Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: willie nelson


Today is a battered guitar crafted
from the light of a new wolf moon
and renewable Canadian cedar.
The strings are made of the glow
of city lights, the rumble of thunder,
the bitterness of coffee, the itch
of poison ivy, the smell of gasoline,
and, well, the sixth string is broken
but it sounded like the dirt under
your porch, Billy, at your house on
birdless Audubon. But with only five
strings, it’s more a banjo, jangling
too fast to understand, summoning
cold front clouds and grokking rain
with some minor diminished seventh
chord of gloom, that J-sharp-flat note
JB spent too many late night hours
trying to discover between the notes
of the western scale and the pages of
his misprinted Bible. And so we will walk
all through the night, a thousand miles
and never leave Austin, the barbed
hours picking and strumming that old
acoustic guitar in the neon pawn shop
window, the one you swear maybe
once belonged to some old testament
angel or maybe even Willie Nelson.

NaPoWriMo #29: 20 Little Poetry Projects | PAD 2014 #29: Magical/Realism

This is based on a NaPoWriMo prompt to incorporate 20 random and strange things from a list into one poem. I think I got all of them in, but I cut one or two for readability. Anyway, here’s the recipe.

I tried this with my students today. It went over quite well with several of my kids coming up with some astonishingly good stuff, most of them having fun, and more than a few wanting to read to the class.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Willie.

The Dead Man and Road Songs

1. About the Dead Man and Road Songs

The dead man has been everywhere, man.
He walks along the shoulder, holding out his thumb.
From the Yucatan to the Yukon, and the left shoulder to the right,
the dead man has seen it all.
On Saturdays, the dead man goes honky tonkin’.
They write songs about him and call him
‘Stranger’ in Texas and ‘Buddy’ in Tennessee.
He hopes to pull the tire jack from the stone and become the king of the road.
When Jesus left Chicago, the dead man followed hoping to elude
the hellhound on his trail.
The dead man still carries the old guitar he found at a crossroads in Mississippi.
He tries to play like Robert Johnson but comes off sounding like Elvis.
He’s met them both out on the highways and told them he was following the Dead.
That was a joke, though, and he thinks they knew it.
In Luckenbach, he joined other dead men and they sang songs by Willie,
Waylon & the boys until dawn when the Sheriff arrived.
The dead man let love slip away somewhere near Salinas
and hoped to reach Amarillo by morning.
He got off the L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught.
He is on the road again, chalking up many a mile.
He’s walked through every road song worth singing, a long strange trip indeed.
Yes, the dead man has been everywhere, man.

2. More About the Dead Man and Road Songs

The dead man prays for all the roadkilled animals at least once a day.
He started doing this a long time ago, and it’s become his habit.
The dead man bums a smoke when he can, another habit.
He has seen (and sometimes set with a careless flick of the butt)
summer wildfires that scorch the median.
Coming around again in springtime, he’s seen the wildflowers
growing best where the roadside had burned.
This makes him feel important.
In the summertime he sleeps among the roadside prairie grasses,
and he huddles under bridges in winter.
Someday, the dead man will get where he’s going.
He hopes he’ll know it when he gets there.
But the dead man has been on the highway for years.
You have seen the dead man, and you kept on driving.
He doesn’t mind, though, loneliness and solitude are his beans and beer.
The dead man understands this is how songs are made, where they come from.
These are the dead man’s wandering years, and he is in no hurry.

This is a response to the Big Tent Poetry prompt to write a dead man poem using the form invented by Marvin Bell, which is based on the Zen admonition to “live as if you were already dead.” I started writing sentences and soon I realized that the dead man was a highway wanderer and that there were lots of songs about him.

Many of the lines in Part 1 either refer to or are borrowed directly from songs by Geoff Mack, Hank Williams, Roger Miller, ZZ Top, Robert Johnson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, and the Grateful Dead.

Mad props to Dave Bonta for his post about formatting poetry in WordPress, which gave me the answer to indenting long lines, something I rarely use.

Go here to read more dead man poems.

The Texas Capitol

I took this shot of the Texas Capitol about a year ago while walking around downtown with my camera on a clear and lovely February day.

Things come to mind…

When I worked downtown, I used to eat lunch on the lawn surrounded by statues and trees, statutes and lawmakers.

One week back in the early ’90s, word had gotten out that Willie was going to play a free show on the south steps. It was a Sunday afternoon, I think, and I decided to check him out. I rode my bike down to the capitol and waited with the small crowd. Finally, Willie came out and stood in front of the single microphone. He had no band; it was just him and Trigger, all beat up and full of holes.

He played a solo acoustic set that included many of his most famous tunes. I remember the weather was beautiful, the crowd was happy, and Willie seemed so pleased to just be making music for a small group of fans in his home city. Afterwards, he stayed up on stage while people passed him boots, belts, LPs, guitars, and posters to sign. He joked with the audience and didn’t leave until he’d signed everything that anybody wanted signed.

In college a budy of mine and I used to rollerblade in there at night, gliding through the silent halls.

Spinning under the dome is kind of cool too.

And I think of Star Wars: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” (I’m not talking about that Willie show either…)

Pass the Paper Bag that Holds the Bottle

George at I’m Not One to Blog, But… has tagged me with the fresh meme he busted: Songs that make you cry.

I have a hard time trying to determine if a song has ever made me cry. Using bloggetic license, however, I am replacing ‘cry’ with ‘so moving they inspire a sudden bought of quiet and thoughtful contemplation’ (but not like the guy who had to stop everything for “Desperado” on that episode of Seinfeld).

Here we go…

“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” by Talking Heads

I said this in the comments on George’s blog: “‘This Must Be the Place’ would probably be the first and maybe only one on that list. It was our song at our wedding. It just makes me stop when I hear it. Actually ‘it hits me on the head, ahh ohhhh…..’”

But then I remembered that the wedding DJ lost that track so it wasn’t played, still my wife and I consider it our song anyway. It has an innocent simplicity to it that captures the magic of falling in love better than any song I’ve ever heard.

When I first heard it on Speaking in Tongues, I wondered if falling in love was really like that and I hoped that it would be.

Home – is where i want to be
But i guess i’m already there
I come home – – she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place

I know now that it is, which makes me love this song all the more. (I even used it as the title for a post once because it so perfectly captured the depth of feeling about the subject).

“Hard Times in Babylon” by Eliza Gilkyson

This meditation on the loss of a dear friend is heartwrenching. “Gotta hang together when the air’s too thin / Pass out the masks for the oxygen.” Indeed.

“Psalm” by John Coltrane

I could pick any track off Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, but this one is so understated, so quiet, and yet the perfectly chosen notes flowing from his saxophone speak so eloquently of yearning, anguish, heartbreak, hardwon wisdom and hope. It’s all there.

Coltrane wrote a prayer and then blew it into his saxophone.

“City of New Orleans” by Willie Nelson

I remember hearing “City of New Orleans” a lot when I was a kid. It made me think of wide open possibilities and yet there’s something dark there too. Something closed off and lost in those “freight yards full of old black men and the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.”

I know Willie didn’t write it, but it’s his version that moves me. He played it at ACL Fest on Saturday and it was like everything stopped happening around me for just the duration of that song.

“Nightswimming” by R.E.M.

This sends chills down my spine:

The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.
Still, its so much clearer.

Looking back at those reckless good times of youth and knowing that you can’t (and shouldn’t) go there again because you can’t be young again, because everything changes is captured beautifully in this song. You miss those times, those people as they were then, but it’s all memories, all gone forever. “Nightswimming” nails that melancholy feeling perfectly.

So There you have it.

I now tag Chris of Lenwood, Heather In all of Her Strangeness, Fred in the marbled halls of Ironicus Maximus (even though his blog doesn’t really cater to this kind of thing), and Jessica at 4 zillion. No pressure, folks. Except that George promised to “throw a hysterical bawling fit” if the meme dies.

The View from Our Chairs – ACL Fest Day 2

We arrived around 3:30. Missed Galactic, but we’ve seen them before. The heat was intense and the crowd was thick so we went over to the Washington Mutual Stage to hide under the big trees in the back until Los Lobos started.

While enjoying Sweet Leaf’s honey and mint green tea, we listened to some of The Long Winters set. I hadn’t heard them before, but it was solid indie pop. While they were playing, dark storm clouds took over the sky, blotting out the sun, but never giving rain. In short, the day turned perfect.

By the time we headed over to Los Lobos, the temps had dropped to the mid nineties and a strong breeze kept us cool. We set our chairs up in between the AMD stage and the AT&T Blue Room stage since everything we wanted to see was on one or the other stage. This made life easy since after each set all we ever had to do was turn our chairs around to face the opposite stage.

One passerby told us we were brilliant. That’s not true. It’s just practice.

Los Lobos was as always fantastic. I don’t know why I only have one Los Lobos CD (Colossal Head). I should probably do something about that.

Next came Calexico, truly one of the best working bands out there. I saw them at ACL 04 and several times since, and they were about perfect. The sound was as big and expansive as ever, their cinematic soundscapes shimmering like the Arizona deserts from which they come.

Beautiful. If I went home then and called it quits for ACL 06, I’d have been happy, but fortunately there’s more to hear, always more to hear.

We turned the chairs around next for String Cheese Incident. Now, I likes me a good jam band, and I’ve never seen String Cheese Incident despite the fact that they play ACL every year. Jam bands tend to need more time to explore than a one hour festival set provides, but they were good, and I’d go see them again.

Around went the chairs for Kings of Leon. I’d never heard of them before, but we didn’t want to move. Good decision. Kings of Leon were fantastic. The ACL Fest guide said their sound evoked the Stones and the Velvet Underground and you could hear both influences in the band’s music. Definitely something to explore further.

Finally, it was time for Willie Nelson. We decided to stay for Willie and try to catch Massive Attack another time. The crowd was thick at first and Willie was hard to hear. Too many idiots having private conversations and yelling into cell phones. I mean, just as you don’t talk in church, you don’t talk while Willie’s onstage. We moved up and the talkers and scenemakers dispersed until we could hear him perfectly. I think they turned up the sound as well.

Willie’s guitar work is amazing. The guy can just flat out play, and Trigger’s sound is as familiar and wonderful as Willie’s voice. He opened with “Whiskey River,” and his set was exactly what everyone wanted: all the classics. He closed with two new, very funny tunes: “Superman” and “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.” By the time he said goodnight, the crowd was happy and feeling that magic that only a master like Willie Nelson can supply.

Perfect end for a great ACL day.

Country Wave

It’s strange how things in life come in waves. I frequently find something new – or at least new to me – only for it to suddenly appear, quite independently, in several areas of my life, sort of like opening a random book to a random page only to find the perfect bit of advice that I need right then. Then I open another book and find something that reinforces the first bit as if the Universe – or at least my library – is saying, “don’t miss this.” Lately, I’m not to miss old-school country music.

After finally seeing Walk the Line a few weeks ago, I bought Johnny Cash’s 1968 CD At Folsom Prison. It’s a great record in which Cash plays a number of mostly prison and outlaw tunes. In the liner notes, Cash explains why he likes playing for prisoners:

Prisoners are the greatest audience that an entertainer can perform for. We bring them a ray of sunshine in their dungeon and they’re not ashamed to respond, and show their appreciation.

Cash’s performance is one of genuine engagement with his audience, and the listener can truly hear the appreciation of the inmates. The CD is more than just a collection of great songs, it’s a documented moment of providing hope to the hopeless. I spent the next few days thinking about what that must have been like to be locked up and then find that Johnny Cash would be coming to perform and what it would be like to hear those songs in that kind of an environment.

So Cash is where the outlaw country wave began. Then on Saturday night we saw Willie Nelson at the Backyard. Willie and Cash were fellow Highwaymen along with Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. The wave grew and finally peaked on Tuesday.

Every week guests are brought in to motivate, inspire and sometimes entertain the kids. This week a couple of guys came in to do a Johnny Cash show. Now, I don’t exactly teach in a prison, it’s more like county lock-up for kids, but then this wasn’t exactly Johnny Cash. The effects, however, were similar to what I imagined.

The singer was an older gentleman who played guitar beautifully (despite a bandaged hand) and truly did justice to Cash’s material without imitating it. He also played other songs, but Cash was the focus. He opened with “Folsom Prison Blues” and played a number of songs from At Folsom Prison, which I might not have known had I not just purchased the CD. He did stay away from some of the rougher material such as “Cocaine Blues” and added such classics as “Ring of Fire” and “Walk the Line.”

I was surprised to see many of the kids who were raised on punk and hip-hop actually singing along. I think most of them even enjoyed the show, which gave me an approximation of what it might have been like to see Cash at Folsom Prison.

As the show was wrapping up, I mentioned to the teacher sitting next to me that after having seen Willie on Saturday night and now a Cash tribute show, I’d need to somehow try to catch Kris. Then he started into his last song: “Me and Bobby McGee.” I think that’s where the wave broke. Good enough for me.

Willie Nelson at the Backyard

Willie Nelson Poster

On Saturday we went to the Backyard to hear Willie Nelson. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve always wanted to see Willie play and now I am complete. Watching a show under the big oak trees at the Backyard is always a great experience and Saturday night was no exception. Despite a forecast for rain, the weather was quite nice: cool and overcast but not too humid.

Willie opened with “Whiskey River,” a perfect set opener if ever there was one. He spent most of the evening playing familiar classics including “All of Me,” “On the Road Again,” “Still is Still Moving to Me,” and my personal favorites “Me and Paul” and “Pancho and Lefty.” With as much material as he has, he probably could have played until dawn, but I’m glad he stuck with the classics. He’s Willie. He doesn’t have to impress anyone.

His band was low-key and mellow, which is about what I expected from Willie, who is now 73. They didn’t really sound like a typical country band. Instead they noodled in out of folksy jam rock, almost jazz, and western swing. Sometimes they sounded country, but they really sounded like they were a bunch of old friends (which they are) just kind of jamming together as they segued from one song to the next often without pause, just drifting like a bunch of people who just enjoy getting together to play a few tunes on the front porch. Perhaps it’s this semi-sloppy, thoroughly endearing aspect of Willie’s music that I love so much. He’s an incredible singer and a talented guitarist, but he’s really just there to enjoy himself and we get to come along for the ride, joining that band of gypsies as they go down the highway.

Check out Lenwood for a rundown of Willie’s Friday night show.

Outlaw Country

When I was growing up there were certain artists whose music was always in the background. Foremost among them was Willie Nelson, and frequently heard were Willie’s fellow Highwaymen: Waylon, Kris and Cash. I always dismissed this stuff as my parents’ music, but it wasn’t until I was on my own without any of their albums that I realized I liked it and that I missed hearing it.

The moment came when I was in college, still new to Austin and Texas, and I found myself sitting around playing guitars with a friend. The conversation turned to secret musical fixations and I admitted to Willie.

My friend, a lifelong Texan, informed me that Willie didn’t count.


“Because everyone likes Willie. They just don’t always admit it.” We took a break from Joy Division and the Grateful Dead, and he showed me how to play a few Willie tunes. I finally had to fess up to something else, but what he said was spot on.

I’ve realized over the years that I can’t stand Nashville country, which sounds to me like it’s in, shall we say, its hair metal phase, but I do like the old outlaw country guys: Willie, Waylon, Kris, Cash, Jerry Jeff as well as some of the new country that comes out of Austin. It’s simple, nonpretentious music with a kind of hard-edged honesty and dark sense of humor that lends it a quality similar to old school punk or gangsta rap.

This all surfaces because of two events. Last week I saw Walk the Line, which put me on a Johnny Cash thing, and tonight I’m going to go see Willie at the Backyard. This will be the second time I’ve seen him play. The first was one of those God-I-love-Austin kind of days.

Back in the early ’90s, word got out that Willie was going to play a free show on the south steps of the capitol building. It was a Sunday afternoon, I think, and I decided to check him out. I rode my bike down to the capitol and waited with the small crowd. Finally, Willie came out and stood in front of the single microphone. He had no band; it was just him and Trigger, all beat up and full of holes.

He played a solo acoustic set that included many of his most famous tunes. I remember the weather was beautiful, the crowd was happy, and Willie seemed so pleased to just be making music for a small group of fans in his home city. Afterwards, he stayed up on stage while people passed him boots, belts, LPs, guitars, and posters to sign. He joked with the audience and didn’t leave until he’d signed everything that anybody wanted signed.

I’ve always associated Willie with Austin and as much as I love this town, it’s surprising that I’ve never made it to a real Willie show so I’m looking forward to tonight. Despite the forecast for rain, I’ll be there. After all, what would Willie do?

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