark, and, most oddly, disco-suited in 1979 on Solid Gold, lip-syncing “Gold” with a half-dozen spangled chorines shakin’ booty (Hoke insists that Stew tried to get the Solid Gold dancers to a McCabe’s gig, but we think he was kidding.) Surratt then treats us to footage of John at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios asking where the inflatable Yoko was kept, inquiring about buying a Linda McCartney t-shirt, and standing outside the famous crosswalk screaming, “Telegram for Pete Best! Telegram for Pete Best!”

Batti thanks the audience and Hoke ends the night with: “As John would say about now, ‘It’s Monkee time!'” The tears fall and we sing along.

Cheer up sleepy Jean
Oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.

MICHAEL SIMMONS is an award-winning journalist and currently filming a documentary on the Yippies. He can be reached at guydebord@sbcglobal.net.

This article originally ran in the LA Weekly.
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Michael Simmons is a musician and journalist. He can be reached at guydebord@sbcglobal.net.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
Graham Peebles
A Global Battle of Values and Ideals
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail