Saturday, September 29, 2007

Waylon's Blues

Harvest Season, Healdsburg 2007
Whoop and holler, this is my 100th post. I'm surprised I actually got this far. I'd like to give a special shout out to my friend David who kind of infected me with the blog bug. So thanks, David, even though I can hardly hold a candle to your prolificness, I'm happy to be in your blog universe, nonetheless.

To be sure, I should have gotten here a long time ago. It's been a strange summer and I haven't been able to post here every day. Still, a milestone, even a small one, seems worth celebrating. So.... yippee.

Woo hoo.

Now that that's done with ...

I can't write about the Mets today. It's too hard to watch them disintegrate, even though y'all know I have long wondered whether they're really good enough to make any kind of serious post-season run. With all that's happened and their near-epic collapse, they could still make the playoffs with a win tomorrow (or a loss actually which I could explain if I wanted to go through the various scenarios). Make it or not, there will still be time to put this season into perspective. For now, though, on to more interesting things.

I admit to being a snob about some things. Beer, for one. I’d rather go thirsty than drink a Budweiser. Same way with country music. I mean what passes for country today is, well, crap. You can keep your Faith Hill and your Rascal Flats and definitely Brooks and Dunn. Not one of those shit-kickers can hold a candle to Waylon Jennings.

That’s why I offer Waylon as one of my fav artists.

Waylon died in 2002, way before his time. But all those years of hard partying finally got to the old guy. It was actually diabetes that killed him – he was only 64 – but his history of addiction and recovery was a long one.

Waylon will be remembered for a lot of things, but possibly his most underrated talent was his amazing singing voice. He was a rare singer/songwriter with a refined, unique voice. His baritone could be gruff, but he knew how to use it, could phrase with the best of them. It's a voice that would have been at home I am sure in much more demanding musical setting.

And while he ended up a larger-than-life character, he was a legend before his time, too. On Feburary 3, 1959, Jennings, who was then a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, famously gave up his plane seat to J.P. Richardson who was better known as the Big Bopper. Richardson was sick with the flu, or so the story goes, and Jennings was doing the man a good turn.

The act of kindness turned out to be lucky for the young Waylon. That plane, which also was carrying Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens crashed outside Mason City, Iowa, killing all on board.

Jennings lived on to become a true country music outlaw and is credited with starting the outlaw country movement, along with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Billy Joe Shaver and Krist Kristofferson, among others. The truth was he was only rebelling against the state of country music, which was being dominated by the docile, sugary sounds of the Grand Old Opry.

Waylon was a Texan by birth and he shared the hard-drinking, rock-and-roll and blues influenced sounds of his fellow maverick singer/songwriters. His music was heavy on guitar and hot on swing rhythms and foot-stomping train songs and honky tonk. He rejected Nashville and those string-laden lost-my-dog-and-my-girl-my-pick-up-truck-broke shit. He was the true heir to Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys and because of guys like Waylon and Willie and Johnny Cash, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and today, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, the torch is still lit and the fire burns strong.

Waylon made a lot of records, toward the end of his life more than a few lousy ones, but during his prime and sometime after, he was a force to be reckoned with, both as a singer and a songwriter. For my money, the three absolutely essential Waylon records are “Dreaming My Dreams,” “Ol’ Waylon” and “What Goes Around Comes Around.” But almost anything he did in the late 70’s, early 80’s likely has a few gems on them.

I’ve uploaded three of his classics to my Vox stash. This one called Waymore’s Blues is just classic, anti-establishment Waylon, showing how far he was from the typical saccharin country music of his day (and unfortunately ours). And here’s a medley of Elvis songs, which goes to remind us all where Elvis came from. Finally, my all-time favorite Waylon tune which I guarantee ain’t nothing like you’d expect from a country music superstar -- nice guitar riffing on the way out. I’m gonna use this song in a movie one day.

A lot of you 70's kids might know Waylon from his guitar -- that was him playing and singing the theme song to "Dukes of Hazzard," but he was so much more than that. Check him out and you'll see.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Friend Bob

Last Wednesday morning at 4 a.m., a good friend passed away. Bob was a writer. But he was so much more than that, too. A fiercely private man who in his lifetime had seen and done and been to more places than 10 people do in theirs. Nobody would have blamed him for being angry or cynical but he was neither. He was kind and compassionate and he believed in the possibilities of the world.

He kept his illness secret from all but his closest friends and even some of them didn't know until he was in the hospital and then everybody knew, which must have been hell on such a private person. But when his wife read the emails from his friends, she said it brought him great joy. I'm glad he heard them. Early last week, word came out that if he survived his treatments, he would need a laptop to use in the hospital where he would be kept in isolation. I had offered his wife the use of my old one.
But the next day, Bob was gone. He was a friend, yes, but also a mentor and someone to rely on for advice and counsel. He was one of the truly decent human beings I've ever known. I will miss him.

I wrote this the night he died.

I spent all day Tuesday working on my old laptop. I was getting it ready for Bob.

Knowing Bob’s security concerns, I wanted to make sure it was completely clean of viruses and spyware and and loaded with the best anti-spam and spyware programs. It wasn’t a grim task for me but a happy one. Most of the time there’s nothing we can really do for our friends in need, I mean we can offer them support and encouragement and a shoulder to cry on. We can give them money. But it never seems like you're doing anything real. The laptop was something concrete and I felt good about it.

I couldn’t sleep last night. The cold, perhaps? A fierce wind that was blowing over the mountain? Who the fuck knows? Even the Ambien didn’t help.

Just after four, the wind kicked up, blew a bedroom window shut. The one next to my bed. It was loud as hell. I woke up. The wind was howling. It gets dark out here in the country. Some nights darker than others.

A lot of people thought Bob and I had known each other forever but the truth was I hardly knew him. I knew Nancy first. We once worked together at the Red Cross. What’s important is that Bob treated me like an old friend. He was a mentor but not the way we usually think of mentors, though I think maybe we should. The first time we met, he embraced me and told me I had a good heart. This was after five minutes.

He never ended a correspondence or a conversation without a word of encouragement or endearment. I think he did this for everyone he knew but each word, each sentiment was different, thought out, unique to the person. That is a rare gift.

He had a way of taming cynicism. For a guy who could embrace conspiracy theories, this might seem like an oxymoron. But truths were truths to Bob. They could be awful truths but they were there, to be examined out in the open. It was the only way you could learn and grow and make the world a better place.

More than anyone I’ve ever met, Bob believed in the human spirit. He was a true believer, in us. If you knew what he knew, saw what he saw, you might think he was na├»ve or crazy. You might not understand how he could be so sure of the goodness of people. But he was. And in this way, though I think he would disagree with me, he was truly pure of heart. I ask you: is there a better legacy one man can leave than his love for life?

I tried to write something earlier. Like others on our community writer's board, I had nothing. Just emptiness and pain and utter sadness. I feel selfish and guilty too for I know this loss is not my own, not just mine. I don’t want to wallow in it. But I know Bob understands. I’m only human.

I’ve been in bed sick with a cold for several days. I planned on staying in again today. Closing my eyes, staying under the covers, and trying to forget that the world is short one very incredible soul.

But I got up and got dressed and drove to a movie theater and got a ticket for 3:10 to Yuma.

The theater was practically empty and I got a seat with nobody in front of me. Bob loved Deadwood and I thought going to a Western, written by writers Bob admired (Derek Haas and Michael Brandt) would be a fitting tribute.

And so I watched the movie in the dark and all the time, in the back of my mind were thoughts of Bob and how much he would have dug it. And when the credits rolled, I stayed until the end and I cried. I cried for me and Bob and our collective loss and every fucking shitty thing that life throws at us before we’re ready for it, before we’re wise enough to deal with it with grace and dignity.

How do you measure the loss of someone you love? You can’t. You just live with it. It’s the hardest thing I think, this idea that life goes on long after our loved ones are gone, long after we’re gone, too. The Earth spins. Shit happens. Time marches on. We live, we die and then one hundred thousand million somebody else’s starts it all over again.

Except for days like today.

On days like today, on rare days like today, time stops.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

You Sweep, We Sweep

I've been traveling again, this time it's back to Los Angeles for a wedding and other bits of business. I have some thoughts about traveling, especially about driving and drivers, but will leave those for when I return to wine country.

Right now, I want to talk about baseball. I know I practically wrote off my Mets last week. Despite their recent turn-around, I still wonder if they have what it takes to make a serious World Series run. Still, I'm feeling pretty good right now.

Last we spoke, the Mets had lost four straight to the Phillies, the NL East's second-place team. The Mets win two of those four and the race is all but over but instead, they leave Philly beaten and embarrassed and only two games back. Worse, they were about to face the Braves, their nemesis. The same Braves who had won every series from the Mets so far this year.

Well, the ship seems to have been righted. Pedro's back and Endy's back and so, it seems, are the Mets who went into Atlanta and swept those bad boys and did it convincingly. And after taking the first two against the mediocre Reds in Cinci, put together their first five-game winning streak of the season. Whew. If that weren't enough, they came back to New York and swept the lowly Astros.

Say what you will about all three clubs, but during this streak of winning eight-of-nine games, the Mets beat John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Aaron Harang and Roy Oswalt, not a push-over in that bunch, no sir. You tell me if it's a coincidence that Pedro Martinez returned and won both of his starts, his first two victories since last season.

Ah, but there is no rest for the weary. Six games ahead against those same Phillies and Braves. The Mets can bury them with a strong showing, putting their focus on the postseason instead of a down-to-the-wire race.

We're about to see really what Mets team is for real this season and whether the newfound confidence is an illusion or the start of something big.

Stay tuned ...