“Bang the drum slowly” comes to mind, given the old trumpet player always liked a good downbeat. Throw in some laughter, because that was surely there—most days I’m sure. He had that kind of “life is ridiculous” take on most things, even though he understood probably everything through a mathematical steel trap that said emotion has no place. That’s where all that smooth jazz came in, the notes floating here, there, and everywhere (one of his favorite Beatles songs).
Strange: a couple of friends revealed around Christmas just past that they listened to Firesign Theatre back in the day. How many times did we spin those LPs? I repeated lines verbatim to my two friends, who had no way of keeping up. And then I learned the old trumpet player passed away on Christmas Eve. “All out for Fort Stinking Desert.” There’s that laughter again.
Laughter carried the day for him. He could laugh at math problems. He could laugh at physics. A beautiful woman passing by? A certain smile, I’m sure. Oh to be inside that mind of his, but no—no chance. One could get close. He was okay with close. He was okay with silence. He was okay with me and you and everybody else.
I last spent time with him in Portland, Oregon, his new-found hometown. It’s been almost twenty years. He picked me up at the Portland Airport. Ate at Jake’s downtown. Great West Coast seafood. He seemed content in Oregon. I enjoyed being around him, talking, catching up about the years that had zipped by. Laughter, there it goes again.
When I learned that he was gone, flying high in some super nova somewhere, I went to a bar on Earth and drank some Shiner beer. In his honor. To his memory. The old trumpet player and I were once tripping through the Hill Country, down by the Blanco, throwing horse shoes at a post. Debating, and laughing. So cool, so cool. The old trumpet player, my friend. Now gone. Keep flying, you super nova, wherever you are.
I thought about bringing pen and paper to the Radney Foster gig at Gruene Hall last summer. It would be nice to look back on the list and remember which songs this super songwriter chose to play in the set. Nah, forget that. Too much trouble.
Then a delay in getting out of the nearby restaurant put us in a line for the show stretching down the sidewalk. We’ll probably be near the back of the hall, I thought. Too crowded. The rustic venue is small and seeing acts like Raul Malo and Guy Clark is especially enjoyable if you’re sitting near the stage.
Gradually the line moved forward, it was getting dark outside and as we hurried toward the side entrance, our hopes were up that we’d at least get seats maybe halfway back. Surprise! No chairs were set up at all. And only a few people were hanging around at the front near the empty stage. We headed that way and were greeted by five or six women, apparently all friends with one another. Before long, they passed a bucket of longnecks our way and offered us free beers.
Radney Foster, dressed in jeans, boots and a black t-shirt, came onto the stage with the band. They all took up their instruments, the keyboardist settled in near where we stood just a few feet from the stage, and Radney leaned into the microphone. “I’m Radney Foster from Del Rio, Texas.” Whoops and hollers filled the air. All the female friends pushed up closer, as we did. He looked down at us and smiled.
The band started into the first song. Radney sang, “Just call me lonesome, heart broke and then some…” The night had begun. The female bass player grinned at the crowd’s reaction, the tall longhaired lead guitarist concentrated on his fret and fingers, and we were rocking. The women friends passed more beer our way, and everyone was happy. Radney laughed when he looked down at the women. He glanced at us (mostly Cherie) from time to time. Everyone was having a good time.
The set list was at his feet. I could see it from where I stood. As Radney sang his last song, “God Speed,” alone on stage, I wished I had brought the pen and paper to track the songs. He concluded to wild applause and said he’d be back by the bar to meet anyone who wanted to stick around. He tossed a pick into the air and reached down for the set list. I extended my hand and he looked up and smiled. He handed it to me and walked off stage.
We went back to the bar area. Folks were standing patiently in line to get pictures made with him. Cherie had her photo taken. “Now what was your name?” he asked her, obviously remembering her from the crowd. Flash…the camera took the picture. I stepped up and shook hands with him. “Would you sign the set list?” He grinned and took pen in hand. What a night!
I read the news today…about a new photo that surfaced in the Beatles famous Abbey Road album cover shoot. The Beatles are walking in the opposite direction in the new photo. And Paul is wearing sandals instead of being barefoot. It’s all very interesting. To me, however, here’s the most interesting thing: the man in the background is still there, just like in the photo that eventually became the cover shot. And I knew him.
It was back in the mid-1970s and I lived in Austin, Texas, as I do today. The group of friends I hung out with included a guy named Robert – and I’m sorry I can’t remember his last name now. He was a few years older than me. One day he told me that he was on the cover of Abbey Road. Now that’s just something you didn’t hear all the time.
He then pulled his wallet out and showed me a photograph of himself in London on Abbey Road. The setting is the same, except the Beatles aren’t walking across the street. He said he was in London at that time and saw the shoot going on as he was standing on the sidewalk that day. Later when the album came out and he realized he was in the photo, he put on the same clothes he was wearing that day and had a friend go back to the location and shoot a picture of him – for posterity, right?
It was pretty amazing. It’s him in the photo. The photo he pulled out of his wallet way back in the ‘70s was worn and faded and crinkled (he had been carrying it around for about six or seven years by then), but when you looked at it and you looked at him, you had to say, “Wow, that is you all right.”
He passed away several years ago, but every time I see the Abbey Road cover I always think of him. So today when news came out that there was an exciting new photo of the Beatles walking the wrong way as depicted in their iconic cover shot, I looked at it immediately. Yep, there’s Robert (no, he’s not the famous “Dr. Robert” from the Beatles song). But in this shot there’s no black London taxi near him. That must’ve pulled up at a different time because he is standing near the taxi on the cover photo. He was in the right time at the right place.
Asbury Park, NJ – Cherie and I tripped through here last summer. She’s a Jersey girl. Used to pay fifty cents to see Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Stone Pony before they made it big. For me, finally making it to Asbury Park was many moons too late. Still, I had to smile walking along the boardwalk. All of those lyrics by Springsteen came back to me. “Kids huddled on the beach in the mist…”
Out on the beach a few families hung out, a rocky pier jutted out about 50 yards into the cold blue Atlantic, and a lifeguard stood nearby. At the end of the boardwalk was a long, red-brick building stretching from Ocean Avenue to the edge of the shore – the Asbury Park Convention Hall. We walked inside: shops, a concert hall, posters announcing the coming concert featuring the Turtles and other ‘60s rock groups, and a restaurant and bar.
A crowd gathered on the boardwalk to watch guys pound a sledgehammer and try to ring the bell at the top of the tall mark. Moan and groans. Nobody was coming close to reaching the top.
The Stone Pony faces the beach in Asbury Park, NJ. A little bar in a little Jersey beach town. So simple, so beautiful. This is where it all began for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band a long time ago. The great Clarence Clemons, the band’s saxophonist, had died two weeks before. Pictures and posters and flowers lined the beach side wall of the Stone Pony on that cloudy Sunday afternoon in July. The Big Man, the big smile, the big sound – gone.
Further down the boardwalk stood a fortune-teller’s shop. “You know the cops finally busted Madam Marie for telling fortunes better than they do…” I wish I had been here forty years ago.
It’s difficult enough to come up with all-time favorites. There’s just so much music. But today while walking with the ipod plugged in, I picked up my step a little and smiled. It was the Doors playing “Light My Fire.” The thought crossed my mind then and there: this is the greatest rock song of all time.
Released in early 1967, “Light My Fire” was definitely different. What were we listening to in the months leading up to this all-time classic? The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee,” the Monkees “Last Train to Clarksville,” and Bobby Darin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” to name a few. These weren’t bad songs; we liked them! But suddenly we heard Jim Morrison and band (Ray Manzerak, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore) and everything changed.
The song was originally seven minutes long – way too long for AM radio in those days. Songs could only be three minutes in length. So “Light My Fire” was released as a three-minute single. Those who bought the album “The Doors” found out that it was a seven-minute mind blower. And that album also included the 12-minute “The End” as well. Rock had taken a turn down a different road.
Later that year, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles came out and rock – and for that matter, music – would never be the same again. But there’s something about hearing those opening chords on the organ by Ray Manzarek on “Light My Fire” that simply define the word “classic.” And for me, “Light My Fire” is the all-time, number one classic in rock history.
What’s your number one?
Gruene, TX, June 13, 2011 – At Gruene Hall, it can often feel like you’re in somebody’s living room listening to an old friend play some guitar. Sometimes it feels like it could be your own living room. And here tonight, Guy Clark felt like that old friend, just playing guitar and singing songs – songs that he wrote and that have become classics that defy a time period.
It was a sold out show. It was hot – 100+ degrees in early June. We got there early to stand in line with hundreds of others just to get a good seat when the doors opened. I looked over at one point while standing in line on the sidewalk, hot and sweaty and with the people in front of me drinking Dox XX beer to try to keep cool, to see a golf cart scooting down the street and there sat Guy Clark himself. He was being carted around for some reason or another and I just happened to see him – smiling at the sight of so many who came to see him.
A little later, sitting about seven rows from the stage, I watched him walk onto center stage slowly (and his knee was obviously hurting because he had entered Gruene Hall during Amy Speace’s amazing opening act wearing a knee brace and walking with a cane). Verlin Thompson and Sean Kamp came on with him and sat on either side of the songwriting legend. And over the next two hours, the three played some songs – as Guy Clark characterized them in the opening segment: “We’re here to play some songs we wrote…and some we heard…” The audience chuckled…and the three guitarists played them well, seemingly virtuoso…with some mandolin and fiddle thrown in. Effortlessly. And it sounded like pure beauty.
Guy Clark is a master of the American songwriters elite. Early on in tonight’s set, he made you feel the pain behind, “If I could just get off of that LA freeway without getting killed or caught.” It was a classic song and a classic moment. “Like Desperados Waiting for a Train” rang true as well. The audience was relaxed, receptive, almost worshipful – but not so shy that they wouldn’t shout out favorites they wanted to hear. “Rita Ballou” someone shouted out. Clark’s eyes shot stage left and then out into the edges of the audience over by the windows – knowing the song and simply saying, “We’ll get to that one later.” And smiling, knowing they would. And they did.
He laughed too – trying to tune his guitar, trying to sing over the fans that blew onstage to help cool the sweltering heat. He laughed at himself as he got “hung up” as he described it while watching and listening as Kamp banged out a guitar solo later in the show.
“Old Friends” was especially meaningful this night to this crowd. That living room feeling, perhaps you’re sitting somewhere in West Texas at a friend’s house and picking tunes together on guitars…that’s the feeling I’ll remember from this night. “Old friends…shining like diamonds,” Clark sang joyfully. The crowd was with him, shining – each like an old friend.
Subjected myself to the Beatles “tribute” (?) on American Idol. Uh, what were they thinking?
First, no one should do Beatles songs. Really.
Second, you know it’s gonna come off like Karaoke. They (the contestants) were warned.
Third, they took the contestants to see Cirque de Solei and the Beatles “Love” show right there in Las Vegas…and they still didn’t get it?
It’s inexcusable. Especially for Steven Tyler to sit there and not just rip them after these pathetic performances. And Randy and JLo too. C’mon, man.
Hello, Goodbye? Three (three!) people running out of a London phone booth singing “Hello, Goodbye”? At least Tyler said “The Marx Brothers put out a lot of fires…” Nice comment.
So many Beatles songs bring up so much emotion so easily. Yeah, we’re old, but think about it. Most of us can say, Yes, that was the 10th grade. Oh yeah, that was summer of ’67. Oh, Hey Jude, I remember what I was doing back then. The White Album? It goes on and on and on.
Jumping out of a red phone booth? I can only shake my head.
I’m lucky. A year ago I was actually in London. For real. And I walked around thinking “Beatles were here” as I walked down the street. The London taxi cabs (I got to ride in them, twice!) reminded me of the Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night.” It rained like hell as I walked through the streets at night, and I was thinking, “The Beatles…” I was in a dream.
Isn’t that how one of their songs starts? “I read the News today, oh boy. About a lucky man who made the grade…”
American Idol should be ashamed. Nothing against the kids singing. They admitted, sadly, (at least some of them did) that they’d never listened to the Beatles (?). Huh?
Oh, all I can say is Let It Be, Let It Be, Let It Be, Whisper Words of Wisdom, Let It Be (and change the channel).