Friday, June 25, 2010

Silver-haired, silver-tongued devils as seen through the youthful, bright eyes of Bonnaroo generation

“So how did you get to know Kris Kristofferson?”
The intelligent young woman asked me that question when she was cruising through some pictures of the great songwriter (I really can’t call him a great singer-songwriter…. Because, well … listen to him sing….) But I love the guy. His wife and kids too.
The young woman was putting together a story on Bonnaroo for a student news web site where I serve as sort of “journalist-in-residence.” I like this work and the young people and their ideas and energy.
While we looked at the Bonnaroo story, she had begun to go through the internet files to see what types of pictures were available. Oh there was the big Centeroo with the arch. There were some pseudo-hippies and perhaps some real ones too.
Most of the real ones are dead, you know. Or they’ve gone away to work for Big Oil, Corporate Media and the Insurance Empire. Perhaps they even work for FEMA or are next in line to serve as supreme commander for the illegal war, once Gen. Dave gives his “Rolling Stone” interview.
Oops. There I go again. A fellow I like (despite his politics) wrote a note on Facebook the other day accusing liberals of being non-patriotic, that we’re tearing down all that this nation stands for. Glad the conservatives have come down so hard on their pals in Big Oil, Shotgun Dick and the like.
Conservatives, with the Big O’s help (it pains me to say), have done a great job to my favorite place in my limited exposure to Earth. Oh, I guess I like Bermuda better. And the Mayan ruins in Central Mexico were cool too. Yeah, and I got my kids in Romania. Spent a lot of time there. Great country. Also Switzerland. And the Netherlands. And Canada…. But you know, I’m pretty simple in a complicated way. I love the Redneck Riviera, where I’ve been told by Anderson Cooper that Big Oil coats the sand, and shrimp-boat captains are killing themselves.
Talk about ruining America and tearing us apart?
Ah, get off the soapbox, old man.
Yeah, that’s where I was going. Will get there eventually. Castles made of sand melt in the sea eventually. Perhaps not so much now that they are caked with oil.
OK, back to the time spent with the very nice and intelligent young woman. She was going through the pictures from Bonnaroo, to illustrate a good story another student had written.
That’s when she stopped on the picture of Kris…. And she laughed. “Look at Kris Kristofferson,” she said.
I said “He’s a friend of mine.”
She surveyed my appearance and it was obvious she could see why I might be a friend of this long-in-the-tooth, weathered man of words. I’m kind of that way, although not as long of tooth yet. I hope to make it that far. No one is paying me so much for my words these days, which is why I’m casting them out here for free in hopes for a sitcom based on my days with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their liberation of Alberta from the crazed gypsy mongrels. Or whatever those kinds of dogs were.
Then this young woman said, “How in the world did that happen?” or something like that. Here I am sitting in this little newsroom talking to a bright and talented young student … and I know Kris Kristofferson ….personally?
Gotta admit that at the very first, I thought that this was gonna be one of those moments where I could talk about hanging out with Kristofferson. About how Tom T. Hall once told the crowd at the Hall of Fame how I was a great writer. Perhaps I could throw in my friendship with Mac Wiseman and how Louise Scruggs once took the phone away from Earl so she could assure me she was going to get Bob Dylan to call me. "If anyone can get you Dylan,I can," said Louise, a great and stubborn woman. I occasionally have been known to call Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. And I knew Ginsberg and Groucho a little.
I thought I could tell this young student how I once had a good conversation with Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones and how that band’s music director, Chuck Leavell, invited me backstage for a visit the last time those boys were in town. He remains a friend of sorts.
I was gonna tell her about how I interviewed Brian Wilson and how I spent an afternoon walking a golf course with Alice Cooper.
I was going to tell her how John Kay from Steppenwolf remains a friend and we correspond after I was the only one he ever allowed to interview him in depth during his 16 years of residency in the Nashville area. He lives outside Vancouver now.
Then perhaps I could have stepped out of music and told her how I know Muhammad Ali, have spent a few hours casually hanging out with him and also interviewed him several other times.
Knew O.J. pretty well, too, though I seldom brag about that. “To my pal, Tim, Peace and Love, O.J.” says the autograph on the picture he gave me when he took me to lunch at Austin's, a restaurant in downtown Clarksville. I don’t think the Juice lived up to his peace and love mantra. You know he’s not really a nice guy, even if he did win the Heisman and buy a nice Bronco.
Wilma Rudolph was the cousin of an old friend of mine, Ol’ Steve Pettus, who ran a barbecue stand outside Clarksville. I used to spend nights barbecuing shoulders with Steve and his brother, Euless. I regularly was invited to the massive Pettus family reunions. I was treated as family. Wilma was a beautiful and graceful woman.
Oh yeah, I could have then gone on to talk about my two interviews with Ringo Starr and how Tom Petty once wrote me a personal note telling me how much he liked my Facebook mugshot. “Mr. Ghianni, nice picture,” he said, likely coughing and reaching for a bag of chips, salty and chocolate and a quart of Cherry Garcia ice cream.
Oh yeah, Eddy Arnold was my friend. So is George Jones. I knew Carl Perkins. Scotty Moore is one of my favorite people. Duane Eddy kind of likes me. Then there’s Foster & Lloyd, good fellows both.
Johnny Cash liked me. Perhaps I’d tell this student how I was supposed to interview him ---he had agreed to have me come out to his house after "I get back from the Coast." Instead he went in the hospital and died, so I covered the funeral instead with my much younger old man pal, Peter Cooper, a fine musician of limited acclaim.
Ahh, but this young student wanted to know about Kristofferson. So, I took to describing the great series of events, from a telephone interview to a meeting at the Americana Music Awards to conversations at June and Johnny’s funerals to, well, a special afternoon when Kris and his son Johnny Cash Kristofferson wandered with me down Music City Row. Johnny shot video. I’ve got that in my closet. The three of us roamed the wild streets of Nashville on foot and also in a minivan. You ever try to carry on a conversation with a personal-hero-turned-friend when you are driving a minivan around a statue of nude people? Don’t look, Ethel…
It was Kris’ first daytime visit to the Row in 30 years and his first sober visit in probably much longer.
Anyway, as I told the young woman the Kristofferson story -- warming up for a longer trip down memory lane, perhaps even stopping to recall the time my pal, Rob Dollar, and I, along with some News Brothers comrades, joked around with John Glenn and terrified the Secret Service -- I noticed she began flipping quickly ahead to other images.
Dave Matthews, Conan, Jack Black, Regina Spektor, Dr. Dog … I’m a fan of many of them. I particularly like Spektor. Matthews bores me. But Conan did a fair “Tonight Show” impersonation there for awhile. Funny guy. I still prefer Letterman. In fact, the king of late night remains Johnny Carson, whose last TV appearance was to resounding applause at the Letterman show.
I saw Carson’s show one sweaty afternoon in Burbank back in 1973. Slept on the sidewalk to get tickets. David Carradine was there, riding high on his Kung Fu fame and long before he was found dead in a hotel closet in some remote land. And Buddy Hackett was there. Outside, when the show was over, I found Tommy Newsome parked near me by the Orange Julius stand. You may not remember Tommy. He was the trombonist in the Tonight Show Band who sometimes took over as bandleader for Doc. Oh yeah, I know Doc, too. Nice, unassuming man.
Ah, but I digress again. Back to the young woman in the newsroom with her pick of pretty pictures of young artists.
I realized then that she probably wouldn’t be that interested in hearing me tell those stories. Probably had better things to do. You know, classes and stuff like that. Gotta get that Gypsyphonic Disko image and post it. Actually, I think she went with a crowd shot. Just as well.
Good, smart young woman.
Likely to be a successful journalist or successful at whatever she tries in life.
And, I have to admit, there was a difference between the images she was dwelling on and the image of Kris.
I mean, Kris looked … old….
Then it hit me.
I’m old too. In fact, this first hit me for sure when someone, my wife or someone else of equally innocent and diabolic intent, started telling me and everyone else who would listen that I was almost 60, rather than 58 or "in his 50s."
“Your dad is almost 60 years old, Joe. I think he can tie his own shoes.”
OK. Usually I can, by the way.
I suppose Kristofferson gets that sort of stuff around his house, too. Oh well, I'll only live 'til I die.


  1. I wasn't sure where you were headed for a while, Flap, but I'm glad I was along for this ride.

  2. Your story about how you crossed paths with Shel Silverstein is also a fun one!

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  4. Kris sings beautifully. I'd rather hear him sing any day instead of those "auto-tuned" robots they call singers these days.