Can you identify this folk singer from the mid-90s?
June 17, 2017 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Sometime in the early to mid 90s, a folk singer came to my town and performed, and I bought his album. I remember only a handful of facts about him, and a few lines from the songs. Can you identify this musician?

This was in Massachusetts, in the mid-90s. He came to my Unitarian Universalist church, but his music was not overtly religious. He was young-ish and had a black beard. I want to say that his name was Ben. I bought his tape. It was red.

Here are the songs of his I remember:

There was a pro-gay-rights song about the removal of homosexuality as a diagnosis from the DSM, and it talked about a protest (which the internet tells me actually happened in Sweden, but I don't remember that in the song) in which people demonstrated the absurdity of pathologizing homosexuality as an illness by calling in "gay" instead of sick to work. The line I remember was, "They all called in gay!" He kind of shouted it.

There was also a song about two young lovers. The man is referred to as a "gypsy" (sorry) because he wanders in and out of the town, but the girl leaves a light in the window for him.

I think there was also a song I think was called "These hands," about his dad, very slow and melancholy. It went like this:

These hands that crack with winter cold
these hands that tell me I grow old
these hands that wear the weathered lines of age
I see him after thirty years
a man my age with doubts and fears
a man...

That's all I can remember. He might have been SUPER local but every once in a while the hands song gets stuck in my head so it'd be fun if someone could identify it. Thanks everybody!
posted by pretentious illiterate to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This guy?
posted by poppunkcat at 5:07 PM on June 17

@poppunkcat: I saw that, but even though he comes up when you search for the lyrics (without quotes), none of the songs actually match, plus he seems too young.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:43 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Do you remember/know if his songs were all original? There's an old song called "These Hands," covered by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow and others, the kind of thing a folk person might play. The lyrics aren't right, exactly, but the mood is similar, it's pretty slow and melancholic and could be made to be more so.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:18 PM on June 17

John Kruth?
posted by vrakatar at 7:25 PM on June 17

Is there any chance it was Dan Bern? It's not that I recognize any of these songs as his, but he was playing small rooms in MA a whole lot at the time, he's super-prolific, and he writes a ton of topical songs, and his dad died young. So, maybe.
posted by Miko at 7:30 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]

Fred Small?. Gay, became a UU minister in Mass. in the mid 90's.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 7:35 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

The middle song sounds like Bob Franke's Beggars to God.
posted by nonane at 8:20 PM on June 17

ahhhhhh nonane, the middle song was definitely Beggars to God. Which makes me really happy because I get to hear it again for the first time in twenty years - but makes me fear that maybe the other songs were covers, too, which makes it seem like the artist might be a lot harder to track down. :/ The others are all great suggestions but not quite right.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:31 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Could it have been Andrew Ratshin of Uncle Bonsai?
posted by zippy at 12:52 AM on June 18

Does anyone else at the church remember, or is there an archive (or live historian!) there who might have records to check against?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:14 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

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