junkyard dog

JUNKYARD DOG

The skid mark on a plastic surgeon’s face. The chrome scalpel in his smock pocket on coffee break in the teacher’s lounge. Just another alumnus dropping in to make a small donation.

What school is this, exactly? It’s the School of Make Believe where everyone pretends until it hurts. A school of mottos and slogans. It used to be my school. It used to be your school too.

***

Remember James Taylor? Suzanne, it was all their plans put an end to you. Music from inside a straightjacket.

Jim Croce. Remember Jim? He sat down and wrote about twenty chart-busting songs in a week. To make a little dinero for the bambino his wife was about to have. Except he didn’t make all that much dinero because someone owned him. Someone in New York. Some agent, some agency, some record company executive, a graduate of the School of Make Believe, the man with the plan.

Let me count the ways musicians go down in a blaze of glory. You’d think drugs and alcohol would be the number-one grim reaper, but how about the plane crash? The Big Bopper and his entourage. Patsy Cline and the gang. Stevie Ray Vaughn in a helicopter. Etcetera. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum. Do a little research. Make your own list.

And our boy Jim, big bad Leroy Brown. You don’t mess around with Jim. You just put him in a small plane and send it crashing to the ground while he’s out on his last tour, about to stop working for the man every night and day and settle down with his family (going home to my wife and family, settle down by the fireside bright…good night, Jim, give a nod to Irene when you reach the far shore).

Somehow Jim signed his life away before he had a life (or while he still had a life, depending on which school you used to get juiced in, depending on how much you’re willing to look at), so that when he wrote a good song and performed and recorded it, the money went to someone else. It was legal. It was drawn up on paper and Jim had signed the dotted line while he and his wife were still doing the college auditorium circuit for nickles and dimes. So that when he began to come into his own, when he began to blossom, someone else was eating the profit and he didn’t know what else to do but refuse to write the songs. He kept them bottled up inside, he wasn’t going to give it away. Until his wife got pregnant, and then he did it with fury, he wrote and wrote and went on tour, performing 300 concerts in a year, and still the lion’s share went somewhere else, until Jim and his wife saw that the harder they worked, the less they had, not only in the cash department, but in the more important department of well-being, purpose, dignity, etcetera. And so they decided to back off, because the more they tried to make it in the world of the Surgeon General with a wad of chew in his cheek and a bloody scalpel in his smock pocket, the more cut up they got. They were a bloody mess. They make the decision, Jim goes off on his last tour, and down goes the plane somewhere in Georgia. A rainy night in Georgia. Out of debt at last.

***

This ain’t no conspiracy theory, just a little something to think about. A quick scan between the scam lines of a VH-l television special. Conspiracies are the hallmark of another time. This is the electronic age, things happen lightning fast and register in patterns, and the patterns reveal predisposition, not premeditation. It’s the will of the beast that brings our small planes of hope crashing out of the sky.

This is war. It’s the place where the music comes from, and the place where it dies. Croce, Cline and Otis Redding, shoved off from the dock of the bay on a funeral pyre bought on borrowed time. Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison. Hail, hail, the gang’s all here. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

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