Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One To The Heart, One To The Head

I was driving across the desert the other day with the great filmmaker Eric Temple; scouting locations for our film on the West: "California Bloodlines." We'd decided to take savage left turn, thematically, and consider raw, authentic Cowboy origins: Mexico; Charreadas and Charros; Spain on back to the Moors. The Violence in Juarez. Digging deeper into the bloodlines. The old west is chillingly alive on the border. The history rock and rolled through here; the guns are smoking. Why not include that in this film? The Spanish crossed the river just up the road. Rosas's Cantina was still open, where Marty Robbins wrote "El Paso." Cowboy as all hell. In the truck we were listening to "One to the Heart, One to the Head," the "western" side project I co-produced with Gretchen Peters. I'm a guest singer on the record. Gretchen is God's chanteuse.We covered Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Rosalie Sorrels, Mary McCaslin, Jennifer Warnes, Ian Tyson, Stephanie Davis…and Gretchen sang a version of my new song: "Guadalupe." The music and Gretchen's voice was hauntingly simpatico to the desert landscape. The yucca, sagebrush, chimesa and Mexican broom washed past our windows, like a Maynard Dixon painting touched up by Willem DeKooning. All of the singing was underscored by Barry Walsh's marvelous piano score. Eric Satie meets Eno. The landscape and the music blended until they fused together. Eric turned to me and said: "This record is a western masterpiece. There's not a bad song on it." I listened to Gretchen's voice. Unearthly. There was no motive in putting this out, except a love for the West and a desire to make "westerners" aware of Gretchen's powers. And to celebrate the poetry of the songs. Then the song "Wolves," by Stephanie Davis, was rolling out of the speakers and I squinted out ahead into the sunlit asphalt on Highway 9. I saw what I thought were two coyotes crossing the road, about a 100 yards up there. "That's funny," I said. "They don’t usually travel in pairs. Pretty big,"
"Those are Mexican wolves," said Eric. "I'm sure of it." A wild little desert co-incidence as the song played. Wolves. Blue Roan Horses. Blue Mountains. Cowboys born out of their time. Crosses in the desert. Shrines for our lady of Guadalupe. And finally The Last Go Round" was playing…"we drank the rivers, we rode the twisters, we stumbled down to the ground….but we'll rake and ride, we'll spend our glory. On our last go round." Amen.
(The record is now available on


Saddle Tramp said...

TR . . .
Consider it ordered. [ Enough said ].

The rain coming down

Barstow is crying today

Like me for Feng Lin

-ST Heading out on my next go round

Anonymous said...

Will you have copies for sale in Elko?

Charlene said...

Dear Mr. Russell,

When I read your Notes from the Borderland I am always compelled to write a comment, but I feel like I am touching art and your only suppossed to look and not touch. But this time I'm breaking the rules and here it goes:

After reading about your movie, cowboys, music, and the desert, I wanted to tell you about a man I know.

His name is Tom Ellison and he lives in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Tom is about 80 or more, and has lived in SB all of his life. His father even had a car dealership there in the 1930's or so. Tom was in WW2 I think and had a wrecker service there in SB for a while. But now he has a rock shop and sells jewelry, rocks, and rings and things. He opens in the morning and closes in the afternoon. Tom is the real McCoy. He's seen or heard it all. He could tell you some stories for sure. He's always been a friend of the family and has been around for six generations of my Husband's family. He even has a chair that was at the Brite Ranch in Marfa when Pancho Villa visited it. (I'm not sure of those details of that Visit, but Tom could tell you).

Did you know they filmed the movie Giant with James Dean there South of Van Horn between Lobo and Valentine? Somewhere out on Highway 90. Tom could tell you for sure.

There are even some Indian Petroglyphs down there south of Sierra Blanca before you get to the River. They took me there once, but I'd never find it. Somepeople could though. That might be a good location for part of your movie.

You have to be careful about driving around the county in those parts though. You might be mistaken by border patrol or customs for being a drug smuggler or a coyote. But maybe you could talk the border patrol boys there in SB to drive you around there when they were off duty.

Once I had been out to a ranch outside of Sierra Blanca and it had been raining. My car was muddy. Right there on I-10 near Esparanza I got pulled over by some state troppers for a muddy car. They told me they thought I'd been smuggling down by the river because my car was muddy. They didn't find anything on me or my kids, just diapers and baby blankets. I'm digressing.

Mr. Russell, if you are even in Sierra Blanca look for Tom. His shop is at the only intersection with a stop sign. Last I knew that town didn't have any traffic lights, and only one intersection with a stop sign.

I love your music Mr. Russell, I love to hear you "singin my life".

editor said...

Consider it ordered. [ Enough said ].

I second that.

Cool story about the wolves. Maybe you could capture them and take them back to Mexico. Nah... that didn't end well.

Saddle Tramp said...

Laura . . .
As [ the ] one most guilty, I respectfully disagree with your rule and wish to assuage [ your ] guilt. What is the harm if you neither block someone elses view or damage the art in question? It stands or not. For me a blog is all about planting a seed that you water and nourish ( as you most eloquently have ) and thus stimulate it's growth. This is what I enjoy most about it. It is not a time or volume controlled format. I am sure there will be a firestorm of disagreement over this. I leave myself as an open target for Tom as well. Now I digress. Your comment has
promted me to add my own borderline contribution.

I took a load from Maria L. Sotelo's place at 411 Produce Road in Hidalgo, Texas. It was a load of organic orange juice from across the border. A huge Our Lady of
Guadalupe ( and the Americas ) painting on Maria's office wall watched as I signed the Bill of Ladings. I ran Hwy 83 lined with crosses and shrines as drivers passed with blind
impunity and on through BP dog checkpoint after checkpoint and the seemingly bored National Guard patrols
wandering around. On up to Laredo and Del Rio picking up Hwy 90. Spending the night in Langtry parked in front of Judge Roy Bean's Saloon and Museum. Just as interesting
was the owner of the store across the street whose dogs I stirred up when I arrive late that night and whose roosters
woke me up the the next morning. The store and property owner ( handed down to him) was a tough old boot. He had cowboy'd all the way from Langtry to New Mexico. He
could tell some stories as well. The old Postmaster in the closet-sized Post Office adjoining the store could also tell you a few. Stopping at the Dryden Mercantile where a herd
of cowboys milled around out in the parking lot. Men who wear the land on their skin. A hard land and hard skin. Stopping at another Post Office where a beautiful Spanish
maiden talked to me of her yearning for something else.
Myself, always on a schedule. They are are going east and
I am going west, that sort of situation. Running 90 on up to Van Horn and fueling at the Pilot, then buttoning onto I-10 and delivery to L.A.
Thanks for the inspiration, Laura. I'll take the bullet for you.
Running the Border . . .

-ST Via: Parachute, Colorado heading east.

Unknown said...

Dear Mister (y) Tramp,

Thank you for taking the bullet. I'll ponder your comments and file them away right next to that vivid trip through the snow, ice, and cold I feel like I took with you on December 30th. Your stories of your travels are facinating. Maybe there is something to that seed, water, and nourish analogy.

Let us all know if your book will ever be available at Barnes and Nobel.

Laura's neighbor, Charlene Applegate, El Paso, Texas.

Saddle Tramp said...

Charlene . . .
Thank you for your kind words and a thank you to Tom Russell who lays down the foundation to it all. I placed my order for "One to the Heart One to the Head" first thing yesterday . . . Might be a month before I get to my P.O. Box to get it. Darn!

-ST From the cold end of U.S. Hwy 83 in Valentine, Nebraska, the heart of the Sandhills, where I parked next to a cattle truck that stampeded all through the night. Heading on up through the Rosebud Sioux Reservation en route to Lake Nored, South Dakota. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr

Sweet Songs Never Last Too Long said...

I know it will be a great album. If I can get it, I'll review it for French rock-roots mag "Xroads". I recently reviewed "Lost Angels of Lyon", to be published in February.

Anonymous said...

(with apologies: for posting off-topic, for mangling TR's song, ...)

We're heading west, across the salt
Past the little town of Wells and its crippling earthquake fault
For the poetry and music that make time seem to halt
For Elko town boys, tonight we ride.

:-) :-) :-)

Anonymous said...

Reporting live from Elko...

Really enjoyed the preview of Claifornia Bloodlines yesterday (how many bears? Perhaps the ultimate number will match the number of years it takes to complete the project :-)

I did pick up a copy of One to the Heart, One to the Head & it is most excellent. I especially like the versions of Billy 4 & Snowin on Raton on this CD, but her version of Blue Mountains of Mexico knocked my socks off and this song alone justifies the price of the CD (in my opinion).

editor said...

Sorry I can't be in Elko this year. Duty keeps me chained to my desk 9except for a March trip to the Autry for the Bold Caballeros exhibit. I know TR would undertand.

Looking forward to the arrival of the CD and I'll ask my buddy Charley "Chuckaroo the Buckaroo" Engel for a full and detailed report.

It ain't bein' there, but it'll have to do.

Saddle Tramp said...

Stuck in Joplin with the Cowboy's Lament Again

Editor . . . . . . I join along in your envy of Abner. I am stuck in Joplin waiting for my California load. One of these days Sisters and Tom Russell live. Regarding Autry keep in mind what he said and I paraphrase from memory here. " I wasn't the best cowboy actor and singer, but I was first. That is all that matters. " Yes, he would have to yield to Tex Ritter et al for that.
One To The Heart, One To The Head leads me to what Sinatra, when forced to it, answered a wannabe singer
on his chances. Sinatra replied, that to be a great singer your throat must be connected to your heart. You aren't connected to anything, Frank candidly told him. The chairman has spoken.
I have no doubt that I will find the connection has been
made when I eventually get to listen to Gretchen & Tom.
Tom, my introduction to you was western, but the multiple layers of your work has taken me down many pleasant trails. It's a big world out there . . . . . .

- - saddle tramp

Via : Joplin, Missouri where I at least added to my Criterion Collection of film including Luis Buñuel's beggars banquent
" Viridiana " a feast tastefully gone amok.
Now the Kansas City Southern's whistle is blowing right through my cab.

Unknown said...

Kathleen Griffith:
Tom, my husband Tom and I attended your songwriter's workshop in Longford Ireland in September.
Reading about your explorations along the Mexican border prompted me to invite you out to our little 180 piece of heaven near Ruidosa TX (1 mile up from Chianti Hot Springs) --7 miles from the Rio Grande and about 40 miles west of Ojinaga Mexico. The mountains are breathtaking and the peace and tranquility so overwhelming you feel like you've arrived in Heaven so sure.
If you have time, look on line at Chinati Hot Springs and it will give you a taste of the scenery out there.
We're moving out there this summer!
Can't wait to see you in San Antonio Feb 8th at Casbeer's.
A great fan of your music and art..
Kathleen Griffith

Anonymous said...

I was hoping Tom would post an essay about Elko, but it hasn't happened, so I'll just post here... And apologize for being off-topic again.

A slide show of my photos from Elko:

And Tom, I'm going to disagree with your assertion from the Song Swap that an atheist could not spend his life as a writer (or more generally, pursuing creative endeavors). I don't want to turn this into a big debate, but it does seem to me that an atheist would view creativity as a chemical process. Indeed, back in the 60s (and probably since then too), a few people unlocked their creativity with that LSD stuff. Funny thing is that some of them also reported having religious experiences. A part of creativity is setting aside rational thought - sometimes it's putting together two or more things that have no rational reason to be together. And an atheist would be grounded in rational thought. But I guess it comes down to whether one could turn off htat rational thought for the creative process while still maintaining it in the case of religious/spiritual matters. I think it's possible...

editor said...


Please don't take this as being flippant or reductive (or flippantly reductive) as this is something a good friend and I have kicked around for a long time.

Is it not possible that those chemical process are God?

After kicking this particular can around for years, I've come down to this: the creative requires a sense of the Divine. But the Divine reveals itself everywhere from a song to a math equation.

Stray Dog said...

Editor - well said. True creativity (and there are many poseurs) requires a touch of mystical or magical. It's cheapened when reduced to rational thought or the sum of one's experiences - chemically induced or not.

Saddle Tramp said...

Each To Their Own Portal & Nietzsche

I have to side with Einstein and I paraphrase him here:
" Science withput religion is empty and religion without science is blind. " They remain as separate and sovereign territories. One does not exist without the other. The bones of irreligious debates are scattered everywhere. I would rather wrestle a whale then debate this one. In my opinion if you chop the metaphysical in two, you kill both. You cannot pour God through a sieve and extract any evidence that God exists. Nietzsche said that God is dead. I can only
say that Nietzsche is dead. I wish he would let us know what he found out.

" Trying to figure it all out is like trying to ride a horse on
top of a horse . . . Just ride the horse "

Was the above quote from a range riding cowboy or maybe
even Baxter Black? No, it was the Zen Buddhist monk and scholar Dr. D. T. Suzuki.

Nothing created without the Divine Spark ( however you define it ). Even scientist say that we will credit God with the start , otherwise they will explain the rest. The truth is irreducible yet it cannot not be held onto. We always lose our grip. As for me, I will ride that Blue Roan into the Blue Mountains of Mexico and get my religion from Castillian Roses pouring from a peasant's tilma . . . another one in most need of hope. Amen Tom!

-Saddle tramp

Via: Cheyenne, Wyoming heading east

Saddle Tramp said...


Sorry folks but I placed a " not " in the wrong spot.
Shoud read:

"The truth is irreducible, yet it cannot be held onto."

Enough throwing of the Philosopher's Stone . . .

editor said...

One to the Heart, One to the Head finally arrived from Village Records (anticipation makes the clock grind slow).

Fine work. Go out and get you one.

And Tom, when is that song about border-crossing jaguars and speeding Apache kids (Wher the hell were they going?) going to hit a CD? Loved that at Elko in 08 and was hoping it might turn up here.

There's always one more notch and four more aces...