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Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance

Stringsinger 01 Sep 13 - 10:10 AM
maeve 01 Sep 13 - 10:23 AM
Stringsinger 01 Sep 13 - 10:37 AM
Bat Goddess 01 Sep 13 - 10:56 AM
Jeri 01 Sep 13 - 11:24 AM
Elmore 01 Sep 13 - 12:13 PM
GUEST,steve s 01 Sep 13 - 05:47 PM
Jeri 01 Sep 13 - 06:09 PM
Elmore 01 Sep 13 - 07:07 PM
Jeri 01 Sep 13 - 07:29 PM
Bat Goddess 01 Sep 13 - 08:32 PM
GUEST,David E. 01 Sep 13 - 09:03 PM
Elmore 01 Sep 13 - 09:49 PM
GUEST,David E. 02 Sep 13 - 12:19 PM
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Subject: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Stringsinger
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 10:10 AM

Peter Cooper: The quiet death of a troubled, talented troubadour

Posted on August 11, 2011 by Peter Cooper

Bill Morrissey playing his final concert in Lebanon, Tenn. on July 16 (photo: Ramcey Rodriguez).
Bill Morrissey died, and maybe you never heard of him.

Probably, you haven't. Morrissey was from New England, not Nashville. He never lived here and didn't play his music here very often. That's too bad. The music was special, and we would have been better off for closer proximity.

As it turns out, Morrissey played the last show of his life on July 16 in Lebanon.

It was a house concert, and 13 people showed up. The star of the humble show wasn't upset about the turnout. He arrived at hosts Denise and Rick Williams' Lebanon home a few days early and used the time to chip away at some songs that no one will ever hear. He told some funny tales from his decades on the road, and he talked about his beloved Katrina rescue dog, Molly.

Molly was a pointer, he said: She pointed out trout, so he knew where to cast his line.

That Saturday, Morrissey plugged in and played, told stories and stayed the night. Then he went to his songwriting friend Fred Koller's house for five days of swapping songs and more stories.

And then, on July 22, he packed his two Epiphone guitars into his Toyota, drove to a modest hotel in Dalton, Ga. (carpet capital of the world, don't you know?), called Koller and some other friends, and, at some point in the night or the next morning, died. Complications from heart disease. He was 59 and looked older.

'One of the best songwriters'

He was a troubadour, a novelist, an alcoholic, a folk singer. He was bipolar, on medication for depression and by some accounts doing better of late. He was kind, sensitive, rare and doomed.

"She wants to make love, I want to drink," he sang in "Last Day of the Last Furlough." "Drinking is what I do best."

Actually, he was terrible at drinking. Practice proved imperfect. He was much better at writing songs. The drinking was disruptive and erosive, the writing transcendent.

It was his songs, not his craggy singing voice, that led him out of jobs in factories and on fishing ships and onto a remarkably diverse array of stages, from New York's gleaming Carnegie Hall to the pleasantly shambolic Alice's Champagne Palace in Homer, Alaska.

By the early 1990s, Morrissey was on a fast track. He soon became known as "One of the best songwriters we have" (Rolling Stone), "One of the most consistently literate singer/songwriters working" (Village Voice) and "The best folk songwriter working today" (Entertainment Weekly).

The New York Times' Stephen Holden compared his lyrics' detailed precision to short story master Raymond Carver, and the 1996 Random House publication of his novel, Edson, furthered the literary connection.

If you'd asked me in '96 what I figured Morrissey would be doing in 2011, I would have predicted he'd be playing concert halls and collecting accolades, much like John Prine and Guy Clark. Then I would have asked what brought you to Spartanburg and if you knew of any job openings in Nashville.

Factoring in the whiskey

My Morrissey prediction, though, would not have taken the whiskey into account. His was not a swashbuckling, Hemingway-style drinking life, it was a hot bourbon bottle under the driver's seat on a July afternoon kind of deal. It wrinkled him, clumsied his nimble fingers and sometimes maneuvered his elliptical stage banter past the point of charm.

He became unpredictable, and generally unmanageable. Never unloved. Morrissey was revered, garnering a couple of Grammy nominations, influencing songwriters such as Suzanne Vega, Hayes Carll, Mark Erelli and Ellis Paul and earning a devoted following of fans who purchased his albums, who wrote to ask why his touring schedule had slowed and who often went out of their way to attend his infrequent shows. Of the 13 people at his Lebanon gig, several had driven hours to see him.

The "him" they heard wasn't what he used to be. He used to be the guy you'd never want to follow onstage, a force of poetic, charismatic nature. Morrissey in 2011 was like his boxing hero, Muhammad Ali, at the palsied end of his unprecedented career. But as was the case with Ali, the degradation didn't lessen the genius, it only masked it.

"If you went down to Music Row and asked any of the top 10 writers about Bill, they might not be able to tell you anything," said Koller, the Rhino Booksellers owner whose songs have been recorded by Prine, Nanci Griffith,Kathy Mattea, Keith Whitley, Bobby Bare and many others. "But he was an artist, with a painter's eye that shows up so strongly in his lyrics. You can study almost any of his songs, and there's not any room for improvement. Twenty years from now, those songs will be just as good as they are today."

The songs.

There's "Barstow," where he sings, "Don't the freight yard sound like a drunk in a metal shop."

There's the brilliant "Birches," in which a woman defies her husband's admonition to fill the fireplace with long-burning, sparse-in-flame oak, not hotter, quick-burning birches. "She thought of heat, she thought of time/ She called it an even trade."

Then there's "23rd Street," in which he sits in a room and confesses, "Tonight, I'm just too drunk to pray."

"Well, there's some folks bring love to a hotel," is how he begins the last verse. "And some just bring their own quiet end."

Morrissey's end was quiet. His talent and spirit crackled like a birch log fire. His songs burn longer and steadier than oak. They're here for you to hear, even if you've never heard of him.

Reach Peter Cooper at 615-259-8220 or pcooper@tennessean.com.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: maeve
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 10:23 AM

Accurate and lovely writing. Thanks for posting this.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Stringsinger
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 10:37 AM

I knew Bill in Boston. He was intelligent, sincere, troubled of course and intensely
interesting as a performer.   I was a fan. His song "Living on the Edge" was riveting to me.

It was my honor to post this.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 10:56 AM

Merde. My long post just got lost -- here it is reconstructed.

Curmudgeon (Tom Hall) and I live in Nottingham, NH, just a town away from Newmarket, NH ("small town on the river") where Bill lived and often performed at the Stone Church. I first met Bill early in 1981 at one of the Sunday Stone Church hoots and desperately wished to be able to record Bill's wonderfully funny and insightful patter between songs. But it never was, to the world's and his fan's loss. I think a few of his songs of that era never got recorded either, such as the one about kid's named "Jennifer, Jessica and Jason / just like ever kid across the nation." Just this morning I was reminiscing with Ellie O'Connor (Stone Church owner/manager in the '80s) about missing those wonderful Sunday hoots in the early '80s with Bill, Cormac McCarthy, Doug Clegg, Sammie Haynes, Ed Gerhard, Kenny Girard and so many more, not to mention Tom who was often hootmeister and his banjo playing partner Bob Frost who got together back in 1970 the third weekend the Stone Church was open.

Tom, of course, had known Bill for years. Chris Biggi (later Sunset Ridge Studio) recorded Bill's first 45 single "Live Free or Die" (NOT the version later re-recorded years later for the CD) in Tom's living room in Epping, with, I think, Bill Madison on backup and probably a couple other Them Fargo Brothers.

I last saw Bill in 2006 at Cuzin' Richard's New Hampshire Folk Festival at The Music Hall. At a social gathering just prior to the concert, he looked so shy and alone...

I miss the good times...

Linn


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Jeri
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 11:24 AM

The link to this was in the original Obit thread, but it's just as well to have the whole thing posted. There are a lot more rememberances at www.billmorrissey.net


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Elmore
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 12:13 PM

Glad to have seen Bill perform many times when he was at his peak. Enjoyed his novel Edson, and would like to get my hands on his second completed, unpublished (?) second novel. As I mentioned in a previous entry, Edson is available at Amazon almost free. Thanks for posting this, Frank, even though it made me sad.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: GUEST,steve s
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 05:47 PM

I have a hardcover 1st printing of Edson...never got it signed...

I asked this question earlier. What is the status of "Imaginary Runner"? Is there an electronic copy? Does it need editing or reconstruction from other sources? I would be willing to give it a shot. Who owns the rights?

regards, steve s in philly area


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Jeri
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 06:09 PM

I bought a copy of Edson quite a while ago and never got around to reading it. I just looked at it, and it IS signed. Looks like it's to "Norma", but it's hard to tell. I need to read it. I lived in Newmarket, NH for a while, and I believe there's a lot of that town in the book.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Elmore
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 07:07 PM

Jeri: If you read this, (Edson) and it's a quick read , you'll realize how much potential Bill had as a novelist.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Jeri
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 07:29 PM

Thanks, Elmore.
I know how good he was at storytelling from the songs. The first, and last time I met Bill was at the '96 event Bat Goddess talked about. He didn't know who I was at all, and he was kind, gracious, and yeah, a little shy. I've learned more about him since he died, and I've met friends of his. I wish I'd made it to more of his gigs, or knew about him earlier.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 08:32 PM

Yeah, Jeri -- read the novel and figure out what the different places were (really) in Newmarket -- Marelli's Fruit & Real Estate, the Polish Club, the Stone Church...

Linn


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: GUEST,David E.
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 09:03 PM

Imaginary Runner was published in limited quantities and if you ask around you might be able to find a copy. I would suggest trying the Yahoo Group of Bill's fans, called "Birches." I'm not sure if any copies are still available though. Also, Edson was published in France in a French translation as well.

David E.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: Elmore
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 09:49 PM

Thanks, David E.


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Subject: RE: Review: Bill Morrissey Remembrance
From: GUEST,David E.
Date: 02 Sep 13 - 12:19 PM

Stringsinger- I consider myself fairly up on Bill's songs, but I am not at all familiar with ""Living on the Edge." It's not on any album or concert tape that I have and it's not in his songbook. Any details of when he played this or do you recall any of the lyrics?

David E.


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