Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Locusts Sang

"It was not a luxury for me to write, it was a necessity. These times are very difficult to write in because the slogans are really jamming the airwaves - it's something that goes beyond what has been called political correctness. It's a kind of tyranny of posture. Those ideas are swarming through the air like locusts. And it's difficult for a writer to determine what he really thinks about things. " Leonard Cohen


The novel appears to be dead. Dissolving like a rotting cadaver in the quick-lime of post modernist droning. Authors are boring. Thus their characters. The radio air waves are filled with posturing; swarming with locusts full of the poison and "the tyranny of posture." New folk. Bad folk. Weak folk. Poetry's coming back, after Bob Dylan virtually killed and overpowered it as a relevant genre in the 60's. Every hack college lit professor knew it was doomed back then. Poetry is coming back because of the huge gap out there; for anything resembling literature or lyrics or scribed emotion. The yen for something which imbues lyrical passion. We are a nation of old junkies going cold turkey on very bad drugs. Word drugs cut with borax, false bravado, and insincerity. Tattoed babble. Watered down love and greeting card rhymes. At least Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and Merle Haggard are playing to full houses and selling records. As the maestros should. People are hungry for anything vaguely real….but there are few new songs. No "new generation" of folk writers. As Kerouac said: "There is nothing new under the sun. All is vanity. Pass me the chalice, wifey, and there better be wine in it….."
I was leafing through two great books of letters: those of Martha Gellhorn, and another collection from William S. Burroughs. I realized there's not gonna BE anymore of these collections, because no one WRITES letters now. Just cryptic emails and cell phone messages. Slogans again. A nation of housewives in SUV's ranting on the cell phones as their drive toward nail appointments. The word "love" has become a slogan. The last good song I heard was probably: "I Don't Want To Go To Rehab," by Amy Winehouse. Dig it. Or maybe it was a John Trudell recitation called "Happy Fell Down." ("Love is blind; when it opens it's eyes it can disappear.") Or maybe it was Gretchen Peters' "This Used to Be My Town," inspired by a young girl who was abducted and raped. Jesus. And Nanci Griffith's new record is pretty damn good. Simple truths. Well told. With passion. Rolling Stone dismissed it with two stars. We don’t expect anything anymore. Running scared. My friend; London Observer journalist Peter Culshaw, stated, regarding journalism: …"the age of the drunken hack with a heart of gold buried under a cynical exterior is gone and the papers are run by terrified bureaucrats and guys who never leave their non-smoking, non-drinking offices where if you flirt with the secretary they haul you up for harassment..." Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Leibling and Hunter Thompson are rolling over in their graves. Little Stephen addressed the masses at South By Southwest music conference this year; told the audience that young musicians are not doing their homework, paying dues; not learning to write good songs. (My friend Alec asked me if I wrote the speech.) I'm sure 10,000 thumb-sucking networkers from around the world stood there and smiled; nervously fingering their access badges; twittering like parakeets at the Place of Dead Roads.
What's left, to cite Flannery O'Conner, is to "push hard against the age that pushes against you." And so, under the guise of taking out the trash at night, I sneak into my painting studio and blast out old Dylan and Ian and Sylvia records (like Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon before me.) I need that fix. Bad. And I paint Indians and plot new lyrical ways to push against this culture.
Well, hell, into all this great void; this fear driven mess; I toss my record. Blood and the Candle Smoke. 12 songs. Missives from this agave-choked wilderness. And I stand behind it. And you, dear reader? What can you do? Listen. Or not. Maybe buy two or three for your friends and get on the internet and invade a dozen chat sites and let 'em know. Call radio. Toss one off the Empire State building. Go out and create that internet tsunami…or don't. But I'll stand behind it. If you don’t think the record is 100% there for you or honest or "good," or if there's any false passion or bad lines, then bring it to a gig and I'll trade you two different cds back for it. Or give you 20 bucks. That's what I can guarantee you within the so-called music culture of today. It's all I have at present. I believe in this record, and I don't believe in much else.
And now it's time to shut up and tour. I hope the carnival is coming to your town…all the dates are up, and the ponies are being saddled. Amen.

"Words lead to deeds…they prepare the soul,
Make it ready, and move it to tenderness."
St Theresa

To order the record: http://www.villagerecords.com/product_info.php?products_id=5902
Tour dates: www.tomrussell.com

15 comments:

Saddle Tramp said...

WISE BLOOD

" I've got wise blood in me ... I'm not sayin I'm a prophet or anything ... " I paraphrase here from memory.

Having just last week, watched a DVD of John Huston's geat adaptatation of Flannery O'Connor's first novel " Wise Blood " your quoting her in empathy to your anachronistic conflicts doubles the impact of your post for me. I also listened to the rare archival recording of her reading her short story " A Good Man Is Hard To Find ". This reiterates
our current malaise in the National media. I do not watch tv. Do not own one. No room for it. DVD's on a MacBook only. However, I did stop at Willie's Place in Carl's Corner, Texas for a shower and lunch this afternoon. Love Willie Nelson and his satellite radio show. Dallas Wayne was live
on the air doing the radio show when I was there. Even though I would hands down, take this over most any other truck stop, I do have to say it has more of a theme park feel to it. No patina. No sawdust on the floor. no blood stains. Carl's old place has been buried. Ray Price is playing there on the 24th. George Jones is stopping by
tomorrow to visit with Bill Mack. No complaint on the bookings for sure. A great and intimate theatre setting as well. The Honky Tonk days are behind them though ...

Back to the tv ... I saw Glenn Beck for the first time on the big screen tv in the Blue Skies Restaurant while having lunch. A Rush Limbaugh clone I assume. One of the
plagues upon us like Locusts ...
Leonard and Tom, I know what you mean.

A friend of mine posed a question to me in 1974 asking me if Dylan Thomas were alive today would he be in a rock
band ?

There is more than enough great songs, great literature, poetry and art and sources of truth from the past to get us where we need to go. What is lacking more and more are
those taking us on the path to discover it and worse than that are those who are pulling down the sign posts. Your
twelve songs put a few more signs back up and every generation has it's good wine so says a good book ...
As for me I am [ Shifting ] through the madness, driving the line and looking for the way. Keep putting up the signs Tom. GPS ain't gonna get us there ...

saddle tramp

Via: A roadside picnic area on U.S. Hwy 77 just south of
Schulenburg, Texas loading Friday and headin' west ...

WEB SHERIFF said...

WEB SHERIFF
Protecting Your Rights on the Internet
Tel 44-(0)208-323 8013
Fax 44-(0)208-323 8080
websheriff@websheriff.com
www.websheriff.com

Hi Tom,

On behalf of Exile Productions, Exile Publishing, Exile Films and Lion Records, many thanks for plugging Van Morrison and, if you / your readers would like good quality, non-pirated previews from Van's latest album and DVD - "Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl" - then footage of “Sweet Thing” from the Hollywood Bowl is available for fans to view and link to (ONLY please – not for embedding) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BYvoH2_XuA. Up-to-the-minute news on the “Astral Weeks Live” album and film releases and Van’s 2009 shows is, of course, available on www.vanmorrison.com and www.myspace.com/vanmorrison. An increasing archive of exclusive film footage of Van Morrison performances is also available for fans and YouTubers on Exile’s official channel at http://uk.youtube.com/user/OfficialExileFilms ... .. and keep an eye on these official sources for details of further preview material and on-line promotions.

Thanks again for your plug.

Regards,

WEB SHERIFF

Neil Crabtree said...

The novel is dead comment makes me cringe. There are still very good writers out there, but getting new voices through the NYC publishing monopoly is harder now than ever before. It does seem like my favorite novel writers are dead, like David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolano and William Gaddis. Of the living, Denis Johnson seems to be able to say what needs to be said. Read Angels, then Tree of Smoke. Two novels 20 years apart, with the same characters that inhabit your songs.

Looking forward to the new album. Ordering it from Village Records today. And it's time to let everyone know about the Letterman appearance Oct 1. Kick ass on tour.

Neil Crabtree said...

I forgot. Australian Tim Winton is as good as anyone has ever been (Read Dirt Music, The Riders, Cloudstreet). And John Dufresne's last two books, the novel Requiem, MASS. and the stories in Johnny Too Bad make you glad you've got a book to read.

Tom said...

I second the shout-out to Tim Winton and add his recent novel, "Breath." At the same time I sympathize with the feeling that long-form fiction is under some kind of, possibly terminal, siege.

editor said...

I'm usually as cranky as TR on these matters, but — contrarian that I am — I have to throw in a countering viewpoint.

This is too bleak. I agree that there's a lot of lazy songwriters out there who don't do their homework, who settle for something less than digging into the heart of the matter — and whose craft is wanting.

But there are a lot of (relatively) young artists out there who are doing damn good work. Several of them be at the Sisters Folk Festival this weekend (where TR has played thrice and will again one day):

Susan Werner. Danny Schmidt. There's also Jonathan Byrd.

It's not all darkness out there.

The novel may be dead — but who cares? How many great novels have there really been? There are other, better forms of story. God willing, maybe the short story will make a comeback. There is more story in 5 minutes of The Sky Above, The Mud Below than there is in most novels.

You want good story, check out some graphic novels — Scalped; Criminal. Real deal noir shit. Written to the soundtrack of "Nebraska.

Enough for now. Just getting warmed up.

editor said...

Heard East of Woodstock on XM/Sirrius yesterday. Love the sound. It's a departure, but an organic sort of one (not a tip-over-the-table-to-hear-the sound-of-the crash kind of departure.

Having heard several of the songs and this production, I am really looking forward to the CD.

Jan Kristoffer Dale said...

Tom.

I doubt the carnival is coming to my town, but I can see that you'll be touring Norway pretty hard next year (seven dates or so). I'll try to be at least two or three of them. As far as the American novel go, I think there are alot of great writers out there still. Filmmakers and musicians too. I didn't grow up in the 60s, I grew up in the 90s, but I've spendt most of my life living in the past. That might not be healthy, but that's the way it is. Dylan changed my life, turned it upside down when I was 14. I was already a huge Johnny Cash fan at that time, so I'm not going to give Bob all the credit though. There was something about Johnny singing, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" that was ten times more badass, cold blooded, cool and honest as the fucking rap songs my friends listend to at that time. I've spendt all my life searching for those raw emotions. I never cared much for my own generation when I started listening to music. It didn't seem important then. I stole my dad's old records and I watched old movies. I loved and still love Peckinpah's savage poetry, Altman's weird melancholy and I got lost in those John Ford epics. I fell in love with those rugged men. Lee Marvin in "Monte Walsh"...man. Warren Oates in "Cockfigher" and "Bring me The Head of Alfredo Garcia", Robert Mitchum in "Night of The Hunter" and "Thunder Road"...Warren Beatty in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller". I wonder what happend to men like that?

I read Steinbeck, Faulkner, Greene, O'Conner, Kerouac. I listend to the folk singers, the blues singers. Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, Eric Anderson, Utah Phillips, Woody Guthrie, Missisippi John Hurt and Lightnin' Hoppkins. American poets, storytellers crazy truthtellers. Things have changed. Dylan used to pop music for fucks sake. I wouldn't listen to contemporary pop music even if somebody shoved a shotgun barrel into my mouth. Hell, it's understandable that my generation might seem doomed. Maybe we're nothing more than zombified mall-rats, a bunch of Soulless, ballless, braindead MTV kids with silver spoons jammed up our collective asses. Belive me, there's some truth to that. Still, I hear real voices out there. Willy Vlautin from Richmond Fontaine. He has been putting out great albums for many years now. He recorded a record three years ago at wavelab too. Called "13 Cities". He has also written two novels called "The Motel Life" and "Northline". I love them both. His voice is his own but I would compare him to Larry Brown and Raymond Carver. I think Larry Brown is the finest American writer since... hell, who knows. He died of a heart attack in 2004, he was 53. "Father & Son", "Joe" and his latest "A Miracle of Catfish" are all classics in my book. I can't think of a writer that has moved me more. Brown is not a part of my generation though, he was born in 1951 and he released his first novel in 1989. Harry Crews is another fine writer, he writes sleazy, laugh out loud funny southern stories about redemption and madness. "Feast of Snakes" is a fine novel. I also read and love William Gay, Dennis Johnson , Ron Rash, Tim Gautreaux, James Carlos Blake, Cormac McCarthy and yes, Willy Vlautin (he also reminds me of Leonard Gardner, at least his book "Fat City").

I'm also interested to know about Calexico. Did you discuss "new song"/"new folk" with Joey Burns? I'm a huge fan of Calexico and I consider them to be honest about what they do. Another young songwriter I admire is Richard Buckner. "Bloomed", "Since" and "Devotion & Doubt" are strong albums.

Enough of this shit. Sorry for rambling on for so long. I can't wait to get my hands on your new album Tom. If it lives up to the hype it might be too much for me to handle.

Peace!
JK

abnermull99 said...

To Durango (via old Route 666)!

Saddle Tramp said...

Give 'em the devil up there Abner ...
I know you've got it in ya ...


saddle tramp

Via: St Louis town; gateway to the west and I'm headin' east listening to Hillbilly Jim's show and Johnny Paycheck singin' " Drinkin' and Drivin' ". Not adviseable ...
Breaker breaket ...

Saddle Tramp said...

That would be :

Breaker breaker ...

And I saw a pale horse ... and hell followed.
Watch yourself Abner ...

Drinkin' and ridin' is ok ... if you are on a train

Johnny Cash sang his warning this morning about " When The Man comes around " . Better safe than sorry ...

abnermull99 said...

Part of the road I traveled was a section of The Trail of the Ancients. They let me pass.

Awesome show. Got me a signed copy of the new CD.

Kasey Anderson said...

when not writing songs, i write about other people's songs. my brief review of blood and candle smoke is here:

http://ninebullets.net/archives/tom-russell-blood-and-candle-smoke

Nagrom said...

“No "new generation" of folk writers. “
With all due respect, Mr. Russell, I call BS.
With acts like Josh Ritter and Jack Johnson out there, folk is alive and well... It's just not what it used to be, but such is the way of new generations.
The energy, angst, culture of the new generation requires different approach, new voice. While the folk of the past remains relevant to my generation (I'm just shy of 24), just as roots folk did to Guthrie and Dylan, the need for new voices – Our voices – exists. Each generation contributes to the next, and the end is a whole – Don't lose sight of that whole because the voice is shifting.
Folk is alive with people like Ritter and Johnson, Nick Cave, Mary Gauthier – And it still slips into other genres, I've got a mix of Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer on my sound system right now, and I'm hearing it. It's all there.
I'm glad to see you mention Amy Winehouse, train-wreck that she is, that song is golden. Not folk, not even for my generation, but it's another new voice becoming part of the whole all the same.

The same is true for the novel too... I'm quite sure.
I'm of course catching up at this point, just put down Norm Maclean and Larry McMurtry, and my desk is covered in Cormac McCarthy (He's an old voice now, but still put out a new novel for the now – The Road) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the narrative voice in American is far from dead, even far from stale.
Some of us are still banging away on the novel, the real novel. But not to the exclusion of working with what works right now – Short fiction is alive, and may be more of a realm of truth, now, than the mainstream novel. I just had a wonderful experience with a small-journal (web based) editor and bringing one of my stories to publication – It was refreshing, and hopeful for the state of fiction in America.

Journalism I'll give you. I am pretty much convinced that it is dead. Even what is good now, doesn't compare to what was good once upon a time. I have my folks life-time of magazines and newspapers to compare to, I grew up reading them as they were at ground level in baskets and boxes around the house where I could reach when still small. The media is so far off track and have fallen so far below any real standard that it would be laughable, if it wasn't so tragic.

You aren't wrong though. We've got our work cut out for us. You're doing your part, and it's by-god appreciated. Keep it up

Annie said...

Cormac McCarthy is still alive and well, last I checked. Read every single one of his novels and tell me again that the novel is dead.

Nothing is dead. Everything is constantly new, changing, evolving. To claim otherwise is to die with the past. To claim otherwise is to die in fear of being surpassed by something greater. To claim otherwise is to close your eyes to the genius born in each new day. Shame on you for not noticing.