Our lives are journeys of purpose.
Singer/Songwriter John Stewart’s lifelong pursuit was to discover what constituted the American Spirit and reach into its inner recesses through his songs, mining its hopes and dreams to share with others. He did this by building his body of work from the inspiration of author John Steinbeck, painters Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Senator Robert Kennedy and, very early on, Elvis Presley. Stewart chronicled America and her people in his songs, writings, sketches, and performances for fifty years—from 1958 when he formed the folk group, The Cumberland Three; 1961 when he became a member of The Kingston Trio; and beginning in 1968, his solo career.
Although Stewart recorded forty albums of his own starting in 1969, it looked as though he would never replicate the success of The Monkees’ 1967 hit recording of his song, “Daydream Believer.” Changing record companies, recording live albums, and writing many songs that were the caliber of “Daydream Believer” could not make John Stewart a household name no matter what he did. When Anne Murray had a second hit recording of “Daydream Believer” in 1980 Stewart’s fortunes had finally changed the previous year when his own recording of his song, “Gold” came out and reached number five on the pop charts. But fame was fleeting and by the time Murray’s recording hit the charts, Stewart was forced to examine the popularity he had been chasing for decades.
Sitting in his home in Malibu in 1987 and looking out over the ocean he started to write a song about his house falling into the sea, when a much more traumatic global image appeared to him. He began to write a song about those whose frivolous concerns block their view of others in the world just trying to survive. From this point on Stewart’s songs were intimate expressions of his life and the culture in which he lived. When Boyzone recorded “Daydream Believer” in 1994, John Stewart was at the height of his songwriting and performing career, but his voice had already begun to reveal that his health was in decline. By the time Susan Boyle released her wistful version of the song in 2009, Stewart had passed away the previous year.
As his health began to deteriorate, Stewart knew his life would not be long and he looked back on it as a young man full of hope and promise of the American Dream. He had once helped carry the torch for Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign by singing at whistle-stops along the route, but now he wrote songs from the perspective of a wiser and older man who knew what really mattered. In the process of discovering the American Spirit in others over his songwriting career, in the end, John Stewart found it in himself.