Dec 4, 2013
12:19 PMArts & Entertainment
Tom Rush, 1960s Godfather of New England Folk Music, Comes to StageOne in Fairfield Dec. 8
(page 4 of 5)
I understand that you were at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, when Dylan went electric and was booed, the reasons for that still being strenuously argued.
Actually, I wasn’t there.
Really? Because there’s a picture of you on your website from it . . .
For whatever reason, I didn’t see his performance; I probably had a gig somewhere and had to split. But I think the booing . . . There was a great backstage scene. There was a photographer named David Garr, who’s now left the building. But David Garr was standing next to Albert Grossman and Alan Lomax, and they were getting into an argument that escalated very rapidly, Lomax being the quintessential folk and traditional music collector and Grossman being the marketer of popular artists. They ended up on the ground punching each other. David Garr had a long lens on his camera and he ran to get as far away as he could to get a photo, but he missed it. But you had the traditionalists who were very devout and dedicated to the purity of the folk traditions, and here was this kid basically peeing in the punchbowl. They just couldn’t take it.
One thing I read suggested that one reason why Dylan went through with it was he was pissed off at all the Lomax-y types at the festival who were such purists.
I would submit, though, that as a performer he probably knew what he was going to do long before he got to Newport. He would have had to rehearse that band; he wouldn’t have shown up with it. So I doubt that was a spontaneous decision. I don’t know if he appreciated what a storm it would cause.
With hindsight, it seems such a strange thing, but I guess those were different times.
It was about that time that I put out the album that had one traditional folk side and one electric rock’n’roll side, and nobody noticed. [laughs] Nobody expected purity from Tom Rush.
When you look back at your career, what are you happiest about? What has been your best accomplishment?
I think I’ve written some good song; I think I’ve helped some people achieve the prominence that they deserve, in a minor way. At the bottom of it all, I’m very happy I’ve made a good living at something I love to do.
How much are you on the road nowadays?
Depends upon who you ask. My wife will tell you I’m never home. I will tell you I only do one weekend a month on the road, and then occasional other dates that I can commute to, within a two-hour radius of home base.
If you hadn’t been able to make a living at this, what would you be doing?
I have no clue. I was thinking about this the other day; there was a watershed moment when I was auditioning for a play, which I was enthusiastic about, but I had no time to read the play or prepare. I got up there and I totally misread the part I was trying out for. I got yelled out for wasting the teacher’s time. Si never went back to acting; I think I might have enjoyed an acting career.
As I said, I was an English Lit major at Harvard, and that doesn’t really have a career path tied to it. Originally, I was going to go to the University of North Carolina and study marine biology. My daddy, who was faculty advisor for hundreds of students at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., and told them what college they should go to, wouldn’t give me any advice. So when I got accepted to Harvard, Princeton and UNC, and told him I was going to North Carolina, he said, “No, you’re not.” The most important thing about Harvard was that it put me in Cambridge, Mass. where all this folk music was happening. Had I gone to UNC, I might be a marine biologist today.
So Harvard wasn't otherwise a good match for you?
Harvard was tough. I’d gone to Groton School in Massachusetts, which was allegedly preparatory, but I got to Cambridge totally unprepared. At Groton, you were told what to do every minute of every day. I got to Harvard, and no one was telling me anything. I didn’t have to go to classes if I didn’t want to. I remember going up to a professor who had just given us an assignment and saying, “Well, what do you want me to write about?” and he looked at me like, “Huh?” I totally drifted for the first couple of years.
At that time too, the Harvard professors were all important people who had written “The Book,” whatever it was. But they’d written it 30 years earlier. They really weren’t much interested in undergraduates; they did the lectures because they had to. There was no fire to their teaching—most of them were quite boring. The English department in particular was populated by extremely dull, old people.
Do young folk aspirants come to you today and ask for advice?
I actually got an email from a 17-year-old last week asking, “How do I get started?” It’s a tough one. My generic advice . . . actually, I’m in the process of writing a book. I was asked to write an autobiography by one of the big publishing houses, so I sat down to try to do that, but the project keeps veering off into a self-help book. But the one thing I tell everybody is, “Spend as much time performing in front of a live audience as you possibly can.” Because you’ll learn more than you will doing anything else. Like when I’ve got a new song that I think is brilliant, and I take it in front of a live audience and they disagree. Or you’ll feel the energy dissipate—the first two verses are great; then around the middle of the third verse, they’re gone, they’re off the hook. So you think, “Okay, well, I’ll have to do something different at that point in the song.”