Watch on Winter
Navigating Route 15 Virginia countryside in a borrowed pickup we were hauling race equipment, laden, large electronic timer, banners orange safety cones and gear scaffold for the finish line coming back from Leesburg in the fall of ‘89. Ryan, five curious and boldly so watching, querying, trying out eager, willing, throwing in at water stops and pulling race tags from the runners in the chutes, hard breathing eyes glazed cross-country hometown heroes returning from the zone on a Saturday’s day off. For hours in the warm sun cleanup then the loading on the long drive home he was an equal in a running conversation.
An old cassette by Hendrix rock’s bad boy caught his ear. Hendrix was just wasted–gone too soon–Don’t be like that he told his five year old above the highway noise.
What made his music great –exactly? musicologist, his son his well-timed anthropologist questioned everything surprising yet the driver
in the cab with open windows rushing air a much played version of Hey Joe lyric of a murder’s grudge and there he was remembering those days steeped in smoke, bombs and demonstrations what could be told what shouldn’t.
Bass throb low, guitars on high long hair and pliant thighs keyboard doing second line not long after Hendrix did his last hippie angels with their devils dancing with their counterparts and Hendrix seemed exemplar a waste of perfect excess.
Toking on a hash pipe had he found a better skill at strumming on a steel string before his sons were born fool! he might have followed close to sunrise, he’d just collapsed at 3 AM losing watch to sleep.
Drawn to bad boys, Lowell George his bearish songs of falling out of bars and into beds although he couldn’t swear, suspected life might be that vivid somewhere else out beyond that pickup.
Just shy of forty then the driver figured that deal closed no shot at Rolling Stone no play for orgies waving panties fresh from the sunroof, in the bowl before the flame drugs and Tet and rock and roll, Nixon stealing home hippies and pretenders shooting up like pharmacists a little Hari Krishna girl sent in bondage to Atlanta returned to marry, breed some more all children misdirected, veterans from the war returned with ankle knives and cocaine lines, their special paranoia all boxed and filed away; his boy’s questions drew him back.
He was crazy he was genius
rock from blues electric fire dripping from his fingers racing toward his twenty-eighth his life’s rocket swiftly over.
Don’t be like that!
The driver’s generation children led to jungle falls young grunts run on punji sticks a badly handed burden passed from Oppenheimer down, like dividends from war bonds not invested well, was all the cover of Life magazine emerging from the brush medics and their dying man whom he knew to put a name to brought the bastard baby home.
No running pretend combat deep in Clemson Forest shooting blanks at ROTC grads would never make a purple heart pinned to a body bag seem more than sad, with My Lai yet to come.
In high school summertime sitting in his mother’s house when his Granny closed her eyes on all of this, an Irish fatalist she’d raised her daughter’s three, a Carolina reed the last alone since last November on the floor beside a borrowed stereo, on his own anthropology.
Are you experienced? Hardly. The wind cried Mary, Dylan’s watchtower painted day-glo with the soul of electric bass shaking out the flag, his rain of notes all anthems to that tribe beyond the Pale.
Not like his own expectations had been honed on sweeter fare living near tobacco fields and cotton in a breaking sun beyond the berry brambles a last dirt lane leading toward a shantytown with broken souls doing Reconstruction Jig and he’d be living there among them but for random chance, he’d lain with that lean wolf.
In Clemson’s dining hall– go tigers–one building off from Tillman Hall Pitchfork Ben his nom de plume a man of Carolina virtue Thurmond praised without full teeth, his liking dark meat on the side, did he set her on a pedestal above his white boys? full congress still in session while Mendel (white mane) Rivers was rebuilding Charleston’s navy, ya’ll one destroyer at a time against the threat of being stripped again of southern pride dishonoring his country.
The whole world is watching.
with the shock of TV footage riot geared and armored Chicago’s finest blue night sticks pointing to the exits in a thrum of jackboots crushing lemmings stunned to see his country like southern brethren eat its own.
Run so far, push on hard the habit seems a dragged stone anchoring no matter how he tries, and does it matter how he strains for love or how he failed his son?
Hendrix’s music soars, it tears his heart in passing, he was a perfect damaged child.
Light in early autumn slowly leaking into evening the tape’s been stretched tin speakers in a pickup couldn’t capture nuance how genius tears itself apart. Ryan’s season comes again, this watch on winter is my own.