Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Great Tom Russell

April 23, 2015
   Recently, a history person came into my office and told me that among his friends, I am known as "the guy who ruined the magazine and saved it." He didn't say it in a gotcha way, or even with any animosity. Just as a fact of life. Another history guy, definitely not a friend of mine, said, way back in 2002 that I turned the magazine "into a carnival ride." Do those comments hurt? Yeh, kindah'. We all want to be loved and admired. Still, I always remind myself of the immortal words of Dandy Don:

"Remember this: the farther up the flagpole you go, the more people can see your rear end."
—Dandy Don Merideth

   And speaking of bitter sweet endings, today I received the latest CD from Tom Russell and one track made me cry like a baby. The name of the album is "The Rose of Roscrae: A Ballad of The West." Here are the lyrics that got me:

   Old Charlie Goodnight stood out on his porch on an isolated West-Texas ranch Out in the yard were nine mounted ol’ warriors—reservation Comanches

 They were chattering in broken Spanish/Comanche and Charlie laughed at their Indian cunning

 They wanted a buffalo from Charlie’s private herd, they yearned for one last buffalo running

  Old Iron Head, the leader, warbled-on about a time when the land and buffalo was everyone’s—meant to be shared

   Before the white man, the Iron Horse, and the barbed wire—so the Comanches figured a gifted buffalo was fair

  Charlie kept fourteen head on a far hill, so he could gaze at ’em—as he drank whiskey in the evenings

  Charlie’s favorite was old Shakespeare, a horse killing bull, but the beast had a spirit Charlie truly believed in

 Now back in the time of blood and confusion, the Comanches were the fiercest of mounted tribes

 But smallpox, syphilis, and whiskey had scoured their numbers and eroded their pride

 Now in beat-up old Stetsons and calico shirts they smoked and waited in the shade of a Mesquite stand

Finally Charlie relented and yelled, “All right, ye red bastards—take one for the old days and civilization be damned!”

Charlie turned to me and declared: “Dammit Kid, once was a world you won’t ever be knowin’

The Comanche raids, the Staked Plains, the Bosque Redondo, the great trail from Texas up to Wyoming

 The wild buffalo on a thousand hills, or a campfire song—one cowboy and his guitar a strummin’

 Hang and rattle, boy, hold fast, and remember this well, the last of the buffalo runnin’s”

 Now Charlie gave Iron Head his choice from the herd, and of course the chief picked Charlie’s favorite, Shakespeare

 And as Charlie sat on the porch awaiting the run, we knew he was fighting back tears A tear for the bull and the passage of time, an old life that would never come again The Comanche, the buffalo, the vanishing West—just dust on the dry Texas wind

 Our vaquero, Juan, tricked the bull into a chute, where old Shakespeare ’bout tore the rails apart

 The warriors waited on broke down old ponies as Charlie waited with his broke-up old heart

 The Juan turned the bull loose and it was all Comanche Blood Memory, wild war whoops and arrows and shrieks

 Old Shakespeare fought like the king of the bison, one you could kill but never defeat.

 The Indians cut up the meat and sang a buffalo song, a deep guttural sound— their ancient prayin’

 And Iron Head rode up and saluted Charlie Goodnight as the Comanche rode off ’cross the West Texas plain

 And me I was wonderin’ did I see what I saw? The wild shrieks and the death of that bull?

  It’s stuck with me more than most things I’ve witnessed and all that history I ever learned in school

  Yes, I’s just a kid twelve years of age and the frontier was soon dyin’ then done But now that vision returns back through 70 years of reflection, my own the

  blood memory of that last great buffalo run.

* * *
(Coda: From Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Ballad of William Sycamore”)

 Now I lie in the heart of the fat, black soil, Like the seed of the prairie-thistle;

 It has washed my bones with honey and oil And picked them clean as a whistle.

 And my youth returns, like the rains of Spring, And my sons, like the wild-geese flying;

 And I lie and hear the meadowlarks sing

 And have much content in my dying.

  Go play with the towns you have built of blocks, The towns where you would have bound me!

 I sleep in my earth like a tired fox,

 And my buffalo have found me.

—Tom Russell

Daily Whip Out: "Sunset Rider"

   And speaking of endings, I hate it that David Letterman is ending his show, but I dig what he said about Tom Russell:

"How great is Tom Russell? Isn’t he the best? I’d like to quit my job and travel with him . . . if the money can be worked out."
—David Letterman


  1. Still no migration of commentators, aye?
    What does the other site cost.

  2. Five days is the longest I've seen you go without a new entry.
    But I have only been watching for 8 months.

    There are 4,100 members of the other site, a few hundred of them seem to be active ... hard core fans ... why throw that away?

    From my perspective, having been up and, more importantly ... down, in the media biz, that is not zany, it's crazy.

  3. TW may set a record for the "Longest Goodbye" for the Ning forum, Jack..As far as the Don Meredith quote see the original quote attributed to Gen Mark W. Clark


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