Bill Morrissey’s Passing

Bill Morrissey, the New Hampshire-based songwriter, died in his sleep over the weekend. He was in a hotel in Georgia on his way from visiting friends and performing a house concert to see his mother in Philadelphia. He was 59.

Bill was a character who wrote great characters in his songs and his fiction (he published two novels). His voice, both on the page and coming out of speakers, was an instantly recognizable corduroy croak. He battled the demons over the years, something he documented in a 2009 post on his web site, but the word was he was feeling better lately.

On his site, the announcement of his death included a description of the last week that says he’d found some peace:  “It is fitting, though, that this last week he was staying with his dear friend, Fred Koller and his wife and he had chosen to stay in their airstream. He loved it.  And, he spent a day or two admiring Fred’s bookstores and the incredible used books and first and second editions of books that Bill has admired for years.  He also performed at a lovely house concert and had a great time playing.  He was at the motel as a stop before driving up to the Philadelphia area to visit his Mom. And he was happy and upbeat about all of these things.  “

He played North Shore Point House Concerts in 2002 . He put on a great show and was a gracious, funny, guest.  I’d fallen hard for him a year earlier, when I purchased “Something I Saw or Thought I Saw.” The album made my best of 2001 list.  “Rightly compared to Richard and Linda Thompson’s classic, “Shoot Out the Lights,” Morrissey has captured a romance fracturing, ” I wrote then. “He remains one of the best storytellers in song, portraying a lonely night at the Chelsea Hotel perfectly in “23rd Street,” the sadness of old age in “Traveling by Cab” and offering just a bit of hope with “Will You Be My Rose.”

I quickly caught up with his career and learned what I’d been missing. He could — and did — bring me to tears with his songs.  His “Birches,” about a longtime marriage, is about as perfectly written a song as you will find. Listening to his music over the past couple of days has been the saddest of pleasures.

The Boston Globe has a fine obituary.

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