Have you ever had a friend visit you inside a stranger?
Have you always believed in signs and trusted mystics you’ve met along the way?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, then perhaps you can understand what it meant to me, to spend an evening with singer, songwriter, and poet Tom Kimmel. He was an incredible start, Friday March 25th for this year’s Words & Music series at Jerry and Pam Libstaff’s beautiful home in Vaughn. Tom read from his book of poems “The Sweetest & The Meanest” (peppering-in a few new ones) and performed from his vast catalogue of songs. You may not know him by name, but I can guarantee you’ve heard one of his songs in movies, on television or by other artists, somewhere, sometime.
Raised early in Alabama, Tom Kimmel is most definitely a Nashville Cat (plays clean as country water) with hawk’s nose and bright, far-seeing eyes. Here was someone who had been to the well, fallen down and forgiven everyone (most of the time) in order to get back to that same well. His voice (oh honey!) is southern autumn, swayin’ a tale sweet and woodsy enough to charm his audience out of their all and everythings. It made me wax tender towards him when he spoke of his, “feeling a generation click forward” with his father’s death, a year previous, finding himself now a “middle-aged, mortal man.” Made me feel his understanding. I liked that his writing showed a ready ear for the rhythmic humour abounding in folks’ natural conversation. Indeed, all my favourite writers are able to appear and disappear in their observation of unique human voices, and universal human movement through those voices. See now, I don’t usually talk like this…but that’s the kind of effect Tom Kimmel has on a body!
Tom’s speaking voice and emanating spirit as his eyes touched mine, brought a beloved old friend to mind and heart; this aura brought him into the room with such sudden recognition, such a shot of endearing pain that my eyes shone, brimmed and spilled. Call me crazy, but it’s not the first time I’ve learned of a friend’s passing by being visited through a stranger. I told him how much he reminded me of my friend, when I bought a copy of “The Sweetest & The Meanest” in the first break. Tom was completely present within our conversation and immediately hugged me, as if he felt my longing. In every conversation I watched him have with members of his audience, there was that same genuine connection. A person who understands the ratio of mouth to ears is a rare and necessary jewel. His poems are like that too, present and kind in a spirit-whittled way.
After reading through the misty twilight and taking a working break, Tom picked up his guitar and began to bring us into a deep-soaking spring night. His voice has such beautiful tone, pulsing with vibrato and smoked around the edges by decades of working use. It expanded one moment, then pulled in for the sweetest quiet point of a tune the next. His medicine began to work on me immediately and harmonies pulled from my guts to his melodies, even when I didn’t know the songs. Tom Kimmel was as familiar as every friend gathered around instruments over the many years, many miles and, oh so many songs on this musical, magical road.
Each performer at House Concerts talks for a moment about feeling it a slight ‘come down’ from bigger circuits, but then reveals a core teaching of common link to all circles, a passion for the work and for people who make up an audience, waiting to breathe with their own stories, people wanting to follow melodies or fill in harmonies. Be it the magic of Carnegie Hall and larger collective unconscious, or magic of a comfortable living room in paradise and smaller, intimate connections, a performer needs an audience to make the alchemy happen, and takes something precious with them each time, from every different venue.
Tom did three sets in all, two of them a carousel of songs, stories and readings, riding up and down upon that guitar of dark flowers. What he left us still ripples, especially through our Watermark Writers group; we find ourselves slipping into gentle southern cadence when we read his poems, or try to write about him. Some were inspired to write songs, stories, chapters and verses, some to speak the truth of their hearts. Tweed Meyer was inspired within her Folk Art…Musical Folk, that is, and Tom Kimmel’s colourful serving of Love. All of us received something precious that stays behind, though he is many performances (and prayer beads counted) further down the line by now. It lets us take a bit more time and kindness with one another. It pulls us to listen, laugh, cry, love and learn, pulls us to create and share. The lyric phrase I keep hearing on everyone’s lips was Tom Kimmel’s kiss goodbye, as he sang, “…no one gets to Heaven, if anyone else is left behind…”
Simple yes, but so profound for many of us middle-aged mortal beings, looking for a sign that there will be more music, more words and more art in our Third Acts. It’s as necessary as breathing and believing, for all of us.