NOTE: I had several requests for a copy of the remarks I made at the 11/17/11 Bill Morrissey tribute concert. What a night! And here ya go:
Bill Morrissey and I were friends before we ever shared a stage together. Every time we did a show, it was something we drummed up, always with the help of Ellen Karas, so we could introduce ourselves to one another's audiences -- but mostly so we had an excuse to hang out together. There was nothing better than hanging with Bill.
When we met, we were both Boston-based acts making our first serious forays onto the national scene, We had a lot in common. We crossed paths all over the country. We shared information.
The stage manager at that theater in Seattle is a prick.
Get your money from those people BEFORE you get on the plane.
If you drink in that hotel bar, DO NOT mention my name.
Early on I observed to Bill that our relationship wasn't exactly balanced, seeing how he had a tremendous sense of humor while I was tone deaf. He said, "Don't worry, we'll be fine so long as you bear that in mind at all times." But sometimes, late at night, he dropped the edict and asked me to sing along.
Tonight we semi-formally say goodbye to our friend with this wonderful celebration of his life by this incredible array of artists. And what a life it was. Lived without assumption, and seen through such clear eyes, he had to find private ways to sand the hard edge of a world he fully and bravely absorbed for his art and audience.
Bill documented the rust-muffled death clanks of the industrial age in New England and the shit jobs that remained here afterward. He chronicled the daily grind for a man from out of town on an oil rig, a fishing boat, and even a stage, as he fought to make a living he faithfully brought home to New Hampshire. He recorded those journeys in stories that led us from Barstow to Paris from San Antone to Edson. Along the way he illuminated details from the highways, motels and barrooms of a very human and humane struggle for love, and against loneliness.
He was a pithy son of a gun. Bill Morrissey revealed more truth in a few lines than your average Russian novelist uncovers in a thousand pages.
Bill said he never found true love, but he tried. I disagree. His true love was New Hampshire and he found it each time he returned to its brisk embrace. And though I only lived there for a short time, he has made me ache for the Granite State whenever I listen to his music, which is to say constantly. They should rename the Kancamancus Highway Bill Morrissey Blvd.
Bill's tongue was in cheek when he wrote his Letter From Heaven but I believe in his immortality. You see, Bill lived in and documented an age but he played to the ages, the destination for which he was truly bound. If I know Bill, his arrival was humble, unassuming. "Me? Live forever? Really?"
"Yeah you, Bill Morrissey. Right through there. You're friend Johnny Cunningham is expecting you."
So he gently pushed open the door marked "reserved for those who made a permanent and positive impact" and carefully walked in to size up his new circumstances. Five minutes later he'd won over everyone. Next, the greatest writers and artists of all-time demanded a few numbers from the new guy. And with Johnny on the fiddle, Bill astonished them. And there, once and for all, he found true love, and it is perpetual, and you'd be wise to mention his name to the bartender.