Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Large Numbers: Millions: A Million Miles Away

Jim Boyd: A Million Miles Away


[purchase Reservation Blues]

For our new theme, I went to YouTube and did searches for what seemed to be likely titles for songs. I am somewhat embarrassed that I had never heard of Jim Boyd until I did that. Boyd is identified in most references to him on line as a Native American singer-songwriter. He was certainly that. His roots were on the Colville Reservation in Washington state, where he was an important member of the tribal council. But, on the strength of this song, Boyd deserved to be more widely known. True, A Million Miles Away expresses the yearning many on the reservations feel for a better life somewhere else. But the theme of the song is more universal than that.

I am reminded of a book I would like to recommend, Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. Alexie is a novelist. He has achieved a level of fame where he no longer has to be called a Native American novelist, although he gives voice to Native American concerns in the book. In fact, Alexie and Boyd became friends, and even wrote songs together. Reservation Blues is about a group of young Native Americans who form a band and try to use their music as a way off the reservation to a better life. In the end, they are unsuccessful, and they have to go back to the life they knew. There was eventually a movie version, and Jim Boyd was on the soundtrack. Boyd’s music was good enough to stand with anything ever posted here, but I’m guessing most of our readers didn’t know about him either.

Musically, someone could probably have a hit with A Million Miles Away by turning it into a power ballad. I can hear in my head just where the band would come in with drums, bass, and screaming electric guitars. Boyd doesn’t do that, and the song simmers intensely all the way through as an acoustic ballad. To me, the song is better for it, but subtlety is not how you get onto the charts.