Suitcase on the Loose - Album Cover


Producer: Kate McGarrigle

Sound engineers: Slava Egorov, Brad Albetta

Suitcase is a voice from the Sixties that sort of fell through the cracks. Back in 1970 Alex Shoumatoff’s twenty-three-year life journey came to a fork. Should become a singer-songwriter, as many of his peers were trying to do? He had a contract with Manny Greenhill, the manager of Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and his guitar teacher, blind Reverend Gary Davis (whose gitjo, or six-string banjo, he plays on several of these songs), and he was supposed to perform his songs at places like Gerde’s Folk  City and the Gaslight.  Or should take off and see the world and write about what he encountered? He ended up doing the latter and became the celebrated long-time contributor of Vanity Fair and author of ten books,  hailed for his literary reportage from the world’s most remote and inaccessible corners and his chameleon-like ability to write about anything, from Donald Trump to the pygmies of the Ituri Forest. eHhE But he never stopped playing music, and wherever he went he always took along a guitar and jammed with the locals, and his original southern country blues and gospel and Appalachian orientation was expanded by  exposure to Brazilian samba, Zairean rumba, gypsy and Indian music.

In 1999, Shoumatoff and his family, after many moves, landed in Montreal. Montreal is a city with 200 ethnic groups and all kinds of  music, and Shoumatoff immersed himself in it. He renewed his friendship with Kate McGarrigle, whom he had met in a club in Boston, where she was performing ,in 1970. She and her sister Anna had gone on to become the legendary McGarrigle sisters, and Kate had had two children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, who are stars in their own right.  Their father, Loudon Wainwright III, grew up across the street from Shoumatoff in Bedford, New York and became one of the great singer songwriters of his generation, which a part of Shoumatoff still yearned to be.

In Montreal he started to perform in a café under the name of Suitcase. Shoumatoff was always trying out names on himself. Flash Flood.  Anagarika, the Homeless One. The Rootless Cosmopolitan (as Stalin’s favorite jazz trumpeter was branded after he fell out of favor and was sent to Siberia). Umushyitsi,  Rwandan for a guest, as well as a child who dies young. In l990, while doing a story on the ethnocide of Tibet for Vanity Fair, he had a two-hour audience with the  Dalai Lama, during which he asked great boddhisatva about the core Buddhist belief in shunyata, or emptiness, the notion that nothing is intrinsically real, it’s all a projection of your mind. “Last night,” he related to His Holiness,  “I got up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature and tripped over my suitcase, which I had left in the middle of the room, and fell flat on my face. You can’t say it was in my mind, because I had completely forgotten it was there.”

The Dalai Lama let out a series of resonant basso ho-ho-ho’s, and said, “What is a suitcase ? You can describe everything about your suitcase : its size, shape, the material it is made from, and so on. But there will always be something about the suitcase that you failed to describe. And furthermore, if you had been a sub-atomic particle, you would have passed right through the suitcase. Therefore neither you nor the suitcase exist—independently.”

One day in 2003, sitting on his old battered Delsey hardshell suitcase, his inseparable traveling companion for the last fifteen years, at a train station in Peru, he remembered their conservation and said to himself, “That’s what I am. The Suitcase.” An  unfettered, free-floating consciousness, he explained to his friend the Brazilian artist Antonio Petikov a few months later, “a stateless suitcase, a weightless suitcase, a loveless and a hateless suitcase,” and Petikov added, “surfing the world, no bullshit attached.”

The Suitcase (one of a number of suitcases in the music world, Shoumatoff discovered to his chagrin after he had adopted the name and it was too late to change it) began to  write songs again. Four of the songs on this cd are of this millennium, the other six are from the hippie days of his youth.  He played them for Kate—the new ones and the ones from years ago, and she liked  them enough to help him realize his dream of recording them. The sessions took place in Kate’s cozy home studio in Montreal, Querbes Service, in the summer of 2007. Some of Montreal’s most accomplished musicians dropped by. The six-foot-nine genius guitarist John Reissner, who hadn’t picked up a guitar in four years and was working in a paint store, was persuaded to come over, and he laid down some astonishing licks. Slava Egorov, who was doing the recording with his old Soviet microphones, contributed some manic, shamanic fluting. Two generations of McGarrigle women sang backup vocals.  Kate orchestrated and arranged the cosmic gazpacho that the musicians—Joel Zifkin, Michael Jerome Browne, Michel Pepin, John Rudel–  were cooking on her ground floor, and here is the result— a bag of tunes going back 38 years and as recent as a few weeks ago,  a beautiful musical accompaniment to a voice that is not beautiful or musical, but distinctive,  the voice of Everyman of  the generation that came of age in the Sixties, untainted by having to make a living at it, ten songs written over the course of a lifetime, so together they are a kind of life statement.   Anyone who likes a good lyric will agree that the Suitcase coulda been a contenda.

Song Lyrics

1. The Blind Wandering Prophet of Old

In some houses there’s no laughter

In some houses there’s no clock

In some houses there’s no food to eat

In some houses there’s no lock.
Some people are crazy about guilt

They want to be forgiven cuz flowers wilt

Milk is spilt, men are kilt

They like to see everything at a guilty tilt
Let me tell you about class cuz I been there

Sitting in the lap of luxury

Shaking my head when the beggars dropped dead

I used to beautiful down to a t
Chorus :
Come to me you weary souls

And all your secrets will be foretold

Your old will be young, your song will be sung

By the blind wandering prophet of old
Some want to see the Eiffel Tower

Others want to see the Golden Gate Bridge

Some want to see the Statue of Liberty

But how many just want to see ?
Some people will tell you this place is no good

Others will allow that it’s fair

But don’t you believe a word they say

Cuz the good life is everywhere
Yes, everybody’s got a homing device

Dogs and dolphins, men and mice

And every soul has a river

That leads to Paradise
Well I’ve sung my way through different scenes

I can operate a few machines

In winter I put up the storm windows

In summer I take out the screens
Four score and twenty ears ago

The pilgrims made their landing

Are we ever going to find the peace

That passeth understanding ?

vocal : Suitcase
Steel-string guitars : Alex Suitcase and John Reissner.
Harmonica : Chaim Tannenbaum
Accordion : Kate McGarrigle
Background vocals : , Kate McGarrigle, Michael Jerome Browne, Chaim Tannenbaum

2. What’s the Drill

It sure would be nice to know

How it’s going to go

What’s the drill ? Up or down

Or back again in another form ?

Is there anything at all ?

Or is this it, one time around ?

I guess I’ll play it by ear

It’ll soon be clear enough

I won’t miss the brutality

Of physicality

The pain I’ve cause the ones I love

I can’t undo or make up to you

Only time can heal the hurt

There will always be suffering

People grabbing what they can

The beauty of this world does not need me around

To cry for it

And I sense there’s more to come

Death is not the end of it

There’s something nothing can destroy

The inner calm, the consciousness, the joy

In everything that lives

There’s no way of ceasing them

Vocal : Suitcase
Guitars : Suitcase, Kate McGarrigle
pennywhistle : Slava Egorov
violin : Michael Jerome Browne
Mandolin : Chaim Tannenbaum
String bass : Brad Albetta

3. Pennsylvania Turnpike Blues

Chorus :

Pennsylvania Turnpike Blues (twice)

Tell me which exit shall I choose

I’m just cruising all confused

Threw my belongings into the trunk

Polished off a fifth but I didn’t get drunk

Got in my convertible started to cruise

Pennsylvania Turnpike Blues


Well I don’t want to go to Harrisburg,

And I don’t want to go to Pittsburgh

All I want to do is cruise and lose

My Pennsylvania Turnpike Blues


Picked up a hitchhiking stranger

He didn’t say a word he was deaf and dumb

Took out a bible and started to thumb

Stopped at Revelation Chapter One


Let’s make it down to Philadelphia

They call it the City of Brotherly Love

Check out the crack in the Liberty Bell

Let’s go to Philly what the hell


Vocal and six-string guitar : Suitcase.
Twelve-string guitar, Michael Jerome Browne
Piano : Kate McGarrigle

4. It’s Only Flesh

It’s only flesh

And you never fully mesh

But the flesh you try to mesh with

Can really get you in a mess

It’s only fair

Tthat everybody pair

But when the oneness isn’t there

It’s a miserable affair

If you ain’t perusin’

That the fusion is illusion

You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’

It’s only flesh

However young and firm and fresh

No more or less

Than each succulent caress

The hottest bod

Turns to sod

And guys that lust

Crumble into dust

The dream of merging eternally

Can be shattered internally or externally

And leave you burning infernally

Life is full of painful twists

It’s a cherry in a bowl of pits

[not piss, as it comes out sounding; mikes don’t pick up ts. ]

But the pain of no longer being kissed

And the love you’re dying to give not even being missed

Is the worst that can exist

So keep it in your sneaker

Think twice before you fall

Cuz flesh makes fools of us all

Vocal : Suitcase
Rhythm guitar : Suitcase, Michael Jerome Browne
Montreal neo-swing guitar : Michael Jerome Browne
Piano : Kate McGarrigle
Percussion : John Rudel
String bass : Brad Albetta
Violin : Joel Zifkin

5. Forest Woman

There was a forest woman

Her beauty was strangely sad

Soft shadows followed her footsteps

And I loved her with everything she had

From the clouds that float like foam

Across the rosy skies

She must have learned the silence

Of her angelic eyes

But tears of distress came into them

When I confessed my love

She made every attempt to discourage me

That gentleness was capable of

But I was lost and desperate

I’d just come out of the city

I finally overwhelmed her

In the confusion of her pity

Our love was brief and it brought little joy

But soft shadows of sorrow

Crept across our golden afternoon

And stole into tomorrow

One day she came to me and told

The terrible truth she’d been trying

So hard to keep me from knowing

That she was hopelessly dying

Well I’m going to see that beautiful shore

Where she already has gone

My hope comes from the last thing she said

That the darkness turns into dawn

Vocal : Shoumatoff.
Fiddle, banjo, twelve-string guitar, : Michael Jerome Browne
Ocarina and bamboo flutes, Slava Egorov
Big drum : Slava Egorov
Back ground vocals : Kate McGarrigle, Martha Wainwright, Brad Albetta
String bass : Brad Albetta

6. One Morning Soon

Early in the morning

A voice comes to me

A voice I cannot see

It says

All the little children in the land

One day they’ll be playing in the band

Chorus :

One morning soon

One morning soon, little children

One morning soon

As I stand by my window

Looking through the gloom

A voice fills the room

It says

All the little children in the land

One day they’ll be running hand in hand


As the sun shines through

Bringing in the day

A voice comes to say

All the little children in the land

One day they will make us understand


Vocal : Suitcase
Backup vocals : Suitcase, Kate McGarrigle, Slava Egorov
Electric guitars : Fantamady Kouyate, recorded in Bamako, Mali, 2004; Alex Shoumatoff
Rama : Slava Egorov
Acoustic guitars : John Reissner, Kate mcGarrigle
Fiddle, fretless gourd banjo : Michael Jerome Browne
Percussion : Slava Egorov

7. Looking for a Place

I’m looking for a place about an acre or two

An acre or two, an acre or two,

Looking for a place about an acre or two

That’s big enough for me and you

It’s got a dog and a fire and a field and a stream

A field and a stream, a field and a stream,

It’s got a dog and a fire and a field and a stream,

It’s something I saw in a dream

It’s got a little front porch with a railing for your feet

A railing for your feet, a railing for your feet

It’s got a little front porch with a railing for your feet

And lots of friendly neighbors to greet

Well I hear there’s land available in Brazil,

Available in Brazil, available in Brazil

I hear there’s land available in Brazil

But I kinda like this country still

Well can anybody tell me where it could be

Where it could be, where it could be

Could anybody please tell me where it could be

A little place for you and me

Vocal, gitjo, whistling : Suitcase
Buffalo Gal : Kate McGarrigle
Who’s Afraid Of the Big Bad Wolf in Russian : Slava Egorov

8. Too Much

Too much wealth

No good for your health

You don’t need more stuff

Ain’t you got enough

You feel much better when you share

Your heart opens up when you start to care’

When you just think of yourself

You always pay the price

So why not try to be nice ?

The human hand is heavy on the land

Heavier than it can stand

We’re puttin too much carbon in the atmosphere

Now we got to figure out

How to get it out

Too many cars on the road

Too many mouths to feed

Too much need, too much greed

Too many houses to heat

Too many toilets to flush

Too much waste to much rush

We got to mobilize

To stabilize

Cherish or perish

Cherish or perish

Everything that lives has something to give

A role to play the right to be here

Everything in the world needs to be loved

So put down your fists and on with your gloves.

Cuz the human hand is heavy on the land

Heavier than it can stand

The human touch is too too much

Vocal : Suitcase
Electric guitar : Michael Pepin
Acoustic guitars : Suitcase, Slava Egorov
Gitjo : Shoumatoff
Piano : Kate McGarrigle
Saxophone : Jody Golick
Violin : Joel Zifkin
Percussion : John Rudel
Backup vocals : Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle,Martha Wainwright, Lily Lanken

9. The Stream of Life

I was walking down a stream

When I came across an elf

He said what do you think you see in me

That you don’t see in yourself ?

I been walking this world ten thousand years

And you can see for yourself how it appears

So what do you think you see in me

That you don’t see in yourself ?

I walked a little more

When I came across a bird

He said what do you think I’m singing for

If it isn’t to be heard ?

I been singing my song ten thousand years

And all you gotta do is give me your ears

The stream ran into a river

Where an old bull was standing on the bank

He said I can’t keep up with the herd no more

So they left me here on this shore

The water’s too fast for me to get past

I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna last

But one thing I can tell you

It sure has been a blast

Vocal and six string guitar : Suitcase
Twelve-string guitar : Michael Jerome Browne
Electric guitar : Slava Egorov

10. Suitcase On the Loose

I’m a suitcase

Don’t stay too long in any place

A weary beat-up suitcase

No name, no tag, no face

Got no destination, no deadline

Just pack my clothes and head on down the line

I’m a lost case

Going no place fast

A displaced, disgraced suitcase

that’s running from the past

Got no pretext

no prepared text

I’m just here one day and gone the next

Got no heart to break

no money to take

no steady job, no soul to rob

I’m a suitcase on the loose

that’s seen a lot of use

I’m a suitcase on the case

circulating all over the place

flying by the seat of my pants

catch as catch can

just trying to stay one town ahead of the repo man

I been to Mali and Bali

Angola and Appalachicola

I’m a traveling fool, I’m mad for travel

smooth, rough, asphalt, gravel

Any old surface will do

cuz I’m just passing through

You know I never been to Barcelona

I’d like to get there before I’m a goner

I’m a stateless suitcase, a weightless suitcase,

A loveless and a hateless suitcase

I been lost and found

I’ve covered a lot of ground

I’m a suitcase on the loose

Got nothing more to prove

and nothing left to lose

I’m just trying to shake these lowdown lonely suitcase blues

Well I guess it’s time to skedaddle

Got to make it to Seattle

I’m a suitcase on the loose

that’s getting itchy and footloose

So it’s so long, been real nice being with ya

and as they say in Ethiopia, Abyssinia

Vocal : Suitcase
Piano and organ : Kate McGarrigle
Guitar : Suitcase
Violin : Joel Zifkin
Perc : John Rudel
Bass : Brad Albetta

Kate’s Linernotes :

Back in the late sixties early seventies there was an an uncontrollable urge for young folk of well-heeled middle class families as well as a few less fortunate ones to throw away all values taught him or her both at home and in the finest schools and to seek instead the path of truth and godliness – a path strewn with bass weejin loafers and wrap-around madras skirts tossed out of Volkswagen van windows and replaced with mexican huaraches or sometimes no shoes at all as these seekers took to this road. And lo they made their way along this path (preferably in a vw van or whatever one’s thumb pulled over) and together, along this path, they raised their voices in songs of freedom, thousands and thousands of voices raised in songs of freedom.

Now the stones that made up this path were hallucinogenic drugs but the mortar that held them together was music. It was a simple music, not the sophisticated sound of Tin Pan Alley or Broadway but a music that resounded with the same strains as the work songs heard along back roads where convicts, once upon a time chained together, sang from their hearts and souls. We wanted to hear the sound of roots – we wanted to water these roots and help them flourish into a new sound all our own.

I first met Alex Shoumatoff in the early seventies in Boston. He had his watering can, i.e., his guitar, and was growing a little garden of country blues….mostly based on the music of Reverend Gary Davis. As it turned out, I too was watering the same patch and fancied myself a decent interpreter of his songs(not bad for a girl) ” Twelve Gates to the City” and Oh lordy how happy i am”  were on my “let me dazzle you” list i had to impress fellow folkies… Anyhow Alex was in Boston contemplating music as a career as we all were since it was the home of the great Manny Greenhill who put Joan Baez on the map, but with the subsequent publishing of an article on the Reverend Gary Davis(in Rolling Stone), he opted for the written word instead – easy choice – it paid the rent.

And time went by, life went by…  and many many years pass, over thirty. Suddenly  I get a call from Alex saying “Remember me? Alex Shoumatoff?  I’m your neighbour now, just live over on Jeanne Mance (about 5 minutes from me)…wanna get together and jam, play some Gary Davis?” He came over and I said “What’s in the suitcase Alex? You didn’t have that when I first met you” and he said he didn’t have use for one yet as life was new and he hadn’t collected any baggage and i said “Open it up, let’s see what’s in there.” And 40 years of songs were in there: from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Blues where he first turned on to that path of freedom, right up to “What’s the Drill? up or down or back again in another form… I wish I really knew”…and I thought “in this suitcase is a life” – his life, my life: everyman’s life, everywoman’s life. There’s love, lost and found, an Acre or Two and What is the Drill?

We all wish we really knew.