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The Passing: RIP Jack Hardy

Jack Hardy was larger than a man. He put his shoulder against the world and pushed every day. He was a one-man army in a battle against mediocrity. He brought us all with him and shared his success, standing anonymously behind the curtain while everyone he inspired took the stage.

At the Falcon Ridge and the Kerrville Folk Festivals, Jack hoisted an enormous pirate flag upon his arrival. He woke early in the morning, made coffee, and started playing songs. No one was allowed to talk for long when there was a guitar in the circle. Jack’s legacy could be summed up in his own raspy voice: “Shut up and play the song.”

In the afternoon, Hardy could be found in the camp, singing songs and still hosting the circle. At dinnertime, he might have made his famous pasta for everyone present. At midnight, chances are you’d find him under the pirate flag, still giving an ear to the most ham-fisted, amateur songwriters in the camp. Only Jack knew how great they would be in ten years. Sometimes, he would quietly corral someone as they were leaving and say, “Hey, I like that song. You know, it could be better…” Some people didn’t take too kindly to that. But most would be in the circle the next day, with a brave new knowledge of their own potential.

I’ve heard people claim that Jack Hardy was arrogant. They never knew him. Jack never once mentioned Fast Folk to me, a magazine and record label that practically WAS the songwriter scene in New York City for fifteen years. From the Smithsonian website, “Fast Folk included established artists such as Van Ronk and launched the careers of musicians such as Shawn Colvin, Christine Lavin, Steve Forbert, and Suzanne Vega.”

Jack held a song circle every Monday in his SoHo flat for close to thirty years. The only rule was that you had to bring a new song. I went once and ate pasta, made by one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, who then sat and listened to every clumsy, half-baked idea at the table and gave us his own.

Jack promoted everyone around him and never himself. He wouldn’t even call people for gigs. Since the day I met him, he personally mailed a copy of every new Jack Hardy CD to my house. He recorded one of my songs and he damn sure didn’t need anyone else’s songs. I loved him deeply. I’ve been crying all morning. I can’t fathom how much he meant to everyone he knew.

Sorry, Jack. I’ve gone on too long. I’ll shut up and sing the song.

The Passing – Jack Hardy

It was a bird, a petulant bird that pecked upon the window
First so slowly, slowly then with urgent crescendo

As if it could it finally could say what it had to say-o
Its cry so muffled by the glass the structure in the way-o

chorus:

Mo ghrá sa’n Bás is deacair a rá
‘S riamh an lá d’ag gabháil-o (siud sa chré-o)

She had lain for many days, no years of indecision
Drifting in and out of sleep, no words describe the prison

With passion all reduced to pain in swollen joints and vision

She once independent now dependent on good wishing

I walked so slow so not to scare this cold bird at the window
Trying the while to ascertain its variegated colors

As if the seasons there had left confusion in the willows
Of leaves and flowers blown apart and covered on the pillow

She had said o’er and o’er that they could take her home now
As if she was some other place with strangers all unknown-o
Was it home to Clay Street to her childhood she would go now
Closer than I would have come this bird had come much closer


This bird was finally dismayed to find its own reflection
Stood so starkly motionless then flew in all directions
By the lines of modern thought the ancient body was consigned-o
The ashes to be placed somewhere where stained glass cast its light-o

Was it there it finally flew, this bird that was at the window?
It looked so free in passing as if the passing opened in-o
‘Twas days and days and days before I could finally hear the cry-o
As if this passing the only way that I could say goodbye-o

Jack’s fan,

Jbyrd

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3 comments

  1. avatar
    Rachel Barreca 13 March, 2011 at 10:18

    I didn’t know Jack personally and I didn’t even know who he was until I heard he had died through Jonathan’s Facebook page. I wish I HAD known him as he sounds like he was an extraordinary ordinary man. Thanks for sharing your words with RMC, Jonathan.

  2. avatar
    Joanne Crabtree 13 March, 2011 at 12:50

    Jonathan Byrd’s reflection on Jack Hardy’s contributions to the lives of developing songwriters reminds me again that there are great blessings to be found here in the “small time”. R.I.P. to a great teacher (and thanks to JByrd.)

  3. avatar
    angela page 25 March, 2011 at 10:59

    I will be airing an hour special on jack – saturday march 26th 2011. Having lived with him for over 15 years, I feel equipped to know what voices and songs to draw upon to paint as good a picture possible in an hour tribute. I streams at wjffradio.org
    The show will be on the archives for roughly two weeks following. I can be reached at folk plus at g mail if interested

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