Remembering Tom Hallett, Twin Cities music writer extraordinaire

Categories: Obituary

Courtesy of Paul Dickinson
L-R: Tom Hallett with friend Paul Dickinson
Tom Hallett was a true rock 'n' roll writer. He lived the rock 'n' roll life like the Twin Cities' own Lester Bangs, and wrote about it in great detail. For decades, Hallett avidly attended innumerable shows, and celebrated our scene hard. Hallett's recent passing after a struggle with diabetes shocked many. He was 50 years old.

His friends include cohorts at publications featuring his writing (The Squealer, Pulse of the Twin Cities, 'Round the Dial) and innumerable musicians, but his reach could never be contained. As Gimme Noise gathered stories of Hallett from the people in his life, a consistent thread emerged. These folks spoke about his passion for writing, making mix-tapes, radio, and having good times with his friends at all hours. It's said by all that Tom was a sweet, funny guy who was well-loved by all. Here's a lengthy collection, they way he'd like it, of memories from some of the people who knew him best.

Steve Birmingham - The Squealer writer/editor:
Tom Hallett had rock 'n' roll in his bones. It showed up on an x-ray when he had one of his nightmare back surgeries, which, along with other health challenges, my dear friend rarely, if ever, complained about. As a music journalist and as a person (fun fact: they're not always the same thing) Tom had a purity of motive and to me he is very much in direct lineage to other bang-up writers like Ben Hamper, Charles Bukowski, and Hubert Selby, Jr.

Tommy Gunn's informed interviews, epic rants and reviews were genuine, hilarious, insightful, entertaining, and often unhinged, but Tom Hallett was also one of the most stoic cats I'll ever know. Please know that. I adored his cynical wit, our conversations, trading email, and sharing all this great music together, but his natural ebullience in the face of pain and the hardscrabble is an immense source of humility and inspiration for me. And his passing hurts like hell. Let's forever celebrate the sense of community that Tom fostered, his freewheeling talent, his original voice, his magnanimous rock 'n' roll heart, his giant contribution to the Twin Cities music scene, and his glorious example of forging his own path in print and in life, but, beyond "the idea of Tom," people need to know that this rawk monster was a total sweetheart; a beloved son, a loving father to his son Bryan, and a best friend to his ex-wife Linda. Tom was not impervious to feeling the squeeze, man, but he chose to be tenacious, upbeat, and productive. He just had an irrepressible spirit and a most contagious love of music.

Tom and I became fast friends nearly 20 years ago when he just showed up at the Squealer magazine office in St. Paul where I was the music editor. Tom had bit of a Motörhead roadie look as he stood in our hall doorway. It certainly wasn't an affectation nor was his air of gonzo but "Otto's Jacket" is a known thing, right? And back then, where there was live music, there was tobacco smoke (and in general, Tom was always a keen barometer of how uptight other people are). Anyhow, Tom came bearing the best mix tapes, and, well, here we are now, wherever this is.

Out of all the years we hung out, collaborated, and stayed in touch, the image that comes to my mind of him right now I didn't witness. But the picture is clear as a bell and it's loving and true, and oddly serene: Tom is sitting backstage at the Target Center entertaining a wee Frances Bean Cobain who has been plopped onto his lap. They're making each other smile, two gentle souls, two new pals, and Frances Bean beams to Tom, "I like your jacket smell." And it makes me smile to replay Linda telling me that she was ticked that Tom left her to go backstage. And I can see Tom's sheepish and satisfied expression when in his polite defense; he asks her, "What would you do in that situation?"

Leo Keulbs - The Squealer, Pulse of the Twin Cities, former Frances Gumm drummer:
I was a co-publisher of the Squealer with Paul Bernstein. Tom walked in as a volunteer writer at the same time as Laura Brandenburg, and was there the entire time. He was super-passionate about music. Tom's life was writing about music and making mix-tapes. I went on to co-found Pulse of the Twin Cities with Ed Felien. He wrote for Pulse, and 'Round the Dial.

I was managing a leather store next to Speedboat Gallery. I hired Tom as a salesman. He made the place look like his living room (laughs). He knew something about every kind of music. He was very serious about it. He liked to debate, but never argued for the sake of arguing. He was a good guy to talk with about music.

He talked me out of leaving Frances Gumm, twice. I was married and felt I'd grown out of being in a band. He said, "The band is really good, you should stay."

'Round the Dial was the best venue for his voice. He loved music so much, he couldn't not have every detail in the piece. He became a real voice for music. Tom would help Paul Dickinson with book and record sales.

Tom was an important part of a community that didn't know how important it was at the time. The Turf Club SPMC... he was a crucial fabric of the music scene. Losing Tom is like losing that time and the music then. He was well-loved by everyone. People can find all his writing for the Squealer at the Minneapolis Public Library periodicals department.

Paul Dickinson - Punk poet, writer, Frances Gumm musician:

Goodbye Dear Friend, actual Rocker Dude in a leather jacket -- icon, legend, and glorious malcontent. There is not enough ink or gigabytes to describe how much you loved rock 'n' roll, and how many adventures you went on to serve its majesty. You will be missed, and we shall crank it up in your honor.

He was a writer who operated in the field. He was not in a cubicle. When I first met him at his apartment in Little Canada, he had some Iron Maiden cassettes he had dubbed to some teens who were there. We wrote for Pulse at the same time. He was a hero because I saw he terrorized the accountant at Pulse to deliver his paycheck to him at the Turf Club.

Martin Devaney - musician (Crossing Guards):
Not sure when I first met Tom Hallett, but there can be no doubt it was at the Turf and it was probably related to an Ike Reilly show. Over the years, I was charmed by his kindness and gargantuan columns that I know drove many an editor nuts. He was such a careful listener... he did a lot of insightful reviews of my records, including a track by track review of what I now view as a rather unremarkable effort. I'll always remember the night spent with him for that Pulse cover story at his Midway apartment, every inch crammed with rock 'n' roll. He was a rare breed; a warrior. They don't and can't build writers like that much anymore. He will be missed.

Rob Rule - musician (Stereo Rules, Mammy Nuns), former booker Turf Club SPMC:
Tommy Gunn aka Tommy Hallett. Wordsmith, philosopher, poet, advocate, believer, debater, curmudgeon, teddy bear, father, husband, friend, and so many, many more things. Tommy was sort of a paradox or contradiction, if you will. He was one of the 1%ers, who have so much passion and belief in the power of music, that they devote their life to their muse, in this case music, often times to the detriment of themselves.

Tommy lived the life of a fanatic, a musical fanatic. And while he would occasionally sing out a song, usually very late or early, depending on your perspective, he lived to see, feel, understand and experience music. He would then do his damnedest to put into words the way he saw, felt, understood and experienced music. To spread the word. Live music was the holy grail and the trough he drank from. For many years Tommy could be seen all over the Twin Cities, out supporting artists he liked and respected.

In the nearly 10 years the St. Paul Music Club and I spent at the Turf Club, Tommy was a fixture. He would promote shows, review shows and artists' works, come to shows to support in person, as he grinned and laughed and nodded his head along to the tunes on stage. Then after the shows were over and the bar closed up, we'd often find ourselves at an after-hour location and converse endlessly about... music, with music always part of the background. Tommy was a neighbor and a friend, a real good friend to me and Leah, the Mammy Nuns, Turf Club, SPMC, amongst hundreds of others. And an artist. And a True Believer in the power of music. Now the bodily pain is gone and he's finally arguing/debating/hangin' with Lester Bangs. Hey Tommy, save me a seat. Sincerely, Rob Rule

Dave Wiegardt - former Turf Club/Clown Lounge manager/booker:
I first met Tom through Leo Kuelbs and Pulse magazine when they brought Tulip Sweet into the Clown Lounge and the monthly Cavalcade of Stars variety show was conjured up. This was the fall of 1995. One Sunday a month we'd have Myrna Byrd juggling, Tulip Sweet and Mr. Yesterday crooning, a found object Puppet show, and a Paul D. observation all paraded on the dimly lit stage in that smoky basement. Tom Hallett was our door guy. I paid him in Budweiser. He would invariably slide me a mix tape at some point in the night and turn me on to a band that drank too much. We shared similar tastes. 

One of the last nights I saw Tom was at a party in his hotel room above Tracks Bar on University Ave, which was odd because we all had apartments near by, including Tom. I believe it was after a Tulip Sweet show. We were all quite misbehaved. At some point we had skinny-dippers in the pool below and had the manager come to scold us when Tulip, jumping on the bed, was catapulted into a wall, knocking a framed print to the floor.  I remember people leaving the party through the bedroom's window, which was hardly seemly as we were on the second floor.  When we left to go to an after/afterparty, we called Tom's hotel room and had him DJ for us over the phone through his boom box.

Point being, Tom lived a full life. And the time that I knew him he was following his passion and lived life, hard and with style. And now may he rest, in peace.   

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