Tom Rush: "I'm Less Concerned With the Past Than the Future"
The accolades given the Coen Brothers for their fictional "biography" Inside Llewyn Davis are definitely well-deserved. But the biggest rewards the film will reap will likely be those shared with the real-life folk singers who came of age in the early '60s and extended their influence onward over the successive five decades. One such individual is Tom Rush, an artist who not only helped jump-start the folk boom of that golden era but also helped subsequent generations gain their footing as well. It was Rush, after all, who became one of the first artists to cover James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell, even while penning songs of his own that became an essential part of the folk firmament.
Fifty years later, on the eve of his 72nd birthday, Rush is still carving out an individual niche while still clinging to his unassuming style and charming audiences from the Northeast to our own environs here in South Florida. We had a chance to chat with him via email just prior to his upcoming gig at the Broward Center of the Performing Arts.
New Times: You play South Florida fairly consistently. So what attracts you to our area?
Tom Rush: I'm bracing myself to go outside and shovel two feet of snow off the walk here in Vermont. It's 15 below zero. Need I say more?
What can we expect from a Tom Rush show circa 2014?
Some new songs and some old favorites, along with some stories that are either true or even better than true since I've improved them.
Let's catch up. What's new with you since your last visit here a couple of years ago? Any new albums in the pipeline?
I did a show at Boston's Symphony Hall a year ago, celebrating 50 years of music with my friends David Bromberg, Jonathan Edwards, Buskin & Batteau, and more. A very nice DVD/CD set of that evening just came out and is available (as chance would have it) at tomrush.com. There's also a video documentary in the works that will be ready for release sometime in the first half of this year.
You're credited with helping to bring the songs of Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and other notables to larger audiences through your early covers of their tunes. Is there anyone around these days that you're leaning toward in terms of prospective covers? Or any up-and-comers that you especially admire?
I always mention a fellow named A.J. Swearingen in this context. Great songs, singing, guitar playing -- and he's good-looking. I hate him.
What do you think of the so-called nu-folk scene these days? Any thoughts on the current folk scene in general?
The term "folk" has come to mean almost nothing these days. Mumford & Sons is definitely a folk act, or would have been if they'd appeared in the '60s. Some of what Paul Simon and Springsteen have released could be considered folk. Musicians have for a long time been going back to the well of the traditional songs that are the real "folk."
What's in Tom Rush's bucket list these days?
Finding enough time to come up with a bucket list.
Politics are really tangled these days and always seem to be relevant in folk circles. Do you have any views you care to share on what's going on in Washington or around the world?
Washington has finally devolved into almost complete disfunctionality. They've got to realize that "compromise" doesn't mean "give me everything I want, and then I'll ask for more" or this nation is done for. The global scene is also discouraging as technology gives us ever more tools to act upon our nastier impulses. Everybody can't have everything, but everybody should have something.
Have you seen the Llewyn Davis movie? If so, what are your thoughts. Could you relate to it?
Haven't seen it yet, but friends who have, who were there in the '60s, say that it misses the mark. All of the angst, little of the joy.