I don’t think of Tim White regularly, but not infrequently either.
I thought again of Tim, my late, great friend and editor at Billboard , last week in the middle of Marty Stuart’s show at City Winery, specifically, when he spoke a bit about Badlands.
Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota was Marty’s ambitious and acclaimed 2005 concept album take on the Native American struggle, via the Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota. Speaking of it, Marty told the audience that he had essentially adopted—and been adopted by—the Lakota tribe in Pine Ridge, that in fact, everyone should adopt a tribe.
On the bus after the show, I told Marty what a wonderful thing that was to say, what a wonderful project Badlands was.
“When we started the band back in 2002,” he said, referring to His Fabulous Superlatives—with guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Paul Martin and drummer Harry Stinson, as good a band as any of any genre—“they were the only people that let us play! I try to get back there once a year.”
And then I told him something that Tim said many years ago that was very much in line. Tim, of course, had written the celebrated Bob Marley biography Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, and in an interview, related how he had “adopted” Jamaica as a country. He said that everyone should adopt a country.
By immersing yourself in a country and its culture, you open yourself up to something more than you and your own—something more important now than ever in a world where tribalism, in its various forms, is threatening our species’ continued existence, if not our planet’s. If I can devote myself to learning about you—and hopefully vice versa—it won’t be so easy for me to want to kill you, let alone carry it out.
Not to say that there aren’t bad things in your culture and most certainly mine, that hopefully we can surmount if not change before coming to blows. At least we can acknowledge the good things, in my case music in particular.
I was lucky enough to adopt Russia and then India somewhat, nowhere like Marty and Tim, but enough to get a greater understanding of their people and by extension, me and my own. As in all things for me, music was my major point of entry: If you can appreciate someone’s music, at least to some degree, you can appreciate the person, at least to some degree. That’s the true beauty of world music, and while cultures that condemn it and other artistic expression—the Taliban, for an easy example—are doomed to a joyless, self-imposed isolation.
Tim White died in, 2002. Obviously, I still miss him much. We can all be glad that Marty Stuart is still with us, so alive and well.