Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jesus and Johnny Cash (Sabakh)

In 1945 an Egyptian named Muhammad Ali, and three of his fellaheen partners, were riding their camels along the Upper Nile. They were in search of "sabakh," a natural fertilizer which accumulated near the river cliffs. In their search they discovered, and dug up, what became known as the "Nag Hammadi" codices, or the "Gnostic Gospels." These were the lost Gospels of Christ - written on papyrus leaves and buried in wine jars.
Muhammad's family used some of the texts for fire starter ( sacred poetry up in smoke!) before the rest were turned over to scholars. The Gospels contained many of the poetic utterances of Christ which were expunged from the "true Gospel" by four rather dreamy-eyed journalists, cum apostolic altar boys, named Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. These fellows shaped and edited Christ's words to foment an earthly church, and they disputed texts which urged folks to seek the Kingdom within. The Gospel of Saint Thomas (which I often quote) states: "everything you bring forth will save you….everything you do not bring forth will destroy you." Christ stated his kingdom was "not of this world." The apostle boys wanted an earthly kingdom with rules and "good guy - bad guy" moral logic. "My God is better than your God." Tribalism and insanity. Those lost texts, by comparison to King James, read like something from the mind of a poet or songwriter. A mystic. Poetry and song, in the end, is dangerous stuff.
Fast forward, brethren, to modern times where Christ's words are twisted by right wing talk show hosts and slick Jack TV evangelists with billion dollar glass churches and funny hair, who have profaned "the Word" about as profane as you can wish to profane it. If Christ comes again to cleanse these craven idolaters and money lenders from the Temple he'll need a mighty big bull whip. But I digress. ("Blog" comes from the Latin word "blogula": to digress.) What interests me is how we selectively corrupt the character of historical heavyweights and then twist our life and fate around false words and distorted characters. Then kill for it. Christian and Muslim and Jew alike. Based on our belief on a book or document that was edited and watered down by self seeking journalist choir boys. Lordy.
Okay, follow me brethren…. I'm having breakfast with Johnny Cash in Switzerland, and the people and family around the table won’t let him get a word in edgewise. He kept saying: "You talking about Me?" The Johnny Cash I talked with on several occasions was a big hearted, complicated human who bore no resemblance to the Hollywood version or the picture his friends and family now push into the DVDS which are more about "them" then Cash. Words are being jammed into his mouth. He's become the black-suited Christ. It's how we journalize great characters to suit OUR needs. Ditto Woody Guthrie the person….we live in a world of Reader's Digest versions of historical characters; versions which deny the heavier complexities of the human spirit. Which thus denies us the deeper truths of the hard and worthwhile human poetry. Life-saving poetry.
So there…you bastards! Our thoughts for today.
But what does all that have to do with those three fellaheen riding their camels across the black lands of the Upper Nile in search of fertilizer?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Desert Fronlines

Been hiding out in a Tucson studio concocting the new record of originals which will surface this Fall. Blood and Candlesmoke. Dylan's drummer from "Unplugged," and "Time Out of Mind," is here (Winston) as well as some of the Calexico guys and Barry Walsh, who works with Gretchen Peters, The Box Tops, and was with Waylon Jennings. Much Calexico stuff has come from this studio, as well as Neko Case, Kevin Ayers and….the Tucson sound. Think "desert industrial" and 100 vintage keyboards and guitars, lots of drums and feral instruments resonating against the stone walls here in downtown Tucson. Some of the songs are: "Guadalupe," "Crosses of San Carlos," "Nina Simone," "East of Woodstock-West of Viet Nam," "The Most Dangerous Woman in America"…and others. Gretchen will show up in a few days to lend her voice. Borderless folk rock with world intentions. The reaction to "One to the Heart, One to the Head" has been extremely strong. Lots of five star reviews and airplay already. It's available on www.tomrussell.com and the cover art is at Rainbow Man in Santa Fe.
www.yarddog.com also has my new Bob Dylan print and the paintings "Hamburger" and "Milkshakes."
In the last few weeks we've visited Elko Nevada for the Cowboy Gathering and performed a follow-up workshop with Ian Tyson. The DVD of last year is available on our web. Then on to a successful Texas tour with Thad Beckman on guitar - giving Michael Martin a breather for a month. Thad has several albums out and plays a vintage 1935 Gibson guitar….great player who amazed the folks.
Canada tour in a few weeks - then Denver and Salt Lake and on toward Scandinavia. But more songs to cut here with accordion and Palm Wine guitar. Twelve good songs and a cloud of dust.