Tom Hallett, a singular critic with a distinctive, rambling, and passionate voice and a sharp ear for music, passed away yesterday afternoon in St. Paul after a long struggle with diabetes. He was 50 years old.
Born in Deer River, Minn., on July 27, 1964, Hallett spent time living with family in Alaska and traveling the country before landing in St. Paul, where he fell hard for the Twin Cities music scene and started frequenting venues like the Turf Club.
“He was the music man,” remembers his ex-wife, Linda Miller Hallett. “From the day we met, we always would go see bands, and then he started writing, and he loved doing that.”
Linda and Tom Hallett married in June of 1989, and she was along for the ride (“I was his sidekick,” she says) as he began covering artists in the Twin Cities scene, first for zines like the Squealer and the radio station REV 105, and later for his long-running column “Round the Dial,” which lived for many years in the pages of the defunct alt-weekly Pulse of the Twin Cities, then later on the website Reveille Magazine (where I was his editor) and on his Facebook page.
“He kind of just did it on his own,” Miller Hallett says, reflecting on Tom’s tireless, DIY attitude toward writing. “We’d go see bands and he’d say, ‘I’m going to start writing and I’m going to help them.’ He always wanted to give everybody a chance. He said that everybody should have a chance at doing what they like to do. He’d listen to everybody’s tape, and he’d say exactly what he thought.”
“He was a smartass sometimes,” she adds, laughing. “But he was always fair. And he always loved music. He was going to write a book about all the different artists he’s met, and about his crazy life he had. I think that would have been a best-seller.”
As soon as the news began to spread about his passing, musicians from the scene started coming forward to pay tribute to the attentive and detail-oriented critic, who would regularly wax a thousand words or more about a new release from an under-the-radar songwriter or band.
“Tom Hallett was our Lester Bangs,” musician Martin Devaney wrote on his Facebook page today. “Drove some people nuts, but hell, that’s what passionate people do. I had many great nights with the man and I’m not sure that anyone ever listened to my tunes as closely as he did. We should be so lucky to have someone care as much as he did about what we do.”
“I’ll never forget meeting him on the Ike Reilly tours and hanging out with him,” wrote Little Man’s Chris Perricelli. “He was the first to review Little Man in the Twin Cities, giving us a big push into the scene and I am forever grateful for that and his writing talents,” while fellow music scribe Jim Walsh added that, “His passion for rock and writing was white-hot, hilarious, heartfelt. He wrote from the gut for our guts.”
In addition to Linda Miller Hallett, to whom he was married for 16 years, Hallett is survived by his 25-year-old son, Bryan Hallett. “Dad would have done anything to help anyone with music or just bring you up when your down,” Bryan wrote today. “Dad would be very happy to know how missed he will be. Rest peacefully my great father.”
Linda and Bryan are in the process of planning a memorial for Tom, and are hoping to host a celebration of his life at a Twin Cities venue with live music. I’ll update this post with more information on a memorial as soon as I receive it.