From “Sunshine” to Cruising America’s Waterways to Annapolis
Copyright © 2004 Christina Frederick
“Sunshine” distilled the spirit of disillusionment during the Vietnam era into a biting refrain: “He can’t even run his own life / I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine, sunshine.”
by Theodore Thimou
You know Jonathan Edwards as the singer-songwriter responsible for the 1970s’ pop hit “Sunshine.” The sprightly acoustic tune was one of the last great protest songs of the Vietnam era.
Over the last few years, the musician reinvented himself as the host of a PBS special titled Cruising America’s Waterways. The 13-week travel series saw Edwards narrating and performing during a journey that took him from Canada’s St. Lawrence all the way to the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys. In 2004, he reprised his role as host for a second season.
“I thought we did a really good job of informing people about points of interest, and how to negotiate the canals and lock systems of our incredible waterways that exist that not a whole lot of people know about,” Edwards said in a recent phone interview.
“It’s always good to be on the air taking up valuable time with your presence,” Edwards joked as he launched into the effect of Cruising America’s Waterways on his career. “It has just served to be one more facet of why people come out to see me, and maybe it piques their interest a little bit about my relationship to boating and aquatic lifestyle.”
Until a recent move to the landlocked city of Austin, Texas, Edwards made his home in the Virgin Islands, a locale where he could appreciate water and its sports all year long. “The water [there] is just so beautiful and such a wonderful place to be in relationship with,” he says, “and [I] tried to take advantage of it as much as possible with boating, snorkeling and scuba-diving.”
On the island of St. Croix, Edwards also indulged one of his lesser known passions: working with his hands. “I’ve always built things out of wood. I’ve always enjoyed putting things together with a sort of intuitive, innovative sense of style and expression,” the musician said. “I’ve been building things out of recycled wood palettes and different sorts of things that people throw away, chunks of furniture and I’ve been enjoying that very much. I did a couple of art shows a year, different galleries around the island, and I hope to expand that area of self-expression in the years ahead.”
It’s still music that earns Edwards his livelihood. His musical style is heavily indebted to Americana, and he has collaborated with such genre standard-bearers as legendary country songstress Emmylou Harris and the famed bluegrass band The Seldom Scene, among others.
After 35 years, “Sunshine” remains his signature song. The acoustic-based tune hit No. 4 on the pop chart in 1972. Edwards refers to it as “one of the milder protest songs of the ‘70s.”
“Sunshine” distilled the spirit of disillusionment during the Vietnam era into a biting refrain “He can’t even run his own life / I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine, sunshine” mitigated by his sweet, folksy voice.
The lyrics, he explained, convey “general angry-young-man angst. It was about Nixon. It was about having to endure a selective service draft physical when I was 18 or 19. You know the way that we were treated obviously as cannon fodder for their illegal, immoral war in Southeast Asia,” Edwards said. “It was all about that. It was about my dad, who was an ex-FBI agent. It was about authority figures … the same thing we find ourselves in today where the emperor has no clothes and none of his cronies are about to tell him.”
Edwards’ most recent release is a concert recording titled Live in Massachusetts captured during his spring ‘06 tour. A new studio album is in the works.
“I’m writing a little bit again,” he said. “I found a bunch of songs that are really meaningful to me at this point in my life and I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had some sort of [brand-new] product out there for people to take home.”
Catch the Sunshine singer at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on at 8pm Wed., April 11. $23.50; rsvp: 410-268-4545
Theodore Thimou is a freelance writer living in New York. His work has appeared in The Morning Call, The Tower Times and a variety of local publications. He last wrote for Bay Weekly on the Twice-Famous Don McLean (Vol. xiv, No 39: Sept. 28, 2006).