It’s been very sad for a big chunk of the Tucson music community as well as many, many other people around the world. Songwriter, musician, carpenter, campfire cook and friend, Cyril Barrett, sings no more.
He’d become a fixture in Jamie’s and my lives. First as a fellow musician – when Jamie and I met him, he was in The Possibles with our friends Tom Moore, Brian Green and Fen Ikner. We’d sit in with them sometimes – me on background vocals and Jamie on lap steel guitar – and I was always blown away by the nuances in his songs.
He’s been called the missing link between Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard and that sounds about right. Clearly influenced by outlaw country and Americana – but always with a certain twist in the chords or a melancholy slant that both perked up your ears and ached your heart.
He was a gray wolf – in hair and nature. Completely giving and kind yet also keeping himself in his own little fortress of solitude. But when you sang with him, he’d look you in the eyes – and his were clear blue and soul full. It was unnerving in this era of down-turned faces, and my shyness made it difficult, but eventually I learned to look back.
He was also a contractor by day – a natural carpenter who hadn’t picked up a hammer before coming to Tucson 12 or so years ago – but since then becoming an expert on most things home. When we bought our house, we hired him to paint the rooms. He helped us choose colors, contrasting walls and ceilings – never too crazy but never ordinary. Just beautiful. He said that as he stroked the paint on the walls he’d transmit thoughts of wellness and abundance. There was art and grace in whatever he did.
He’d collaborate on strange little ideas we’d have – an Alice in Wonderland door for our cat between our bedroom and Jamie’s studio – or replacing a glass panel in the front door with wood to protect against amps swung perhaps a bit unsteadily coming home. His eyes would get a far off look imagining the project, the effect. His voice would get that little boy lilt. His eyes bored deep, but gentle. Even at the end…especially at the end.
More often than not he’d bring a guitar along. I’d cook dinner and we’d all jam on the back porch. Now every single part of this house is a piece of him.
There’s so much more to say – including this heartbreaking summer of watching a good friend die. But he was a man of privacy – never even had a Facebook account and became distressed when his friends put up a ‘We Love Cyril’ page to show their love and support when he was hospitalized. Had it taken down. I still never quite understood that side of him.
It didn’t work though. He has friends from all over – his home state of Idaho, Europe, Seattle and of course Tucson – who cherish his memory. Different worlds that have collided, old friends and new recognizing a piece of him in each other. The page is back up. There are various memorials planned – and we held a tribute concert in Tucson on the Che’s Lounge patio. 14 different sets of friends playing his songs: How the Grass Grew, Down At The Piano, Coyotes of Sasabe, Sunset Hotel. His brother Bob brought a blown up photo of a Cyril I’d never known – young, in his twenties. So handsome with that little glint in his eyes. It was a roller coaster of smiles and tears that night, among others.
Young Cyril and his old hat.
We’re also putting out a compilation album of his friends covering his songs – on the Heathen Call label – and I wouldn’t be surprised if a LOT more people suddenly learned about this troubadour hiding in the desert.
His friend Neko Case wore a shirt of support on Letterman.
We slapped up a quick website with links to his music and such. But a part of me wonders what he would think of all this ‘exposure’?
Cyril, I hope you don’t mind. Your music was a gift to us and we feel like sharing. As usual the world – most of us – took it for granted while you were around. But your songs are still alive and kicking and your voice and words and melodies preserved. So if it’s okay with you, we’re going to see what other hearts out there will give them a loving home.