“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!