Monday, June 25, 2012

Fathers Day with Jerry Jeff Walker

I suppose the two grey haired fellows sharing an odoriferous joint might have been doing so as an adjunct to chemotherapy.

But the Grannie in the tie-dyed t shirt, gyrating and shimmying away down front required a less plausible explanation:  I guess you really can go back, at least for a little while.

Fatherhood has landed me in some very unusual places, and in the Year of Our Lord 2012 I found myself in the company of my youngest son at a Jerry Jeff Walker concert.

I have mentioned Jerry Jeff once before.  His was the music of my young restless days, starting at just the age my son is now.  I was tossed unprepared into my freshman year of college.  It was a time of high pressure weeks and party weekends.  Girl friends came and went.  Future plans were misty and out of focus.  And you could go to a place called Rho House, pay a nominal fee for a plastic glass and drink more beer than you should while listening to Jerry Jeff sing “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mothers” as a wavering conga line snaked its way out the door going who knows where.

A year or two into Med School, and having met my future wife, my interests shifted, but I still kept track of Mr. Walker’s career.  He had married a good woman, cleaned up his lifestyle a bit, played a couple of Presidential inauguration gigs, but mostly just kept on making the kind of music he liked whether or not it was commercially successful.

My son became a second generation fan when I suggested he give a listen, and now has all the good old albums on good old classic vinyl.

But back to Father’s Day.  Jerry Jeff is pretty much retired; he plays a big Reunion show in Texas once a year and a smattering of mostly benefit gigs.  I have to admit, I was not sure what to expect.  The crowd was an enthusiastic full house, but mostly my age and up.  You would see the guys swigging a beer or two while waiting for the show, and not long after see them-in the fashion of old guys and fluids-trekking off to the bathrooms.

Jerry Jeff came on stage to loud applause.  He has put on a few pounds, and walks a bit stiffly.  I read somewhere that he has had some major back surgery.

At first it seemed like it was not going to be much of a show.  His voice was weak, his vocals overpowered by an energetic lead guitar.  He was fiddling with his amp and before each song he would look over his shoulder at the side men and say something.

Eventually he mentioned that his allergies were really “kicking my ass”, and that they were having to switch things around on the fly.  In fact, he said, “I don’t believe that song has ever been done in that key before!”.

He did most of the old standards, and some fun new stuff.  And a very strange thing happened.  His voice got stronger and stronger as the show went on.  He seemed like that rarest of baseball players, the pitcher who is throwing a lot harder in the ninth inning than he was in the first.

To the delight of all he even got up a bit towards the end and was dancing on the edge of the stage while playing a spirited guitar solo.  The fans dancing around down front-and I saw at least one three generation family there-loved it.

Jerry Jeff was what I hoped he would be.  Sure, he is greyer, heavier, slower than he was when I first saw him back in the mid 1970s.  As am I.  But he seems totally comfortable with it, and given his hard living lifestyle early on he is probably pleasantly amused/surprised to be doing as well as he is.

We first generation fans should take that lesson to heart.

The world is a quirky place.  So I never say never.  But it is unlikely that I will see Jerry Jeff again.  Eventually he will kick back to the well earned comforts of his ranch, enjoy life on his own terms, and essentially become one of his songs:

“One day I looked up, he’s pushin’ eighty,
 Got brown tobacco stains all down his chin.
 To me he’s one of the heroes of this country,
 So why’s he all dressed up like them old men?”

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