Plucked from Obscurity: Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy”

For those approximately my age, we can remember a few years ago when patience was not only a virtue, it was a necessity. Because anything you wanted in the way of media—books, film, music—you had to wait for (and even pay for). Thanks to DVRs, the interweb, iPods, etc., there’s no longer much of a chase, meaning the detective work or skill needed to acquire something truly obscure. Let’s face it: obscure ain’t what it used to be. (And by the time this post is done, another song will come off the obscurity list.)

Having tastes and passions that are left of center, I spent my entire adolescence and twenties searching, searching, searching for the obscure. Sometimes this was my motivation to leave the house, so I started calling these items carrots (as in ‘carrot on a stick’). I used to keep a notepad in my back pocket where I’d scribble these carrots, such as:

        •“Lee Dorsey–a pop-y ballad that is NOT called ‘Give It Up’”

        •“What were those puzzles that the Courier Post used to have in the Sunday Editions in the early 80’s?”

        •“Marianne Faithful album w/alot of obscenities”

You get the idea. I would hit yard sales, used book stores, and libraries; scan for song titles in the small print of film closing credits; sing melodies to record store employees; write letters to publishers, film studios, music producers; etc. It was a marvelous hobby, kind of like being a geeky Indiana Jones.

Here’s a story of one of my carrots…

A highlight from Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) is Keith Carradine’s song, “I’m Easy.” His character is Tom Frank, a heartless rogue of a country-rock star—a jerk, really–and when he performs this song on acoustic guitar in a bar, several women assume the song is intended for her alone. It’s Carradine’s own composition and it’s an Oscar-winning killer song and performance…

I first saw this in 1990 while recovering from surgery at the base of my spine (not relevant, really, but a nice detail nevertheless) and became fixated on that song. As the soundtrack was not on CD and I didn’t have a turntable, I spent years trying to find a recording of it. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Carradine in 1992 (see right); I was going to ask him to sing it for me but I didn’t have a tape recorder handy.

I learned it was a minor hit as a single and began combing the various CD collections at Tower Records: Billboard, Country Hits of the 70s, Film Hits, etc. Jesus, did I comb. (I haven’t combed that much since I was thirteen, if you catch my drift.)

One night in late December, 1995, I found it on a collection called Only Love 1975-1979, where it was in aesthetically-questionable company (i.e. Ambrosia’s “How Much I Feel,” Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain,” and England Dan & John Ford Coley’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”). Also, it was the usual Tower Records whopping $17 (Tower had a lot, but it wasn’t cheap).

So, here I was, unemployed, broke and taking a gamble on a CD for one damn song. But I had to have it—it had been in my notepad for five years, which made it a carrot with honors–so I put the money down and eagerly made my way to Spin Cycle Post. This was a post facility where I had done some work as an assistant sound editor, and the office manager had generously let me have a set of keys so I could practice my editing chops over the Christmas break. It was midnight when I went in, and I set up shop in an edit suite, cued up the song on the CD player—setting it to Repeat, since I intended to make up for the Lost Years—and hit Play.

And it was dreck. Just garbage. The antithesis of what it was in the film. I knew it would be a re-recording of the song, sure, but gimme a break…Wait, check it out for yourself (and let it play while you read the next few paragraphs, for maximum impact).

I was appalled, stunned, furious. I left the suite, probably to get some water or some distance and inadvertently closed the door. Upon returning, a minute later, fully expecting to come to terms with the 17 bucks I just wasted, I discovered that the door was now locked. And I didn’t have a key. And I was the only one there. And maybe you’ve been in this position before, but I was in major ass-kissing mode, trying to get a job with these folks, so I had to solve this problem on my own.

I frantically rummaged the office for about an hour, looking for keys to the individual offices, growing more and more panicked, and the whole time being taunted by this 70s easy listening version of the Tell Tale Heart. It was driving me insane as Keith Carradine country-crooned in front of a faceless, ball-less bunch of studio musicians—oh, those drum fills!—it just going and going and going…

I gave up and curled up on a cold leather sofa, staying the night for fear that if someone came in the next day and found a locked room with a song playing endlessly that it would spell doom for my future in NYC postproduction.  I was as far as possible from that office, but I could still hear the muffled song through the door, my precious carrot by way of a Viet Cong war camp.

A low-level assistant arrived in the morning, took the keys from the one place on the floor I didn’t look, and graciously agreed to keep my misstep a secret. I turned off the CD player—I had heard the song approximately 200 times—and never played it again.

I don’t know. Maybe you had to be there.

In 2000, the Nashville came out on DVD, and I immediately loaded it into a computer, editing the shit out of it. I made an isolated audio track of Carradine’s acoustic performance—meticulously removing as many glass clinks as possible—and sat back with a big Goddamn smile. Oh, and I did all this at Spin Cycle as an employee. A sweet victory, to be sure, and I crossed that song off my carrot list.

I’m Easy (acoustic version, 3:02, right-click to download)

Postscript: In 2000, the Nashville soundtrack came out on CD, and it turns out there’s a third version of “I’m Easy,” this one with an arrangement falling in between the other two.

I’m Easy (soundtrack version, 3:02, right-click to download)

In fact, if this is what I got my hands on in 1995, instead of that crappy Muzak-with-vocals version, you’d be looking at a blank webpage.

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10 Comments

Filed under Film, Music

10 responses to “Plucked from Obscurity: Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy”

  1. Adam L

    this rivals your dad’s story

  2. I’m loving these stories, man!

    Hey, have you ever read overthinkingit.com? You should. And the Overthinkers should read this blog, for that matter.

    • Wow, I never heard of this site! Thanks for the tip, Ken. I’ve added it to my blog roll.

      Oh, and I’ve been thinking about your “Well, actually…” comment all week. As I write these things, I live in fear of a comment beginning that way!

  3. Anybody see that scene from the “making of” features of Planet Earth where the poor cameraman is sitting in a blind for months waiting for a bird to show up with a mediocre song in his head on permanent loop, slowly going insane? This reminds me of that.

  4. i actually enjoy your own writing kind, very interesting.
    don’t give up as well as keep posting simply because it just simply good worth to read it.
    excited to find out a whole lot more of your current stories, good bye!

  5. cantforgetthis@earthlink.net

    THANK YOU! I fell in love with this son when I saw the film, but never found a published version except the Muzak dreck version, which simply doesn’t work with the song or his voice. I don’t mind a few glass clinks; they just recall the image of him in the club, playing the song… and that’s as it should be. 🙂

  6. Larry Kykendahl

    I remember the scene – by the way, one of the best scenes ever recorded. The actors were perfect, from Carradine’s pretentious womanizer crooner to Tomlin’s crowd surveying once she and all the other women realize what’s going on. The scene was so poignant that I can still smell the spilled beer ten years later.
    And yes, my pursuit of this song (which fell pitifully short of yours) rendered a similarly depressing outcome.
    Thanks so very much

  7. Helena

    thank you!!!! I’ve been looking for this for years!

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