Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Letter

There was a blizzard that night across New York State; went to the gig anyway. I believe it was The Turning Point in Piermont, New York. Sheets of ice covered the pot holes, and we bobsledded up the Palisades Parkway. Hydroplaning. 30 folks showed up. God bless the faithful. Must have been 15 years ago. I was living in a boarded up storefront in Brooklyn those seasons; the Bohemian life. Writing songs like “Hurricane Season” and “Chinatown in the Rain,” fueled by vodka and pizza slices. I came home from the blizzardy gig that night and there were a few wet letters on the snowy tile floor near the mail slot. One of them was marked “Bristol, England,” with blue ink scrawled on the hotel envelope. I opened up the letter and tried to read the scrawl. It was something about my song “Gallo del Cielo,” and how much this person admired it. I thought it was a fan letter, a nice one, and finally tossed it in the trash and passed out in a chair. Then something clawed at me in a dream about the signature on the note. I woke up and went through the trash again and read the letter. It was from Bruce Springsteen, on the road in England doing his solo shows. He was telling me Joe Ely had played him “Gallo del Cielo,” and Bruce had remarked “who in hell wrote that?!”…Bruce said he admired my writing and we’d “get together sometime.” It was a wonderful, warming moment for me when I was struggling, and this great and kind man took the time to send that note off. It kept me going for a few months. Later someone told Bruce was singing Peter Case’s and my song: “Beyond the Blues” at soundchecks. Bruce and I haven’t “gotten together” yet and it doesn’t matter…this is all by way of saying (in regard to the last blog) I would never take a “cheap shot” at Bruce. I admire him and have seen the proof how he can reach people. (I saw a live show in a huge soccer stadium in Sweden years ago…he reached me from 200 yards away.) I think his “Nebraska” is an American folk masterwork. My point was, last time, I’m am not interested in stars dueting with stars so much as a magic moment when an almost unknown cat like Jesse Winchester can turn around in a split second and still break your heart ...and that this carries a lot of spirit weight in this wasteland world. I can handle all the weird, silly feedback that Jesse is a “crooner” singing some idiotic nursery rhymes… and the cloying news I’m also taking shots against The Boss…but I don’t believe in cheap shots so much as the Ali Shuffle, the Rope a Dope, then the stinging lyrical jab and the Haymaker chorus right to the jaw….trust me…cheap shots are left for those who travel under assumed names... but I just wanted to set it straight and tell you about that letter. It meant a great deal to me… in this songwriting life.

11 comments:

AbnerMull99 said...

Stars dueting with stars...

Hmmm... You know what I'd pay to see? Tom Russell and Dave Alvin. On a train. On the California coast.

I think that might have a bit of the gutsy spark.

Charlene said...

Well. I'm not a writer, not much of a reader either. But I love to listen to music, the kind that tells a story. Just like the kind that Bruce and Tom write and sing.

I met a Christian man once. He thought Into the Fire was about going to Heaven. When I hear Touch of Evil I think of my life.

Just like the word "House", a single song can have 1000 different meanings to 1000 different people.

Mr. Russell doesn't need anyone to defend him, and I'm not trying to do that. But I've heard him in concert, read his posts, and listened to his music. I've never heard him take a cheap shot at anyone. In fact, what comes to mind are his Posts on Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan's Christmas Album, and Jesse Winchester. When so many people have stored this music away, Mr. Russell gives it a breath of fresh air and shines a new light on it.

If Mr. Springsteen and Mr. Russell ever meet each other, they be like Compadres. They'd be laughing with each other, not at each other.

editor said...

Thanks for clearing the air on that.

A little dustup now and then ain't a bad thing. I tend to come out with guns a-blazin in defense of the artists who have shaped my life. Including TR.

And lest anyone be concerned about "assumed names," comment #5 on the previous entry and this one were from google-account "editor" who is Jim Cornelius, Sisters, OR.


P.S. Abner: One of the best shows I've ever seen was Tom & Andrew with Dave and a crack acoustic group at a church in Pasadena, CA. Think it was 1997. I would have loved the Copper Canyon train, but not enuf dinero.

AbnerMull99 said...

See, that's the difference. Bono and Springsteen - that's primarily about the star power, the celebrity, the moolah, and I wouldn't pay money to see it. Alvin and Russell - that's primarily about the art, not that there isn't a monetary aspect to it, or an artistic aspect to the other pairing...

I think that's what the guy is trying to tell us, though he does (by his own admission - "Ali Shuffle, Rope a Dope") like to mess with your mind...

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tom,
It took me moving to New Zealand to finally really listen to Springsteen and understand how good he was, maybe he struck that chord of what I remember of America, much the same as discovering your music here as well. Finally found Blood and Candlesmoke up in a record store in Auckland, and listened to it 3 times with my 7 year old son on a 6 hour drive back home through the mountains and volcanos. Thanks Tom.
Cheers,
Robb

editor said...

Abner: you need to check out the Tom/Dave/Steve Young LA to Portland (and back) train. Lordy that would be something! Kings of California. www.rootsontherails.com.

Maybe I can catch the Portland show in April.

These train trips... they'd be worth every penny, but I just don't have the pennies. Nor the time off, to be honest.

Neil Crabtree said...

I'm happy to see this post, and to hear in its lines that great Tom Russell sense of humor. We're all dragged into this brave new world, but it's not much worse than the brave old world. We need to have a laugh and a smile and let all those poor scared people know, don't worry, gang. We can handle this. Get behind me.

連絡 said...

先為別人的快樂著想,是超人;先為自己的快樂著想,是凡人;使別人不快樂,自己也不快樂的,是笨人。..................................................

Saddle Tramp said...

To the previous commenter : Ni hao ...

" Ambiguity ...
begs for the benefit of a doubt "
-ST


Been 4 months sidetracked by love with my heart tied in a knot ... and me, a faithless wanderer at the mercy of the wind ...


-saddle tramp
Via: DFW Tank Cleaning - Waxahachie, TX

more said...

弱者等待時機,強者製造時機..............................

Sheila said...

Funny thing...I also took my life (and that of a great-music-loving friend) in my hands that night to hear Tom and Andrew at the Turning Point. We drove up from Edison, NJ in that snowstorm.

We left the Palisades Interstate Parkway in favor of 9W, as I thought the Parkway was a mess - what a mistake!

A valet for a deserted restaurant helped me scrape off my car, then told me I had to move it - the manager thought I might be in the way (of the zero customers that night!)

We parked in a snow drift, had a great night, I celebrated my (and Tom's) birthday by dancing with a very drunk Tom fan, then the same very drunk man (Thank you, Steve!) helped push my car out!!

I'm pretty sure that the year was 1996, and I think the date was March 7. Tom's b'day is the 5th.

Some time later, on a plane to Texas, I rewrote the words to "Road to Bayamon" to reflect that memorable evening.

Sheila Norton Petruska
South Park, PA