Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Series of Dreams # 4 - "Criminology"

Well the devil rides a cubist horse
The devil he's got angles
But God is an expressionist
He's got the devil strangled……

When Pablo Picasso died I was working the lumber camp bars of Prince George, British Columbia. We had a rock and roll cover band called "Fathead" (when we worked country bars we were known as "The Mule Train." Skid Row's Finest Band!) I played piano for "Fathead" and we sang Rolling Stones and Kinks songs whilst the off duty lumberjacks tried to kill each other. I recall one guy knocking out another guy and then, when the ambulance was taking the poor bastard away, the protagonist who'd kicked him chased the sirens down the street, on foot, and opened the back door of the ambulance and climbed in and started clobbering the guy again. Just another winter's evening in a mill town. Rage and rock n roll. Catharsis. Boredom. Oblivion.
So, the night Picasso died the news came over the TV in the funky little broken down motel where we were living. At the very moment when Picasso's face flashed across the screen, five drunken Indian gals in the next room began to howl and keen and cry. For Picasso, I guess. Oh, the wonders of the primitive universe! There was must have been a deep, mystical link between what and who Picasso was and these drunken Native women in a frozen lumber town. (Picasso once said: "My mother wanted me to study medicine and become a famous surgeon. But I studied art and became Picasso!")
From Prince George we traveled to Prince Rupert, as the violence and drinking escalated. A desk clerk in a fleabag hotel in "Apache Pass" shoved a gun barrel against my face one night and slurred: "How you like it now, white boy? How's your blue-eyed boy now, Mr. Death?" Later I realized he was quoting E.E. Cummings.
Cummings? Picasso? Well that's the way it was. I was amused and interested in these little violent, character-building vignettes, because I had been educated as a Criminologist. Got my Masters degree, but never told anyone in the music biz. But in those honkytonks and skid row hotels I was experiencing the real subject matter - up close and very personal, without having to hang out with the boring and soulless academic tribe. And so, dear reader, the song "Criminology" carries on where "East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam" was headed….basically cataloguing the many times I've had a gun pointed at me with mal intent or bad love. Oh, there were a few other instances….but time and rhyme got the best of me. I've done my criminology homework in the backstreet hotel rooms and skid row bars…pursuing Dylan Thomas' Adventures in the Skin Trade. Your reporter, signing off,from the outskirts of Juarez. The final frontier.
(This is song blog #4 in a row of 12 off the coming album: "Blood and Candle Smoke")


Greg said...

This blog about the new album is wonderful stuff. Like reading the liner notes of the 33 I just bought while riding the bus home in high school.

Prince George early 70's ... reminds me of Fort McMurray, Alberta and the early oil sands work; the Peter Pond hotel in 1977. Same jack knifed faux leather benches, same swill for beer, same boys fighting over the next song. Timeless frontiers.

So looking forward to this new record.

cheers, Greg

William said...

Why is it that terror, wonder and humor so often come hand-in-hand?

Tom, this entry reminds me that I'd like to hear your thoughts on the connections between criminology and songwriting. Heck, I'd even drive from Tucson and buy the rounds to hear that story!

Natives do have a flair for straightforward eloquence!


Carolyn said...

I was born and raised in El Paso, Juarez was my back yard. I'm coming back in June for my Mom's 90th birthday, she still works full time at UTEP. I asked her to write down the names of those Juarez bars where we'd go, my dad always bought us gardenias, and let me sip his beer. I love your music, and the poetry of your stories. See you in Durango in September. Carolyn

Jeremy said...

Hey Tom I saw you in Vancouver in the spring. I had brought out a buddy who just joined the RCMP a "mountie" whom I met while he studied Criminology at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University (I took communications). Anyway the song hit home for him as did the set and he immediately became a Tom Russell fan...poor bastard.

We recently made a jaunt down to Seattle to the Tractor Tavern to catch another folk show (The Felice Brothers) and were listening to you in the car. He mentioned that it was hard to feel sorry for some of the people that he encounters in his work. As we listened to Blue Wing I tried to remind him to think about the stories behind every face... So I guess in a way you still are a criminologist.

Keep it up brother you inspire us.

Avram Mirsky said...


Best record I've heard in a long long time, and "Criminology" is my favorite tune, even amongst all the other diamonds.