There are moments in your life when you turn a corner and stagger into a back alley; into your past. Backed up against the rear exit of a burlesque joint and a junkie's got a knife at your throat. Haven't I been here before? Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes it ain't a dream. We were on the road a few weeks ago in New England. We pulled up to a gig in one of those states above New York. On the waterfront. It said "Riverfront Café." This was supposed to be a place I've played before. I realized the agent had made a bad mistake. The place I played a few years ago was: "The Riverfront Bar and Grill." (I'm using pseudonyms here for protection.) She'd misread the phone book. Big difference. The other place was up in a better part of town. I knew we might be in troubled country from the twelve Harley Davidson's parked out front. Reminded me of the time I boarded a "People's Express" airline in Oakland and Sonny Barger and twenty Hells Angels got on board in full colors, carrying briefcases. (Adios, baby, we're goin' to Cuba to kick some ass.) Now back to this bar…I opened the door and saw the twenty bikers, and didn't figure any of 'em were my fans, and then I turned and saw the big Monitor Lizard flicking his tongue at me in a glass tank with a sign that said: "He doesn't Play Well with Other People. Watch Your fingers!" Later on I'd watch the owner, tough gent who owned a carnival, feed the lizard with clam strips. Like watching a pirate with a hook feed sharks. We were no longer in Greenwich Village, baby, nor Kansas. But the owner was nice enough, and I got over my dread, and he told me long war story about Link Wray doing his last gig on earth in this bar, and how they carried Link up on stage, and he exploded in a furious two hour set of rock and blues, then collapsed and they carried him out and away. Perfect. Link Wray. A beat Indian rocker in dark glasses.
We made it through OK, but it was close. I asked a biker if everything was all right, and he said "No." It was the most meaningful "No" I'd ever heard. Definitive. To the point.
Lew Welch, the beat poet, would have liked the quiet fury and weight of that rendering: "No!" Welch was walking through a winery one day, taking a tour, and someone's kid almost fell into a wine vat, and the tour guide, who was muttering a boring speech, suddenly woke up and screamed: "Whose kid is that?!" Lew Welch vowed that his poetry would always carry the emotional impact of: "Whose kid is that?!"
Some nights you have to be prepared for that old trap door to open up and you're dropped down a long tunnel, into your hellish musical origins: skid row bars, bikers, hookers, con men, drunk Mohawks, carny's and the like. Dues. Perspective. The minstrel trade can be a humbling experience. Good for the soul. Down where the drunkard's roll. TR
"See the boys out walking, the boys they look so fine, dressed up in green velvet, they're silver buckles shine. Soon they'll be bleary eyed, under a keg of wine…down where the drunkards roll." (Richard Thompson)