Monday, December 29, 2008


He used to send me messages in the middle of the night. Emails. Both of us couldn't sleep. I didn’t sleep much for a year back then, and Mickey was dying. He'd talk to me about my record, "The Man From God Knows Where," and what it meant to him. I'd tell him how much I loved his songs. He was the master of the middle tempo ballad. "San Francisco Mabel Joy," and "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye." ("Baby's packed her soft things and she's leavin'…..") Killer songs and sentiments. A lot of rain between the grooves. You can trot out words like "deep" and "dark" and "chilling," but they're cheap little tools to describe great songs. We shouldn't try. We should listen. There was a newer one that I'd play over and over: "Nights When I Am Sane." ("My moments of insanity are never like a chain, I only know I am not free, the nights when I am sane….") Man, I hear that. I'm right with that. And then the killer, final nail in the coffin: "I'm just one man, Lord, sometimes I wish I were three…. I'd take a forty-four pistol to me… Put one in my brain, for her memory, and one more in my heart…then I would be free.") Few of us would have the guts to write like that. Love and insanity and what it does to people. Us people. Us.
No, I never met Mickey Newbury in person, but we passed a few lines back and forth in the middle of the night. When we both couldn’t sleep. After he passed away, his daughter wrote and told me that Mickey had kept "The Man From God Knows Where" by his bedside up there in Oregon. That meant more to me than ever shaking his hand. I'll keep "Nights When I am Sane" close to the bed. I'll think of Mickey on those long winter nights when sleep doesn’t come easy, and the wind pushes the mesquite trees against the windows. It's just Mickey sending me a line or two. ("What will I do, in the dead of the night....when she turns out the lights..." Mickey Newbury)


Phil said...

Thanks Tom........rekindled my memories of Mickey, I love those lyrics as much as I love them old songs........


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tom,
Cheers for the heads up. My collection now contains Mickey as well.


RSR said...

Tom, Mickey loved "The Man From...," and your other CDs. He did one song, "Hot Nights In Mexico" (unreleased)that I think was influenced by your Borderland CD. Do you have Winter Winds, which is the Nights concert transformed to a studio CD with a violin, cello and bass added? Do you have Mickey's DVD from the Nights concert? Let me know. You have my address in Michigan. Bob

editor said...

The guts to write like that...

Nothing takes you closer to the bone than long nights, no sleep. You have to face yourself then and it ain't pretty; it ain't easy.

TR, you've been present for some of my 3 a.m. wrestling matches with the devil. What you bring forth will save you; that which you do not bring forth will destroy you.

Here's to Mickey Newbury, Tom Russell, the Gospel of St. Thomas and the thin veil between sanity and madness at 3 a.m.

Here's to art and the guts to write like that.

Saddle Tramp said...

[ What it takes to deliver the goods ]

TR . . . Yes, words can never describe a song or what would we need them for. I will say this. In the opinions of the songwriters I respect most there is no one who can do it deeper, darker or more chilling than Mickey. You illustrated that as good as it can be done. I for one am thankful that you have not abandoned your blog and still bring forth the background to what you do. Your timing is uncanny as well. Just three days ago I wrote down the
following after encountering snow storm after snowstorm.
" What is this lonliness blowing through me . . .
Like a night's winds howl "

This came from a trip from Pittsville, Wisconsin to Walla Walla, Washington. A night spent in Beach, North Dakota with the wind blowing so hard it rocked the tractor and trailer. Chaining up from Missoula, Montana all the way to Walla Walla. Going over Lookout Pass at four in the morning. Camping out in Walla Walla at 1164 Dell Ave.
within sight of those cold, cold and forboding walls of the Walla Walla Pen. Slogging my way to Portland and back to Hood River in a blinding blizzard. Having to be pulled up the hill to load at Hood River Juice. That same hill was
closed when coming back after being loaded. Pulling a smooth bore ( no baffles ) food grade tanker is like an elephant on roller skates or like riding an 80,000 pound bull down the mountain. You go one way, the load goes the other. Had to take the long and winding alternate route. Two more feet of snow was coming that night. It took 5
hours to go 60 miles from Hood River to Portland. 55 mph winds were ripping eastward down through The Columbia River Gorge. Whiteout conditions. I-84 got closed down just behind me.Chains off at Eugene, Oregon but back on at Medford, Oregon. Crawled over the Siskous and high winds all the way to the Grapevine in California. Delv'd in L. A. and reloaded in Tipton Christmas morning. Dust and
tumbleweeds blowing out of Barstow. Winter blizzard from Kingman, Arizona on past Flagstaff. Signs blown over. Cars flipped over. I encountered lightning, rain, ice and snow all within a few miles space. It took three truckstops for me to get fuel, as the Kingman Petro was blacked out as well as the Belemont Pilot. Little America in Flagstaff
was open. Just after fueling and leaving the fuel island there was a flash and their power went out. I made all my deliveries on time.

" Freedom like it's two lovers ; truth and beauty are relative terms at best. Free to choose? Maybe . . .
but still, no guarantee rides with it ". -ST

That said, we know it when we have it, see it or find it. Like a song or a painting. It just is.

Yes, I know lonliness and and I know a pawnbroken love
with nowhere else to go. I also know that you cam argue with man until the lights go out . . .
but with nature never.

The Man From God Knows Where . . .

-ST Patching my bones in Madison, Wisconsin at the Barnes & Noble " A " store where you can still find a few Tom Russell cd's. This B&N is in my top 3 in the country and I have been at a bunch of them. Baton Rouge is another. Never stopped in El Paso, but could see it from
I-10. Don't know if it has a music department or not. Very few of the "A" stores around. Sorry Tom, downloading just don't work for me and trust me I am not a Luddite

Anonymous said...

If you can track down a copy of the Big Sur Festival (One Hand Clapping) LP (never released on CD as far as I can tell), there's a couple of nice live performances by Mickey Newbury. San Francisco Mabel Joy with Joan Baez singing harmony, and The Thirty-third of August. There's something really magical about that album...

Henry said...

Thank you for writing this. I had a different, but somewhat the same relationship with Mick. i wrote a review once that he liked and we talked on the phone. Never met him, but we talked and he talked alot to my late girlfriend who didnt even know who he was, just somebody that I had loved my whole life and they were both dying and they would talk and laugh for a long time and then I would get on and Mick would help me with my fledgling writing. I loved him dearly... Hank Beukema, NY

Susan said...

Saddle Tramp... how do you guys do that? Mickey used to wonder, and said many times that the one thing that would put this country on its knees would be a good trucking strike. He wasn't sure we'd miss song writers.

Tom he thought your writing was brilliant, and listened to you many times in that last year. Your music helped. Thanks.

Susan Newbury

The Hunsaker's said...

It was wonderful talking with you after dad passed away, Tom. One day I'd love to sit down with you... if even just for a moment.

Mickey's Daughter,

Laura Shayne

Saddle Tramp said...

OSusan . . . I am honored to receive your mention along with the company of one such as Tom Russell. Especially since Tom is the one paying the bills here and I being the interloper. Regarding the " How " it is more of a matter of endurance matched with all the luck you can get. The
" Why " takes a million miles plus of road to understand. It's not a job it's a lifestyle. A religion to some. As for me this will sum it up:




Only memories and the future

As for me I am only a toothpick in a log jam. Without the
great singer / songwriters like Mickey and TR I would be like a sail without wind. It is the songs that move me along.
Thank you Susan . . .

-ST Via Shamrock, Texas. en route to California on The New Mother Road.