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:


bruce Darling said...

thanks for link, tom. jesse has stayed out in the woods and kept the poets' wild edge. here in the
hills above santa cruz, a mountain lion is consuming
the exotic sheep of country gentry and everyone is
up in arms or playing classical music to chase them
away. i wlll play the crosses of san carlos and call
the old boy in. it's hard for both the poet and the
puma to keep the edge. 50 years ago, hunting with
my dad in the carmel valley, a lion would sense us and
leap to run at 300 yards. these days you will find
them on the greens of the pacific grove golf course
chewing a neck. my favorite has to be the mountain
lion in the oak overhanging the elementary playground in lockwood,down jolon valley way.
so keep on posting. it helps greatly as we look to
see who next is coming up troubadour road. i'll
clutch the jeffers poems at night and await a cleansing storm or new song. despite all changes
the scream of the lion still rules the baranca and
the heart of the poet stirs the tears. blessings to
you and yours on trobadour road

edenontheline said...

Many thanks for the link to Jesse, Tom - a lovely song and lovely reactions. And well said in your post - generally. I'm just sorry Bruce gets splashed with 'the bilge water of tired celebrity'. Like you, seeing Leonard Cohen live again has been a real highlight of the last couple of years for me. But so too was seeing Bruce in Hyde Park last summer. Yes, his last album was ropey Bruce-by-numbers stuff but live he gives his all and nails classic after classic...with sincerity and (far from quiet) passion. He knows what songs are supposed to do.

Anonymous said...

Here on the Kings river, sometimes they lay in the middle of the road in the afternoon sun like big cats on the kitchen floor.

Wife says throw him some bologna. I say he's got all the bologna he can eat grazing down there in the canyon. Lets just sit here and watch him for awhile.

It's good every now and then to be in the same room with a lion. Thanks again.

Unknown said...

Isn't that just like Jesse Winchester to do that to everyone? Pulled out his records from my archives - produced by Robbie Robertson, engineered by Tod Rungren. Man they could cut the records back in the early 70's couldn't they?

We need you to be on an Elvis show sometime Tom. Take some of the train moments to the world. All the best to you and yours in TwentyTen!

cheers, Greg

editor said...

Jesse Winchester mesmerized a SRO crowd at the Sisters Folk Festival solo with a nylon-strung guitar. Quietly stunning.

Bruce Darling: I spent my college years running around in the woods of the Santa Cruz mountains (learned more there than in class). There were some wild creatures back up in there — biped and quadruped. Good times. Nowadays its the same, just different woods.

Pete Wrench: Thanks for sticking up for the Boss. I think he's off his peak as a writer (pretty friggin high peak, though) but as a performer he still brings it as hard as anyone has ever done. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live remains a transformative experience — and its happening to kids of a third generation.
Note that in this month's Western Horseman, Ian Tyson cites Springsteen's Devil's & Dust as his favorite "Western album." Calls Springsteen "fearless" and says that while he's no cowboy, he does his homework and gets it "accurate."
Talking about "Black Cowboys" "Silver Palomino," "Matamoros Banks," I presume.

"Dry Lightning" off The Ghost of Tom Joad is also a damned evocative Western song.

Couldn't agree more about Jesse Winchester, but the Springsteen jab is a cheap shot and someone needed to call BS.

You beat me to the punch; glad you did.