Monday, July 25, 2011

Heart Within A Heart

Truth is a pathless land. So sayeth Krishnamurti. Two roads may not diverge in the woods this time around. Suddenly there are no roads. Life isn’t what happens to you, but how you react to what happens. The journey home after we’ve lost our maps or honing devices. Time to re-tool personal philosophies. All gospels become Gnostic.

One month ago I was recovering from an eye operation in a hospital in a medieval Swiss City. Helicopters landed on the roof all night. Sirens wailed in the streets after the bars closed. A roundup of the wounded, broken and half dead. Humanity speaking in tongues of blood, pain, mortality, and sorrow. Maybe hope. When the next breath is all there is, it’s enough. Outside in the hallways nurses were murmuring in Swiss German. I was waking up in a Hemingway war novel set in WW1. One eyed and sedated. I remembered almost dying of dysentery in Nigeria, forty years ago, and every time I’d moan or retch in agony, the Yoruba girls out in the courtyard would wail in primitive harmony with my pain. The healing song. Cante hondo. Their chanting pulled me through. When the land becomes pathless it’s time to reach for the heart within the heart. The place to go when all the trouble starts. When your world spins upside down and falls apart. That song.

Every Tom Russell record should harbor at least one song of hope or simple love. Redemption. Internal rummage sales. A rest stop on a road marked with darker songs about people who’ve been somewhere and left their mark on the cave wall. We’re all climbing our crooked mountains, reimagining our art and philosophies, one song at a time. Touchstones have eroded. We live in a world polluted and broken down by divisive politics, tribal hatreds, religious wars and a corrupt media hacking into personal pain - to display it all on the evening news. We’re revolted by fanatical Muslims chopping off the nose and ears of a woman, and yet have tolerated the silence of the Vatican, covering up priest/predator damage to a half million abused children. Under the banner of God. We have politically corrected our lingo, while our baser instincts grow deadlier. We’ve invented a new mask of false innocence, with a clown’s smiling face. Our arts are phony. The news is tainted. Our children are one dimensional. Their songs are merely soundscapes. Lyrical abstract expressionism, lacking the guts and color of a DeKooning print. Novels are arch. Nobody’s home. Conceptual art devoid of content and wild-hearted thrust. Passion is a dirty word. The lions and elephants have disappeared from the circus and helicopters are landing on the roof. St. Jude has surrendered.

The direction out is into the pathless land where each individual must change their interior being. Good luck on your journey. Carry water, and a belief that there’s a heart within your heart.

(Song #9 coming…on Mesabi) (Rest in peace Bill Morrissey and Amy Winehouse)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Monte Hellman/George Kimball

Two summers ago I heard director Monte Hellman was trying to reach me. I was familiar with Monte’s Two Lane Blacktop, the ultimate American road movie. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, drummer of the Beach Boys, race their hopped-up car across the America, against another car driven by actor Warren Oates. Helluva movie. Monte also directed early Jack Nicholson films and produced Reservoir Dogs. He was a fan of my music. Had all the records. Would I like to write the music for his new film (released last month) The Road to Nowhere? Hell yes. He sent me the script. I had a hard time with it. A dense story within a story. Cubist. Sorta. But I worked on a title song and recorded it on a little hand held recorder. He loved it and used the demo and quite a few other songs in the film.

Monte also wanted me to act in it, on location in Rome, but that didn’t end up happening. He also used my song “Roll the Credits,” for the film’s closing credits. Two months ago we attended the premiere at the old Egyptian theater in Hollywood. We’d seen an earlier cut in Monte’s bedroom screening facility; drinking his Xylitol extreme Margaritas. Fine man. Cool movie. A Hollywood homecoming for me. As a kid I’d take a bus from Inglewood to Hollywood and walk up and down Boulevard, reading the Hollywood Stars embedded in the sidewalk.

The songs “Road to Nowhere” and “Roll the Credits” are on the coming record Mesabi.


George Kimball died several days ago. One of our finest Sports writers. A friend. A throwback to a time of cigar chewing, scotch drinking characters that cared about the art of sports journalism and the search for the right word or phrase that resonated with hard truth. He wrote like Alexis Arguello boxed. Toughness, laced with finesse, and the occasional eye drop of humor. The dance. He was in the mold of Leibling and Joseph Mitchell. He knew and loved the territory. The gym. The bar. The street. The word. The song.

My friend Steve Bodio told me that George wrote a story on the Boston Marathon once by stopping at every bar along the route. There are a lot of them. I met him in Austin, a few years ago, when he showed up at the gallery opening of my boxing paintings. He bought two and they were used on the cover of his book: The Manly Art. I met him beneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree last year and he gave me a whole bag of his books. They got me through the winter. Finally we did a gig together a few months ago at the Williams Burroughs house in Lawrence, Kansas. George had friends among folksingers, beats, boxers and some of the finest writers of our age, like Pete Hamil and Colum McCann. Here’s to you George. An Irish toast to all of our eternities.