It is with great sadness that I have to write this obituary for the great Alaskan songwriter Buddy Tabor. It was only with my link to his song “3 Strikes You’re Out,” pointing out the hypocrisy of Rush Limbaugh that commenters notifying me that Tabor died last month of lung cancer at the age of 63.
A man who I believe was one of the 5 greatest living American songwriters in the early 21st century and nearly completely unknown outside of Alaska, I only knew of him because a good friend of mine moved to Skagway and sent me a tape of his amazing album “Abandoned Cars and Broken Hearts.” There are certain times in every music fanatic’s life when you hear something and are instantly arrested by it. This might happen to me every 2 or 3 years. Less than 10 times in my life. This was one of those times. I remember, I popped it on with another friend of mine over and he had the same reaction. I spread his music the best I could to various Albuquerque people, probably not more than a few, but I’m glad I was able to do so. I would have told people to buy his albums, but that wasn’t really possible. He wasn’t online and I never found a way to buy his albums. My friend in Skagway channeled them to me until he left; Buddy may have released another album after that but I have no way of knowing.
I started writing about him when I started blogging at Alterdestiny. Somehow he found out about it and gave me a call out of the blue one night. Occasionally, really cool things happen through blogging. Not very often, but it happens. At that time, I was a complete nobody in the blogging world so it was really great that he called and thanked me for the nice words. It was a short conversation but one that was memorable–Buddy Tabor was a hilariously cranky man. He started talking about how terrible most singer-songwriters were (this is true) and how the music industry was not worth making a living in because the clubs and bars where you were forced to play in front of drunk people was so dispiriting that he wanted to quit (hard to blame him). He wanted me to come up to see him play one of his rare shows in the lower 48, in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I was living in Santa Fe at that time, but my life was literally falling apart around me and I just couldn’t make it up there. This was the fall of 2005, probably the worst time in my life. I’ll always regret not seeing that show.
Buddy wrote a lot of amazing songs. Unfortunately, the very rare nature of his performances and very low record sales means that I can’t link to many of them. Here’s a couple though.
“Black Crow Night” is off his wonderful album “Earth and the Sky,” of which I wish I could link to the title song. I do want to at least quote some lines from the lyrics from that title song.
“We embrace the unexpected
Of life’s great mystery
Standing in acceptance
Is when we are set free.
Free to love you through our pain
Free to love you through our tears
Free to love you through the passing of our years.
Earth and the Sky, Earth and the Sky
Earth and the Sky, Earth and the Sky
Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and the Sky.”
“Black Crow Night” is one of Buddy’s many quality songs about indigenous people. He was a white guy from Virginia but his wife was Navajo. This was his one attempt I think to make a video of some kind. Say what you will about it, the song is pretty great.
Buddy could also write a mean political song, particularly later in his career as he, like many of us, became more angry at where the nation was heading. “Corporate Domination” is as good a song for Occupy as anything I’ve heard. A classic of the political genre if you ask me.
If I can think of one song for Buddy to leave to, I would choose the song he wrote for his friend Townes Van Zandt after that great songwriter’s death, “New Fallen Snow.” This is a live version that someone recorded and recorded a homemade video for. Those who know me well know that although I have zero musical talent of my own, songs are a very important part of my life. I chose the songs very carefully for my wedding reception and dinner. And I’ve thought, and I realize this is a bit morbid, that if I am ever to suffer a long-term illness where I can truly prepare to leave this world, I would choose a series of songs to play at my funeral. This is one of them.
“Raise your glasses high/with a prayer on your lips
I won’t be back again my friends/no I never shall return here again.”
Buddy Tabor, RIP.