Sunday, March 14, 2010

Old Harmonica Boxes

We were kids. Aged 12 or 14 or so, with and older friend named Eddie who was 16 and could drive a car. We were in the park lot, back of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, maybe 1962, talking to Bob Dylan. Dylan had just finished a concert to a half-filled auditorium; he’d recorded two LP records and was in his Charlie Chaplin phase of performing. Funny. Off the wall. Forming the early chapters of a deep catalogue. Hell, we were kids who grew up listening to our parents Harry Belafonte “Calypso” records. This Bob Dylan was our James-Joycean dream-ticket out of the suburbs. I didn’t tell the other kids that I’d decided that’s what I wanted to be. What this guy did with words and music. THAT thing.
There he was, sitting in a Ford station wagon, waiting for his road manager to come back with the money. Our friend Eddie had an empty harmonica box and he handed it to Dylan to sign. Then Bob Dylan looked at me and said: “Heh, kid, where’s the nearest liquor store?” I told Bob Dylan I was too young to drink. I didn’t know where the nearest liquor store was, or where the chicks hung out, or where the weed was stashed, or any of that good stuff. I was a Catholic school kid with braces and bad eyes. A day-dreamer; sand castle-builder. But maybe Bob was speaking in code and inviting me along on his song journey. “Heh, you…kid! Let’s go…”
The road manager appeared and they took off down the road. We took off after them; Eddie had the pedal to the metal. Following Bob Dylan into history. Or something. They saw we were behind them and pulled over. We pulled over too. Dylan jumped out, laughing and dancing around our car; like a drunken Whirling Dervish. Then he jumped back in his car and they vanished into the Big Time. I thought it was all a dream; but I guess it happened. Hell, I shook hands with Jack Kennedy once and saw the Dali Lama; but this was better. Dylan travelled his high road; I struggled on, until I had the guts to begin writing songs. And the seasons whirled round and round; the circles closed.
Almost fifty years later somebody handed me the new Clarence Clemmons book (Springsteen’s Sax Player) called “Big Man.” Clarence mentions a song I wrote with with Dave Alvin, “Haley’s Comet;” Springsteen says: “Man I wished I’d written that…” Deeper into the book there’s a dream sequence where Bob Dylan is telling Kinky Freidman: “Joe (Ely) did a hell of a song tonight about a rooster…a Tom Russell song…it’s good. It’s called ‘Gallo del Cielo,’…and I’m hard to impress.” I don’t know if that transpired. It’s in there, though. It takes me back to when he asked me where that liquor store was…that secret code urging me to get started. Songwriting…and now I’m wondering if Eddie still has that old harmonica box.

15 comments:

Abner Mull said...

'62... Was that the year it snowed?

No Dylan stories here, I was just a kid in '62. My dad was a newspaper man, working for the LA Mirror. It folded in '62. Then the New York Times was going to start a western edition. He was the first one hired. But it folded almost before it got started... Not too long later, we left LA for greener pastures.

But we had that Harry Belafonte record, along with Richard Dyer-Bennet and Odetta. I remember asking when I first heard the Richard Dyer-Bennet record, "Is that a man or a lady?" and the same with Odetta. Then I used to show those recors to people and say "here's a man that sings like a lady and here's a lady that sings like a man!"

It wasn't until I was in college that I could really appreciate Dylan. Certainly had heard some of his songs done by other artists: The Byrds, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, ... But that voice of his gave me a headache whenever I tried to listen to him sing his own songs and it took me a long time to get past that...

Now, hey, I'm on the train. Headed back to LA for the first time in a zillion years. I wonder if any of it will look familiar to me? I've heard it doesn't hurt to breathe there like it did back then...

mateo said...

Wax nostalgia, take a hard look at where you came from and what got you here. And, where your going. Pat on the back, (approval of man) it justifies, it can motivate. But, in the end its about the muse. Way bigger than personalities and opinions.

What you have spent your time doing will last. Mainstream or not. May the Lord keep his hand on you, and you keep doing what you do best. The song.

I Witness said...

I've been enjoying these dream posts and revisiting much of Tom's recorded work lately. I bought Dylan's first LP right after it was released ("Song to Woody" was getting airplay in Chicago); then sought out his second the day it was issued--in Seattle by then, and I got one of the rare mistaken versions that were recalled! Anyway, my review of several Russell CDs can be found at www.mrebks.blogspot.com if anyone cares to sample. Thanks, Tom, for enhancing my listening and life, Ed Leimbacher (Forever a ragged pilgrim, I'm still and always in need of hope.)

Cowtown Pattie said...

What a terrific story!

I found your blog via a link from Peter Tibbles who is a guest blogger at Time Goes By

Not sure which I love better - your music or your blog; equally impressive.

GR Simmons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GR Simmons said...

Very cool Tom - reminds me of something Peter Case said at a gig one time..."Back then, everything was different and you only saw it once; now, everything's the same and you see it over and over again".

...looking forward to your sold out Edmonton show

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Honkytonk Bill said...

Tom, you will remember me as the piano player at a restaurant in Durango where you and your wife ate breakfast the morning after your performance. You mentioned two things in your blog that rang true with me.....one was the Santa Monica Civic. I saw one of the first concerts of my life there in 1976. I saw Jimmy Buffett with an opening by The Amazing Rhythm Aces. Emmylou Harris sat in with Jimmy on a version of "Defying Gravity". The other thing was your mention of the Belafonte calypso albums. I think it was Harry's first album with a pink background and he on the cover in a turquoise shirt. That was the second album I owned and I played it hundreds of times. Thanks for the memories....

I Witness said...

Inspired by Tom and Gretchen and a couple of books on the Great Depression (brought back by Repub request), I have today posted a chapter at www.mrebks.blogspot.com that might be of interest to fans of Tom and Steve Earle and other progressives of music and thought. Gracias.

欣盈 said...

pleasure to find such a good artical! please keep update!! ........................................

Saddle Tramp said...

" Other Voices, Other Rooms "

And the reverse is also true ...

Entered into and heard voices at around 10 yrs old and have been listening ever since. I was quoting the name of a Nanci Griffin album inspired by the title of that little book.
As I was beginning to make this comment and was already decided on the content, what came over the speaker system here at McDonald's in Flatonia, TX was Nanci singing " Outbound Plane ". God's truth Tom ...
I'll take it where I find it ... Divine magic.

-saddle tramp
Via: A little FURTHER down the road in the middle of eternity ... Always halfway there ...

郭美娟 said...

想跟你說一聲加油,祝福大家每天開心........................................

KY Warrior Librarian said...

Great story Tom. I love reading your blog, and have been greatly enjoying catching up with your music as well.

上宜俊宇芳心 said...

婚姻對男人來說是賭他的自由,對女人而言卻是賭她的幸福。......................................................

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