Sunday, March 14, 2010

'The Coyote Ugly Saloon and Other Wild Animals'

Only six weeks left in Austin before a return to the hometown for some re-charging. This is a big week here. This weekend, the South By Southwest Festival began, one of the biggest and glitter filled ten days in the country. If you are interested, google South By Southwest, Austin, and look at the schedule. Everyone from 'Cheap Trick' to Justin Townes Earle will be here. There are film panels, music panels, and interactive activities. There are stages set up outside, inside, and in every nook and cranny in Austin. Like any city right before a big event, you can feel the energy changing. Last night, Lucy and Donnie took me to dinner and then to an improv show called 'Hitchcocked!' It was a great concept, long form improvisation applied to the style of Hitchcock films. It was lively, funny, and in a great little theatre called, 'The Hideout' theatre, right above a coffee shop.

Afterwards, we walked down Sixth Street in the downtown area filled with people. We walked through the big hotel, (forgot the name) where LBJ did his inaugural speech from the balcony. We walked inside the 'Coyote Ugly' saloon, which has been franchised all over the country.

In 1997, when the Coyote Ugly saloon was a dive bar in the East Village in NYC, this is where I drank myself into 'the crisis of 1997'. The owner was a wild gal named Lil, who had a playwright husband who I often drank with. All the songs on the juke box where drinking songs, (all honky-tonk) and only the most hardened drinkers frequented the bar, all the bartenders were required to drink with you. I was in NYC doing 'The Fish Must Die' (one of my plays), and after the shows, we all headed to The Coyote Ugly Saloon. If you refused a drink there, the barmaid would stand on top of the bar, (literally) and yell at the top of her lungs that you were not drinking. It was one wild place. The bar was old twisted wood, smelled like it was never cleaned; it looked like a bar you would find in the wilds of Montana or Wyoming, or in the Arizona desert. I got arrested there, (but not jailed) for getting in a fight. I was accosted by eight cops of New York's finest, (don't tell my mother). I could tell you here that I'm not proud of this, but hell, I have to say that it was one of the most exciting times of my playwriting wildcat life. I remember leaving NYC, riding on the bus to the airport through Harlem, whisky on my breath, with two dollars and fifty cents, and three months of straight theatre, whiskey, and riotous living. I played bar songs live in the Saloon on Sundays, (just sober enough to sound okay), and an alcoholic attorney, (a regular) wanted to 'buy up' all my songs. As I sat in the 'franchised' Coyote Ugly saloon last night, and told a few stories of being a 'regular' in the original, I could see faces looking at me like, "Yea, sure you did, Raymond…" I guess if you live long enough, and are fortunate enough to adventure in NYC with a theatre crowd, you will have a few stories. At this point in my life, when I open my mouth to tell a story, I sometimes stop and tell myself, "No one will believe this story I am about to tell." Sometimes, I refrain, but most of the time, I'm to excited as I remember things like fighting Charles Bukowski on The Golden State Freeway, getting in a brawl with Commander Cody in Las Vegas for abusing the barmaid, reading poetry in Prospero's Bookstore in Kansas City, training with 'The Amazing Monahan's' circus act, or yes, becoming a regular in the original 'Coyote Ugly Saloon'. Although I expect to be sober in the last couple of acts of my life, I don't expect the stories to be any less crazy or unbelievable. If you want to be a writer or musician, you have to have lived through a couple of things. What's the 'tag line' of the song that just won the Oscar from 'Crazy Heart'? "The harder the life, the sweeter the song?" Of course I do believe that one doesn't have to drink a river of whisky to be a great writer, but one does need a story to tell…

After working back and forth on the memoirs of my life, there are stories and anecdotes that would give a reader plenty of pause to question the remembrance, but hell, whether you (the reader) believe it or not, a great story is a great story. My life was never glamorous, but it had plenty of campfires crossing paths with a strange kind of fate. How can you explain to someone that you just spent the last year of high school in a house full of poets in Los Angeles and then spent that summer riding with some of the oldest and savviest cowboys in the American West? Is that fate? Or that you spent all summer playing music near the log cabin where you lived as a child in a place called Salt Gulch? Or that now you are in Austin, TX living hand to mouth with a cow dog and a 1979 D-18 Martin Guitar? How do you tell someone that your father walked into the desert in 'The Valley of Fire' in the Nevada desert and you have never found the body and have them believe you? How do you tell someone with a straight face that you rode bulls in a fourth of July rodeo for thirteen years, and that some of those summers you ventured to Bryce Canyon to ride a few bucking horses? Or that you traveled around the Southwest in a bright orange dodge van with port hole windows, shag carpet, smoking pot and drinking Coors beer blasting 'Ten Years After' at full volume? What is a life? Is it the sum of the parts or the parts themselves when there is nothing really left but the memories? Look, it's like this. You can either keep the old gun you where given by the old man at the crossroads tucked away in the closet, or you can take that gun, sell it in a pawn shop and let the story continue. Wow, how did I get here? I remember once looking around the room of my small duplex in Phoenix. I looked at each of the items I could see in the front room, the paintings, the table, the filing cabinet, the desk, the computer, the manuscripts, the photos on the shelf and thinking, there is an amazing story behind how I got all of these items. There is nothing I can see that I could sell for twenty bucks, but the story of how I got that, and the sub-text of the meaning in the exchange, that is worth something! I could see the scruff marks on the coffee table of my next-door neighbor, a drunkard who fronted a punk rock band called 'The Complainiacs'. I could see the ghosts of the blues band I brought home to party until the sun came up. In the bedroom, I could still smell the perfume of more than a few sad beautiful women. I looked at the paintings and posters of plays, and could hear the lines of dialogue. The filing cabinet is four deep drawers full of the playbills from a thousand plays, early scenes of plays written out with a bic ballpoint, a random photo of a thousand nights in one. What can I do with all of this? What can I do with a small storage unit that contains the sum of my life? What can I do with the scars on my body, the metal in my hip, the gray in my hair? What can any of us do, but let the flicker of memory fuel the rest of the story…

Perhaps these memories, these stories of a life lived are all we really have to carry with us to the next place, are not all 'things' temporal? I find myself constantly fighting the temptation to just let it all go, and I have to tell you, in this apartment that is as sparse as an apartment can be, I'm once again without much left. I sold the projector that got me through fifty shows of 'Bohemian Cowboy'. I sold the six-shooter that was given to me by the old man at the crossroads. I sold an old guitar I had, left over from the 'summer of Bullet Bourbon'. I've sold the screen, the printer, and the boom box. Ironic that the things I can't sell are the 10,000 pages of manuscripts and stories. I can't sell the old clothes that reek of walking down the streets of more than a few American cities and country roads. The dog, she stays, for she is building some stories of her own. The computer and the guitar that has been with me since 1983 will stay. The older printer will stay. The aluminum coffee pot that my father always took with him will stay. The cowboy boots that Chuck Hinckley wore in the original production of 'The Fish Must Die' will stay. The crock-pot that has a history of chicken soup, pinto beans, and fresh marinara will continue to sit on the counter. Two tattered towels, my father's old beard trimmer, the leather satchel of songs will stay. The rebuilt mattress that lies on the floor will stay for the time being, along with the Pendleton blanket that keeps me warm at night. There is a coffee thermos, a scratched up old frying pan that has seen the bottom of a thousand eggs, more than a few ghosts keys, a leather jacket given to me by Michael, before he went to prison, three cowboy hats and a dozen western shirts, all will continue to travel in the back of the now beat to hell truck.

Let me tell you what I have learned from these things that continue on… I have learned that if each one of these items could talk, the song would be very sweet. But then again, that is my job, to let you hear their voices, before the sun sets on all of these treasures. Is that not life? Today, this is what the edge looks like, ladies and gentlemen, and all we really have is, today. Tonight, I just might play some honky-tonk music at the open mic at Dover's. Just for a second, wouldn't you like to come with me? There's a story in that place, I can tell…

4 comments:

Gerry said...

I dont know whether to confess I am the mother of this wild guy after reading this entry today but I know you have lived a very colorful life. However I learned that boys become forces of nature once they have reached their teen years and however you did your job before that is all the influence you might have once they have gone to work at hard labor before 16 to earn their own cars, cigarettes, parties, GFs, etc. etcetera. I tried to get you not to ride those bulls in the rodeo arguing that you had not been riding all winter but you were sure your gymnastic training would enable you to stick longer each year and so you did it anyway. I developed the tactical plan of removing you from that state if you got in trouble with the law, but in CA in a week we went before the judge and I was put on parent probation as well as you for you buying beer underage. That was a lesson to me, too! Had I not observed my dad and his wild brothers in action and my male cousins I would not have known to expect this, since I did not have any brothers to educate me. Mormon girls could be wild in other ways but not like boys. Every year my 3 sons stayed alive I gave thanks. And am still doing it.

kanyonlandking-annk.blogspot.com said...

I'm amazed at how much you managed to get done in one short life, and wouldn't believe half of it if I didn't know better! I'm like Gerry, glad to know that her boys, and my own, are still alive (and girls..they managed to scare me too),as well as the rest of the family, and hope all the grandkids can be less reckless.

Cheryl said...

I'm just glad I got to survive a little bit of this life with you and even happier that you survived so you can tell the parts that I didn't experience with you.

Chuckh said...

Raymond, I do want to go with you to that gig. I wanted to go with you way back when because I saw you were a guy that does things, that gets stuff done. I'm glad I met you and worked with you. Stop using the aluminum coffee pot, though, they say cooking with aluminum can cause or bring on Alzheimer’s. Sometimes I want to sell or get rid of most of what I own. It must be very freeing, if you don’t need the money. Check your email.