State Secrets

In 1987 the peripatetic Livingston moved to Coconut Grove. A year later he put 11 of his true stories -- including the Christmas song, the Julia Tuttle tune, and his tribute to armadillos -- on a cassette titled Florida Rain, which he hopes to release on CD soon. In 1996 he released the album The One That Got Away, featuring more tales of South Florida life. Among the characters percolating in his mind, waiting to have their stories told in music, is the slave-pirate Black Caesar. Livingston knows that, in the same casual way he fell into his current career, he will write the song eventually -- when he comes across the right mix of words and music.

These days Livingston is known among the folk crowd as Florida's historian in song, a title the basically lighthearted musician takes rather seriously. "You have an extra burden when you're writing historical songs, because you have to tell the truth," he says. "I can't say Henry Flagler was an airplane pilot because someone is going to say no. In one sense it makes your life easier because you have something to start with, and in another way it makes it harder because you have to convey facts. But there is something essentially more interesting about telling a true story. What I do has a lot to do with the words. If you're not listening to the words, you're not getting it. It's not just the sound. Sound is important, but words are primary.

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