Musical voyage into the armpit of America

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Kiwi journalist/author Karl du Fresne launched his new book at the Writers Festival in Auckland on Saturday, A Road Tour of American Song Titles, from Mendocino to Memphis – a homage to American placenames in song.

It was a terrible day (cold rain, wind etc) but several hundred music lovers packed the desolate Aotea Centre room to hear du Fresne present the fruits of his labour of love, ably assisted by Northland writer Bryan Staff.

Du Fresne grew up listening to songs that namechecked American towns and cities, from Ray Charles’ Georgia on My Mind to Marty Robbins’ El Paso and from Jimmy Webb’s anticipated arrival in Phoenix, Arizona, to Hal David’s inquiry about how to get to San Jose.

The former Dominion editor often wondered what sort of places they were. So, with his wife, Jolanta, he went into the “armpit of America” to find out.

America, he noted, excels at this kind of thing. “Location is central to all these songs,” he said. “I can think of only one British song that accomplishes is quite as effectively – the Kinks’ 1967 hit Waterloo Sunset.”

Not much doing in NZ either – although du Fresne found time for the 1960 song by NZ balladeer Peter Cape, Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu, which references the longest place name in the English language.

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