Top 10 for 2012
Ok, folks. Another day, another dollar, another joke. Here's my top 10 for 2012. 1. Geronimo Rex: I sort of missed out on Barry Hannah when he was alive. I remember trying to read "Airships" at Van Pelt library around 1992. It didn't register. But, man, BH is some kind of writer. In the Faulkner tradition for sure but some off-kilter whimsy in there too. "Geronimo Rex" is a book about the primacy of music. Or, as Butch Hancock might say, "life if possible, art at any cost."
2. Butch Hancock: @ Ferg's: Speaking of our West Texas pal, when Butch's gig at another venue was cancelled, I called up Fergie who was delighted to re-book our hero into his club. It turned out to be great night and I thank all of you who made it out on a Sunday. I was thrilled to hop up on stage with Butch and play a few songs (including Already Gone which I botched at the Cactus Cafe in Austin a couple years earlier when Butch pulled me up during "No Two More Alike" to sing it with him). Special thanks to Eddie Russakoff for opening the show and to Ferg for making it happen. As Ferg said: "We'll show [the club that cancelled Butch] how it's done." And we did!
3. Philadelphia Salvage Company: The next day Butch and I wandered into this joint up on Carpenter. They've got all sorts of wild stuff in here and on Thursdays host a bourbon tasting. It's worth checking out. Butch bought an old toolbox that he intended to convert into a Merch display case. How's that working out for you, amigo?
4. David Halley at the Grey Horse Tavern: Continuing with the West Texas theme, another of my favorite Lubbock songwriters is David Halley. When I lived in Austin, he sort of ruled the roost. You may have heard John Train play his beautiful ballad "Rain Just Falls" which was also covered by Jimmie Dale Gilmore. This song is sort of a standard around Texas. David also wrote "Hard Livin'" memorably essayed by both Joe Ely and Keith Whitley (who had a hit with it). And he put out two fine records in the early 90s: Stray Dog Talk and Broken Spell. David had not played on the East Coast for, I believe, 20 years when I noticed that he would be doing one gig at a place on Long Island called the Grey Horse (no other shows on the tour!). I had to go. It took me quite a while to get up there and it was cold (this was March 10th). I arrived around 5pm and ended up walking around 'til I found my way down to the beach around sunset. I've never had the greatest associations with Long Island (Billy Joel, anyone?) but I have to admit this little town called Bayport got under my skin. Watching the light on the water, walking the silent streets on my way back to the club: I dunno. To paraphrase Beckett, I "almost" felt glad to be alive. David, in the event, was tremendous. He played all of my favorites and also showcased his past twenty years of songwriting including one stunner called "Ain't Gonna Make You Mine." The highlight of the show was David (who was Butch's guitar player for several years) telling a story to introduce "Rambling Man" (by Hancock not Williams or Betts). He talked about stopping in Clarendon, Texas one night to visit with Butch who was living in a converted train depot and working in a pizza shop. David described hearing Butch play "Rambling Man" after he took off the pizza apron. Just as David got to the line: "I'm you're rambling man // and I'll lift your latch // I'd stay here momma // but I got me some trains to catch", a boxcar rolled by just across the street from the Grey Horse. Through the window, I watched it disappear. That moment shook me to the point that I didn't think I'd be able to drive home. But I had some strong coffee and out-of-sight bread pudding at the bar downstairs and somehow made the long trek back to Philly.
5. Elvis Costello in Clearwater: Yep. I continue to follow EC whenever I can. This year, I caught up with him in Florida for a few shows. He continues to use the Spinning Songbook to great effect. The highlight of this run came in Clearwater where he sang an exquisite version of "I'm Your Toy" dedicated to its co-author Chris Etheridge who had passed that very week. Of course, everyone remembers this song as a Gram Parsons' composition (covered by EC on "Almost Blue" where I first heard it in 1981). But Etheridge wrote the music from what I understand. He also wrote the other "Hot Burrito" song with GP. Anyway, these Spinning Songbook shows can be pretty raucous. So to hear EC slow things down with this beauty was momentous (or un-momentous as the case may be). After the show, I made my way back to Tampa where I was staying at a B & B called "Gram's Place." I kid you not. The place is a shrine to Gram Parsons. I stayed in the "Blues" suite. The proprietor (Bruce) told me that every other room was filled with folks in town for the bi-annual Methodists of America convention. I sat out at the "Burrito" bar until the wee hours drinking cans of beer with Bruce and his cronies, listening to GP and their tall tales (I told of few of my own, to be sure). The discussion wasn't exactly, uh, religious in nature. So it was quite a contrast the next morning, when a Methodist preacher and his wife insisted on cooking me breakfast before I hit the road (on my way to see EC in Hollywood, FLA). Turns out this preacher was a Dylan nut and had followed Bob around quite a bit. He could relate to my "journey." I could relate to the flapjacks his wife cooked up in the communal kitchen. They didn't try to convert me or anything.
6. Fallingwater: Speaking of Bob, Jodi and I caught up with him in Johnstown, Pa in August at the War Memorial Arena. We were out in that direction to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece. Neither Bob nor Frank disappointed. I did some FLW research before we went out there. I recommend TC Boyle's "The Women" if you want to get a read on FLW's emotional intelligence (is that an oxymoron?). Also Brendan Gill's "Man of Many Masks" which recounts, among many others, an anecdote wherein one of FLW's clients calls him on Thanksgiving to complain about water coming in through the sunlight window ("your" sunlight he calls it to Frank) onto the dining room table just as they sit down for their meal. He asks what to do? FLW's reply: MOVE THE TABLE!
7. John Updike Society Meeting in Boston: I made it to Beantown for the second annual JU Society meeting (the first was in reading). Unlike FLW (who had three wives and one mistress, the latter of whom was murdered by his Bahamian groundskeeper!), JU only had two wives (and no one died). I found myself in Ipswich outside the first Updike family home (JU moved his family up to the North Shore after leaving NYC) which was part of our tour on day three of the conference. I was standing next to Michael Updike, John's oldest son, who explained to me that Updike ended up meeting his second wife as a result of her and her then husband purchasing the house we were looking at (JU had a fair amount of success by then and moved his family out to a beautiful house further away from town). Well, JU ended up leaving his family and marrying this woman. Michael's trenchant comment to me: "It was a real estate deal gone bad." Hah! Anyway, this conference and all the folks I met made for a fantastic experience. We head back to Reading in 2014.
8. Kerouac's Grave: After the Updike Conference, I popped up to Lowell to check out JK's grave. Lowell is a lonesome little town (not as lonesome as Johnstown, tho!). I stopped at the Owl Diner. I had no map, no GPS, etc (I travel, uh, light) and asked the cashier how to find the Edson cemetery where Jack lies. She says to me: "Are you from around here, hon?" I say, "no." She then asks where I paaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhked my caaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh?" "Uh, right out front." "Well, in that case, you go down this road past the pawnshop, make a right, then you'll see a dry cleaner on the left" etc. I found the resting place somehow and laid down on the ground with Visions of Gerard. Read for a while and felt a holy warmth coming up from the ground. I usually don't get into this kind of thing. But it happened, I swear.
9. Springsteen exhibit at the Constitution Center: Did any of you see this? I went twice, pouring over Bruce's lyrics. In his hand. Re-writing, revising, over and over. No Kerouac inspired automatic writing for the Boss. More like Updike, I guess. There were songwriting secrets contained in those lyric sheets and I hope I can remember some of 'em. I saw Bruce play Citizen's Bank Park a couple nights after my second visit to the Exhibit. He opened the show with a solo acoustic version of "Factory" (it was Labor Day). Who else could still a stadium crowd with a folk song about the working life? Only Bruce and those revisions, I think, had something to do with it. Refining to get to what is essential.
10. November 6th: Thank you Bruce and Bill for getting out there and helping make it happen.
I hope to see you in 2013. MOVE THE TABLE. Jon