5 Singer/Songwriters 1 Van Texas Hill Country 

Sleep didn't come easy for me the first night in Dripping Springs, Texas.  The insomnia thing is a gift from my mother’s side of the Family. Apparently, quite a few McKeowns spend a good portion of their nights staring up at ceilings. I’d had a little more whiskey than a I normally drink, so I thought I might shut my eyes to the world fairly easily, but sometime around 3 in the morning I was still awake.  Then some rain rolled in and I finally rested.  Rain on the canvas pop out section of a trailer is a mighty fine lullaby. 

The next morning, there were bacon and eggs and really good coffee, and we all sat around a beautiful old table swapping thoughts and stories, slowly revealing ourselves to one another.  At this point, we knew each other mostly through our songs, as the conversation progressed, the songs began to make more sense.   

As the week moved forward, sleep came easier for me.  One night, or early morning, I woke up in that state of mind that sometimes shows up when you’re a long way from home and you’re not sure exactly where you are.  I was surrounded by wild sounds, the wildest being what was described to me as a “horny donkey” which basically meant a male donkey separated from the females, his painful moaning haw littering the surrounding country.  There were also birds(I think it was birds, anyway) calling back and forth.  At first the calls were sharp and responsive, as they continued, the signal strength became weaker and the responses more delayed.   

Our gracious hosts, Gail and Thomas, always had something cooking for breakfast.  And, we’d all find our way to the table at some point between nine and noon.  Although, after that first Sunday, we were rarely all at the table at the same time.  Each morning, after a little breakfast, I always found my way to the stream, maybe fifty yards away from the house.  The days were warm enough to contemplate stripping down and jumping in the section of rocks where the blue green water pooled four or five feet deep, and looked cleaner than a swimming pool in some gated community.  But one toe in, and I decided that would rapidly become a bad decision.  But, submerged or not, I found time to pray and calm my spirit on those rocks daily. 

The days were filled with songs, mostly new to me, melodies and guitar strumming coming from open doors and wooden chairs all around the property we were staying.  And then, usually around 3 pm, we’d load up in my van, and hit the Texas back roads heading to places like New Braunfels and Wimberly and some tucked away little house concert.  Those rides were more of a chance to get to know each other as we drove through the hill country and slowly opened up more and more on each drive. 

On Thursday, we left Thomas and Gail’s property in Dripping Springs and were on our own.  I took in a movie, something I used to do quite often, and mostly haven’t gotten a chance to after my son was born.  Then we met up for a show at a Presbyterian Church in Austin.  We played on an altar with backdrop of a wooden cross, and it felt spiritual, and certainly bested the backdrop of couple of football games on giant flat screens, as is often the case for my shows. 
 

Friday, we made it to Fischer, Texas and participated in a parade, throwing beads and waving, then played in a beautiful barn style theater that was described to me before I got there as playing in a guitar sound hole.  After playing Fischer Hall, I’d say it was that was an accurate description. 

Saturday was the last show, in San Antonio.  My dad surprised me, by flying in From South Carolina.  The round was finished with Sarah Morris singing lead on a John R Butler song, “Corner of the Universe,” which was a fitting close to our Texas Jaunt. 

We said our goodbyes and I drove to Rockwall, Texas, arriving around 3 in the morning.  I was tired, but it took me a while to fall asleep.  Eventually, I found a few hours sleep and was on the road back to Nashville by 9:30. 

Coming in the door around 7pm and seeing my young son, and hearing him say "Hi Daddy!" and running to me, is as good as anything I've ever experienced.  It is good to be home, but a signinficant part of my spirit is longing for the Texas Hill Country and my fellow Kerrville friends.  I hope to be back and see them all soon.  This is not something to be forgotten.  Much love to all!

Don't matter how you get it, as long as it's got 

Yesterday, I was out and about, and my phone was almost out of juice. The charger chord in my car, which I’d been seeing some wire poking from behind the white, finally quit working all together, and so, I was without my phone.  You know, the way I spent the first couple decades of my life.  No phone means no Spotify, so, I went back to the radio.  The plain ol’ radio.  Since I got Spotify Premium, I altogether quit listening to the stuff off the dial.  Picking & choosing whatever artist, song, or album I want to listen to, it can’t be beaten, right? 

So, as I was tuning up and down the dial, I stopped on Jack FM, here in Nashville.  You know what I’m talking about, most markets have one these days, the “we play everything” station.  When I’m visiting my folks in Upstate SC, it’s called “Steve FM,” in the SC low country, its “Chuck FM.”  So, I stumble on Jack and The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” And here’s where it gets interesting,  if I was on Spotify, I probably would have been listening to something off “Whatever and Ever Amen” by Ben Folds Five, as I have been bingeing that album for that last few days.  Mostly one song, “Fair.”  But, I was jamming when I heard the Pointer Sisters, man.  I didn’t know I wanted to hear the pointer sisters until I HEARD THE POINTER SISTERS, you know.  Yeah, all the streaming services have their on radio feature, Spotify’s radio is damn good.  But it’s all based on whatever mood I’m in.  So, yesterday, I probably would have been listening to Ben Folds radio, Roger Miller, or something in my typical wheelhouse .  And yeah, a majority of the time before streaming, I would go up and down the dial and eventually just shut the radio off.   

But, there was a time when there were few things better than hearing a song that I really dug on the radio.  I miss the days of getting to your destination and staying in the car until the song is finished.  Almost everything at your fingertips has an obvious upside, but there’s a certain excitement that is lost.  But, I don’t miss the days of being super stoked about a new album by a band I really liked, going to the record store, throwing down my hard earned high school dollars just to put it in the disk player,  then go through my usual new purchase routine: 

Listen to about 30 seconds of a song, to get a thumbs up or down vibe, and move on to the next one.  And with in a relatively quick scan, usually while still in the parking lot, I knew if the record was good.  It was a great feeling when you were digging the album, and a complete bummer when you thought it sucked, wishing you had a shrink wrapper in the trunk and could run back in and get your money back.   
  
Is it all just too easy now?  So easy, that it means less? I have no idea.  I’m sure some kid in middle school or high school still gets really into and inspired by some band he’s streaming.  So, looking back, sure, it was a great day when the Black Crowes “Amorica” and Tom Petty “Wildflowers” came out on the same day, and they were both killer albums.  And to me, there’s a little bit more romanticism in going to pick them up at the Record store.  Except, I specifically remember that I went to Best Buy to get the albums, it was a couple dollars cheaper there, and then being pissed when my brother came home from the cool store with his copy of “Amorica” which had the cover with the American Flag bikini bottom with the pubes sticking out, and mine was censored.  But, still, it was a memorable day of purchase. 

But, I’ve lived enough to understand that you don’t miss what you never experience in the first place.  And kids are still going to dig their tunes and continue to listen in whatever way is currently happening. 
And really, all that matters is that the tunes are good.

Heavy Metal Marvin has got the Blues 

   

Marvin. 
It was an unfortunate name. 
Marvin. 
Maybe not for the gray haired mechanic who had fixed your parent’s cars for years.  But, a little off, antiquated, paired with the quiet, occasionally impatient fella who packed his own lunch every day and went to movies by himself.  Chris Roper, who was in a cubicle about ten feet from Marvin,  had taken his wife to see Avatar a few years ago, not having seen a movie in the theater since Titanic, and on the advice of a brother in law who said “Avatar HAD TO BE seen on the big screen.”  Chris had seen Marvin at the ticket window, but didn’t say anything to him.
“Ol’ Metal Marv, all by himSELF, man,” he had relayed to his coworkers the next day.  His inflection was the same as if he’d seen Marvin pouring ketchup on oatmeal.  As if going to a movie by himself was so out of the ordinary it bordered on offensive.
The disconnect between Marvin and his coworkers was always palpable and frustrating at times.   

“TURN THAT SHIT DOWN, MARVIN!” they’d yell. 
“Them,” Marvin thought.   
Marvin listened to hard rock on his headphones at work, AC/DC, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, the Stooges.  Strangely, it kept him on task. He didn’t listen to that type of music much on his own time.  Maybe if “Paranoid” popped up on a classic rock station, he’d crank it in his car.  But, he got stuck with the nick name “Heavy Metal Marvin” or usually just “Metal Marv,” because his coworkers didn’t know much about Marvin, or metal, for that matter. 

Marvin didn’t necessarily want or need his coworkers to like him, he didn’t like them much either.   But, he often thought about a place, he didn’t even look at it as a job, just a place where he would be surrounded by some more like minded folks. 
“COMPADRES!” his brain would yell at him, when his mind wandered into the place. 
     
He had thought this place would be graduate school.  He saw graduate school as draft beers and literary chatter at divey downtown college bars with worn wood and pictures of drunk professors on the wall.  When he didn’t get accepted, he drove across the country on whim that led to a job and eventually subtle misanthropy. It wasn’t always like this.  Marvin used to have friends.  Marvin used to get laid.  Sometimes.  Now, he went to movies by himself and daydreamed of some place where he felt he could thrive. 
     
Marvin was cursed with talent:  a way with words on paper, but without the drive that is required of greatness; leaving his place littered with scraps of stories, his spirit weak with insubstantiality.   
A piece within Marvin existed, though, where he was sure he could write as well as anyone.  If this piece existed externally, it might be described as a prick.  His inner prick did not provide Marvin with any outward confidence though.  It just made him cynical.   
     
“Starman?” Marvin said to himself quietly. 
The thought had appeared to him unexpectedly, and out of context from what he had been thinking about when it popped in his head.  He had seen “Starman,” with his father in 1984, at a theater that was not longer in operation.  In his head, though, it was just when I was a kid with my dad.  He hadn’t thought about it much since then.  He went to youtube, and watched some scenes from the movie.  He was taken by the music.  His senses were flooded with 1980s synthesized strings and a swooping melody that fit perfectly with the movie and his mood and became electric within him.  As Marvin was scrolling youtube for “Starman” clips, scenes and the score from “The Last Starfighter” came up in his queue.  His father had also taken him to see the Last Starfighter” in 1984 at the same theater.  Marvin clicked on the theme song, and as he listened, his mind traveled to when he was seven years old at a high school football game with an older cousin, and he remembered a sad little marching band, playing a sad little attempt at the Theme from “The Last Starfighter.”  Even as a seven year old, sitting in the stands he felt the sadness of the moment.  At seven years of age, he didn’t understand what about the band, or the moment, made him feel the sadness.  It was just there.  And now, it was with him again, as he thought about the band and the moment.  But, then it was gone, because the music was making him feel good. 
     
Then, Sarah moved into his mind.  She didn’t take the place of the music, though.  She fit in alongside the songs.  He was picturing her slightly bent and somewhat slouched, her legs resting off her swivel chair with the gray back and black cushion at her desk, knees far apart, beside the picture of her holding her niece in her christening gown.  He hoped maybe she shared some sort of space with him, a kinship.  He tried small talk.  But neither he nor she was particularly adept in sparring simple, small and quick.  Most of the men he worked with looked past Sarah.  The other ones ogled the receptionist, Erica.  Erica wore white skirts with black thongs and leopard print bras that sometimes showed at the top of her shirt.  But for Marvin, it was Sarah.  Kind eyed Sarah. 
     
At a bar after work one night, when Sarah had been working with Marvin a few weeks, Marvin had been drinking and was summoning the courage to have a real conversation with her.  He waited until she was alone at the bar, breathed deeply, focused in and made an awkward stride toward her.  When he got beside her, he lost his nerve.  And he just stood there, pretending to be preoccupied.  He wasn’t sure if she noticed him or not.  But, right about the time he was getting ready to walk off, someone carelessly brushed passed Sarah and knocked her drink out of her hand.  It crashed to the ground, and sprayed some pants legs, and someone in the back yelled, “Mazel tov!”  He could tell she was embarrassed.  Marvin reached down and picked up the broken glass, and put it in a trash can right beside the bar.   
He looked directly at Sarah and said, “I think you need another drink.”   
Sarah smiled, and laughed a little bit.  “Thanks,” she said. 
Marvin’s demeanor shifted and he began to feel comfortable, confident, even.  And he talked with Sarah and it didn’t feel forced and they seemed to connect over a few things.  But he was getting drunk, and she started talking about bands and movies that she liked, and the cynicism appeared and his words began to run hard.  When she brought up some particular artists, Marvin referred to both as a “basement flooders.”  Sarah asked him what he meant and Marvin replied.       
“You know, basement flooders, girls like ‘em.”   
Sarah didn’t say anything and so he continued.   
“As in, they FLOOD GIRLS BASEMENTS,” he said and made a flowing motion with his hands in front of his crotch. 
“Yeah, I get it,” said Sarah looking somewhat annoyed and uncomfortable.
Marvin’s face became hot and he staggered to the restroom and then left without telling anyone he was leaving.  On the way home and all that night, he tried to comfort himself by thinking that he couldn’t be with someone with such bad taste, anyway.  But, he burned as he lay in bed and he barely slept.  And he woke up the next day, head pounding and still burning inside.  He went to work and avoided contact with Sarah.  A week later, when the burning had not stopped, he decided to ask her out.  He sensed she didn’t want to go, but he thought about the fact that you’re born and die and only have one shot at the whole thing and decided that he should take the risk.  She told him she had plans when he awkwardly asked her out in the elevator.  In truth, Sarah did have plans, and was also in a relationship she felt was bottoming out.  But, even if she was single and free, she felt as though she could do better than Marvin, and she knew she would have turned him down anyway.  This made her feel somewhat guilty and sad, and she didn’t really know why.   
Marvin had planned it in his mind and tried to be cool, but lost his nerve in the elevator as they rode down three floors without saying anything and then he just blurted it out as soon as the elevator reached the bottom floor and the doors opened.  When she politely turned him down, his insides felt as though they would incinerate and he just stood there until the doors closed.  He hit the button and watched her as she walked out of the building. 
     

“I heard he banged Sarah on Friday night,” it was not quite a whisper, between Chris Roper and Kevin Stanton.   
  “Who?” 
  “Lawton?” 
   “Really?  Doesn’t seem like her type.” 
   “Lawton’s every girl’s type, yeah?” 
   “He thinks so. Maybe he’s right.” 
    

Two months prior, Lawton Richards had gotten a job at the office as an assistant manager.  A lot of people were angry that the promotion was given to someone on the outside, but Lawton made friends quickly and easily.  He always had.  He was six foot four, had played football at a small liberal arts college, had gone to law school, but was not a lawyer.  His story was that he just decided one day that the last thing the world needed was “another fucking lawyer.”  The truth was, he had failed the Bar exam so many times that he just gave up.  Lawton was loud and cocky and Marvin tried to avoid him as much as possible, as he would give Marvin a hard time any chance he could get.  He was the only person that called Marvin“Metal Marv” to his face.      
In truth, nobody really liked Lawton, and none of his so called “buddies” ever had.  He referred to himself in the third person, as “Big Law.” He was obnoxious, misogynistic, and had common taste. But, he bought rounds of drinks and shots after work and he had great stories involving high school and college pranks and bizarre sexual conquests, that even Marvin laughed at occasionally when he happened to hear one.  And, he had managed to have sex with Erica the first week he was there.  Which impressed his co-workers very much.  A couple of them had tried and thought they had a chance, but never made it happen.  Marvin had heard him bragging about “nailing that hot ass chick at reception,” one morning while getting some coffee at the coffee shop on the first floor of the building.   Marvin was jealous and felt small beneath Lawton’s presumed prowess.   Marvin had not had sex or even come close to it since his last girlfriend, who had moved to Atlanta two years before.  A possible sex story from Marvin might go something like, “One time, I prematurely ejaculated while having sex in a recliner.”  Marvin’s sexual experiences were limited,  which in most circumstances, is fine, not abnormal.  But at the office, with four or five guys swapping stories, about “banging some girl in the bathroom of an airport, then in the bathroom of a plane, then again when they arrived...” having nothing to offer can make anyone feel insecure and cast off. 
     
As the music from Starman penetrated his ears, jealous fire spread through his being and the music along with the burning anger was putting him on the edge of tears.  But he suppressed it, knowing that he couldn’t cry.   
“Crying?” he angrily asked himself. 
     
It would not have helped Marvin even if he knew the truth, because it was the same truth to him, either way.  It wouldn’t have mattered to Marvin, that the day before Sarah slept with Lawton, her boyfriend had broken up with her via an email that stated that he was getting back with his ex girlfriend.  And that the next night, feeling depressed and bored, Sarah slept with Lawton, getting exactly what she thought she needed to get her ex off her mind:  a guy she knew would be an easy target and wouldn’t be there when she woke up.  Something that she had never had, nor ever thought she wanted.  She’d overheard Erica talking about, as she put it, “her crazy intense” experience with him, and Sarah just decided that she needed to see for herself.  Maybe it would be fun?  She didn’t know.  She was at the mercy of an anxious malaise that was overwhelming.  Her mind and feelings pushed her towards “getting laid.”  So, she went with it.  After all, the boyfriend who had just dumped her had a small penis and an enlarged prostate and often had to stop in the middle of intercourse to urinate.  He claimed it hurt afterwards if he didn’t.  He also turned out to be a chronic masturbator, which Sarah discovered when she stopped by his office with some lunch and walked in on him masturbating to a site from the UK, “PuffyLasses.com,” which featured heavy set girls with enormous breasts.  In the end, Sarah had used Lawton as much as Lawton had used her.  
She had woken up the morning after the break up, feeling hurt and angry, because she didn’t even really like the man who had just kicked her to the curb.  But, she had grown attached to his presence and their occasional good times.  It was comfortable.  She took a shower and shaved her legs, which she usually only did a couple nights a week.  She looked in the closet and found a short black dress, and put it, along with her black nylon stockings and her one pair of high heels in a hanging bag to put on after work. Sarah didn’t have much to work with in terms of terrain, but she did have good legs.  She always had, even when she was a child, her legs fit her body in a way that foreshadowed her sexuality, and one time leaving a friend of her father driving home from a gathering, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t actually staring at a 12 year old’s legs.  She decided that she was going to get “fucked” by Lawton around seven thirty in the morning, and by eight o’clcok that night, she was fairly sure it was going to happen.  She went out with her coworkers, the ones who go out every Friday evening, and when she got her chance, she handed Lawton a tequila shot and said, “I’m Sarah, I don’t think we’ve been formerly introduced.”  She sat on a barstool, making sure that the tops of her stockings showed a little bit.  Lawton took his shot, and moved his eyes along her body, in an obvious way, that he thought was cool.  It was one of his moves.  He called it the “casual cool creeper vibe” when he was telling stories and dudes would laugh. 
    “Like the Beatles’ song,” he said. 
    Sarah just sat there.   
    “Sexy Sarah,” he remarked.   
She blurted out a girlish laugh and did not correct him.  It was at this moment that she knew that she could have sex with him if she wanted to, and she was also thinking that she might not be able to get beyond her moral opposition to let such an insubstantial human being know her in such an intimate way.  But then, the image of his penis going inside her moved into her mind, and her mind changed the word penis to cock and she was on track again.    
 And so, that night at the bar, Sarah listened to “Big Law” talk about high school and say “fuck” every other word and get excited when a song by “Notorious BIG” came on, and watched him take at least 3 Irish Car Bombs which she turned down all but one that she didn’t finish. And she flirted with a few other guys and watched as Erica tried to nuzzle closer to Lawton to no avail.  Sarah knew Erica was not a problem.  Sarah had two older brothers and knew how guys worked, they were always shooting for something new.  Lawton had offered her some cocaine, which she had not done since college, but she did a little bit and immediately kissed him deeply.  They ended up going back to her place, because it was closer, even though Lawton had mumbled something about ‘home court advantage’ in the cab.  Sarah had never had a one night stand, and was nervous when her apartment door shut behind her.  She’d had sex with guys on a first date, but always with plans to see them again.  She offered him a drink, she had a small bottle of Jack Daniels.  He filled up a glass and chugged it.   
 He said, “Baby, I’ve been thinking about those legs all night, let see how they look outside your dress.  Then he kissed her aggressively and pushed her into her room.  She started to peel down her stockings, but he asked her to keep them on. He commented on the fact that she had pubic hair, and that it was sexy because it was “old school,” which made her uncomfortable.  Sarah fell asleep to him snoring and woke up to nobody.  It was more awkward than she anticipated at work, but she just kept her distance.  There was only a small portion of her being that didn’t regret her night with Lawton, but even that portion was not satisfied in a way she thought it would be.  And she was still down over her ex, and she was angry that she was missing him. 
     
The story of Sarah and Lawton filtered into Marvin’s life the Monday after the fact, sometime around 11 am, and when denial gave way to acceptance, he felt like breaking something.      He went from feeling good, to wanting to puke, among a few whispers and laughs scattered around an office with nothing better to talk about.  A muffled rage brewed deeply and he could not concentrate on anything.  It plagued him, and a misanthropic loneliness took hold and could not be soothed.  So he just stared at his computer and tried to smother his feelings with the soundtrack songs.  It was not working and so he took off early. 
     
He drove to his favorite movie theatre and got a matinee ticket for the only movie he had yet to see, a teenage comedy featuring mostly people that Marvin had never heard of, plus Powers Boothe and Rebbecca De Mornay as grandparents, which made him feel old.  He got a cherry Coke and a medium popcorn and put so much butter on it that it stained his khakis through the bottom of the bag.  Marvin did not really like the movie, but he enjoyed being in the theater and it was empty except for him.  And for the duration of the movie, he didn’t think about Sarah or Lawton.  The music from Starman was still on his mind’s turntable, though.  But not quite consciously.  It existed as part of his being that was tucked away from logic.  It was simply there.  He left the theater feeling sluggish and like a slob with butter stains on his shirt and pants.  He was developing a sinus headache, so he drove to the drugstore to pick up a pain reliever. 
     
He parked his car and walked with his head down past a Volkswagon Jetta with the door propped and an attractive woman with her legs hanging out, resting on the open door.  Her toenails were painted blue.  He liked her shirt, or maybe it was a blouse, he thought.  It was white and puffy with a pink and yellow floral pattern.  It reminded him of Mexico.  Her legs were long, smooth, and tan.  His heart sped up and he quickened his pace.  Inside the store, he bought a generic brand of sinus headache relief and was annoyed by a man in line who was whistling.  The whistling was actually melodic, but it was still whistling.  And he was thinking that this guy probably prided himself on his ability to whistle, which made it even more aggravating to him.  It really started to burn him up.  His stomach tightened and his head was hot and if he was an aggressive type of person, he might have told the man to knock it off.  But he didn’t say anything and wondered if it was bothering anyone else as badly as it was bothering him.  The girl at the check out was a bleach blonde with frosted lipstick and deep green eyes, eyelids smeared with blue eyeshadow and he immediately saw her as a purely sexual being and his mind placed her in a 1980‘s pornographic video with bad lighting and a cheap set, and then tried to quit picturing it as it made him feel uncomfortable and slightly afraid that she may be somehow clairvoyant or psychic and could read his mind, even though he knew that wasn’t possible. 
 Marvin paid for his pills and walked into the early evening.  It was May, and already the air was humid. As he was walking back towards his car, his ears were greeted with the music from “Starman.”  It was flowing freely from the side of the building where he had walked in.  He was immediately and positively taken back.  He followed the music, it was coming from the the Jetta and the girl with the blue toenails and Mexican blouse.  Marvin felt a jolt, as though his universe had collided with fate and his entire life had led up to this brilliant moment and that everything was about to change.   
    His mind moved fast, charging him with a wordless electricity, but if the feeling could have been interpreted, it would translate like, “I mean the thought just pops in my head today? And then this?  This CAN”T just be a coincidence.” 
    He took a deep breath and walked towards the car, following the tune.  He stopped about 3 feet from the open window. 
    “Awesome song,” he said.  The woman didn’t hear him.  He swallowed hard and spoke again.  “Great tune,” he said.  This time she acknowledged him with, “Huh?” and a confused look.
“Its the theme from “Starman,” he said.  “A classic Jack Nitzsche composition, you know, and kind of a departure for a John Carpenter film.” 
      She stared blankly and then said flatly, “Oh, the song.  Its on a playlist that my boyfriend made,” and then added, “He listens to a lot of weird shit.”     
    Marvin could see her eyes glancing over his shirt and pants, and he remembered the popcorn stains.     
    “You work at KFC or something?” she asked through a subtle laugh. 
    He really just wanted to walk off, but he said, “No, someone spilled popcorn on me earlier.”   
    “Sucks,” she said. 
    Quickly, he reached down within himself to find some deeply hidden wit, but he just stood there, feeling small and flushed.  He waited a few more seconds and then blurted out, “Bye,” And walked away.  She didn’t say anything.  The song ended and one by Paul Simon came on.  “Kodachrome.”  The girl turned up the volume and danced a little in her seat.   

Marvin headed home, the headache not allowing him to feel much better about anything.  He took a walk because right then, a walk was all he had.  He walked and thought and searched. Some of his thoughts were of Sarah.  Always Sarah. 

Lawton Richards heated up some leftover spaghetti his sister had made him, sipped a Miller Lite and flipped through the channels.  Later he watched some internet pornography and was slightly concerned that maybe he was concentrating more on the men than the women and he fell asleep still worrying about it. 

Sarah stared at the name of her ex boyfriend in her phone.  She was debating calling him or deleting his contact. Then, from somewhere else, she thought about Marvin and didn’t know why.  And the thought stayed with her a while.  Not just Marvin, but the thought of why she was thinking of him.  It lingered like muffled noise from a party when you’re on the outside, trying to study or sleep, internally clambering for peace and quiet.  She stared out the window.  There was a steady stream of cars and people on the streets and avenues.  There were lights on in some windows.  Others were dark. 
     

  
  
  
 

If anyone is Selling Replacements T-Shirts, I'll pass... 

I remember eyeing the rock n roll rags on the magazine rack at the drug store when I was kid.  Rolling Stone, Spin, maybe Circus or something, and it was very affective.  I remember one time in particular, picking up a copy of Rolling Stone, and thumbing through the pages until I came to a piece on a band, and in one of the photos, one of the dudes was letting spit hang towards the ground, the other guys were cracking up, and seeing that it all made sense to me.  From that moment, it was all about the sort of goofy coolness, not taking it too seriously, after that, anything else just felt a little bit wrong to me.  I wish I could remember who the band was.  I’ve googled “Rolling Stone band photos spitting” and stuff kind of like that.  Anyway, to the me The Replacements, more than any other band, represent the “we’re cool, but aren’t trying to be” vibe.

I heard about the Replacements before I actually heard them.  And from the way they were discussed, and the fact that I didn’t hear them on the radio, I knew they must be a cool band.  The kind of band you didn’t hang posters of, but that your friend's older brother that mostly kept his door shut, and killer tunes always spilled out of his room, a muffled cocophony of drums and guitars and shredded vocals, would probably be into.  I’d also heard that they were a punk band.  Which I didn’t know much about at the time. 
   

I heard my first replacements song in the 6th grade, except I didn't know it was the Replacements when I heard it. I had rented  “Say Anything,” which instantly became my favorite movie.  There’s a scene towards the end, where Lloyd and Diane are sharing a single bed, early in the morning, and that scene, even more than the jambox scene, felt like what love was going to be.  I was twelve years old, picturing myself a few years down the road, with a real girlfriend, spooning in the bed I grew up in, on some weekend when my parents took off and left me alone.  And, a few scenes later, as Lloyd is telling his sister goodbye before he heads off to England, there was a song in the back ground, with this really cool sounding guitar, which I would soon find out resulted from a “flange” or “phaser” effect, and a drum machine, and it felt perfect for that moment on screen.  The song was “Within Your Reach” by the Replacements.  Back then, I couldn’t just google “Say Anything Soundtrack,” or go to Spotify and just listen. And, the snippet of the song, didn’t even have words, it was just the music.  So, at this point, all I knew, was I liked the movie, and I liked the way that background music sounded. 
    

A few years later, when I got to high school, and grunge and alt rock had hit the main stream, but was still “cool,” everybody was blasting the soundtrack to the new Cameron Crowe movie, “Singles,” which featured Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.  But, the songs from the movie that I really dug were the ones by Paul Westerberg.   I liked his voice-it was raw but melodic and there was a certain snark to it.  I liked that the songs had a 60s pop sensibility, but still had an edge-the acoustic strumming with the dirty electric appealed to me as well.  And, as much as I enjoyed listening to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and all of that stuff, and didn’t make me want to pick up my guitar and start a band.  That was the other thing, I had been playing guitar for a little over a year, and I was at the point where I could just listen to a song (some songs, anyway) and play them.  That’s what I liked about the Westerberg songs on the soundtrack, it sounded like something that I could make happen.  And I don’t mean it sounded easy or something, it just seemed like the kind of songs that were begging to be banged out and just played.  Eventually, I discovered that Paul Westerberg was the lead singer of the Replacements.   

Still, I had yet to discover the Replacements.  About a year after that, I was on a Mission Trip in South Dakota, and we flew into Minneapolis.  We vistied the Mall of America, and at Sam Goody or one of those Mall record shops, I found a tape of “All Shook Down” in one of those bargain baskets.  Man, discovering the Replacements in Minneapolis, that’s pretty apropos.  A lot of Replacements fans can’t stand “All Shook Down” and say it’s not a real Replacements record, because most of the original line up didn’t play on it, or they only played on one song.  And yeah, it is essentially a Westerberg solo album, but I liked it when I bought it 25 years ago and I like it now.  I mean, it doesn’t make sense for Paul to continue to write songs like “Kid’s Don’t Follow” or “Fuck School” a decade later.  Punk doesn’t really work for people much passed 25.  And looking back, “All Shook Down,” is not one of the great Replacement’s albums, but, it’s still a good album.  I still like the songs.  But, sure, I prefer “Tim.” 
    

So, in High School, I wore out my tape of “All Shook Down,” driving around in a 1990 white Chrysler Lebaron.  But, I didn’t really dig into the replacements until I got to college, and purchased all their music on compact disc.  Besides having this really dirty edge and energy, they still had great songs.  And, in South Carolina, at the time, I couldn’t find too many people at the time who were interested in the Replacements at all.  Most of the people I knew were listening to Widespread Panic, or one of the many regional acoustic duos. So, the whole Replacements thing still felt like a privilege.  And that's why they are still so cool, because they never got so big that it felt like it was too much. The Replacements were never a “T-shirt” band, you know?  A Replacements t-shirt would have defeated the whole purpose.  Putting on the t-shirt, is trying too hard to let people know you’re in on it.  And, once you’re trying that hard, well, it’s just not cool, anymore.  A better representation would be a set list, or a story about getting to the dirty club early in 1987 and having beers with the Stinsons.  Something along those lines. 
    

The Replacements influence on what I create does not come through so much musically, not at all in an obvious way.  But, I’d like to think there is a certain irreverence that I took from the Replacements.  A certain mistrust of the mainstream bowling bowl that we all get pounded with.  A sly and subtle wink or nod to doing it your own way.  I’d like to think so, anyway.  But, once I start thinking, I’m already way less cool than the Replacements.

The greatest country album that never was 

“Woke up this morning my house was cold 
Checked the furnace, she wasn’t burning 
Went out in hopped in my old Ford 
Hit the engine but she ain’t turning” 

These are the opening lines to “One Step Up,” a song off of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 album, “Tunnel of Love.” 
The line about the engine, I always heard, and still like to hear as, “...buddy, she ain’t turning.” Buddy or not, lyrically, it doesn’t get more country than this.   Just on paper, it feels like it could be a lost Billy Joe Shaver cut that never made Waylon’s “Honky Tonk Heroes.”   From just the words, and the twang that Springsteen adds to his delivery, obviously an affect as there is no twang in Asbury Park, you can tell Springsteen has absorbed his fair share of Texas and Nashville heartache.  The lyrical mood of the album is often somber and dark, its a different dark place than what is painted on his sparse “Nebraska” album, more of an emotional grappling, not the whole good vs evil thing, but there is no less urgency.

The production on the “Tunnel of Love” is pretty similar to the previous studio album, “Born In The USA,” and nothing out of the ordinary from what was going on in the mid to late 80s:  reverb drenched drums mixed prominently, more synthesizer than Hammond, chorus guitar sounds, that vibe.  And the production is probably what sets it apart from what was seeping the cracks of the Nashville machine at the time, what is sometimes referred to as “the great quality scare” by some folks in Music City, but indeed, with the exception of the title track, the entire second side of Tunnel could have been scattered throughout Steve Earle’s 1986 album, “Guitar Town,” or the follow up, “Copperhead Road.” Apparently, I’m not the only one to notice the country side of “Tunnel of Love,” as the second track, “Tougher than the Rest,” has been covered by a wide range of country artists, including, Emmylou Harris, Travis Tritt, and Chris Ledoux. Which is an interesting choice, in my opinion, as I find "Brilliant Disguise" and "One Step Up," a little more country.

For me, “Tunnel of Love” represents a slight departure for Springsteen.  The Boss had always thrown in some twang here and there, but never as much as he did on this record.  But, like “Nebraska,” which was a departure in its austerity, the twang and  left turn to a few extra synthesizers and affected guitar swells in the title track didn’t feel wrong, or feel any less like Springsteen.  Which is a gift that great artists have:  the ability to blend elements from outside of genre and add new textures, styles, and arrangements to their sound, while still keeping it distinctively “them.”  

Why I got on this topic, though, is that, “Tunnel of Love” came out in 1987.  I was in the 3rd grade, and I remember “Tunnel of Love,” and also the “Joshua Tree” by U2.  Looking back, it feels like one of the first times I really explored music, and not just the stuff that found its way to my ears through my dad’s cassette tapes or pop radio, at this point in my life I was listening to songs and processing them, and stuff was really beginning to stick.  And, I really dug the stuff off “Tunnel of Love.” 
“Brilliant Disguise” was a certified smash, and was pretty ubiquitous, but there were smaller tracks that I also enjoyed and absorbed:  “One Step Up”  the title track, for some reason, Tunnel of Love is an album that I somehow embraced more than the completely unavoidable stuff that was being shoved down my ears at the time.  This album was not the cultural phenomenon that “Born in the USA” was.  But, it somehow affected me more.  For one thing, I personally like the album better, so, there’s that.  But, I think as I mentioned previously, the fact that during the time it came out, I feel like I began experiencing music in a more conscious way, I think it made for a bigger impact as well.  And, there’s always just the sort of hidden gem element of it, finding greatness in a section of the catalog that is usually passed over. 

Well, I started writing this about how “Tunnel of Love” is the greatest country album that never was.  Then I sort of moved into how and why it affected me.  Now I can't really see any significance in any of this.  Sigh.Yeah.  I don’t know.  Sorry.  Maybe I’ll figure it out later and edit. 
Cheers

ANOTHER ONE FROM THE ARCHIVES 

I spent a few long months in LA.  I arrived in Los Angeles on a relative whim.  I didn't get into graduate school, I had a buddy who was living out there, so, I drove across the country.  The drive was the best part.  Hours and days of contemplation and unfamiliar terrain and the feeling that I was a part of something bigger than what I'd known before.  I would like to do that again sometime.  Maybe I'll drive it with my son.  Or, maybe that's something he'll need to do on his own.
LA got the best of me, or as they say in the old song, it "proved too much for the man."  And, I was only out there for a few months, the good part of a year.  That was a decade ago.  Damn.  Time.  It just rambles, man.  Apparently, I wasn't in the best place when I wrote this.  I can actually remember how I was feeling.  I was down but hopeful.  And lonely.  Really fucking lonely.

FOUR MONTHS AND A KICK IN THE TEETH

The first couple of months I was here, I was surrounded by sirens and horns and Otis Redding. Sirens and horns are sort of the soundtrack to LA, you cannot really escape them, especially when you live a block away from a fire station. Otis was always with me at "Molly Malones" this bar on Fairfax and Sixth that I would play the open mic night, drink too many beers, and try to get the cute redheaded bartender with the kind eyes and not quite American accent to notice me. So I'd play Otis. And the Allman Brothers and Sam Cooke. All the songs that I thought might spark a young lady's interest, you know, like maybe she'd think that the pensive young man with his eyes in his beer and the really good taste in music was somewhat enticing. But to her, I was probably not pensive, I was just another drunk. The thing is, I'm just not cool enough. I'm really not. Okay, if I'm onstage, with my guitar and my songs of love and despair and blah-blah-then yeah, I can manage. But at an open mic night, any asshole with three bucks and a guitar can take the stage, so it doesn't really work the way it does at a "real" gig. But, I would go to Molly Malones anyway. Hell, I went there a lot when I first got here, even if it wasn't open mic night. My girl back home and I had decided that 2000 miles was a little too far to make things work, and so I was just feeling as alone as I could feel, spending all my money on draft beer and Jack Daniels like I had some kind of endless supply. So I'd sit at the bar by my lonesome, like all those guys that used to come to the Salty Nut and talk my ears off and try to hit on the waitresses, and I'd play Otis on the jukebox, to gain the title of "dude with best taste in music at the bar" and because my heart was broken and I needed to hear some heartbreak songs. And nobody breaks my heart like Otis. Nobody. Sometimes, when you're lonely and down, the only thing you want to hear are songs that are going to tug on your goddamn emotions even more, making it hurt like a hell, taking everything out of you until you just feel empty, but somehow making you feel good, not better, but good in a way that is only relevant to lonely souls with broken hearts. I definitely fit the bill. 

Open mic night at Molly Malone's was a pretty good deal. You got to play two songs, and usually there was a nice built in crowd. There did tend to be a large quantity of Justin Timberlake/Maroon 5 falsetto belting crooners, but I always got up and played my songs, and sometimes somebody would dig it. Usually, I'd just head back to the bar to knock back a couple more drinks. One night, a buddy of mine and I both played after we had watched the Braves game and had too many 16 ounce Miller Highlifes. We started hanging out with these Texas sorority girls and also some girls from Canada, who were somehow friends-don't ask, because I don..t know-but we went back to their house that was supposed to be right around the corner, but it wasn't as we sped through some alleys in a pick up truck belonging to some dude that I didn't know. Anyway, my buddy kept saying "Goddamn" and the girl whose house it was kept telling him not to say it, but he kept saying it and we got kicked out and had to walk about two miles back to my place. It might have been even farther. These girls lived on Crescent Heights on the other side of San Vicente, and we had to walk to Cochran, which is two blocks up from La Brea. If you are familiar with LA, that paints a pretty specific picture of a long-ass walk. So anyway, on any given open mic night, I was usually pretty drunk whenever it was my turn to play a few songs. One time another friend came and watched me, and afterward he told me that I was too drunk to play. To which I replied, "I wasn't too drunk to play, I was just too drunk to play well." 

Thanks and goodnight, 

 

ONE FROM THE ARCHIVES 

I wrote this coming off a week long run from Charleston through Mississippi and Louisiana and right on back.  I didn't know it, but I had a brain tumor at the time.  Far out.  Maybe it shows in my writing.  Maybe it doesn't really.  But, I guess it does, since I was physically and emotionally affected by the tumor.  Crazy times.

Rubberneckers In A Car Crash World

I'm standing above the Mississippi river. I'm a few hours away from a hangover. To my right is the "JAX" beer sign, it is reminding me of the "Emser Tile" sign that used to shine through my window when I lived off of Santa Monica in Hollywood. My thoughts are interrupted when one of the members of the rock and roll band that I sing and play guitar in tells me that he just talked to my dad. 
"What?" I ask. 
"Yeah," he says. "He said someone called his phone from your phone and asked him if he wanted to buy some DJ equipment. He was just wondering if you were alive." 
SHIT. This means someone has broken into the car. And decided to rub it in by punching "DAD" on the phone that they stole. 
The rock and roll band starts heading towards the car. We are in pretty good spirits all considering the circumstances. We are not that surprised. Windows get busted and things get jacked in New Orleans. 
We make it back to the parking lot that we spent 60 dollars to park the car and trailer in. There is broken glass, but the trailer has not been opened. 
The thieves got away with: 
1 Phone 
1 mixing board 
3 microphones 
They left: 
1 GPS 
1 Sattelite Radio 
! $2500 Motif keyboard(really?) 

We are surveying the damage and waiting on the police. We don't realize that one of the members of the rock and roll band has slipped away. We only realize this as we see him walking back towards us, lunatic style, informing us not to worry because he took care of everything by smashing up some police cars. 
This is somehow supposed to be reassuring. 
We tell him to take off, but he does not. He heads back to the scene of the crime to retrieve his phone. He is immediately arrested. The rest of us have whiplash from the incident. 
The sun is up. 
The cops will not help us because one of us smashed up some police cars which pretty much voids some hoodlums stealing a few items from our ride. 
I walk to a bar at the corner of Conti and Dauphine and get a bloody mary. It is absolute magic. 
I walk to the Cafe Du Monde for some coffee and a beignet. It is also magic. 
I return to the room and sleep until 2 in the afternoon. The hotel gave the rock and roll band a late check out. Thoughtful. 

The window is being fixed and I'm bored. One of the members of the rock and roll band is trying to get "Keith Richards/Moon" out of jail. Then, I realize that I am bored and only a block away from Bourbon Street which is the equivalent of being hungry at a Ryans Steakhouse with a twenty dollar bill. I stuff some jasmine in my shirt pocket and start drinking. 

I am in the backseat of the car heading to Hattiesburg. A call comes in saying that Keith Richards/Moon has been released. We did not think this would happen for another 72 hours. We drive to Hattiesburg. One of the members of the rock and roll band gets a ride with a friend back to New Orleans to retrieve Keith Richards/Moon. The rest of us start playing to an empty house. The proprietor of the empty house says to knock it off since the house is empty and takes us to another bar and buys us beers. 

I am driving somewhere between Atlanta and Augusta. The rest of the rock and roll band is sleeping. The sun is coming up. I am blaring a radio preacher. I am hoping he has the wrong idea. I could drive forever. 

I am sitting on Folly beach with Keith Richards/Moon and one of the other members of the rock and roll band. I have not slept since Jackson. We are polishing off the cooler of leftover beer that amounted on the road. There is wind but no chill. 
Somehow, it is better because of all the bullshit, even though it shouldn't be.