The new film Thirteen Days may not always get history right, but it offers a chilling reminder: The year 1962 might have been our last. For all the belief in human possibility sparked by struggles like the civil-rights movement, the Bomb was there, not as it seems to us today -- some invisible deterrent no one will ever use -- but as a nightmare become imminent fact.Six months after the Cuban missile crisis, Tom Rush sat down in a friend's living room and recorded his first album, which Prestige released as Got a Mind to Ramble. The Harvard undergrad sounded as weary of the world as he was convinced that the truth of the blues might yet save it. The jazz label had already taken a chance on new folks like Dave Van Ronk, a New Yorker who sang in a violent, mangled growl. Rush, however, sounded nothing like Van Ronk, nothing like Dylan, or Andersen or Paxton or any of his contemporaries. There was gravity in his plainspoken folk, but no overt politics or anger. He seemed less concerned with authenticity than with letting the personal secrets of his lyrical muse speak through songs like "Duncan and Brady," "Rye Whiskey" and "Mobile-Texas Line." With the exception of the old bluesmen -- who were then hitting the same clubs as he -- nobody conveyed more of the truth of the old tunes, nobody commanded them quite like Tom Rush. When the folkies began to tell their own stories in song, Rush turned in at least one masterpiece: "No Regrets." Of all the singers to cover it, only Emmylou Harris found her way inside Rush's tone of sweet, grievous elegance.
Rush has never really left the folk revival behind. His faith in the musical cosmos he helped shape is his greatest weakness and his raison d' être. He hasn't released a new record in 16 years and currently spends his time organizing big-ticket acoustic concerts in such profoundly unbluesy joints as Boston's Symphony Hall and the Kennedy Center. But Rush remains a great interpreter of his contemporaries (when he sings "Urge for Going," he all but erases Joni Mitchell's original), one of the most hypnotic, dream-inducing singers of his generation.