Monthly Archives: November 2011

Tom Russell: mining a mighty rich vein

In my music review days, I’d sampled one of Tom Russell’s albums, a twisted and heartfelt immersion in the beat era called Hotwalker. It was like nothing I’d ever heard (featuring “vocals” from Bukowski, Kerouac, Bruce, Abbey, and even pulling in Dave Van Ronk to play guitar, wrapped in folk/story tales); it ended up filed on my CD closet shelf that’s labeled “Oddball/Strange Tales.”  So when I saw a few months back that he was coming to town, I snapped up a ticket with very little sense of what to expect; not surprisingly, Hotwalker was way out on the edge of Tom’s catalog, but my compass was tuned in for sure.  A true songwriting genius, Tom sings the lives of all sorts of folks, in riveting and heart-wrenching directness. A night with Tom Russell is an American history lesson of the highest order.

‘Nuff said by me.  Catch him if you can!  And here’s a few introductory earfulls:

From his newest album, the title track, honoring a young Hibbing boy and their shared lodestars:

This video from a rooftop in Dublin features Thad Beckman, the same guitarist he had with him in Santa Fe, an excellent duo, doing a fantastic song about Tom’s ’60’s stint in Africa, called East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam:

For a bunch more of Tom’s many facets, click on through

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RIP, Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis died this week shortly after suffering a stroke.  She was a biologist whose work became one of the foundations of my understanding of life and of the mysteries of creation and evolution; she’s right there with Gary Snyder and Thomas Berry in my pantheon of inspirations and guiding lights (see my memorial post for Thomas here).  Lynn’s fundamental insight was that evolution is driven at least as much by symbiosis as by competition and natural selection; she was convinced that the forward motion, the new forms, the creative impulse, underlying life was at its heart a process of two or more different organisms coming together and becoming something different than either could be on their own.  At the largest scale, she saw all life on earth as the result of collaborations between bacteria: her biggest contribution to science was the realization that plant cells and animals cells began as symbiotic collaborations of bacteria.  Rather than seeing animals, or humans, as the pinnacle of evolution, her picture celebrated the entire biosphere as a reflection of the unimaginable complexity of bacterial communities. Her lasting legacy is a view of life on earth  that is centered on collaboration more than competition – a blending toward a greater purpose rather than a struggle for individual domination.

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