Vernal Journal, Part I
4/22/2007 (updated 4/22/2007)

In the song "How Will I Ever Be So Simple Again" is the girl a child or is she older and the lover of the soldier? My wife is certain she is older and with lyrics like "the smell of her hair was like cornfields in May" I understand but in my mind's eye she is always a small child (with her dances and games). Care to elaborate? -Mechthild Jordan

Maybe she’s somewhere in between.

"Dad's Gonna Kill Me" is a great song -- good to hear you rocking out again -- did it occur to you, though, that an alternate lyric could be from Dubya's POV? That would make Dad Bush Sr. who, for all his faults (neither a good President nor a good human being) knew better than to press his war to Baghdad, and whose advice (by way of James Baker et al) has been ignored out of deference to Dubya's other, "heavenly" father. Might make a good joke coda in concert...On a completely unrelated note, living in Madrid I can't help wondering if you're excited about having Becks and Posh over there. -CARY BARNEY

Thanks, my act needs all the jokes I can get. And Becks should love the MLS – acres of space and no Vinnie Jones-style tackling…and Posh can bond with a whole host of fellow-anorexics.

Hi Richard, thank you for all the wonderful music. You collaborated with Niles Hokkanen on an electric mandolin tutor a few years back, and I know that the instrument turns up on your records from time to time. What types have you played, and how were they set up? Thoughts on amps and speakers for the e-mandolinist? -Best, Will

Although I did the tutor with Niles, that was about the first time I’ve played a true solid body electric mandolin, so I’m a bit of a fraud. I borrowed Niles’ Fender 4-string, a fine instrument, and that tutor was about string-bending and applying guitar techniques to the 4-string version. I nearly always play acoustic regular 8-string mando. Pete Zorn, who plays in my band, plays a Flatiron with a custom Sunrise pickup, which sounds pretty good. I’m impressed with the Epiphone ‘Firebird’ shaped solid body 8-string. I’d say, for amps. If it’s a solid body, any electric guitar amp with reasonable tone, and if it’s hollow body, straight through the PA or through an amp designed for acoustic guitar.

Some time ago (summer of 1980 to be precise) two of my all-time favourite performers played my local folk club at Amberley, West Sussex. Among many highlights of a fine evening's music was a rather fetching country blues called 'The train that carried my girl from town', inspired, you said at the time, by the commuter trains at the end of your garden when you were growing up. Doubtless artistic licence as I suspect this was not in fact a Thompson original, but I haven't heard you or anyone else perform it before or since. Any song which includes the lines 'ashes to ashes and dust to dust, show me the woman that a man can trust' deserves the occasional airing - can you shed any light on its origins, existing recordings etc.? -Many thanks, Andrew Mounstephen

I think it’s called ‘The Train That Carried My Girl From Town’, and I learned it from Doc Watson – I believe it’s on the Doc Watson and Family album on Folkways.