Farewell to the Storyteller
Tom T Hall passed on Friday, He was a country songwriter who informed my work, telling stories about people. He observed every-day life, regular people, and made them real, with a large dollop of insight and sympathy and wit.
I read the lovely obituary in the Sunday NYT by Bill Friskics-Warren and I tried to remember when I first heard Tom T Hall.
I think it was after I had been one of the first reporters on the scene for the terrible mine explosion in Hyden, Ky., on Dec. 30, 1970. I came back many times, met a lot of survivors – “the widders,” as they say.
Turned out, Tom T. Hall was there soon after. He and a buddy drove a pickup from his home in Olive Hill, Ky., not far from the coal region, and he observed with a storyteller’s eye, including the sheriff and the undertaker whom I had met. Maybe he had read my stories, maybe not. Didn’t matter. He put it to music, got it perfect.
(The “pretty lady from the Grand Ole Opry” is Loretta Lynn, who had come off the road to play a charity concert in Louisville in 1971, for the survivors. That’s how I got to know Loretta, and later helped her write her book, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”)
In the next years, I collected cassettes of Tom T Hall’s best albums and songs and would play them as I drove around Appalachia. .
Some of his best songs were about lost or unrequited love:
“Tulsa Telephone Book” --
Readin' that Tulsa telephone book, can drive a guy insane
Especially if that girl you're lookin' for has no last name.
“The Little Lady Preacher” --
(A picker remembers the gospel singer he backed up every Sunday morning: “She’d punctuate the prophecies with movements of her hips.”)
We never met, but I took my young family to see him in New York in the mid-70s. I learned that he had settled in the lush outskirts of Nashville with his wife, Miss Dixie, herself a fixture in Music City, who passed a few years back.
I owe Tom T Hall a great debt because he helped me recognize the best parts of people, as flawed as we all are. Only he put it to music and he sang it.
In honor of Tom T Hall – a requiem for the older friend who taught him to pick, and other stuff.
8/22/2021 10:37:17 am
8/22/2021 03:17:39 pm
8/22/2021 04:09:35 pm
Angela R McKenzie
8/22/2021 11:01:21 am
George, the following line of yours "He observed every-day life, regular people, and made them real, with a large dollop of insight and sympathy and wit", reminds me of how calypsos are used in Trinidad They serve the same purpose, but also include a quiver full of arrows thrown at politicians to highlight their many shortcomings, often with a course sense of humor
8/22/2021 03:23:59 pm
Hi, Angela, been a while. Thanks for the comparison between calypso from your homeland and country music. My exposure to calypso was Harry Belafonte in the 50s....I'm sure, very stylized for mainstream American audiences....I bet the down-home calypso of Trinidad is "folk."But Belafonte never holds back on his points of view.
8/22/2021 01:05:54 pm
George, yet another great story about someone I obviously don’t know enough about
8/22/2021 03:26:13 pm
Tom, yeah, but you can pick the appropriate Marley song for me...
8/22/2021 03:23:41 pm
His song, "Faster horses," always reminded me of the mentality of the Super Bowl. Faster horses. Older whiskey. Younger women. MORE MONEY.
8/22/2021 05:05:38 pm
Thanks, George. Good to learn about this. Some of us also believe this religion:
8/24/2021 02:51:29 pm
8/24/2021 06:57:03 pm
8/25/2021 09:56:17 pm
8/25/2021 01:21:39 pm
Randolph, thanks for your kind words. It is really easy when the events are so interesting.
8/25/2021 03:04:43 pm
8/26/2021 11:00:35 am
Everyone is a product of their accumulative experiences. Some are quite evident and others very subtle. Also, people tend to form self-images at an early age that are not always correct
8/26/2021 12:45:56 pm
Wonderful story, Alan. We all value your wit and wisdom. As you say, it really is simple. That is an ageless lesson, one that has been passed down through my family, and which becomes that much more compelling in this time of complexity and mind-numbing change. All best.
8/26/2021 02:50:18 pm
Thinking of Alan’s stories- years ago I worked at a place where there was a man who created a myth, in part by actions, in part by writing and telling hero stories, about himself. In reality he was a person with weaknesses and strengths, some of each were significant, but the myth did not include negatives.
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.