Saturday, November 27, 2010

True West

We left El Paso at sunup. My wife, guitarist Thad Beckman, and “Poppi,” my father-in-law. Poppi doesn’t speak English, except for the phrase: “F*** You, cowboy.” We were hoping he wouldn’t employ it in the wrong situation. We rolled down Highway 9 into the desert and Columbus, New Mexico, where Pancho Villa attacked the U.S. in 1916. Black Jack Pershing, with George Patton in toe, was sent after Pancho –never caught him. On through Hachita and Animas; past the monument where Geronimo surrendered; ate crackers and cut meat near Skull Valley; arrived in Douglas, Arizona. I showed them the Gadsden Hotel lobby, where Villa rode his horse up the stairway. There’s a stuffed puma, a cowboy watering hole – The Saddle and Spur Bar - and an old cafĂ©. Next stop Bisbee. Show for Bill Carter, who wrote fine books on salmon fishing in Alaska and the war in Bosnia. On to Sahuarita: a church with a giant cross made of saguaro ribs and copper wire. Ross Knox, the last cowboy-muleteer, was in attendance. Ross is “the man who rode the mule around the world.” True west.

On to Flagstaff and the Orpheum theater. Snow on the road going out. A night off in Scottsdale. Visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert retreat. Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O’Keefe, Fritz Scholder, Ross Knox, and Geronimo color the true, raw West. Outsiders. Aboriginals. I bought a pawn shop Kachina in Scottsdale and wondered about its journey. Hawked for five dollars by a Navajo in 1969? Monday night show at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix. Then we gave Poppi the Western ride of his life – across the middle of Arizona and New Mexico. Through towns like Payson, Show Low, and Pie Town; stopped for the obligatory slice of Apple, Blueberry, and Boysenberry. One codger, around 90, ate a cafe dinner of cream of mushroom soup with two dozen crackers crushed inside; for bulk. He was “western” to the beard and bone.

After seven hours we hit old Magdalena and the adobe home of Steve Bodio and his wife Libby. In the front room were seven Russian coursing hounds, called “Tazi’s” from the old Turkin territory, and one Peregrine Falcon, which Steven fed from his hand. Frozen quail. Steve has many fine books out, including one on hunting with Eagles in Mongolia: Eagle Dreams. We ate Libby’s homemade posole and drank Mongol vodka; imbibing in a few bottles of God’s grape juice. Bukowski once wrote me: the Greeks didn’t call wine the blood of the gods for no reason at all. In the morning we drove home down the Jornado del Muerto, the long “journey of death” the Spanish rode five hundred years back.

There is still a west. It exists on desert back roads and in odd, fragmented glimpses: Saguaros against Sonoran sunsets; pawn shop Kachinas; crosses made of Saguaro ribs and copper; the lingo of the muleteer, a blueberry pie slice in Pie Town; frozen quail on the hand of the Falconer. God’s footnotes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Ballad of Little Dougie

He’s sitting on stage somewhere in the night. Clutching a Bajo Sexto. One of those deep throated Mexican instruments; a sonic cross between a 12 string guitar and a broken steel cable whacking beats against a wooden thunder drum. A tuba with strings. Doug Sahm is poised. Historically posed. Leather jacket, black cowboy hat, pointy toe black boots. Long Hair and shades. The real/true beat king of Americana long before it was deadened into a recycle bin for old rockers and hat acts and tired folkies. My friend Peter from England gave me this picture. Doug is probably one of the only gabacho/gringos who could play the bajo sexto; he also played guitar, steel guitar, bass, drums, and all of it. They say he played once with Hank Williams. He used to call me in the middle of the night and whisper arcane warnings: Man you gonna get fat on Mexican food down in El Paso. Watch out.” He said he’d drive out to see me, but “them Mexican banditos out there would steal my Cadillac.” He called me “St Olav’s,” because he loved that song of mine. He even recorded it once. Doug wanted us to tour Norway together and take it all back. The fame, the glory, the Norwegian Kroners. It never transpired.

He was called “Little Dougie,” in those 1950’s photos. A ten year old kid behind a steel guitar. Then he was the young dude with Beatle bangs and flamenco boots who hit ‘em hard with Mendocino” and “She’s About a Mover.” He sang with Dylan. He was American music in the raw/real sense; music drawn from the border, Mexico, accordions, steel guitars, East Texas blues, girls tight red dresses, white boy rock, and British Invasion boomerang POP. Doug Sahm. Crooning, moaning, and wailing his way through his own Great American Songbook.

I hung out with him in a New York deli once. He spent twenty minutes telling the waitress how to make real corn beef hash. Then we went back to his hotel room where he chastised me for tossing my cowboy hat on the bed: “No hat on the bed, dude, its bad luck!” Then he showed me his bag of vitamins, mineral water, and the special coffee machine he travelled with. The road warrior in his final season; with medicines for the ritual.

A year later he died, in a Motel, in Taos, New Mexico. Gone, but never gone. Little Dougie.

The other night I watched the Texas Tornados. Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez and Doug’s son, Sean. On fire. Doug looked down and whispered to “Boogie,” (which is what he called Augie) – “Heh, Boogie, keep your eye on St. Olav’s, don’t let him get fat on that El Paso Mexican food. And don’t let him throw his hat on the bed, boogie.”

Roll on, Little Dougie, roll on.

(I’ll send this one out to the regulars in “Bar Mendocino, Helsinki, Finland.)