Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Last Mesabi Blog

Last summer we went to the circus in Switzerland. It was all very boring, until the last act. The extreme artist, Freddy Nock, appeared from behind the curtain. He walked up a diagonal wire, backwards, over the crowd, to the high wire. Without a net. Fifty feet up. Then he danced across the wire and did somersaults. He has since walked up cable car wires into the high Alps, and set seven world records in seven days, walking across lakes and up mountains. He gives the donated money to UNICEF. That night he walked backwards up the wire, I thought to myself, I feel like I’ve been walking up the wire backwards in this music business…

Ah! The new record, Mesabi, is out. I’ve written here about most of the songs, at least the peripheral color. Myself, I’m still that kid listening to vinyl folk music on my Uncle George’s record player. The scene where this record begins. I can smell the furniture polish on the mahogany console of that Phillips machine and see the tubes glowing in the back, as I listen to Joan Baez or Dylan sing “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.” It wasn’t another time. It wasn’t even long ago. It was now and tomorrow. The songs. They do that. Stop Time.

Good songs and paintings aren’t locked into a frame or an era. They defy all the odds. They stick in the blood. They change the color of your eyes. They keep the heart pumping a different tango that carries us through all of our eternities. The songs of the masters have kept me going. The only way to end this record – with its so called dark moments, with fragile and famous characters going down hard – was by shining a small light of hope back on the stories. Love Abides.”

I picked an old guitar up on the Wall of Wave Lab studio, in Tucson, and strummed the dead strings, and layed the last song down just like you hear it. One take. Myself and guitar. A point of light to end the main course. But there are really no “dark songs.”Only hard truths. The only artistic sin is concocting untruthful emotions and clever lies, wrapped in easy rhymes. Welcome to the hit parade.

I’d like to keep walking backwards up that wire. Like our friend Freddy Nock. The Master of Air. You can see what he does at

You can listen to what I do on Mesabi.

Adieu and adios.


Time now to take the songs out on the highway. The Minstrel Trail. We’re coming into your neighborhood; hitting the front porch with the daily paper. Songs.

The concerts are listed on our web:

The film, Don’t Look Down, is out and also the Art book: Blue Horse/ Red Desert: The Art of Tom Russell. It’s all available at

That’s it for now. All the news from the high wire. See you down the road.


Johnny J said...

Love the album, love the songs. Am becoming more educated about Sterling Hayden, spurred on by that great cut. Waiting til Dec 1 in Fort Worth.

Keep walking, backwards or forward, just keep walking and writing....

Anonymous said...

Will miss you in Pittsburgh. We fully intended to come but cannot due to a family illness. Please come back again.

Steve Bodio said...

Hayden's Wanderer is one hell of a book, still available 2nd hand...

Saddle Tramp said...

Yes, Steve. Most heartily agreed! Also, one helluva song about the writer and owner of said book's namesake.

I paraphrase here:

" I was really embarrassed about being invited to go to Hollywood being among fishermen. I wasn't going to go, but a friend said go, take the money and get the girls. There ain't no girls in the fishing fleet you know. Buy your own schooner ".

And so he did. All of it. As he puts it, unlike most, he started his career at the top and went to the bottom. You would have to search far and hard to find a man with more humility than Sterling Hayden.

Tom, glad you took your time getting up there and keep a
strong foothold. A slow trip to the top is far better than a
sudden plunge to the bottom. Don't need to tell you though.

Tom, in case you were unaware, you can preorder Dylan's " Asia Series " art book at the Gagosian Museum website. Your choice of four covers. Cockfight one of them. The
Bruce Gilden photo inspired painting of Coney Island Mobsters is another. I went with the Cockfight for Tom
Russell posterity reasons.

" So heave 'er up my Bonny boys ... heave 'er up and away we'll go " ...

tVIA : Yuma ... Territorial Prison to my right and the
Colorado River underneath me ... Down the border again
and past Felicity, CA ( the center of the world ) headin' towards that Tecate Divide ...

Saddle Tramp said...

I wish to correct a misnomer ( for the technically astute ).
First, thr Gagosian is a gallery, not a museum.
Secondly, Coney Island mobsters is a reference to the Bruce Gilden photo of two Yakuza members in a Ginza Japan coffeeshop. They model themselves afyer 1950's American gangsters. That is the photo that inspiired Dylan that is part of his Asia Series. Another glimpse into the expansive talent that Tom Russell pays such admirable triibute and homage to. I hope Dylan got a copy of Mesabi. I am sure he would also be duly impressed. Painter to painter. Songwriter to songwriter.

tVIA: getting ready to head up the 805 Freeway ...

editor said...

Good stuff, Tom. Really good.

Mandaladreamer said...

Thought you might enjoy this link from a long-time listener:

Anonymous said...

I saw Tom Russell last night. I haven’t seen Tom Russell live in a lot of years, yet I can still brag that Tom’s live show is reinvigorative (which is illegal terminology within the five-state area surrounding Texas), sobering (even though we at my table drank like we were in Fort Worth - hell, we were!), and inspirational. Well, Tom’s songs have always reinvig... restorat... mmm, inspired me.

At the end of the show I shuffled by the merch booth and stopped. I already have all of Tom’s CDs (and, I suspect, some rare stuff he doesn’t even remember recording). But on his merch table was this video: “Don’t Look Down”... kind of a self-produced autobiography, as it were. So, I brought that home and sat down at my Mac with a bottle of sangria... plugged in the DVD...

Well, I perceive Tom Russell to be the greatest (living) American songwriter; I’ve said that for years. There are certain nights (depending upon what mood I’m in and how pissed off I am that day, at myself, my government, the people in my immediate space, and the world at large)... when my personal *second* greatest songwriter writhes from Jimmy Webb to Merle Haggard... then from Bill Staines to Kris Kristofferson... then from Bruce Springsteen to... well, fuckin’ nobody. Nobody.

Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t have to wander far to find dissenters, but Tom would be at the top of my list. Al Stewart would be the second, but that’s another (his)tory entirely.

Anyway, at this wiser and tender age, I turn the page, and I pick up pen and paper, boot up the computer, shuffle down the hall into the studio... and still... STILL... hold Tom Russell up as the bar to which I must raise my standard in order to consider myself a songwriter... an artist.

Thanks a frickin’ lot, Tom!

--Brian Burns