Maybe the fact that I'm no writer makes me the writer that I am. I've always claimed that I loved hearing "non-singers." You don't suppose that maybe the fact that I can't carry a tune in a bucket has anything to do with that, do you?
Something in today's New York Times, I think it may have been in Maureen Dowd's column, reminded me that I'm like Donald Trump. I like people who like me and I don't like people who don't.
I leave no legacy. I have no fortune. It's hard to be pompous.
Nobody's knocking down the door. Now that I think about it, nobody's even knocking at the door. I don't care. If the Jehovah's Witness folks show up, I'm willing to join their protection program as long as I get to lead and sit at the grown up table. I'm not dancing backwards. In high heels or otherwise.
Who decides who gets to coin a phrase, cop a feel, crop a frock? Sometimes I worry that presidential politics has effectively done away with professional wrestling in our culture. To think that I was once surprised that any adult might believe any of that bunk was real. I don't know about any commander in chief stuff but wouldn't Chris Christie make a great new Haystacks Calhoun?
Yes, I know that I should be struggling with melodies and tales of heartbreak and debauchery. In fact, I'm busy here struggling with important issues of the day.
If I launch a cult, do I automatically qualify for tax exemption?
So much I have missed waiting for what comes next. I'm here now. Finally. I've got memories and I've got dreams. I cry easily and often but it's not sadness. It's more likely beauty, majesty and kindness.
Since I can't hold every baby, pet every dog and hear every unrecorded masterpiece, I'll spend my time letting the cosmos take me where it's going. Since I can't end all war, feed all the hungry or heal all the hearts that hurt, I'll just use the love I've got and sing the songs that I know.
They say you've never heard of the great sufis, only their teachings. It's the message, not the man, right? The humility makes the beauty all the more radiant.
Is the treasure at both ends of the rainbow? How do they know? When I let Jamaica out the front door she hunts for "treasure." To me it's just cat poop. Hardly seems crazier than self-important, young attorneys whoring themselves for green paper so that they can park their Audis in unmarked spaces at the country club where they can parade for each other in jackass slacks and ride around "nature" in their little electric buggies. To me? That's right; cat poop.
Oh, I don't mean to pick on attorneys. Wait- yes I do. Nobody has more insulting, degrading lawyer jokes than my lawyer.
It's really humans that I have a problem with.*
One man's cat poop is another man's treasure. Me? I go for eggplant parmesan, Little Richard, '32 Fords, robin's egg blue, crushed velvet and pretty girls. Just so you'll know that I'm not shallow, all girls are pretty. Well, maybe not Ann Coulter. All except Ann Coulter.
Let the content of today's little lesson serve to show you that my discovery that I'm a god, that we're all gods, has not gone to my head. I was already aware that we're all bozos.
Give us peace on earth and end this dreadful, dreadful war.
*I know, I know. I've ended another sentence with a preposition. It is my understanding that in this age of texting the rules of grammar have been relaxed, possibly overthrown. I shall attempt to end more sentences with propositions. Socially awkward am I?
Is it just me or are we way past time for combining science and religion? I'm not referring to some kind of scientology mashup here. It occurs to me that most of our heroes do not come from the ranks of our established faiths. Jesus was a jew and probably not a very devout jew at that.
There are miracles all around us. Most of them don't involve burning bushes or parting seas. How about life? Weather? Fire? In other words, science.
Those photos of the blue dot from NASA keep zooming until we have images from atomic force microscopy that show new particles that we have to keep naming. It's all energy. I call it love. Welcome to the Church Of The Living Swing.
Be wary of the ones who tell you that they can explain all the mysteries.
Lately I haven't had much to say. Now, here I am, up at 3:00 am with a mouthful. I'm not of this earth. I don't know that that's news. My discovery of it surely is. I suppose that I've joked about it since I was a kid. You know what they say: In the United States, if you profess to be a messiah, they'll lock you up. In India, if you make the announcement, you'll be welcomed into a very large club and a celebration will commence.
Oh, I'm nothing special. Well, let me rephrase that- I am special. We're all special.
This "discovery" or realization is subtle but it's dramatic. I have become the character that I've played for sixty eight, almost sixty nine, years.
No longer am I tied to the Democratic Party, the musicians' union, the New York Times, Wall Street, the United States of America, the Internal Revenue Service. Hey, I'm not gonna play loose with the laws here. I'm no anarchist. I mean I am by nature but I know that the neighborhood kids want to steal my bike. I tricked them. I gave it away.
I digress. Yeah, that's what I do.
Do I have a role here? I think so. If I can make any living thing happy, I'm succeeding. If I have ever relieved any suffering, I've done okay. I'm working with a limited toolbox here- love and rock'n'roll. I don't have a slide rule. That was Einstein's job.
Don't worry that I've lost my mind. I've finally found it. All at once I mean. I love you.
Maybe this is my century, boys. These are surely the most fascinating of times. It finally dawns on me that we will always have good and evil, dark and light. My gift is an open heart. The places that I've been and the love that I've known are treasures beyond description. I can tell you about the music that I've heard and I can describe the art that I've seen.
The love? Sometimes that's the hard part. I can be really shy around folks that I don't know. That's no excuse for withholding love. I'm lazy, I know, but I'm gonna get good at this.
It's all just hiding rings in cakes, isn't it? All the good music is soul music. Well, all of it except Devo and Talking Heads. Their schtick was no soul. That was the joke, the act. Who was the best soul singer? On some days I'll argue for Otis, of course. Today it's Hank.
At 4:00 am here it's pretty easy to see that this is about as good as life gets. The cat gets me and the dog up so that we don't miss a thing. Even the idea of going back to bed seems sublime. Later today I'll do my radio show. I get to play whatever I want. How can that be?
My partner in broadcast, the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, is about the finest guy on the planet and a pleasure to know. I seem to know a whole lot of special folks.
If I've learned just one thing in this long life, it is to stay out of the way of happiness, the natural state. That rock'n'roll that I have lived for plays when you turn on the radio. Buddy may have died; the music didn't. I always hated that song.
Now it's just music. Sweet, beautiful music. Donna the Buffalo can leave me in a trance and Pete and Maura and Rad can still bring me to my feet. Every once in awhile some John Moreland will knock me off those same feet.
As a social phenomena, however, rock'n'roll is done with me. It has had more to do with making me who I am than school. More than church. Marriage, romance, friendship and fashion.
I'm left with the shell of an old man shaped by what Elvis did, what the Beatles played, what Bob wrote and what Chuck showed me. Grandma and mom provided unlimited, unconditional love that held it all together for me, even during dark days. They're gone but the love's not.
Most of my songs are anchored in heartache to one degree or another. I haven't written too much lately. I don't much like shots and I never liked sad. Oh, I've got some happy songs. I don't care much about them.
Do you suppose that dreams mean anything? Isn't it funny what men will fight for. Kindness most surely brings happiness but everybody has to play. I'll bet that Little Richard wakes up every morning and thinks, "Dang! I'm Little Richard."
What on earth do you do on Halloween if you're Little Richard?
I've been called lots of things by lots of folks. I don't remember ever being called fashionable. My memory of the period between Elvis and the Beatles is vivid. All those would be rock'n'roll stars were an embarrassment in image terms.
Thankfully, when the fab four arrived on the scene the rockers all washed their hair and bought Rickenbackers. The girls shortened their skirts. Woo- hoo!
By the so-called summer of love it was all about style. Well, style and hair.
Now, almost fifty years in, we're not much further down the fashion road. Punk almost changed direction but Jamie Dimon was never gonna put a safety pin through his nose. By the time that the Sex Pistols signed with Warners that was over. Really, only tattoo stuck and even that statement is largely nostalgic.
As much as the music has formed my life and shaped my dreams, the trappings have played their part, too. I suppose it started in the third grade when I did what I could to "grow" sideburns. I chuckle when I see the curled lip sneering at me from my fourth grade school picture.
Don't respond to this dribble reminding me of Curt's flannel shirt or the Dolls' high heels. I'm talking about changing lives.
Lord Buckley said it all before I got around to it and he said it better. Why struggle? I have my valentine. No need to tell her. It would only complicate matters. Oh, for my commune.
"Love must be shown at every moment!
LSD tells me never to save up what I need to spend in my old age
-spend your love now for I may not have the chance later on, dig?
My unspent love draws no interest. Like an unused muscle, it goes slack.
If LSD taught me one thing it taught me the immediate necessity of exercising the love muscle.
Not tomorrow but now. Since this moment is now let me just say,
to whoever's pretty eyes or ears pass over these words
...I love you very much."
Out of the more or less clear blue I find myself this morning doubting the relevance of rock'n'roll in my life. Talk about your slow learners!
Oh, it's not the first time that I've questioned it. This time, though, it's not the byproduct of some financial crisis. It has nothing to do with some failed romance or any dealings with self-important suits who couldn't sell culture.
No, this is all about self delusion. The music? No regrets on this end. I've known myself, if only a bit, and I've communicated with folks that I would never have known.
It's the business, the fashion, the facade.
Of course I would love to believe that I would have done exactly as I have without Elvis. Nope. Without Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. No way. The Beatles. Ha!
Let me put this in a better perspective. I'm glad I didn't cheat anyone to make my way. I feel fortunate to have been given a moral code from the women who raised me to keep me on a crooked but narrow path for all these years. I'm grateful, in hindsight, that the girls never threw themselves at my feet.
Maybe I wanted the money. Maybe I coveted the fame. The interest in the women was always with me.
Somehow though, the fact that I've zigged when zagging was all the rage reveals everything that you need to know about this so-called career. I'm naive, not dumb. Not too dumb.
It's all about the love. The rock'n'roll is just to ease the pain.
Listen. Do you hear it? The message of the original language, the divine rhythm, has been put before me for as long as I can remember. It's in the thunder, the crashing of the waves. You can hear it from any seashell. It was hidden in plain sight in Jack and Jill Magazine when I was six. It snaked from Earl Palmer's hands when I was nine. Now Alan Watts reminds me from beyond the grave. The birds and the bears have always spoken to me and sometimes I listened. There were stretches, of course, when the nineteen year old Brigitte Bardot interrupted the flow. Still does.
No more writing about love, I'm loving. While I'm at it, I'm dancing. Singing. I have tuned it in and I've torn the knob off the receiver.
Drugs, alcohol, heartbreak- lots of heartbreak. I've used all the tools at my disposal to disassociate with "reality." All the art that matters is in the ether. Not every mystic is an artist but any mystic could be an artist.
Pure love is the highest art. It may not win a Grammy, an oscar. It may never hang in the louvre but you know it when you come across it.
Seems like I've sat through sermons longer than this life. My pal, Ed Brown, always said that youth had no concept of mortality. Of course he also claimed that youth never fails to go to the dogs. Turns out that all those platitudes that geezers spread are true. Well, most of them. Mostly true.
I've got jeans that I hope to wear out before I go. Hell of a bucket list, huh?
Over time my fortunes have risen and tumbled. For a short time my net worth was impressive. I've spent more time broke. Frequently flat broke. I've never accumulated much debt. My mom taught me to balance a checkbook.
When it comes to material goods I've owned pretty much everything that I could have ever dreamed of. Some of it I wish I had back. So that I could sell it again.
The only things that I truly miss are the loved ones who have gone, human and otherwise. That's not a source of despair. Most of the joy in my heart comes from the memories that they left me.
Now the household is the three of us: Jamaica, a maniacal, lovable mutt, ten years old; Angel, a balding black cat headed for seventeen and displaying some charming signs of senility; and me, a delusional hillbilly looking at a sixty ninth birthday with almost no signs of stability of any kind.
As I watch these folks on the nightly news speculate on what they will do with their nine hundred million dollar payoff from Powerball I realize that I'm one of the richest men who ever lived. Everything is mine. Oh, I'm happy when I get new "stuff." Truth is, though, I can't think of anything that I want.
All my life I've been spoiled with love. I wish that for everyone. Share your love. Forgive. Dance and sing.
Why would it fall on a heathen like me to remind folks of what Jesus had to say? Remember the "suffer the little children" passage? We've got children starving on every continent and we're reminded every few minutes on cable news. He had plenty to say about rich and poor, too. While I'm at it, let me remind you again that he was called the Prince Of Peace.
Generally there comes something of a "golden age," a spiritual awakening, following major wars. Now our governments, working hand in hand with a military industrial complex, have created perpetual war, war without end.
Meanwhile, we fret about some punks occupying land in Oregon. Volkswagen cheating. The Super Bowl.
I'm not a particularly bright guy but the emperor's naked as a jaybird. Your move.
Today would have been Elvis' eighty first birthday. Bill Clinton is sixty nine and they're starting to whisper that he's looking old. He is! I suppose that I'm looking to Einstein, Astaire, Jimmy Carter, William S. Burroughs or maybe one of those anonymous old chiefs from an Edward Curtis photograph. Leonard Cohen. Cary Grant.
Seems I've always had some older friends in my life. Captain Hamlin was in his late eighties when I moved in next door. I was in my late twenties. He missed his tugboat, the salt mist. He explained that there was nothing wrong with him that a fifteen year old on a bicycle couldn't fix. He wasn't a pedophile, just a politically incorrect wise guy.
Sometimes I wish I was working more. They're not beating the door down. The phone's not ringing off the hook. That's okay. I wasn't hip then, either. Realizing that there are folks who don't want to be associated with me based on longevity, that's okay. I'm not anxious to hang around with them, either.
There's great comfort for me in You Tube footage of Louis Armstrong. Young Satch was magnificent, a genius. The older Louis was other worldly. Thank goodness for Jimmy Durante, Walter Brennan, Maurice Chevalier.
Now, I'm not running for genius. I'm not running for anything. I'm not finished, either, though. It's been a slow start.
Man will never be my favorite animal, I'm afraid. Surely the meanest, nastiest bonobo alive is classier and kinder than some presidential candidates who will go unnamed here. On the other hand, I see people every day who radiate love. Here's to the good ones and here's to love. Don't ever give up on the others, either. They're the ones who need the love the most.
At some point you're an amateur, a beginner. You have to start somewhere, as they say, learn your craft. There isn't much of what we call "art" without copying, borrowing, stealing. After all, without a frame of reference there is no connection with an audience. Maybe it's nature. There are some magnificent colors on a peacock, a pigeon. I've heard some beautiful melodies from mockingbirds in something of a pythagorean scale.
There's no cubist art without Picasso and Duchamp and Gris and Braque breaking new ground. Of course those bozos don't get tagged "genius" without lifting all the good stuff from African art. "Primitive," indeed.
Bob Dylan has influenced more writers of my generation than Shakespeare, Irving Berlin, Hemingway. Of course he got it from Oklahoma hillbillies, early rockers, Japanese poets and Scottish folk songs.
It all comes from somewhere. Art is like language, like love. There are rules, forms, patterns. If you're gonna make art, you're gonna have to break some, change some. Ask Jack Kerouac. Ask David Amram. Ask Charlie Parker.
Once you're tagged, once the money flows, once the praise is sung, is it still art? If Jeff Koons merely runs the factory that produces the five million dollar balloon dog that is like the last five million dollar balloon dog, is he a great artist? Don't ask me. I like him. He once married Cicciolina! Ask the Japanese patron buying the balloon dog.
Years ago I accompanied a friend trying to place her photography with a fancy San Francisco gallery. The proprietor was so kind and such a gentleman. He pointed out the Rolls and Bentleys parked along the sidewalk. He explained in a a kind and patient manner that his business was "selling very expensive autographs." It's good to know your field, to understand your customer.
With sincere humility I defend my work as art. Sticks and stones, buddy. Sticks and stones.
How many times will I pronounce rock'n'roll dead? The first several times that I thought it had expired I looked at the world and its music with disgust. Now everything is perfect. Well, everything but climate change, the middle East and Don Trump.
Remember on the Mike Douglas show when John Lennon said that if they had called rock'n'roll something else, it could have been "Chuck Berry?"
Well, no, of course you don't. You're not old enough to remember and it's no longer particularly relevant. Oh, maybe for some history book some day.
Innocence was a necessary ingredient in a culture for rock'n'roll to flourish. Innocence isn't rare today. It's extinct. Nobody wants to hold anybody's hand. Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis perform occasionally. Fats Domino and Little Richard don't play at all. We wait.
Smart guys like Nathaniel Rateliff will rework "Little Bitty Pretty One" forever. It's in our DNA now.
I don't know that I miss rock'n'roll all that much. I could use some innocence. We could all use some more love.
Sometimes my babble onstage brings back memories from adolescence. Free therapy for me at some audience's expense, I suppose. I reminded myself last night that there came a point where I had to choose between rock'n'roll and juvenile delinquency.
Tampa was a one hood town. We had Daryl Barcoot and he was known far and wide. I don't think he was very bad. He was what the Crystals and the Shangra Las sang about. I was probably his biggest admirer. My cousin, George, and I would sneak out of church and hide in his folks' station wagon to get a glimpse of Daryl coming and going. The Barcoots lived just across the street from Trinity Methodist Church. There were only one or two spottings on record but it kept us out of church.
We only had one real rocker, too. Benny Joy. In our defense, with Benny Joy on the home team, you don't need any more. I only saw Benny onstage a couple of times and rockabilly was on its way out by then. It didn't matter. Benny was the real deal. He didn't need fashion. Benny was fashion.
We got to be close friends later. We were together in a coffee shop when Howard Cosell told the world that John Lennon had been killed. Benny still turned up his collar at that point.
All my life decisions were based on movies. Most probably still are. Same movies. I had to choose between "Don't Knock The Rock" and "Rumble On The Docks." Once I figured out that juvenile delinquents did bad things, my choice was easy. After all, there were plenty of Sunday school lessons and church sermons that I didn't miss.
Well, sir, I've been in the rock'n'roll racket for long enough that somebody owes me a gold watch. I hesitate to say that I don't have much to show for it. I'm rich with memories.
Fireworks is just art for tough guys. Ralph Cramden would never have painted Alice in the nude. He would never have written her a poem laying bare his unbridled passion. He would have brought home a roman candle. He and Norton might have plotted to drop a cherry bomb down a toilet in some rival to the International Brotherhood of Loyal Raccoons' lodge.
America loves Dale. He turned right that one time and became a martyr. A saint. A legend.
Hey, I'm from Alabama. Nobody ever loved Elvis more than I do and I'll still fight you by the swings on the playground to prove it if I have to. I'll end a sentence with a goldarned preposition if I want to.
This is not my century, boys. Neither was the last.
Did you miss me this time? This may be the first time that I have felt positive about a new year, Ever. There are folks who don't like me. Well, that's not really front page news.
This is the prettiest that I can sing, the truest that I can write, the best that I can be. Yeah, I'm a slow learner but I can read the writing on the wall. One foot in front of the other and I've used up most of my time onstage. On the air. On the planet.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a radio show to do. It's all about love. It's all about love. Happy New Year.