Big City Livin’ In Small Town Texas; or, How I Met the Ghost of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The live music scene in the larger towns and smaller cities of West Texas is bleak to say the least. The best you can hope for is some old washed up one hit wonder country artist of the late 70s. More often than not, though, what you’ll end up with when you ‘hit the town’ on your average Saturday night, the night the bars stay open an extra hour and you can party down until one a.m., is some eclectic and often mis-matched group of musicians playing cover tunes. They’ll be the headliners, and they may play two or three of their own songs, but what they specialize in is playing the songs you’d ordinarily be hearing on the juke box, with out really putting any of their own style on it. The band will cover a variety of genres, from old timey country favorites from the 80s and modern pop country hits to the newest and hippest rockin’ jams that are on the average rock station. The crowd always enjoys it and shows it by slow dancing to the romantic songs and be-boping around with what ever dance is happening in all the clubs at the time. It’s a rather strange sight to behold, and one that takes some getting used to.

Having spent the last many recent moons of my travels mostly laying low in sleepy towns in both the South, and Greater Plains States, and here in West TX, I’ve spent too many nights getting drunk at the bar while those bands are playing. My aim is usualy to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible, and beat it before I make too big of an ass of myself. If the bar tender’s a cute broad, it’s fairly easy to get a drink or two on the house. That helps to save money, and it’s always nice to have someone to chat with here and there while you’re trying to drone out the band. That’s not to say that the bands are never talented, or never played good songs. Neither is it saying that there’s never a truly quality band that plays. It just that it doesn’t happen very often

It’s a short distance to the bar I most often frequent when the mood to venture out of my renovated bomb shelter strikes me. There is only one stop light, and one stop sign, and it’s a fairly straight shot. Which is good, because last Friday I decided to take the Segway I bought myself for Christmas this year. The things a real blast to ride, and it helps to train the long and short distance racing ferrets I’ve been breeding as of late. The sport is taking off well in some European countries, namely Denmark and the Neatherlands. It’s also quite popular in the East part of New Zealand. I have my buddy Travis to thank for that. I pregamed it with a few home brew that I had shipped in by box car from a small time brewer in Wyoming. It’s killer stuff, packs a serious punch, and is fairly cheap and easy to come by, all things considered. I had a Slayer cd from their early days pumping through the 1,000 watt super high tech home stereo system I’ve aquired and was working on some incline sprinting drills on the treadmill with one of my ferrets, Kito. Kito in’t the fastest or the strongest runner I’ve got, but he’s got amazing heart, and that’s something I look for if I’m going to use a male to sire a litter of pups. I’m not sold on him reproducing, though, as I know his lineage dates back to some rather lazy ferrets. And if there’s one thing that the world knows I hate, it’s a dead beat ferret. I won’t stand for it. All the same though, I’m going to give him a chance to prove himself.

After I was sure Kito was good and exhausted, and ready to go sleep inside the arm chair in which he currently resides, I readied myself and blew out all the candles and lanterns. I set the alarm on the hatch to what my living situation has been dubbed “Operating Post: Yoj” and fired up the Segway. Away I briskly absconded into the early hours of the darkened night, chosing to listen to Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” on my MP3 player. I have one rigged up to some rather nice prototype speakers I’m testing out for a sound and electronics publication. They run off the Segways battery and mount directly to the roll bars around the mudflaps. I’m rather fond of them. And it beats my last attempt at having music while blasting around on that little bastard.

I made it to the bar in good time, having utilized the short cut through the aprtment complex parking lot and the soccer field. I chained up “The Red Barron”, paid my five dollars at the door, and headed straight to the bar. The band was in the middle of some song, I can’t remember which, and one of my least favorite bar tenders, Macey was working. Luck of the draw, I guess. I set up camp on a stool towards the far end near the touch screen game, which has a fairly good view of the small stage, and waited for Macey to acknowledge my presence. She had the annoying habbit of asking me every time she saw me what I’d like even though my order never varried. Not once. Being as how most bars don’t carry Schlitz here, the obvious substitute, which is always on hand, is Lone Star. Bottles of course, and two at a time. Macey was also a perpatrator of one of my biggest pet peeves: Throwing out the caps before I got a chance to try and figure out the riddle on the bottom of them. I never could figure them out, I think to date I’ve solved three. But none the less, I like to try. Also, Tigger, one of my winningest 100 meter dash ferrets, likes to chew on them. I believe he thinks it strengthens his jaws and teeth should he ever need to defend the honor of his life mate, Maggie, and being as how it doesn’t seem to hurt him, I allow him to carry on with his strange treats.

With beers at hand, and no one to make occasional small talk with, I focused my attention on the band. The song they were playing wasn’t anything special, and their performance wasn’t all that remarkable. The one thing I did notice was a very strong familiarity of the rhythm guitar player/occasional back up vocalist. He played stage right of the drummer, was older than me by a few years, average height yet kind of skinny. There was really nothing extraordinary about him or his demeanor, but something struck me as curious about him. He played an old Fender, I couldn’t figure out which one, as I’ve never payed much attention to that particular brand of instruments. It was dulled red, with a white pick guard and switches for the pick up selectors. And there was a real love for what he was doing in the expression on his face, and he played with ease, while still putting heart into what ever song it was that they were playing.

They played a few more songs in their set list while I downed several beers, picking up the occasional stray beer cap that I’d find on the way to and from the three stall bathroom. While they were taking a break, I noticed the rhythm guitar player walk up to the other end of the bar and order a beer. As he stood there waiting, he turned to the left a little bit and I got a good look of his profile. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I swore I’d seen his face before. We made eye contact and he politely nodded at me. I returned the nod, and sat there trying to place it. It was a few minutes of very deep and very drunken meditation, and I came up with nothing. It was kind of like the riddles on the bottom of the Lone Star caps. I decided to give up wondering and just walk up to the guy and introduce myself, see if I knew him from somewhere.

I casualy lumbered up next to him and said “Hey.” He nodded and tipped his beer towards me a bit and replied “Hullo.”

I spoke first: “Have y’all played here before?”

“Um, no. This is the first time we’ve been through here.”

He was very pleasant natured, and not quite aloof, but somehow he seemed to be looking past me all the time.

I asked him “Where you guys from then?”

He said, “Well, I’ve been living here in Texas for a few years. I just started playing with these guys about a year ago though.”

“Ah. Where were you before that?”

“I’ve been all over, but I kind of grew up and spent most of my time in like Washington and shit.”

“I’ve never been up that way, myself. I’m Nick, by the way, ” I said extending my hand.

“Nick, Kurt,” he said, and shook my hand.

I had a very good friend growing up in the midwest named Kurt, who was also a guitar player. Last I heard he had moved out to California and gone to recording school. I’ve been meaning to make it out that way again, however, anyone who knows me knows California and I don’t get along so well. Regardless, Kurt and I chatted a while about different aspects of music and the related culture and found we had much in common. We both shared a love for punk rock, and we both spent almost our entire life playing in one band or another. I liked this guy right away. He was confident and considerate, and gave me no reason not to feel at ease. And that’s when it came to me.

I looked at him and said “I got it, dude, you look just like Kurt Cobain.”

He laughed and took a drink of his beer. He said “Don’t tell anyone, al’right?” and chuckled again.

There was something about the way he just shook it off, not like, ‘yeah I get that all the time’, but more of ‘yeah, how’d you guess, that caught me a little off guard.

Now, mind you, I’ve heard all the theories as to who was ultimatly responsible for the death of Kurt Cobain. But quite honestly, I’ve never really given it much thought. Although I did find it odd that he was 27 when he died. That was the age of both Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendricks when they died. I figured whether it was either murder or suicide, the fact remained that he was dead. If there’s a truth that we as a population don’t already know about the facts surrounding his death, it’s likely that we never will. It had never crossed my mind, though, to think that perhaps it was all staged. Like 2Pac. But then I really looked at him closely. And I considered everything I knew about the man, and his demise.

I said “You’re being serious… aren’t you?”

He gave me yet another nod and grinned just slightly and said, “Yeah man. I am.” I may not believe in God, but I believe that it’s possible that he exists. I figure just about anything is possible, and quite frankly I always wondered about the possiblity of truth behind all the alleged Elvis and JFK sightings. And I thought to myself, “Well shit. Lots of people have staged their deaths. Many have done it successfuly. A famous person’s probably got more reason to do it that your average cheating bank executive.” And drunk or not, real or fake, this was like my own personal Brushy Bill Roberts. So, “Why not?” I thought.

“What the fuck happened, man?” I asked. It was really the only thing I could think to ask. To say, really. I was already a little bit lit.

He took a drink from his beer and looked down at the bar, tapping the bottom of his bottle on the bar top once or twice, and made a strange face. “Well, I dunno. It just wasn’t at all what I thought it’d be.”

“How so?”

“The fame, the money, the big houses and shit. I mean, I never cared about that. It was cool as shit, for sure. You know, don’t get me wrong. But, all that shit, it just got in the way. I don’t like big crowds, and I don’t like big shows, y’know? I like small shitty dive bars that you can still smoke in. That’s one of the things I don’t like about Texas. Can’t smoke in any of the bars.”

“That’s true.” I said. This whole thing was kind of a lot to take in. I mean, I had never really been a die hard fan of Nirvana, but I always liked their music. Bleach was killer, and I thought the unplugged album was great. I did have my qualms about it being released by MTV and all, but hey, they made bank off of it, and well, Nirvana, they got paid. But whatever, they were a really good band, I’ll give them that. They consistantly wrote good songs, and had a rather unique style. Say what you will about them as people, in this man’s opinion, they made good music.

“So what about all that shit with Courtney?” Just in case he really was Kurt Cobain, I had to ask.

“What about her?”
“Well, why does everyone think she killed you?”
“Fucked if I know. I had nothing to do with that shit. I just faked my suicide and bounced. I was too lazy to write a note, really, and didn’t see much of a point anyway, so… you know, fuck it.”

“So… all that shit, that’s just what? Her making it up?”
“Fuck man, I dunno. People make shit up all the time about all sorts of shit around ’em. Some people get a lot of undue attention for what they think happened to people they used to know. Who ever said what, I don’t really care. My favorite, though, was when I was on all the gossip magazines. That’s the best. It’s kind of how I kept tabs on Courtney and shit. Heh, half that shit was probably an understatement about that broad. Dude, she was fuckin’ whacked.”

“I’ll bet.”

“And I’m sorry, but that bitch can not fucking act. Not even if her musical career depended on it. Which, you know… it kind of did.”
“You saw that movie?!”
“Which one?”
“Wait, there were more than one?” I was astounded.
“Yeah, I don’t know how many, but there’s more than one. God awful, man.”

“I’m astounded.” I said. “I never liked her shit, to be honest. It’s kind of like, if this whole emo thing had a grandma, she’d be it.”
He laughed pretty hard at that. And I chuckled too. Huh… here I was. Face to face and beer to beer with who a lot of people had called “The voice of a genearation”. That term always made me think of Pepsi, and I never cared for it.

“Hey man, what do you think of the Beatles?”

“I really liked some of their shit. But, man, the thing about the Beatles is, they were in it for the money the whole time. Sure, later on they got all hippied out, but they were still like ‘eeeey, geeve us yo muh-nee, mahn…’, you know?” His impression of John Lennon was actually pretty good. “Seriously though, I don’t care about their intents towards the end of their career or what ever, and how so many people like them and try to emulate them… I mean, yeah, all that’s impressive and all, but really? They were just a fucking boy band, man. But they did have a few good songs.”
“Couldn’t agree more.” I said, and ordered another round.

We talked over a two or three more beers. About a lot of things, but not really about anything in particular. Turns out he’s a big fan of South Park, and of hockey. He’s a big time Chicago fan. I tried to avoid anything philosophical or the such, as I was pretty tuned up by this point. Macey kept giving me evil glares, but it looked like she’d have fucked Kurt with out so much as asking him what he wanted to drink. I’ll never figure out why she’s such a bitch.

“So, why are you here then? Why play in some shitty cover band?”
“Because there’s no future in it.” And he laughed.

“What?”
“Think about it, if I was ever in another band that made it anywhere… yeah, that shit wouldn’t work, bro. You know how hard it is to make it anywhere with music anyway? Fuck that shit. I’m happy with just clearing enough for cheap rent and the basics after 4 or 5 gigs a week. And you can’t really make that if all you’re doing is originals all the time. You’ve got to tour for all that shit, ‘n’ I’m good just traveling localy and getting back home after a day or two.”
“Wait, so you live around here?”

“Nah, ’bout 5 hours from here. On the other side of Dallas.”
“No shit… I’ve been to Dallas a few times.”
“Yeah, it’s a nice city. But hey, man. I’ve gotta go take a piss ‘n’ finish the set. Break time’s over.” And he smiled. “You take it easy man. It’s been real.”

It struck me as odd that this was it. I’d met Kurt Cobain, years after he faked his death, and he was kind of just up and leaving now.

“So, uh… what’re you doin’ after this?” I asked more out of obligation, I suppose.

“Oh man, as soon as we’re done we pack up and head up to Witchita Falls. Then it’s back home.”

“Huh. Well, if you guys come back out this way, I guess I’ll come see you then.”
“Nah, don’t bother. I’ve got this other thing I’m working on, we’re really only gonna tour out East of Dallas and shit. It’s weird, I don’t know. I probably won’t jam with these guys much longer.”

“No shit, eh? So that’s it then?”
“Yeah. I figure, you know, I’ll just rock out for a while. There’s this girl I’ve been dating, and I really like her. See, the way I figure it, it’s like… ok, I was watching this thing on Pink Floyd the other day, and the dude said something about ‘you can’t burn out if you’re not on fire’, or something like that. I like that, you know? Which ever way you take it… it just makes a lot of sense.”

I looked at him. He wasn’t looking at me. He wasn’t really looking at anything. He was looking past everything, and into everything. And then ne nodded and shook my hand.

“Like I said, it’s been fun. Real nice talkin’ to you. Hope you enjoy the set.”

“Same to you, man.” I said. He stood up and smacked me on the opposite shoulder. “Good times…” he said, “… Good times.” And he was off.

A few beers and a shot of rail whiskey for good measure later, the band was back at it, and a few songs in. It was time to leave, I decided. I gathered up my jacket, paid my tab, winked at Macey, just to piss her off a little, and got up to leave. I’d been watching Kurt play since the band started back up. He didn’t really ignore me, but he didn’t really pay any attention to me, either. And I understood. He had other shit to do, to focus on. He was playing music. Again. If he ever really stopped, for that matter. And that’s just what guys like him do. For good or ill, it’s always about the rock ‘n’ roll more than anything else. What’s funny is that most people who dedicate their lives to music never go anywhere with it, professionaly. It’s the losing end of an investment. And most of the time if a band makes it to the top of the industry, it’s not really because their shit was any better then anyone else’s, and usualy isn’t. And here was a guy who was there, and wasn’t happy with any of it. Perhaps it’s better, after all, to have loved and then lost.

I walked up near the stage, off to the one side, and waited with a grin until I caught his attention. He smiled as he caught sight of me from over his shoulder. And then he chuckled a little bit and winked, and he turned and pointed his guitar at me, the way rock stars do. They were playing a rendition of Guns and Roses’ cover of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. It wasn’t too bad for what it was, but what it was was God awful, and he and I both knew it. He shook his head and smiled, and I gave a slight wave and walked away.

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