Letter A- Airline to Heaven- Billy Bragg and Wilco

#AtoZChallenge 2023 badge A

This year for the 2023 A-Z Blog Challenge, I’m going to begin by listing a song or musical subject, and then see how fast and how far I can completely blow up my own “stream of consciousness,” and head “off the reservation,” by linking every real, and “Zulu Delta-imagined” fact, piece of music trivia, or not so apparent connection to what is racing around my head to that song in an “unstructured, graffiti-like” format. Complete and utter nonsense! Turn it up and turn it on, but as Van “The Man” Morrison said…….”It’s already turned on!”

Mermaid Avenue is a 1998 album of previously unheard lyrics written by American folk singer Woody Guthrie, put to music written and performed by British singer Billy Bragg and the American band Wilco. The project was the first of several such projects organized by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, the original director of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and archives. Mermaid Avenue was released on the Elektra Records label on June 23, 1998. A second volume of recordings, Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, followed in 2000  Thanks, Wiki!

Click on the Red YouTube arrows and the video will play.

Billy Bragg and Wilco’s association reach far on this one. As mentioned, it started when Nora Guthrie tasked Bragg and Wilco to add some music to her father’s written words; her father being Woody Guthrie.

The band Wilco was from the U.S. State of Illinois. Wilco played the 2005 Farm Aid Benefit Concert in Tinley Park, Illinois. Farm Aid was started by musicians Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young to raise funds and awareness for the difficulties of Farmers.

That year at Farm Aid, Wilco were introduced to the performance by-then U.S. Senator Barack Obama, and Wilco went on to play the song “Airline to Heaven.

A few years later, Barack Obama would become President of the United States of America, and friends with musician Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen would go on to play Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at Obama’s inauguration concert in Washington with Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger, famous for “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn, Turn, Turn, and for the Civil Rights song “We Shall Overcome,” was a longtime friend and contemporary of Woody Guthrie. Pete was 89 at the time and as humble as ever. I know, he was standing next to me at the Newport Folk Festival one day.


Meanwhile, using our time machine to go back again to Illinois, this time, Chicago, in 1971, Steve Goodman was another aspiring singer-songwriter who one night in a club was trying to pitch something he wrote to a different singer-songwriter. Not sure if his song was any good, Steve convinced the second musician to listen to the song only after agreeing to buy the man a beer while Steve played the song. That song turned out to be the classic “City Of New Orleans;” later recorded by the same beer-drinking folk singer, Arlo Guthrie; Woody Guthrie’s son. The song would turn out to be the “biggest” recording for Arlo in his career. Arlo was also famous for the song “Alice’s Restaurant.”

Steve Goodman was a gifted singer-songwriter in his own right. He also wrote the humorous song “A Dying Cubs Fan Last Request” about the emotional turmoil of being a Chicago Cubs baseball fan long before the losing streak/curse of the Cubs was snapped in 2016. Similar sentiments to being a Boston Red Sox fan long before they became one of the winningest and richest teams in Major League Baseball. Three years after writing the fictitious “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request,” Steve Goodman would die at the age of 36 from Leukemia; approximately 15 years after doctors told him he didn’t have long to live.

For anyone who has been paying attention to the Illinoisans, or has a deranged musical mind, you know there’s a few John Prine “bits” floating around in my head right now. I shall summon all my debilitating will power, and skip past. For now.

Finally, one day before I attended the Newport Folk Festival, I browsed the last musical “record shop” I have ever been in, and “rescued” a CD from the bargain bin; Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, by Billy Bragg and Wilco. I had never heard of any songs on the CD, or Wilco for that matter, but I really did like Billy Bragg.

That year at the Festival, I saw Billy Bragg and Wilco perform. They were awesome!

Another year at Newport, I saw Arlo Guthrie perform. As I stood by the side of the stage, I struck up a conversation (easy to do at Newport) with a random woman who looked a lot like Arlo. She turned out to be Nora Guthrie; Woody Guthrie’s daughter and Arlo’s sister and while we’re at it, the original director of the Woody Guthrie Foundation, who got the ball rolling on Mermaid Avenue and the Airline to Heaven “recasting.”

One more incredible version for the road……….as good, if maybe….even better!

Word of warning…….the blogs are only going to get crazier from here!

22 thoughts on “Letter A- Airline to Heaven- Billy Bragg and Wilco

  1. Great start, ZD… and hardly as “disjointed” as you implied up front. Your stream of consciousness approach flows along seamlessly (maybe I’ve just known you for a long time!). Excellent production details, btw.


  2. Nice! I used to mentally sing “City of New Orleans” whenever I road that train. And I still remember hearing “Alice’s Restaurant” in NYC on a trip in 1968. I could do my own stream of consciousness reply here, but i’ll stop myself. I like posts that make me remember.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this! On our Willis Alan Ramsey CD is a song about Woody Guthrie. I will try to figure out how to send it to you. Look up Willis Alan Ramsey. Michael introduced me to his music when we met. “Northeast Texas Women” alone is worth the price of the CD!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw Steve Goodman a lot when I was in high school. Time and life got in the way, and by the time I remembered him again, he had passed. He was friends with Jethro Burns: Jethro was on a couple of his albums and would show up at his Chicago-area concerts and play. Good start to the challenge!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a pleasant and uplifting surprise playing Riverwhyless’ Airline to Heaven. Arlo’s gotta be toe tapping proud. Moving lyrics and talented musicians spotlighted perfectly in the video arrangement. Thanks for bringing them to AtoZ for those of us who might not ever have had the chance to hear them.

    Liked by 1 person

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