Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ramblin' Jack Cass

It’s been a long time since I last sat here in this venue and wrote something. I’ve been very musical during this time, but not very writerly. In this interim, we’ve lost Billy Hults, perhaps the greatest washboard player ever and certainly one of the most profound and funny men in the history of profound and funny men. Now, I’m not sure what “cockles” are, but the outpouring of affection from so many people at Billy’s passing has warmed the ones that allegedly have something to do with my heart. It’s an interesting idiom “the cockles of my heart.” I guess it comes from the folds and wrinkles down there in the depths of my emotions.

I’m so glad that I was able to go see Billy when he was still pretty strong and feisty. He looked me in the eye and said “I’m the healthiest man in Hospice.” He was really happy about his beautiful herb garden and was amused at the irony of dying and having more living ease than he’d experienced for most of his life. So many people have said their public goodbyes to Billy in brilliant ways. I think my favorite was Turtle Vandemarr singing “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away” at the first church night following Billy’s death. It was poignant and funny and, oh, so Turtle and right-on. For those of you who don’t know what a “church night” is, it’s most Sundays from 6:00 to 8:00 when the Freak Mountain Ramblers play at the Laurelthirst Public House. It’s on NE Glisan at 30th. I think it’s the coolest gig in Portland, bar none.

We’ve also lost Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Robert McNamara, Billy Mays, Bob Bogle, Koko Taylor, and a whole host of other folks. We lost one of my heroes, Walter Cronkite, who was an icon all through my growing up years. What all this death means is that life goes on. I didn’t know any of those people. Their passing has been interpreted for me by other writers and reporters. I never had the connection to bone and sinew. I never knew the sound of a gentle and genuine laugh with any of these celebrities. But I did know that with Billy Hults and I shall miss his wise and gentle spirit.

I’m starting to think about poker again, specifically Texas Hold’em tournaments. I’m sure that I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts about that in the future. If I have any real thoughts about it, of course. As nobody ever said: "Vapid is as vapid does."

A couple months ago I decided to sign up for the first guitar lesson I’ve taken since 1964. Mary Flower, the renowned Blues finger-stylist and consummate musician, has graciously consented to put up with me for some lessons. I’m just beginning to get a little bit of comfort with the Piedmont finger-style syncopation. I’ve been playing the guitar all of my life and have had some success with it and more enjoyment than anyone could possibly know. I’ve played in front of thousands of people and have a small, but very gratifying following of people who enjoy my music. I just got tired of feeling like a sham every time I played the Blues. Sure, I knew the notes, sort of, and could play leads, sometimes riveting leads, in the traditional I-IV-V format. But I've always felt like I was just faking it. So, I’m trying to establish a little credibility, even if it’s only with myself. Ultimately, it may just mean that I get to understand a little bit of my vast ignorance, but hey, that would be some progress. If nothing else, I’m all about that.

See you next time. I’ve been thinking a lot about golf. Maybe we’ll go there.