Happy new year–what follows is what I wrote when I first woke up this morning; I thought I’d share it with you, though it’s a bit of a ramble. I’ll be playing the fantastic 30-A Songwriters Festival in Florida this weekend–hope to see you there!
Maybe you feel alone in a house full of people. People you love. Maybe nothing beautiful shows itself. Maybe all the windows offer this morning is more gray, and brown, and wet, and cold. So you keep the blinds closed because at least you can still hear the occasional bird sing, which may be the only beauty out there, at least in your current dim mood . . . why it even sings, you’re not sure. But it does. And it counts. Thanks, bird. Winter comes, goes, comes back, such as it is, the usual 40-ish degree mid-Tennessee mess. Comes to you, wanted or not, such as you are, however you are at the time. And within this weather, maybe harsh words are exchanged like blind-sided punches and you don’t understand. And all you are left with is a full silence inside your head, a void bursting at the seams—full of worry, thoughts, questions; and always: “What did I do?” Meanwhile you get a phone call telling you an old friend has died, and was on life support for several months. A full life, but a bad end. Meanwhile the household noises continue. Water swirl-sound of the dishwasher running, the loud click when it drains. Someone’s in the kitchen mixing up a powdered drink in a plastic cup. You know by the sound of the spoon knocking against the sides that it is one of two of a certain kind of cup, clear with a colored pattern around it. It’s your wife, mixing up her daily turmeric drink before leaving for work. These small things to hold onto; the familiar. The normalcy drones on as your anxiety thrives within your predilection towards the negative. But business is good, my man, and critics and many other folks like your music. It was a good year, last year; no doubt. (As long as you’re here, they’re all good!) Living: The paradoxes. The ironies. It all used to be funny, now it’s all just expected. Now: just life. In all its “confusement.” Rich and confounding as always, and you can still see the humor in there—but now things are just a little more “salty.” I think Eddie Hinton said that.
And finally you’ve ranted and raved enough online that the Twitter trolls smell your verbal scent and hunt you down. They speak in taunts; arrogant threats like those made on a hot Louisiana playground long ago. You remember trying to get ready for that one fight in 3rd grade, at Cedar Creek elementary in Ruston. You and your then-best friend Scott Andrews have had it with each other for some reason, in your own small 9-year-old ways, and you’re meeting to fight during first recess Friday morning at school. You practice for days, by punching the sofa cushions when your parents aren’t watching. Later that same year Scott would perform at the school talent show by playing piano with an orange in his hand(s); you yourself have your first brush with rock n’ roll ecstasy by performing “Jailhouse Rock” as a pre-mortem Elvis impersonator of sorts, wearing a white rhinestoned suit your mother made you. (The jacket still hangs here in a closet.) Historically incorrect (70s duds, 50s track) but it didn’t seem to matter then—it was just the vibe, the energy. The footlights on stage blind you to the crowd, which was likely a good thing for your nerves. (And still is, ha ha.) You walk on, and the football coach in charge of the turntable and sound system puts on “Love Me,” a somewhat drippy ballad, instead of your song, a rocker—still a favorite from that early RCA era. You tell him, over the microphone: “It’s the one before that.” (This was off of the “Elvis’ Golden Records” LP–the photo above is of the very same record with the correct track number, 5, clearly circled, coach!) Finally, you do your bit, singing along with the track, with E’s voice in there with yours, to big applause; your aunt, along with other family who came over from Shreveport, is in the crowd and you hear her voice joyfully shout “Elvis!” as you walk off, down the steps off the back of the stage. Something about that excitement, that 3-minute moment, sticks with you all these years later—the 7th grade cheerleaders standing there backstage looking at you—memory says fondly, curiously, but who knows. Probably how you felt about them, rock n’ roller. Scott Andrews didn’t win the talent show, and you didn’t either. First gig. A little taste. Them’s the breaks, kid.
You don’t remember now how it went down, that big fight. Maybe you met at the designated location somewhere there in the dirt, but a teacher got wind of it and broke it up before anything happened, other than the gathering of two participants both mad and scared, and a circle of excited classmates, so thrilled that something, anything, was going to happen: Pain! Blood! Victory! Defeat! We usually just scared each other during recess with stories of hobo sightings along the train track behind tall pines that bordered the playground side of the school property. No such person was ever seen. Can’t even remember even seeing a train go by, ever.
In the trailer park outside of Downsville, visible from the westbound lanes of the interstate, where you and your family lived a couple of years before that talent show, for a thankfully-brief time, the little lots were arranged around a vaguely circular asphalt path. There was a ridge of sorts, a couple of trailers up the road from yours. You remember this because for a few bored afternoons there you tried to dig a hole from the top down, to make an L-shaped tunnel you could crawl through and come out of down below, on the vertical side of this formation. This lasted until the fateful afternoon when you fell off the top and got the wind knocked out of you when you landed on your back, ten feet or so below. But behold: the Angel of Childhood Foolishness happened to be watching, and as fate would have it, an R.N. lived in the trailer closest to your excavation adventure, and she saw you fall and ran out and took care of you.
Everything there was bordered by red dirt and weeds. The man-made “lake” on the trailer park property, more mosquito breeding ground and snake pit than anything, was where your dad tried to teach you to swim once, tried to extinguish your fears by having you hold onto his shoulders while he swam across with you in tow. All you could think was: mud, yuck. Dirty and deep water, flying stinging insects everywhere. Get me outta here. A cartoon, a cold drink, and a Jerry Lee record; all you wanted. That other time, near the water’s edge . . . you’d ridden your bike down there, a purple Schwinn with a metallic purple banana seat, all tricked out with a transistor radio blaring, duct-taped to the handlebars. A playing card clamped to the front forks so that it hit your wheel spokes as you rode and made a revving engine-like sound. Childhood: like art-making, living in a symbology, in a made-up make-do world of what seemed endless possibilities, at least inside your mind.
And while you paused there at the water, day-dreaming some silly-ass dream about your “girlfriend” Kim Welch (who used copious amounts of that para-fragrant perfume called “Charlie”(?)), or chocolate, or a new hole to dig, while watching a lone cloud’s reflection float slow across the lake water, suddenly your imaginary world fades fast as you look down to see the bed of fire ants you’ve carelessly disturbed, and even worse, the moving frenzy of those ants crawling up your legs. You never liked shorts, and this does not serve you well, because you can’t get at them to knock them off of you because they are under your jeans, stinging you in defense, by design. You get back on your bike and pedal your terrified ass and what felt like 300 ants on your calves back to your trailer, fast as you could, dropping the bike with a clang on hard dirt and running up the four concrete steps to the door in one motion. Lucky for you, your mom is there and between your sobbing and the ants all over you she knows what to do and does it quickly, stripping off your clothes and dropping you into a bathtub full of warm water. You remember the little ants on the surface of the water, but whether they were still alive, well, the memory fades. Calamine lotion for days; I had scars below the knees for years.