From The Desk Of Luther Russell: “Little Big Man”

You might not know Luther Russell by name, but you’ve probably heard music he’s made with the likes of Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams) and countless others. Selective Memories: An Anthology, out February 23 on Hanky Panky, is a two-CD compilation of Russell’s material that’s a stellar introduction for newcomers to this musician’s musician. Russell will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

Russell: I’ve always loved the 1970 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway, but nothing could prepare me for the sheer wit and depth of the original novel by the late Thomas Berger. Dave Sobel, former organist for my old band the Freewheelers, gave me the book and insisted it was a masterpiece and I would love it. And he was so right. Berger inhabits the only slightly dependable 121-year-old narrator Jack Crabb as if he has astrally projected into a real-life frontier character—one he made up from thin-air, no less. A boy is taken by the Cheyenne in a raid on the prairie and is raised as one of their own then spends his life flitting back and forth between the Nation and “civilized” society. In this picaresque piece, Berger makes you feel like you are right there amongst the legends of the day, like Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and George Armstrong Custer—and he pokes holes in all of them. With his wicked sense of humor, Berger wraps your head around the sheer hypocrisy of the times, a mere precursor to our own modern travails. Now obsessed with Berger, a master storyteller practically on par with Twain, I have found many of his books, and am about to break open Vital Parts and The Feud.