Monday, December 29, 2008


He used to send me messages in the middle of the night. Emails. Both of us couldn't sleep. I didn’t sleep much for a year back then, and Mickey was dying. He'd talk to me about my record, "The Man From God Knows Where," and what it meant to him. I'd tell him how much I loved his songs. He was the master of the middle tempo ballad. "San Francisco Mabel Joy," and "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye." ("Baby's packed her soft things and she's leavin'…..") Killer songs and sentiments. A lot of rain between the grooves. You can trot out words like "deep" and "dark" and "chilling," but they're cheap little tools to describe great songs. We shouldn't try. We should listen. There was a newer one that I'd play over and over: "Nights When I Am Sane." ("My moments of insanity are never like a chain, I only know I am not free, the nights when I am sane….") Man, I hear that. I'm right with that. And then the killer, final nail in the coffin: "I'm just one man, Lord, sometimes I wish I were three…. I'd take a forty-four pistol to me… Put one in my brain, for her memory, and one more in my heart…then I would be free.") Few of us would have the guts to write like that. Love and insanity and what it does to people. Us people. Us.
No, I never met Mickey Newbury in person, but we passed a few lines back and forth in the middle of the night. When we both couldn’t sleep. After he passed away, his daughter wrote and told me that Mickey had kept "The Man From God Knows Where" by his bedside up there in Oregon. That meant more to me than ever shaking his hand. I'll keep "Nights When I am Sane" close to the bed. I'll think of Mickey on those long winter nights when sleep doesn’t come easy, and the wind pushes the mesquite trees against the windows. It's just Mickey sending me a line or two. ("What will I do, in the dead of the night....when she turns out the lights..." Mickey Newbury)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nothing But A Child

"Nothing But A Child"
by Steve Earl

Once upon a time, in a far off and
Wise Men saw a sign, and set out 'cross the sand
Songs of praise to sing, they traveled day and night
Precious gifts to bring, guided the light.

They chased a brand new star, ever toward the west
Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest
They scarce believed their eyes, they'd come so many miles
And the miracle they prized, was nothing but a child.

Nothing but a child, could wash those tears away
Or guide a weary world, into the light of day
Nothing but a child, could help erase those miles
So once again we all, can be children for awhile.

Now all across the world, in every little town
Every day is heard, a precious little sound
And every mother kind, and every father proud
Looks down in awe to find, another chance allowed.

Happy Seasons. TR, El Paso

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Black Rock

Walking along the beach of Monterrey Bay. Sea Lions barking from distant piers. The smell of Doc Ricketts lab; all of Steinbeck's Cannery Row characters sail around in the morning breeze. Crustacean music. Sea weed jabber. Monterrey show the night before - the only foul one on the tour; I'm feeling disjointed and ponderous. I see a smooth black river rock lying on the sand. Pick it up. Pocket it; thinking of Georgia O'Keefe. She became an ex-patriot within her own country. Disappeared into the New Mexican desert… I like that notion. Georgia collected shiny black rocks, and I run my fingers over the smoothness in my pocket; I feel like I'm carrying around her hardened, mummified, glorious soul. It keeps me going. Georgia became the landscape she painted: parched, serious, caustic, poisonous, eternal. She spoke in poetry; held little use for poseurs. She fled New York and reinvented herself in the wilderness; made art that floats above the changing landscape of an America illuminated by gas station signs. I'm not as big a fan of her art as her enormous, matchless spirit. And I finger the smooth black rock in my pocket and keep shuffling down the beach like Prufrock; trying to some to terms with the morning and the far off barking of the sea lions, and praying for the strength to write a few more songs that will fill up a record that will resonate and feel as wild and permanent as the shiny black rock; the relic of O'Keefe's spirit. Later, craving something to read, I find the paperback copy of Joan Didion's: "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" in my war bag. "It's easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends." There are two masterpiece essays in the book from 1966, and '67:
"Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," and "Goodbye to That." Didion saves me that afternoon, as I read those two essays over and over and hold the black rock. "We tell ourselves stories in order to live," says Didion. Stories and songs and long walks on the sea lion beaches of memory. And now the black rock rests on Didion's book; next to my bed. And the blood dimmed Steinbeck tide is loosed, and the ceremony of innocence is drowned.