Saturday, May 7, 2011

Leon Russell - Still Performing at the Speed of Light

Sometimes the messy threads of life unravel and re-form into a great big bow.  Sometimes you unknowingly attach to something that lasts, permeating your consciousness with such force that even a slight nod to that memory brings a special kind of bliss.  Those moments suspend time, destroying momentarily its linear power. 

Leon Russell's music is one such thread in my life.  College years - blasting his first solo album down the halls of my old dorm and out the windows toward the banks of the Fox River on a spring day.  Wearing down those grooves - repeated playings - joyous movement.  Innocent times, good times.   I moved those vinyl albums faithfully through the years because I couldn't imagine parting with them.  Old friends those songs.

I didn't sense he had stepped off the big stage because I often returned to those tunes.  By the time I met Tim, technology had advanced and, sharing our love of Leon and Tim's chronic need to downsize, we eventually ditched the bulky albums and stereo for replacement CD's and hand-selected mixes great for road trips of our own.  Good times, not as innocent times.

Tim and I were thrilled to see him live in 2006, and during Tim's last days in 2007, the association became indelible.  From the hospital bed now moved into our living room, Tim was surrounded by the sights and sounds of things he loved.  One night, sitting by his bed, the random feature he loved hit on Song for You.  As we sat there listening, I turned to him and simply said "this was our song, wasn't it?"  We'd never consciously picked it, but so much of what it expressed about the spiritual quality of love reflected Tim's philosophical musings about Now and time and the speed of light and what remains in the residue of an Eternal Consciousness.

He was weakened, but his eyes looked into mine and he said, "Yes."  Here, near the end, it was that poignant and simple. 


Leon's tour bus rolled back through my life in 2009 and now 2011.  To see him in the El Rey - well, it's intimate and a smaller venue than he deserves - now a  Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Living Legend.  I  make a point to witness the legend whose songs threaded so beautifully back through my life.   It's another way I witness Tim and find the beauty in bows tied from the strings of my life.  Revival is good for the soul.

My blog of the 2006 concert reflects that sense of revival that this man's music has always provided, but especially these days.    


Sep 22, '06 9:10 PM 
In my office, there is a taped note on my computer that states 
It's never too late to learn to play the piano.
Nearby, a tambourine is handy for the occasional Happy Birthday or Happy Trails back beat, wishing co-workers well on their way to the next birthday or the next job.  
So, when I feel depleted and blue, it's best to go to the well.  
Last night, I needed the very deep well.    

The gamblers upstairs were playing blackjack,  
But downstairs the rest of the sinners were in the showroom  
Gathered together to greet the Saint of Syncopation  
Circuit rider supreme, Leon Russell  
To partake of the sacrament and watch a heavyweight  
Battle the Cosmic Dustdevil of Age.  

Tulsa's favorite son - is it Leon Russell or Oral Roberts?    
The stage lights dim, the opening chords of Delta Lady blast out and  
Knock the first row into the second; the domino effect works only with music  
Check out his holy card 
He wears a white oversized cowboy hat, sunglasses  
And a yellow/black print Hawaiian shirt. 
Ecumenical vestments befitting a minister whose gravel voice 
Is iconic yet resonant with country, blues, boogie and rock DNA strains.   

From the second row, I had a clear view  
At times I was sure he was singing his song for me.  
For ninety minutes, he rolled through his catalogue  
Relentlessly, with little need for patter or introductions  
The melodies and the words were familiar hymns and anthems.  
Why explain?    

Delta Lady, Lady Blue  Hosannas.
Georgia, Lucky Old Sun, et cum spiritu tuo
Brother Ray Charles and Nighttime is the Right Time 
The banshee female power wailing speaks in tongues
Brash, yet classic covers of Dylan  
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry and  A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall   
Hallelujah and amen    

Papa Sang Bass/Momma Sang Tenor coupled with May the Circle Be Unbroken  
Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms  
Back to the Island and Out in the Woods  
Stranger in a Strange Land, Prince of Peace,  Hummingbird  
A pentecostal testifying
Wild Horses  and Dixie Lullaby  

Now featured solos by bandmates  
Let the Good Times Roll and Come Into My Kitchen  
Leon watches, they play for love and his imprimatur.    

Suddenly, the players leave the stage  Save Leon 
Suddenly, the descending glissando of the keyboard  
Ends in the chord of confirmation  
A Song for You is to begin  
In the spotlight, alone, he has now removed his sunglasses  
His long white hair appears translucent  
He looks well, rosy cheeked, and his eyes are clear   

Yes, I see, I hear I'm transformed, born again.
The players had drifted back in place  
And he announced from the pulpit  
That we did not need to play out the ritual stand and clap  
Waiting for the obligatory encore.  

Here they were, here they stayed, and for the encore  
Which required no passing of the collection plate    
Got first Great Balls of Fire  and then Jumpin' Jack Flash  
We were primed for Youngblood but instead  
He delighted and amazed with an instrumental Paint It Black bridge  
That miraculously turned into Papa Was a Rolling Stone. 
Transfiguration and renewal.
For one night, for ninety minutes, in that place where there's no space or time  
We were suspended in the speed of light with Leon Russell.    

Love this Hall of Fame induction Tube which retraces a remarkable journey and an iconic artist's career.   Hallelujah, indeed.  But then, for me, he never was that far away.  It's never too late to learn to play the piano.  Perhaps there's more than one reason I love that thought.


  1. Touching tributes to a couple of old friends …

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