April 18, 2013

Hermit joins other legends in folk song spotlight

After the Hermit's capture, local songwriter Stan Keach rushed to make a music video about his neighbor.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

ROME – For some people, including a local folk songwriter, the mysterious figure dubbed the North Pond Hermit continues to be more myth than man.

click image to enlarge

Musician Stan Keach, of Rome, has recorded a song titled "We Don't Know the North Pond Hermit" shortly after Chris Knight, 47, was arrested after a 27-year period of solitude in the woods.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Lyrics excerpted from "We Don't Know the North Pond Hermit":

Nobody ever saw him cause he only moved at night.

He knew how to hide his tracks and stay down out of sight,

His campsite hidden well beneath a canopy of trees.

They say he committed a thousand burglaries.


You and I don't know what the North Pond Hermit knows,

What it's like to be alone when a decade comes and goes,

When the ice storm rages and the frozen north wind blows.

We don't know what the North Pond Hermit knows.

For others, including some of those he stole from, he is just another burglar who deserves punishment for his crimes.

In the long term, Christopher Knight, 47, who was arrested this month after spending 27 years alone in the woods, will likely be remembered as a legend, even if the actual facts detract from that image, according to novelist Pat O'Donnell, who directs the creative writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Rome songwriter Stan Keach will be part of that legacy. He lives just up the road from where Knight's camp was discovered, although he's never been victimized by Knight, who reportedly committed more than 1,000 burglaries, often to steal food.

But when the story of Knight's remarkable lifestyle broke, Keach rushed to write and produce a music video, "We Don't Know the North Pond Hermit."

After a single sleepless night of frantic writing, Keach said, he got together with fellow musician "Barefoot" Dan Simon to record and perform the piece.

The resulting video, which drew more than a thousand views during a recent 24-hour period on the video hosting site YouTube, is firmly rooted in the American folk music tradition, with a catch beat and clear vocals that remind the viewer "we don't know what the North Pond Hermit knows."

The lyrics celebrate the more romantic elements of Knight's lifestyle, saying at one point that "he just took what he needed to survive and nothing more."

Keach, who retired from a career as a teacher at Maranacook Community High School in nearby Readfield about a year and a half ago, now plays music at local venues, with his next appearance scheduled at the Mount Vernon Community Center on April 27.

Keach said Knight's story was perfect fodder for a song.

"The mystery of it is what captured me," Keach said. Whether Knight is an expert at survival or not, he said, "the one thing that we do know is that we don't know."

For Keach, Knight is the latest strand in a tapestry of legendary historical figures and events that, together, help add a veneer of magic to Maine's sense of place.

He has also written songs about Donn Fendler, who became famous at the age of 12 in 1939 after wandering through the Maine woods for nine days; the outlaws of the Brady Gang, who engaged in a spectacular gunfight with the FBI in downtown Bangor in 1937; and Maine's iconic retailer, L.L. Bean, among others.

Keach said Knight's story will join the canon of local legends that are "distinctively Maine."

The song's final line, "We're losing touch with nature and we don't know how it flows," touches on the universal appeal of Knight's story, according to O'Donnell, the English professor.

O'Donnell said that, for all of us, there is an urge to turn Knight's time in the woods into a fantasy life that has become even more popular with the saturation of digital media in our lives.

"As, more and more, we are drawn into the digital world and the world of the screen, TV, movies, computers, iBooks, iPhones, we kind of long for this romantic idea of, not only going camping or going out into nature for a few days, but actually throwing everything aside and becoming one with nature."

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