“God in heaven, I almost died.”
That’s what Tommy Womack sings, and he sings the truth. It’s a song about the first time he almost died. Sometimes Tommy writes funny songs. “I Almost Died” isn’t funny. Sometimes Tommy writes reflective songs. “I Almost Died” isn’t reflective. It’s harrowing.
That first time involved an adverse reaction, an ambulance ride, an Ativan injection, and an uneasy admission. The other time Tommy just about left this coil is not yet a song, but it inspired an ethic, and a reason for the title of his most recent solo album, Namaste.
“Namaste” is an ancient Sanskrit greeting, according to the Urban Dictionary. There’s no such thing as the Suburban Dictionary, which is curious. “Namaste” involves a deeply felt sense of thankfulness and respect. The rough Sanskrit-to-English translation is “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you.” Tommy’s album cover photo for Namaste is by the exquisite Anthony Scarlati. Tony took that shot on a night in 2015 when some of Tommy’s heroes and a bunch of his friends came together to sing and play for him. They did that to help him out after he almost died the second time. Tony’s camera clicked when Tommy was gesturing his thankfulness, love, and respect over all that.
Tommy’s second near-death adventure involved a Nissan Sentra whose value instantly depreciated on a Kentucky roadway. “Car metal crunched. Airbags exploded. Glass sprayed across the highway,” was how a Nashville newspaper reporter conveyed the second time Tommy almost died. Tommy is well-known in Nashville, because for a bunch of years he’s been singing songs that surprise and delight the most surprising and delightful songwriters in the world.
And now, as if that weren’t enough, 2017 marked the year Tommy beat back a not-quite-deadly but damned inconvenient bout of bladder cancer, and as soon as that was dealt with, he headed out on the road for more of the one-nighters that have defined his life for almost thirty years. In the last months of 2017, Tommy and his comrade-in-arms Will Kimbrough resurrected the band they have together, Daddy, and put out a new album, Let’s Do This! , to pandemic reaction from their devoted knot of fans.
Tommy came to Nashville from Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the national Corvette museum and springboard for music heavies including Sam Bush, Bill Lloyd and Jonell Mosser. In Bowling Green, Tommy founded a post-punk band called Government Cheese, and that band appeared on MTV, in a thousand black-box rock clubs, and in the pages of a marvelous book that Tommy penned, one called Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock ’n’ Roll Band You’ve Never Heard Of. From there, Tommy joined friend Will Kimbrough in a short-lived but much-loved band called the bis-quits. That group’s debut and curtain-call album came out on John Prine’s Oh Boy! Records. Then, Tommy began a solo career that has produced six albums, two “Best Song” awards from the Nashville Scene Critics poll and one Scene cover story, effusive praise from Prine, Todd Snider, Jason Ringenberg, and other remarkable musicians, and songwriting cuts on albums by Snider, Jimmy Buffett, Jason and the Scorchers, and more. He’s kind of a big deal.
The new Daddy record boasts more of Tommy’s unique view of the world (and sometimes downright smart-assery) in his contributions to Let’s Do This! “Pissed Off at the World” takes on the chaotic state of affairs in modern America, “State of Blue” chronicles the suicidal last moments of an alcoholic hell-raiser, and “When Disney Takes Jerusalem” satirizes both the commercialization of religion and the silliness inherent in thinking one piece of dirt is any holier than any bit of the rest of the planet.
So, when something happens to Tommy, it makes the newspapers and music mags and the Internet. When that something is almost dying, everybody gets scared and worried, and they want to help.
“I have never felt so loved in my life,” he told the newspaper, after his friends showed up for him and sang and gave money and attention and casseroles and a wheelchair ramp after the wreck, and then all the goodwill stemming from his cancer battle, an ordeal he chronicled with no small amount of humor on his facebook page.
Most of Tommy’s songs ought to be bum trips, with tales of the “Comb-Over Blues,” the “End of the Line,” and the whole “almost died” deal. But Tommy beats all of that back with detailed hilarity, uncommon humanity, and hard-won positivity.
“I didn’t cry when it was over, it had been all over before,” he sings, and he sings the truth. And then he goes on and explicates the transitory (Thanks, Romans!) life of Jesus Christ, the bizarro times when Sting, Geraldo, and Chevy Chase were considered cool, the musical glory days “When Country Singers Were Ugly,” and the undeniable greatness of badass troubadour David Olney.
And when he’s all done, he offers up what once seemed to him a dreamy impossibility: Love and thanks and respect and some brand new sense of dreamy appreciation.
“The sky’s like a faucet, turned on all the way/ It’s a beautiful morning, it’s a beautiful day,” he sings, and he sings the truth.
“Life is for living, and living’s for love,” he sings, and he sings his truth.
“Who would have believed it could turn out this way?” he asks, and he asks in wonder.
Tommy didn’t believe it. God in heaven, he almost died.
It looked to be all over, but it had been all over before.
Namaste, then. Namaste.