One of the world's most extraordinary songwriters lives quietly in
Woodstock, playing a few songs at benefits when he's invited and only a
rare full concert performance.
Tom Pacheco will soon depart for a tour of Great Britain that will
last into October. But, before he leaves, he will play a full concert at
The Colony in Woodstock this Saturday, September first (2001). It will
be his first full concert appearance in town since 1998 and may very
well be the only one of the year.
This story from the archives first appeared in the Daily Freeman in Sept 1999.
Tom Pacheco's Mountain of Songs
Story by Gary Alexander
Photos/Artwork by Ray G. Ring IV
the planet's largest kaleidoscope isn't the one at Catskill
Corners in Shandaken. Maybe it's the one through which Woodstock
songwriter Tom Pacheco views the world.
On his last three albums alone, two of them double CDs, Pacheco has
given us more angles on everyday life than a jeweler could cut into a
diamond. His box of visions is even more bulging than the swollen
campaign chest of George "dub-ya." Pacheco, who makes a rare local
appearance tonight at Rosendale Cafe, brings perspectives of the world
beyond the grasp of many of the most imaginative of today's songsters
into the reach of a guitar-driven tempo.
Rampaging through the works of today's most revered and prolific
songwriters, nowhere do we find quite the range of subject matter and
concept than we see in Pacheco's cascading output. Taking a look at
just a few of the 77 songs presented on those three albums, we meet
John Wilkes Booth fleeing from the scene of the crime; the would-be
rescuer of a woe-be-gone racehorse, condemned like an old house; Beat
icon Neal Cassady, who just happened to be there, wherever it was;
mystery-wrapped bluesman Robert Johnson; the cast-off and ageing "main
squeezes" of rock stars; a soul-sucking reverend; an edgy adulterer
from Youngstown; Van Gogh's landlord; George Armstrong Custer; the
busboy who cradled the head of a dying Robert Kennedy and numerous
other everyday heroes, losers, lovers and cads.
Pacheco, like many other artists, can charm with romance, tug with
poignancy and amuse with wit but who else could or would write a
fascinating song about sand or the characteristics of a single tear
from the eye of a woman? Who else would stage a jailbreak from heaven
or know the deepest secrets of a Vietnam vet killed in a holdup?
Pacheco makes us feel the numbness of a disaster victim with a CNN
microphone in her face, the annual silent awe inspired by the season's
first blanket of snow, the liberating force in having "crazy eyes,"
the smothering emotions of a touring successful author's encounter
with her married high school sweetheart. These are intricate and
delicate themes, common to this remarkable songster's outlook, handled
adroitly with distinctive and assertive grace.
A once-and-future Woodstocker who returned from a decade's stay in
Dublin several years ago, Pacheco is perhaps better known in Europe,
where he still plays more frequently than he does here. His albums
are consistently raved about in the foreign press and one of them, The
Lost American Songwriter, draws its title from a reviewer's puzzled
reference to him as one of America's unrecognized masters--(what's the
matter with those yanks?) Pacheco's reaction, in the album's title
song, features a nondescript songwriter perusing a new town for places
to play, not with bitterness but with a sense of privilege which is
both humble and touchingly genuine.
Although one of Tom's Australian reviewers recently observed that his
music is "ignored by the feeble fuehrers who program the hits and
memories mausoleums of the unlucky radio country," Pacheco does
receive airplay from livelier stations and well-deserved respect from
his fellow musicians. Numerous artists in both Europe and America
have recorded his work, including The Band on their last album,
Jubliation, and even Bob Dylan was reportedly covering his "Midnight
Waters of the Rio Grande" last year on a European tour. The
record-holder for Pacheco-covers, however, is Norwegian star Steinar
(pronounced stainer') Albrigtsen, a household name in Oslo whose
recordings consistently "go platinum" and who has included no less
than 34 of his songs on albums, including one they recorded together
in 1993. As this is written three record companies are bidding for a
proposed follow-up to be recorded in Woodstock this Fall.
Photo by Anne
"Steinar wanted us to put down the basic tracks in a studio on a
little Greek island you have to get to by boat from Samos Island,"
Pacheco laughs, recalling the exercises of logic he employed to
persuade Albrigtsen otherwise. "He had vacationed there this summer
and told everyone it was a terrible place so it wouldn't be
discovered' and spoiled by tourists."
With Albrigtsen due to arrive next week to begin work on the project,
The Rosendale Cafe's Mark Morganstern, who is earning a reputation for
attracting some of the finest contemporary talent from all over the
country, sagely opened a local window wherein we can catch this
extraordinary artist warming up for the climb. Some new songs are
always a certainty at a gig by someone sitting on a mountain of
notebooks full of unrecorded gems and still haunted daily by his
ever-active muse. Singer Tao Rodriguez was anxious to capture some
for his own repetoire when he first heard Tom perform just before
Tao's grandfather, Pete Seeger, went on at the Clearwater Corn
Festival in Beacon last week. Rodriguez knew a place near where he
lived in Nicaragua called "Bluefields," which is also the title of a
dazzling Pacheco song about the quest for true values in life. And
who wouldn't want to string jewels on their necklace that gleam with
the sheer exhilaration of living like Pacheco's "Fly With the
Lightning" or tone with the chilling caution of "a place cursed by
Pawnees" like the glance of a woman in his tune "Jessica Brown."
Pacheco commands the passions of revenge, pangs of remorse and
yearning, knots of twisted irony and an imagination that allows Adolf
Hitler to meet Billy the Kid or an alien abduction to rescue the
grandfather of Muddy Waters from the Klan. When other artists unload
a bright and mindless escape to the countryside, Pacheco looks closer
and sees a "soggy, foggy field of listless cows." ANYTHING can happen
in a song by Tom Pacheco. Come and see.
is an independent journalist and scholar whose focus of
interests range through a variety of disciplines. Under various names,
he has written (and ghost written) upon history and current event;
science and technology, as well as music and the arts in books and for
national periodicals. While particularly attentive to the subtle and
complex impact upon cultural imagination and contemporary structures of
presumption which activity in the above mentioned topics tend to have,
Alexander treats his topics with a slightly more than occasional resort
Posted on August 28, 2001