Brilliant Songs No. 1: Tom Russell’s “The Eyes of Roberto Duran”

So many great songs and songwriters, true poets who weave the disparate shards of life happening before their eyes into something intense, insightful, and profound as that life, every life, deserves. Seeing what we see only dimly or not at all, marching up to questions we shy from and coaxing from them words and images of beauty and inspiration or dead-on-the-money, troubling truth.

So it’s time to have a little more sustained fun with all that, in the form of a series hosted here at Traversing entitled as you see in the headline slot above: “Brilliant Songs.”

I’ll aim for monthly, may slack from or increase that, who knows? (I’m old, and inclined to chafe at schedules…)

What we’ll do is give the song a You Tube play, present, admire and explore the lyrics for a bit (may probe some pure instrumentals as well), draw what we can from them and see where the whole enterprise takes us.

Yes, I’ll take song suggestions. (In the Comments box below or via email:

No, there’s no guarantee your song will make the cut. (Cuz there’s no guarantee about anything in life, my dears…)

So shall we begin?

Here, give this a look and listen.


Now have a read.

Has anybody here seen Roberto Duran?
I met him once, yeah I shook his hand.
I looked in his eyes and now I understand,
yeah, the love and the anger in the eyes of Roberto Duran.

Has anybody here seen that Mexican girl?
She lives up on Third Street in her own little world.
a saint in the window, and the rosary beads in her hand,
yeah, the smile of an angel and the eyes of Roberto Duran. 

Panama City, it’s three in the morning,
they’re talkin’ ’bout the hands o’ stone
New York City, lord the sun’s comin’ up
my baby’s throwin’ ever’thing she owns…

Has anybody here seen the woman I love?
she’ll fight down and dirty when push comes to shove,
she’ll win every round if the fight goes according to plan,
with the smile of an angel and the eyes of Roberto Duran. 

Guitar solo

Repeat chorus (change “baby’s” to “lady’s”)

Repeat verse one


Tom Russell has been at the songwriting business for a very long time now, and like many talented creatives has branched out into other forms as well, with paintings, a book of essays and even a detective novel behind him.

He tried academia early in his life (graduate degree in sociology), but didn’t much cotton to the professorial class. So it was off to playing in skid row bars for him, which he vowed to break free from but where he gathered plentiful future material as long as he was there. (He once co-wrote a book of letters with Charles Bukowski.)

Russell’s are story songs, rich in street-wise imagery, poetry and fine melodic hooks but generally too literate and wry to garner much radio play or vault him to the top of any charts.

But he’s earned huge respect from fellow musicians, played with and/or had his songs covered by multiple heavyweights within the industry, and in the late 1990s wrote an improbable song about the former lightweight (and three other weight classes) boxing champion of the world, a taciturn Panamanian with a smoldering countenance and a legendary moniker, “manos de piedra” (“hands of stone”).

Watching Roberto Duran box in his relentless, brawling style obviously left a lasting impression on Russell, and the fact he was able to make music from it represents his peculiar songwriting genius on a couple of fronts.

One is that he connected Duran’s fury as a boxer literally fighting for his life every time he stepped into the ring with that of Russell’s Mexican girlfriend when she’d been provoked. No shrinking violet, apparently, and Russell honored that quality in her (“the woman I love”) by making it into art.

The second point is more subtle and psychologically acute: that he had sensed within Duran not just the hardscrabble upbringing in Panama City ghettos that fueled his savage, angry eyes and brutishness in the ring, but that behind all the woundedness lived, of course, the need, the urge, the fractured expression, of love, deeply buried.

In Russell’s girlfriend that love is evident—she sinks nightly into saints and rosaries and the smile of an angel, after all.

But to see it underneath the rage of a fierce boxer and then loop that dual nature back in musical homage to his beloved is a feat not only of pure poetry, but also great insight and compassion for just how complicated human beings can be—Roberto Duran included.

How we’re always more than meets the eye—our own eye or anyone else’s.

And how we need all the help we can get from artists like Tom Russell to better appreciate those complications and all the love and anger and countless subtler emotions that get reflected and tangled up with them in our day-to-day lives.



Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. See more at:

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Tom Russell and guitar photos by Spencerblake, Midland, Texas,

19 comments to Brilliant Songs No. 1: Tom Russell’s “The Eyes of Roberto Duran”

  • Randall Chet  says:

    Brilliant idea Andrew! I’m sure every suggestion you get will deserve more exposure. Every once in a while a song makes your jaw drop. Such is the case with this song: There are lots of versions on Youtube. This is the original written by Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack and appearing on their 1993 record. The despair and anger builds till the final verse when it makes you want to jump up and shout #$@%! yeah! A cathartic song if there ever was one. The outro is perfect – what a rollercoaster.

    I finally had the chance to see Will Kimbrough last summer at a tiny little music festival in Greer, SC. This song got a standing ovation.

  • kirk thill  says:

    Many years ago our amazing friend, Kevin Feldman, took me to a Bruce Cockburn concert. Upon hearing this song I was moved beyond my emotional barriers and wept uncontrollably. I had no idea of the historical significance. Given our current political and social horrors this song now hits harder. The song/message is as timeless as when Patti Smith sang Bob Dylan’s “It’s a Hard Rain”. Coupled with the fact of his guitar virtuosity and vocal mastery, this song is undoubtedly brilliant.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Randall: Whoa, talk about serious cultural commentary! Hadn’t heard that before, thanks, but as I’m rummaging through the You Tube & lyric sheets, they keep making reference to Todd Snider as the writer. What’s up with that? I HAVE seen him a couple of times over the years as an opening act who seemed to me to deserve better. Great songwriter with a wonderful stage presence, just a hoot.

    Kirk, I well remember being completely blown away the first time I heard this alternative “Bruce!” sing that number. Such righteous, controlled anger, yow! I think it pretty much makes it into every one of his concerts, like the other Bruce’s “Born to Run.” Anthem status!

    • Randall  says:

      Yep lots of bad info on these inter webs. I think Todd snider was still busking around Santa Rosa and sleeping on friends couches when that was written. No joke. Both Snider and Kimbrough got their starts on John Price’s Oh Boy label. You’d expect that out of a songwriting genius like Prine.

      • Andrew Hidas  says:

        I hate it when bad information gets repeated often enough on the Internet and social media that it just overwhelms the good.

        (Wait a minute—we’re talking about SONGWRITING here, aren’t we?)

        Properly crediting writers always makes me think of Frank Sinatra, a guy who knew his way around a song but never wrote one. One of his very best qualities was almost always giving a shout-out to both the writer and arranger of whatever song he was doing in concert. The man knew who was helping to butter his bread, and he spread the good joojoo accordingly.

    • Randall Chet  says:

      for serious cultural commentary how’s this?
      Take a listen to James (son of Larry) McMurtry’s catalog. And if you ever get a chance to see him live, do. He’s a VERY under appreciated guitarist.

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Whoa indeed – echoing Randall – GREAT idea, Tom Russell is a long time fav- the Irish song cycle album, The Man from God Knows Where is a real treat… here’s one song from the album, a duet w/Iris DeMent, Love Abides: Agree w/my good buddy Kirk re: the “other Bruce” – and your comment sums it up perfectly… another quick connection to Roberto Duran and folk singers – another very fun street smart singer/songwriter performer is Paul Thorn, who boxed pro for a few years, fought Duran (when Roberto was long past his prime) – made it to the 6th round TKO – he wrote a song about it, “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail” – not subtle, but fun! Anyway, thanks for the post and the great idea – am sure your readers will submit some superb tunes… ( Todd Snider is a hoot indeed, a devotee of Jerry Jeff Walker, another fine singer/songwriter)
    Oh, can’t leave without putting in a plug for my current fav singer/songwriter, finally getting his due recognition-wise – amazing voice, insightful story telling, highly personal and passionate – checkout
    Cover Me Up from Austin City Limits: He is a really special talent …

  • Randall Chet  says:

    You going to impose a limit Andrew? This thread may get pretty lengthy!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Ha! That would be a happy problem to have, but I look at it this way: We can build a treasure trove of great music readily available for reference by anyone who passes through here for all eternity (or until my money runs out in my bequest to maintain this site!). Meanwhile, we’re helping out the artists, increasing their links on the Internet, inviting people to share more songs with future postings, and just generally making the world an ever-so-slightly better place.

      And the problem with that was what again, now? :-)

  • Randall Chet  says:

    Taylor Goldsmith, the singer-songwriter told of meeting Bob Dylan for the first time. Dawes opened for Bob Dylan several years ago and he was all nervous and shaky about that prospect. I guess it wasn’t till after the show when he was outside the venue (festival? I can’t remember), Dylan asked “Did you write that Everything song?” “Yes” Taylor said. “Good song” Dylan simply replied.

    I probably got the quote so-so, but that was the gist. There’s no higher praise I guess.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      That sounds exactly true to Dylan’s voice and manner and I am guessing Goldsmith knew it was high praise indeed. Nice anecdote…

  • Loren Webster  says:

    Dang, had to buy that album. Luckily it’s just credit card money. Never heard of Tom Russell before but I’ve been looking for some new music to listen to and this will be a welcome addition to my iTunes library.

    I have as many favorite songs as I have favorite birds but I’d probably second Bruce Cockburn’s “If I had a rocket launcher” as a great song. Think I have almost all of his albums.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Loren, it’s always a pleasure to open the door for someone to a heretofore unknown song, and all the better when the artist was unknown as well. Little treasures, there awaiting…and finally uncovered. Keep ay eye out for Mr. Russell coming your way; he puts on a fine live show.

    • loweb3  says:

      P.S. Love “Blue Wing” on “The Long Way Around” album.

  • dkahern1958  says:

    Swooping into the conversation late here. I knew little of Russell, but soon will know more. Speaking of great songs about boxing (no, not Hurricane)……

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    “Blue Wing” is a great, great song, Loren; had been a while since I’d given it a listen, thanks.

    Speaking of “had been a while,” neither Boom Boom Mancini nor Bobby Chacon had crossed my consciousness in many a day, Dennis, though some site or song or other does put me in mind of Warren Zevon (may peace be upon his soul), with some regularity!

  • Karen  says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I’ve had some curiosity about a Cat Stevens song for a while now. Would you, please, untangle the words to the song “Into White.”

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