Sunday, December 27, 2009
From Within The Coolest Kid's Room Ever, Located In the Basement Of a Loft Apt. In Atlanta
Two days after Christmas and I am somehow in a way groovy kid's basement room in a loft in Atlanta. The far wall rafters lined with old license plates, exposed wood beams roof, the play room next door fully carpeted and containing lots of race track, space and a large chest of toys. Our bed is covered with a bright blanket festooned with happy multi-colored numbers that will most likely cause me to have pleasant Phantom Tollbooth dreams.
I have just spent a week on the road plunging farther into the South than I've ever been and I encountered nothing but love, good food (I will ignore the Krystal burgers if they will continue to ignore me and not put me in an e-coli coma and I will also try to ignore the strange trend in two Alabama rest stops in a row where seemingly guys were taking dumps in the urinal. Either that or dormant Southern pee eventually grows brown fur.), lots of great vinyl and pleasant weirdness.
If you would have told me five or ten years ago that I would be getting married and having a great time way down South meeting my future-in-laws, I would have attempted to laugh, causing hoarse seal barking noises to emit from my lardy ringed neck, and then I would have petulantly spilled out my various medications onto your lap, if you were sitting.
Of course most of my other trips down South I was half pickled and shivering with anxiety like a newly shaved chihuahua. All my vibrations yelling "Come beat me now, I am your meaty beat mate." But also, there is a good reason to fear the South, like there can be good reasons to fear most places. On one trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest we stopped off somewhere in Alabama for coffee around midnight and there were about 15 gentlemen sitting around a table beneath many Confederate flags and guns and angry type decorations and the air was thick with words that had left their mouths moments before we entered and the silence that now couched those words and escorted them up into the rafters where the twin brothers were assigned to keep watch with lugers.
And there was also the other stop on the way to a Jazz Fest, in Virginia, when we kept seeing signs for "Hank Williams memorabilia". Hell yeah, we all thought. Just the stuff to load up on and wear with pride as we dip our ears and brains in nothing but music, laughter and booze for a week or so. We take a few weird turnoffs out of our way and come upon a fairly inviting looking establishment and run inside. Immediately we are hit with the baroque mug of Hank Williams, Jr., both a yuckle- and a chucklehead, adorning not only mugs, but buckles and bumper stickers and pink midriff tees and manly black tees with silver stuff on them.
Our more adventurous friend, Frenchy Duggan T-Dogg, wandered off to the backroom, not content to give up so quickly on what appeared to be a failed mission. A few moments later she came back looking paler than a fatty cyst removed from Elton John's taint. She had stumbled upon a lair of Klan toys and gifts and the mean looking bulldog woman cashier up front went from an unfortunate looking person who didn't like our kind to a case where the insides maybe cook up with hatred and reach out from within and do a rubber number on your face until it matches up with your fetid half thoughts and turn you into a goblin.
Nothing but goodwill on this trip, though. Particularly in the Waffle Houses. I openly and proudly and loudly proclaim that they are bastions of freedom and equality. The one we hit in Anderson, South Carolina late at night two nights before Christmas was like being in a play written by a buddhist christian healer. Everyone from the cook to the waitress to the obligatory solo guy sitting at the end stool by the counter had thoughtful, warm things to say. They didn't even cringe or shrink back when we said we were from Baltimore like most people more than two hours outside our misunderstood magnetic pull. The solo guy did say a friend of his got mugged there once, but then he added "Of course I think he wandered off into the wrong place looking to buy something he shouldn't have been looking for. But there ain't no Mayberries anymore. We even have our own homeless person here in town."
I would like to propose to The Waffle House chain and its corporate officers that they give me a cable tv show where I travel back forth between Baltimore and my future mother-in-law Rio's house, buying up books and records at all the roadside flea markets and eating only at Waffle Houses.
We scored some fantastic vinyl on this trip: two Hank Williams mono originals, two early Roy Orbison mono originals, a 1958 Folkways 10" with Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Bess Lomax and Pete Seeger, near mint original stereo copy of Love's "Da Capo", near mint original stereo of Moby Grape's "'69", some cool blues and an original near perfect mono copy of Francoise Hardy's best album, "Maid in Paris".
We arrived in Mobile finally around 7pm to balmy weather and comforting breezes. My fiance's family immediately whisked us to an oyster house called Wintzell's and we had one great jazzed up waitress named "Mz Pinky". Throughout the meal, pilgrims approached the table to worship at young Laurel's highchair. Laurel is my soon to be sister-in-law's 9 month old golden child, who is making the Gap baby models bristle with jealousy and say all kinds of bitchy garbled things while pumping up their diapers with steaming coils.
The night we finally got around to hanging out with Everly's Alabama boho friends from her youth, I had the ambiguous Small World moment where discovering the tragic news of Vic Chesnutt's suicide led me to realizing I'd met Everly's one friend in Athens, GA a lifetime ago when I was trim and hairful and lived on beer and tacos. Turns out she was a friend of a very good friend of mine who left Baltimore to be with a notorious printer there in Athens. He had given us a whirlwind tour of New Orleans late one Jazz Fest night that turned into dawn at the Cafe Du Monde. The night virtually exploded in conversation from there. Lots of music and social history to discuss.
And her husband was one heavily tattooed font of lore and information on all things vintage and tasty. He makes a living scouting out old guitars and fixing them up. He had just found a beautiful original Les Paul that he said will one day buy him a beach house to live in cheaply. He also had the most exquisite body of National Steel guitar I'd ever seen. I fell into the final stages of man crush when he mentioned that the guitar style he most admired and emulated was that of Andy Gill from The Gang of Four. He told a great tale of working in a convenience store in Nashville where folks like Gillian Welch would come in for ketchup to use on her french fries in the greasy spoon next door. He also had been friends with Manuel who he says is the heir to the detailed embroidered Nudie suits of country music legend. He brought out an authentic "plain" Nudie suit that was striped and had killer deep maroon lining and Western cut pockets.
After a few hours of great music discussion and Holly learning us up on Alabama history, we made the final pilgramage to the home of the legendary Harvey Wallbanger, a musician and filmmaker who has often used beautiful Everly as his video muse. The party that ensued there was like one from "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", but somehow healthy and almost wholesome. Harvey wandered serenely about with black tie and leather blazer overseeing a few rooms of friends working off holiday stress. By this point I felt emptied of words, but comfortable. At my age and without booze two hours of steady conversation is about all I'm good for. Hopefully, though, I still managed to win Harvey's benediction for the pursuit of Everly's heart.
Sri Rebecca The Desert Vixen who is my spiritual adviser worries that my new state of happiness will be followed by a crash, but I tell her that what is left of my soul and time is tempered. I saw the folks in the flea market saying "it's a sock and underwear Christmas" and all the others who weren't there to buy hip stuff, but to find the best possible deal to scrimp and get by on. And of course there is the endless religious and/or racial tension that no part of the world is free from - although I have to say that Richmond seemed to be one fucking groovy integrated place -, not to mention the latest man exploding from odd places on a plane. Who would ever think that hearing about exploding shorts would be a bad thing?
And dear Vic Chesnutt dead, not all that long after Jack Rose dead. But Vic may have been tired and this is the rest he wanted and his way of getting it. His first three albums alone are a legacy anyone could be proud of. I'll never forget his gentle manner during shows and the way he said "Miss Tina". I'm glad I caught him last year, going despite the show being held at the godawful 8 X 10 Club. It was Vic Chesnutt and Jonathan Richman and the tool at the door is asking "Which performer did you come to see, we're breaking the pay down by attendance votes." Jesus Christ, I came to see them both. They're both legends and here the club is acting like it's a high school battle of the bands. What they should be getting the audience to vote on is a new layout for the club.
Speaking of tempered happiness, back to work tomorrow morning and facing the grim economic reality of the end of this war and terror riddled decade. Have I mentioned I love my future mother-in-law? How lucky is that?