Saturday, October 24, 2009

Songs My Mother Taught Me . . . The Dutchman

{This is the ninth in an undetermined number of songs my mother taught me I'm posting this month in her memory. For background, please visit the post containing the first song, Ivory Tower.} 

There are three songs my mother taught me that sprung from, ironically, my own generation - but went unnoticed by me when they were first released. I may not have time in this month of remembrance of her to post the other two, but I sure couldn't miss The Dutchman.

My mother, whose name was Margaret, was one-half Dutch on her father's side (Van Swearingen). She never traveled abroad so did not visit The Netherlands, although she had an opportunity to tour there with a group from her office before she retired and opted to not spend the $1000 it cost then. What a pity. She regretted it for the rest of her life.

About ten years before she retired she was promoted to office manager of a satellite state employment office outside Reno (she left casino work after 17 years as a blackjack dealer and reinvented herself in the business world). She was divorced from my step-father by then, both my sister and I were in our first marriages, and she went through a phase of partying with the people from her office after work. John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks was close to the office and with its variety of restaurants, lounges, and areas of entertainment it became the favorite haunt of the group...and also of my mother alone when the rest of them had gone home to spouses and families. She preferred the smaller lounge with stage and enjoyed the acts there that ranged from home-grown talent to nationally-known acts, many that had been big-name acts in the past.

One of those once big-name acts, still enjoying a large and strong fan base, was The Kingston Trio. When my mother learned that they were to perform at the small stage lounge she encouraged her group of co-workers/friends to attend the opening night's performance.

My mother attracted people like a magnet. She had a winning smile, expressive brown eyes, and a body that moved to music so when she appreciated someone -- from someone she supervised to a skilled musician on a stage -- she exuded that appreciation. Drew them to her. She caught the attention of Bob Shane, the lead of The Kingston Trio, who asked for her name after a song. "Margaret," her voice traveled to the stage. "Oh," said Bob Shane, "then here is your song." They sang The Dutchman. My mother swooned and returned nightly during the Trio's stint at the Nugget. Bob Shane came to her table to meet her during one of their breaks and my mother swooned more, and he must have loved receiving the true adoration common in times gone by. Each night while the group played The Nugget when Shane saw my mother in the audience he would begin The Dutchman, adding, "This is for Margaret."

Below is a screengrab from The Kingston Trio website showing Bob Shane (center) as he looked during the time my mother enjoyed him singing The Dutchman........

Bob Shane has retired from The Kingston Trio (after suffering a heart attack in 2004). I know this because last year they came for one performance to the beautifully-refurbished Elsinore Theater in Salem, Oregon. Mike and I went but realized in the opening song that Bob Shane was not up there on the stage. The concert was wonderful anyway, with Bill Zorn (formerly of The Lamplighters) performing as lead.

The song was significant for my mother because someone made it special for her, because her name is in the song, and because of her Dutch ancestory. It was also significant, I believe, because the song's story was so unlike her own life. Married four times, and an eternal romantic, she was alone for the last 30 years of her life. There was a great love relationship during part of that time, but she never remarried. She said to me in later years that she guessed she "did better alone." Yes, and no. She would have loved being the Dutchman's Margaret of this song, sharing unconditional love after having shared a real partnership throughout a long marriage.

During my mother's final illness I bought a CD by Scottish singer John McDermott that contained this song my mother taught me.  
The Dutchman. We played it often during her last weeks.
She listened to it with her eyes closed.

Here is the quintessential version sung by the late Steve Goodman.

"The Dutchman" is a song written by Michael Peter Smith in 1968 and popularized by Steve Goodman. At the time Smith wrote the song, he had never visited The Netherlands.

The song is about an elderly couple living in Amsterdam, Margaret and the title character. The unnamed Dutchman is suffering from shell shock which he received during the war, while Margaret cares for him with a sadness over what has happened to him over the years. It's a story of unconditional love. - Wikipedia

The Dutchman - lyrics

The Dutchman's not the kind of man
To keep his thumb jammed in the dam
That holds his dreams in
But that's a secret only Margaret knows
When Amsterdam is golden in the morning
Margaret brings him breakfast
She believes him
He thinks the tulips bloom beneath the snow
He's mad as he can be but Margaret only sees that sometimes
Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes
Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee
Long ago I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me
The Dutchman still wears wooden shoes
His cap and coat are patched with love
That Margaret sewed in
Sometimes he thinks he's still in Rotterdam
He watches tugboats down canals
And calls out to them when he thinks he knows the captain
'Til Margaret comes to take him home again
Through unforgiving streets that trip him
Though she holds his arm
Sometimes he thinks that he's alone and calls her name
The windmills whirl the winter in
She winds his muffler tighter
They sit in the kitchen
Some tea with whiskey keeps away the dew
He sees her for a moment calls her name
She makes the bed up humming some old love song
She learned it when the tune was very new
He hums a line or two
They hum together in the night
The Dutchman falls asleep and Margaret blows the candle out

For fun: Dutch Windmills 3D Screensaver - information here

For inspiration:  The biography of Steve Goodman (1948-1984) --  
No one performed/performs The Dutchman as well as he did.

Painting: The Mill at Wijk-Bij-Duurstede by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682)


Hattie said...

Maybe it's a good thing your mother did not go to The Netherlands. It might not have lived up to her romantic expectations.
So she was a blackjack dealer! So was my sister, in Tahoe. She loved it up there but eventually returned to the Bay Area and became an IRS agent!

YogaforCynics said...

Y'know, I've known of Steve Goodman for a long, long time, mostly as the writer of City of New Orleans, but I don't think I've ever actually heard him sing his own songs. I had two revelations listening to this video: 1) I know this song, but didn't realize it was by Steve Goodman, and 2) the song's actually really good, unlike the incredibly slow, weepy versions I've heard at folk festivals...

YogaforCynics said...

Oops...left that last comment without having read the little blue box...well, even if Steve didn't write the song, I still like it a hell of a lot better than the other versions I've heard (which I don't think include the John McDermott version...).

Darlene said...

I am not familiar with this song.

Music can speak to us in a way that no other thing can. Memories come flooding back when we hear a song from times gone by.

Looking to the Stars said...

Cool post. Bob Shane was a hunk, no wonder your mom kept going back :)

Neat song, I can see you playing it for her and wisping her back to other times.

I have enjoyed a glimpse of your realtionship with your mom. You have been truly blest.

Margaret Pangert said...

That was a beautiful tribute to your mother. Somehow the connecting in song brings us closer. The Kingston Trio! They were so big time! I loved the song; I guess it helps that my name is Margaret. I am going to get the CD you mentioned by John McDermott as I am of Scottish descent. That name really went across the borders. I just came back to New Jersey from a visit to my family in Cottonwood, CA. I went to Chico State and during summer breaks worked in Reno. Smalll world, isn't it? You know, all the memories you have of your mother show that her spirit is still here, in part, don't you think? LOVE xxox

La Belette Rouge said...

As synchronicity would have it I am presently obsessed with windmills. I have been googling to find windmills for sale( not that I am in the market for one. I am just dreaming. Thanks to you I can have a free one for my computer. Thanks!

Lydia said...

@Hattie- That's fascinating about your sister. :) It definitely takes a math-oriented brain to deal blackjack, so becoming an IRS agent fits.
You might be right about the traveler v. dreamer...

@YogaforCynics- Well, before last night I didn't realize that The City of New Orleans was written by Steve Goodman, so you were ahead of me on that one. What a great song. And I agree that his take on The Dutchman sparkles with substance in comparison to others' versions.

@Darlene- Isn't that so true! That is one of the real pluses in having a long life: recalling all the more songs and the memories they stir.

@Looking to the Stars- You are just dear to enjoy these glimpses of my relationship with her. And right on target about Bob Shane!

@Margaret- I love the name Margaret, by the way. It has been since my mother's death that I've really heard the name, if that makes any sense.
Hey, one of the reasons I got the song sung by McDermott was because on her mother's side she was Scots-Irish.
I went to UNR and went to Chico State for one big football game between the two universities! It really is a small world!
What you said about the closeness in spirit sure makes sense to me. She was one to go for "Fun!" and I've had that in mind as I've done these song's fun!

Lydia said...

La Belette Rouge- Synchronicity I guess! It's very cool that you will enjoy the 3D windmill screensaver. I just found it yesterday while working on this post! It looks like a beautiful 3D effect...haven't loaded it here yet.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Te music speats in its own way and goes through our mind, heart and soul. Have a great day. Hugs.

Lydia said...

I did have a great day, in part because of your comments. :)



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