Will The Circle Be Unbroken
By Maestro Gaxiola,
To get to the Covered Wagon Saloon in San Francisco, I took the Fifth Street off ramp and went up one block to Folsom Street. I was supposed to meet Les Blank there at 9 p.m.. He said he would have a ticket waiting for me at the door. It was my birthday (64) and he was treating me to an evening with Hank Williams III, the son of Hank Jr. and the grandson of legendary country icon Hank Williams. My cowboy pal Johnny Westurn turned me on to Hank III a few months ago. I, in turn, turned Les onto him. I bought Hank’s one and only CD, Risin Outlaw, and pushed Les until he too filled his hand with a Hank III CD. Tonight Hank was playing at the Covered Wagon Saloon here in San Francisco. The Covered Wagon Saloon is basically a Punk/rock venue, not, as the name would imply, a country honky tonk.
This was new for me. I seldom go to clubs of any venue, or for any reason… and hardly go anywhere without Alice, yet here I was, alone, pulling into the parking lot across from the CWS looking for a place to park. (Alice was down with the flu.) My naivete and I suppose my age was apparent. It made me an easy target for one of those “fake” parking lot attendants who rushed up to my car and stuck a ticket on my dash. He said, “Going to the Covered Wagon?” As I reached for my wallet I said, “Sure am…..how much?” He hesitated for a moment, sort of sizing me up, “Ah…six dollars.” I said “OK.”
Now here is where my age worked to my advantage. I can’t see much without my reading glasses in good light let alone here where it was quite dark. So I am fumbling through my wallet trying to find some money. Meanwhile he is making small talk, “I hear they got a country guy there tonight, heard he’s good….you from around here? jabber jabber jabber, distract distract distract” I finally handed him a ten. He comes on with the old, “I ain’t got no change” bit. To which I said, “Come on,..you’re a parking attendant without any change?” He starts mumbling something and I start looking again in my wallet for six bucks. But as I am looking I happened to look out my windshield and I spot a sign attached to a light pole with bold letters saying, “Do not pay any attendant to park. Only put money in metal box provided” So I said to the guy, “OK, I’ve got six bucks, give me back my ten. ” He said OK and handed me back the ten. I put it in my wallet, put my wallet away and said, “That sign says not to pay any attendant so I’m not paying you.” He mumbled something about it being a special night. But I just parked my car and said that I would check at the Covered Wagon before I paid any money for parking. Hey, I’m 64, I wasn’t born yesterday.
There was a big green bus parked right in front of the saloon which is a small San Francisco type building with what looked like two floors of apartments up above. I can’t for the life of me believe that anyone could actually sleep nights in an apartment right over a fully plugged in punk/rock club. Maybe it’s for the employees. There were a few people hanging around out front but tickets had not gone on sale yet. The paper said that the show started at 9 p.m. Les was supposed to be there at 8:45 to get the tickets and I was to meet him inside at nine. It was exactly 9 p.m. But this was a punk/rock club not a train station. No Les, no ticket, no open door. Doesn’t anyone believe in time schedules? Where is Mussolini when you need him.
To go to a club, and especially to see the grandson of an American legend who helped popularize the fancy western outfit, (although Hank III is not a fancy dresser) I naturally decked myself out in my bright red fringe leather jacket with matching red boots with burnt gold wing tips and heel counters. I trimmed out with silver collar tips, large silver buckle, watch band with a gold “cross M” brand and my silver concho, silver laced, “MaestroBelt. I was not the kind of guy you see at these kinds of clubs on a regular basis.
All eyes were on me as I pulled the door open and walked inside. A very nice long haired guy with a black leather jacket came over and asks me,… politely I might add, “Can I help you with something?” I told him about my parking attendant problem. “Those damn guys, they’re not supposed to be doing that,” he says. So he comes with me to the parking lot and confronts the “attendant.” I think they knew each other from prior incidents. They started to argue. I don’t like confrontations over pocket change so I handed the “attendant” three bucks and said, “Here, watch my car.” The guy said, “OK, thanks.” That ended it. I wasn’t paying for parking I was paying for someone to watch my car, like in Mexico. The club guy and I talked as we went back to the saloon, he was nice and seemed happy that I resolved it without any bloodshed. That’s one good thing about ageing, you don’t have time for petty arguments. You do what the situation requires and you move on. No winners, no losers,… just, situation ended. Period.
Les and his friend Gina came about 9:45. I was in line although I sort of stood by the bus facing the crowd with my hands behind my back looking like a security guard for Hank III. I think they bought it too, why else would a guy my age, decked out in full fancy cowboy gear be standing by Hank’s bus. Don’t mess with that dude, he’s probably pack’n.
As Les bought the tickets I sort of hung back then just walked in like I belonged there. I’m sure, once inside, Les, Gina, and I looked like we must be “somebodies” because we did not look like part of the usual crowd. All you have to do is look like you’re not interested in whatever is going on and you automatically are assumed to be “somebody.” People who pose and look around to see what’s going on and what other people are doing think of themselves as “nobodies.” That’s why they look around all the time,.. they’re looking for a “somebody.” If you can look and act like a somebody, you are a somebody. It’s all in how you are perceived.
That is something else that comes with age. At 64 it’s not easy to impress me. My face is fixed. It reflects years of experience in a wide range of situations without me having to move a muscle. Like a good poker player, and Les is a master at this, I can observe everything stoically, showing no facial emotions. Like Les, my eyes can scan everything down to the smallest detail but my face looks like it could care less,… been there, done that. In reality I was as excited as a third world peasant in Costco. Everything my eyes took in was dressed in swaddling clothes. Just born images eager to be held and caressed.
I lost control only once, my face opened up with surprise, like I had just drawn four aces on the first deal, when I saw a young woman who was about five feet tall weighing in at a good two hundred pounds dancing on top of an old pool table. She was scantly attired in an old dance hall girl costume and there was cleavage coming out in all directions. A sight that added another detail to my experience bank. Later I found that there were actually two of them, one working on top of the bar. Just as big, just as cleavaging. Carol Doda! see what you’ve gone and done!
As we were waiting around for the music to get started the in house DJ was blasting some punk/rock music from a small closet like booth. The entire club was no more that thirty feet by forty feet, including the twenty foot long bar. There were no chairs for us older folks to sit on. There was a outcropping along each side wall where one could sit or stand depending on if there was a band playing or it was intermission. We sat.
There was only a handful of people there and it was already 10 p.m. Several people struck up a conversation with me asking about my boots and jacket. It happens all the time. I gave out Johnny Westurns web site so they can visit the page with photos of my boots and jackets. That’s what the page was made for, to keep me from explaining myself. Thanks JW.
At about ten thirty the first band came on. I can’t remember their name but they were from Minnesota where Prince is from, if I remember right. He must have inspired a lot of young impressionable kids. This, I suppose, was just another band trying to grab the golden ring on music’s magical merry-go-round. Lots of luck. What was their name? Blonde singer, bass, two guitars and drum. Amps at 10. Loud.
The place was starting to fill up by the time the next band came on, the 401 K’s. Guitar, bass and drum. Amps at 11, one more loud. But I will say that they played with a certain professionalism that impressed me. They were in tune and they started and stopped together. But my ears were ringing. Gina found that they were giving away ear plugs and she got some. We all three plugged up. I should say here that although Les and I are at the Beatles magic number 64, Gina definitely is nowhere near that number. She only put in the plugs to save her hearing so that when she does finally reach the magic number she can still hear her Happy Birthday song.
Another break to set up for Hank. More pool table dancing. More loud records. More people. More drinking. More smoking. More sweet smells. More ringing in my ears, and more movement on my poker face. Just when I thought I had seen it all they announce that for one buck you can go into a back room and see one of these dancing girls completely nude!! Have your eyes ever seen the glory….can your eyes stand the glory… I’ll pass.
My mother used to play her Hank Williams records out at the ranch on her old wind-up Victrola,… and I’d listen. That was probably about 1945 before his big hit, Lovesick Blues. Lovesick Blues hit the charts in 1949 and was on for almost a year. I was thirteen. I remember it well. I actually liked his touring partner, Lefty Frizzell better when I was young, but in the long haul, (the only haul that counts for anything), I side with Hank as being Americas finest singer/songwriter of the twentieth century. He’s just that good.
He was divorced, sick, and flat broke when he died at age 30 in the back of his 1953 Cadillac on January 1, 1953. Hank died from overuse of alcohol and drugs brought on by too much fame too fast and not enough time to prepare for it. Too many songs in too many smoky bars. Too much whiskey drenched soul hung out to dry on a guitar string clothes line. He was done when he started, all he had to do was fill in the middle part. He’s resting easy now though, under a sixteen foot monolith in Montgomery, Alabama. Next to him is his wife Audry under a matching marker, both surrounded by artificial turf. But there was nothing artificial about Hank Williams, he was the real deal.
Now his son Hank Jr. is a little different story. He’s “kind of” the real deal. We’ll have to wait until he is under his monolith before we can really judge him. That Monday Night Football thing kind of muddies up the water…..at least it does for me.
So here I am, to see, in person, the third Williams; Hank III. I have listened to his only CD and I liked what I heard. I’ve read a few thing about him and I’ve liked what I’ve read. He is anti- Nashville because of all the corruption brought on by bean counters in the music business. Profits now dictate the direction of country music not the music itself. That’s wrong and it’s bad for country music. And since country music is America’s music it is bad for America. Money and the way it corrodes and tarnishes whatever it touches is the single most destructive force active in the arts today. I’ve not only come to see the grandson of an American legend, I’ve come to see a soul mate, a brother in arms, a patriot, a fellow revolutionary in America’s cultural revolution.
He travels with a five piece band. Drum, lead guitar, stand up bass, fiddle, and Hank himself on rhythm guitar. Loud but solid. My first impression of him is that he’s good. Professional and focused. In his element. Not his father’s son, not his grandfather’s grandson but his own self. He rides on no one’s back. He’s good on his own. He has the true country sound in his voice, in his attitude, even in his forearm and hand as he fans the guitar strings. Watching him sing and play I was mesmerized by what I was watching.
Somebody kept blowing these large puffs of un-inhaled smoke at him. It was like a reenactment of some tragic story. Great artist rips heart out, dies from playing too many smoked filled bars. Here we have a direct descendent with the same lonesome voice singing his heart out in a small bar and someone engulfs his head in smoke. It’s unreal, yet oh so real. He looks so young so clean almost virgin like with his smooth unblemished skin. Yet the murkishness of death hovers around him like swamp fog.
I felt we were all in some way part of some strange ritual. Even my being there in my fancy outfit played a part. I visioned my mother dancing on the pool table playing her old wind up Victrola and laughing loudly. I visioned thousands of Reverend Howard Finster’s Hank Williams paintings with cryptic religious messages scrawled over them, floating in distorted waves throughout the room. I thought of the ancient Aztec rituals of fancy dressed priests and swaying stupefied throngs of drunken revelers dancing with arms raised as the sacrificial vassal is groomed and prepared for sacrifice. And the vassal, knowing his fate, and caught up in the frenzy of the moment, happily leaning into the knife.
That’s what I saw there in this club, the great American temple. Another sacrifice to the music gods. This young musician, born for the part, tearing his heart out and serving it up to the cheers and applause of the adoring masses. Will the circle be unbroken. I stayed to the end, not wanting to miss a second of this dramatic ritual. When the lights came up, I walked over to Hank and offered my hand,.. which he politely took. Our eyes locked, “I enjoyed the evening” said I. “Thank you very much.” came the reply.