Blatherings

Jim White’s Coat - 4.29.19 

     I got 10 miles to go on a 9 mile road…
     -Jim White 

Didn’t your mama tell you? If you can’t write somethin nice about someone on the bathroom wall, then don’t write nothin at all. Though the artwork is captivating… This gas station bathroom outside of Madison, WI is repugnant- sticky & foul- like if dungeons had bathrooms. (Did they?) It’s the wee hours and I’m considering how to wash my hands without touching the faucet when I glance up at the cloudy mirror and see it for the first time: Holy crap- I’m wearing Jim White’s coat!   

A tiny apartment next to the funeral home on a muggy night, that was the first time I heard a Jim White record- his first- The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus. What a find, like a four-leaf clover or… a parking lot 10-spot. Scary devil-cowboy on the cover, Jim White’s face obscured by a book on the back. The Good Book. I’d never heard of him. But now the strange sounds & words & mosquitoes & sticky night air all sloshed together, making a potent cocktail that I was very thirsty for. One of those records that gradually becomes the soundtrack to your current existence, for better or worse. 

Walking back to my truck in Jim White’s coat with some extra swagger- which is to say any swagger at all- it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet reached into the pockets of Jim White’s coat. Hell, until I just looked in the smudgy mirror I’d forgotten I was even wearing it. And now, with Herculean effort, I still abstained, for then I could still cling to hope of finding a weathered rabbits foot or forgotten scrap of paper with an unfinished poem or a mysterious phone number. The wondering was mildly electrifying. 

Some months before I’d ventured to Kiki’s House of Righteous Music in Madison to see legendary Texas troubadour Sam Baker, and was honored to join my pal Gerald on a couple songs during his opening set. Pre-show in Kiki’s kitchen, Sam apologized for taking a call. “It was Jim White”, he’d said. “Do you know Jim White?” Well, I mean, I don’t KNOW him… That afternoon during the drive I’d listened to the new record Jim White had produced for North Carolina’s Packway Handle Band, which included a few of Jim White’s songs. The next morning, after waking on Kiki’s couch with a whisky head, I gave Sam Baker the new CD to listen to in his rental car on his way to the next town. He was most appreciative.  

     Between a rock called heaven and a hard place called home 
     We wander the shadows so restless and lonesome. 
     For in the fallow field where what’s reaped is what’s sewn
    There lies a road to ruin and it’s paved with our tombstones
    -JW   

If you believe everything I read, then you’ll believe that Jim White has been a film school student, fashion model, comedian, boxer, preacher, pro surfer and a New York City cab driver. I once described him to someone who asked as being David Byrne if David Byrne was raised in the rural South on gospel music, Pentecostal ranting and lots of drugs. After the Wrong-Eyed Jesus discovery I immersed myself in Jim White’s next several records, each one a different journey I was exulted to take. Gun-to-my-head favorite? It’d be Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See, co-produced by Joe Henry. Aural cinema. I had my personal Holy Trinity of songwriting geniuses but Jim White couldn’t be denied, so I had to update to a quartet. My Mount Rushmore of songwriting geniuses, tortured misfits all. 

With vile gas station coffee and a Snickers, I was humming back down the lonely interstate in Jim White’s coat- no music just thoughts. Earlier I’d been back at Kiki’s House of Righteous Music to see Jim White. In her cordial basement, like God intended. Jim White told a story leading into That Girl from Brownsville Texas that spooks me still today. He tells a lot of stories.

After the show I told Jim White about how I’d given his CD to Sam Baker. It made him happy. He insisted on replacing it with the vinyl version. I was also purchasing his record Where it Hits You on vinyl, as I only had it on CD. He refused my money, but knowing he was out on the road and working I refused his refusal. Impasse. Finally he said “Tell you what. I’ll give you both records if you’ll buy my coat for $25” Uh… what? I recalled seeing him in Chicago several years prior at the Old Town School of Folk and after the show he was selling thrift store clothes out of a duffel bag from the stage. It was odd. It was perfect. 

So Jim White says he sells used clothes on his travels, and at the end of the year he gives all monies to Doctors Without Borders. He peels off the coat he’d been wearing- brown leather with a heavy ‘ish lining- and I worried about him staying warm, as he was heading north for shows in Minnesota where it was even colder than here. He still resides in the south- his blood is thinner! I put Jim White’s coat on. Mojo for days. I’d never buy a coat this style, so I had to buy it. Jim Whites coat. Jim fucking White’s coat. 

     God was drunk when he made me, but that’s OK 
     ‘cause I forgive Him 
     -JW

Dog Bite - 04.11.19 

Blood mixed with snow truly does make an enchanting shade of pink. And as you stare down at it your mind contemplates a delightfully colorful sno cone on a sultry day. But that thought bubble is rudely popped by the throbbing, and your mind now contemplates the big angry dog that just chomped your hand like a cartoon steak, in a violent flash of teeth and snarl. Jeezus, that was… unexpected. And now you’re watching it drip in the snow, winter-cracked fingers already turning an interesting shade of purple.

On this early February Monday afternoon the world appears dismal & bleak, submissive to Ol’ Man Winter’s frigid grip. If the day had a soundtrack it would surely be that Police song Invisible Sun. The TV weather prognosticator proclaims no thaw in sight, and she would never lead you astray. Indeed, you would roam to the very shores of Hell to hear her forecast the highs & lows… though one suspects the weather there would remain pretty consistent.

Right here right now this dreary neighborhood conjures feelings of a Cold Hell. Certainly the Fool’s errand you’re on and concern for your chomped hand aint helping, but you can’t help but think that when the gray snow does melt, it’ll reveal a landscape of garbage, dog shit and resignation. And if you ventured back here on a sun-soaked early spring day- when the daffodils were poppin and children’s gleeful shouts filled the balmy air- it would still appear dingy & hopeless, it’s grimy secrets obscured by the glare.

What can be taking them so long in the house…? Your mad middle finger- packed in snow- is much fatter now than when you got here, and you wrap it in glove compartment Subway napkins. Big Angry Dog is behind the fence, whimpering softly. He seems… contrite. No hard feelings chum, you’re a creature of impulse. You consider the dreams- the animal attack dreams- and then you visit a star-crossed lunch with a pretty girl a few years past, full of forbidden promise. She was from another planet, the same one as you. Over chicken salad you told her about the recurring dreams- jungle cats, snakes, bears, crocodiles, big angry dogs- always on edge and poised to attack. At some point she asked if you were happy. Well… yes. Such a simple question.

Later that day she sent you a message: animal attack dreams represent indecision; a struggling to come to some conclusion. Huh. Interesting and… sadly unrevelatory. That evening you stared at nothing out the kitchen window, drying dishes real slow in the twilight. Are you happy? Christ. It’s like she made you look in a closet you weren’t supposed to. Such a simple question, and one that would catapult you down a brambly path with many consequences, trajectory unknown. You’re still picking the damn cockleburs off your coat…

Driving back to town with rubbing alcohol and whisky on your mind, your wily passenger asks what happened to your hand, and you ask him if that fella back in Cold Hell seemed the sort who’d be mindful of procuring rabies shots for his pet. “Probably.” Well, another scar it is…

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