John Stewart

The Last Campaign

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The Last Campaign, issued in 1985 on John Stewart's Home Records label, is an album of songs written during and about the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy that ended in his assassination. Stewart and Buffy Ford traveled with Kennedy, playing on flatbed trucks from the backs of trains, on stages at rallies, anywhere they could. Some of the songs, like "Pirates of Stone Country Road," have appeared before, but these are re-recordings of all of them, thematically linked to the promise and devastation that went along with Kennedy's death. California friends like Linda Ronstadt, Lindsey Buckingham, Chuck McDermott, and Fred Koch were on board as well as a few others. By and large this is a simple but beautiful recording that Stewart produced by himself, wrapped deeply in reverie and the romanticism of a time that perhaps never existed. But to the listener, no matter what questions exist beforehand -- or after the albums closes with a reprise of the title song, and dreams are shattered, left in the dust, or embittered -- this is all heartfelt and real. Not real in the sense that Stewart is necessarily right, but real in that he truly believes what he has written here. For the generation that came of age in the 1960s, 1985 might have seemed like a dark time -- though it was streamline bright compared to what America at the beginning of the 21st century looks like. Folk music that says you can't go back to Kansas, offers you the (unintentionally) false promise of "Dreamers on the Rise," the desperate wishes of "Hearts and Dreams on the Line," and "Spirit-Survivors," and the exhortation to continue to dream despite the acknowledgement of tremendous loss and the passage of history. This is Stewart at his most brazen, lost, and honest, looking for answers that are ciphers in sand, scattered to the winds, and the realization of promises that were never really madder, let alone kept. The ghost in the grain of his voice on this record is one of the most chilling things in American music. The Last Campaign is indeed a last of its kind, a journey through time and the human heart where brave souls get tired and long for solace even if there isn't any to be had. It is in that hope, or in the spectre that disguises itself as such, that great art is born, and The Last Campaign is nothing if not great art.

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