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.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Lion In Winter

There’s a blind Puma in a wire cage down the road. A wise old american mountain lion, on a medieval farm in Switzerland. Rescued from a zoo, I’d guess. Living on horsemeat and memories. At midnight on New Year’s eve I heard him growl for the coming year. Wistfully. Dreaming of the ancestral mountains of New Mexico or Colorado, whilst sniffing the midnight air fresh down from the Alps. Like this old puma, we’re all misplaced expatriots, thankful for another year, living on memories and whiffing the air of eternity. I’m thankful for love and limb; also that “One to the Heart, One to the Head” and “Blood and Candle Smoke” made dozens of year-end “best of” lists for 2009. Also grateful to have seen Leonard Cohen in Phoenix last summer – ripping the heart out of four hours of original music. Delivering the Gospel in the Desert. Just when the glow was fading from that memory, last week, my friend Alec delivered a link to a video of Jesse Winchester singing a song on Elvis Costello’s TV show. It’s a heartfelt saga of teenage love, rendered by a true master; with sincerity and quiet passion. We tend to forget about Jesse, but there he was. Telling me again why in hell we’re in this game. Cutting to the heart of the matter. Right near the end of the song the camera slides over to Neko Case; sitting next to Jesse on stage –and a tear rolls down her cheek. Do I have have to say more? That’s it. That’s why we’re here. In this age when we’re drowning in the worthless bilge water of tired celebrity – like who cares if Willie Nelson duets with Norah Jones, or Bono sings with Springsteen? It’s a ragged dress rehearsal of a celebrity circus that carries no original, gutsy spark. It’s all rote; a Starbucks CD sitting next to the Sugar Cookies. Then Jesse Winchester nails it. One to the heart and head; that tear rolls down Neko’s cheek. What songs are supposed to do…that’s why the good ones were written. To move the heart for a moment. Have we forgotten? We live in this age when people can’t tell the difference between Madeleine Peyroux and Billie Holiday. And this is a grand difference; like red Kool Aid verses hot Blood. But maybe I’m just a blind old disgruntled puma prowling a cage in Switzerland…looking for something to gnaw on. Something with meat. The lion in winter. It’s time to shut up and write new songs; not forgetting Leonard Cohen in Phoenix and Jesse Winchester… and that tear rolling down Neko’s cheek.

Happy New Year and thanks for hanging in there with us….TR. Swissland.

Jesse Winchester link: