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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Tom Rush

Tom Rush is a folk singer/songwriter who helped shape the ‘60s folk revival. His early recordings of songs by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and James Taylor are widely credited in introducing those artists to the world. He’s currently “on tour” on Patreon, where fans can sign up for “Rockport Sundays” and receive a weekly offering of songs, writing, and wisdom from his studio. Follow him here.

Where do you come up with your best ideas? 
Sometimes in my sleep. I keep my phone next to the bed, and I wake up and record little things that occur to me.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
It would have to be music. Joni [Mitchell] letting me record her early songs before she recorded them. Same with James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and other artists who offered me songs before anyone else got to them.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
Again, I think it would have to be music. I recently got an e-mail from someone who was talking about how much my music had meant to him. He played it for his wife when they were courting, they played it for their children when they were growing up, they played it at their children’s weddings. And he said, “We just played it at my wife’s funeral.” Which was heartbreaking but moving that the music had meant so much to them.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Getting to know myself better.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
I think I’d make a good supreme leader of the world — but failing that, maybe an actor.

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made? 
I’m still making them all the time; it’s hard to come up with a winner. I don’t know if his would be a mistake, but a chance I’d taken: The first time I booked Symphony Hall [in Boston] for a show between Christmas and New Year’s. I had a hard time talking them into agreeing to open it up for me. There was a [huge] capacity, double the ticket price, it made no sense at all. But it sold out. Going into it, people were definitely saying “That’s a mistake.” But my instinct was this should work, and it did.

“I had an older cousin … who could take a lit cigarette, flip it back into his mouth, dive into a swimming pool and blow smoke bubbles from underwater.”

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
It’s hard to come up with a winner.

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
When I was living in New York, and a lot of [musicians] were moving out to L.A. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I got a place in Laurel Canyon with everyone else. It was definitely a big fork in the road.

How do you relax?
What’s that? How do you spell that? I’m unfamiliar with that word.

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
New Zealand. I’ve never been there, but I’m told it’s fabulous.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
I had an older cousin named Beau Beals who could take a lit cigarette, flip it back into his mouth, dive into a swimming pool and blow smoke bubbles from underwater.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?
Learning how to think.

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
I decide whatever I’m stuck on isn’t important. If you can’t get through the wall, under the wall, or over the wall, go around it.

What is your proudest moment?
Seeing my first son being born. I’m an adopted kid. Until that moment, I’d never seen a person who was related to me by blood.

What would you like to experience before you die?
I’d like to finish up a bunch of projects. I’m starting to sculpt, and I’d like to see where that might go. I’d like to finish these books I’m working on, finish a new album. That’s not really a very complete answer.


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Photo by Robert E. Klein/Associated Press