Eberle & I received some very sad news on Tuesday evening—Audrey wrote to let us know that our dear friend Tom Trusky has passed away.
Tom’s name has come up from time to time on Robert Frost’s Banjo, & with good reason: he was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of our music & was responsible for us being commissioned by the Idaho Film Colelction (of which Tom was director) to write & record a score for Nell Shipman’s masterpiece, The Grub Stake. Mr Trusky could have had pretty much his pick of silent film composers to write that score, & yet he decided to assign this to two completely unknown musicians from a small Idaho town, based solely on the one score we’d written, for Nell Shipman’s earlier film, Back to God’s Country.
That was the beginning of Tom’s importance in our lives, but he was always wonderful to us. Perhaps the most down-to-earth academic I’ve ever met, Tom had a wonderful sense of humor & a sparkling joie de vivre. He was always accomodating, whether our performances took us to Claremont, California or to the small town of McCall, & he was always a marvelous presence during those performances with his witty & informative talks about Nell Shipman. Of course, his warm & witty presence at dinners & chats before & after the screenings were most welcome, too.
That’s some of what Tom meant to us. But of course, he has a larger importance, because without him, it’s possible that Nell Shipman—a true great of the silent film era as actress/writer/director & more—would be practically unknown. Before Mr Trusky got interested in Nell, after reading an obscure article of hers in an old Atlantic Monthly, only one of her films was thought to have survived—Back to God’s Country. Thru Tom’s efforts, six other films were discovered, & he also was her champion. Although Shipman has yet to garner the recognition her work so richly deserves, the fact that she is recognized today, that a film like Back to God’s Country can be screened on Turner Classic Movies, that there are the Nell Shipman awards for women filmmakers, & that her complete surving works are available on DVD (including our score for The Grub Stake).
But Tom seems to have been generous by nature, one who could champion the overlooked: he not only tirelessly boosted Shipman, but also Idaho artist & bookmaker James Castle & others, including a couple of unknown musicians from a small Idaho town.
The music I’ve selected as a tribute to Tom isn’t mournful; although we didn’t know Tom very well, I suspect he wouldn’t necessarily want that. It’s a piece I posted a few months ago, Eberle’s “Red Piano Stomp” from our score for The Grub Stake—Eberle is playing a Schoenhut toy piano & I’m plunking along on my old Stromberg-Voisinette plectrum banjo. The fact is, Tom loved the toy piano. It also played a small role in our score for Back to God’s Country, & while we were afraid that our use of this & other oddities such as slide whistle or kazoo would shock an academic sort, they in fact delighted him—& none more than the little red piano. Eberle & I have often said, only half-jokingly, that we might not have been commissioned to score The Grub Stake were it not for the red Schoenhut.
Our thoughts go out to all of Tom’s friends & family & to his long-time partner. His death at 65 is sad, because Tom had so much to offer & had such a wonderful spirit; still, I’ll remember him for all his kindness & generosity & wit & his incredible ability to support artists, whether great or completely minor, who needed a hand up.
(The pic at the top of the post was taken by Audrey Bilger, & shows Tom Trusky, Eberle & me at the Mary Pickford Auditorium of Claremont-McKenna College, before our ’05 screening of Back to God’s Country.)