the cotton pickin' rage of the age
Tuesdays are the day I work at home this semester, and being as I spent hours and hours in front of a stack of blue books, grading the gems of wisdom my students somehow managed to produce ("during each election is will change [sic] some so candidates shouldn't depend on having all men or all women voting for them") about judicial review and other topics, I felt like I deserved a break. That break took the form of a trip down to Waterloo Records to see recently arrested singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver.
The whole experience was a little surreal. While waiting in traffic on Lamar, I was trying to figure out who the slowpoke in the Lexus in front of me was. We both pulled into the Book People parking lot, and lo and behold, it was John Kelso, the Statesman's humor columnist. So, long story short, in our attempt to cross Lamar, I ended up playing in traffic with Kelso, who was headed to the bar in Lorena after the show to get some quotes for his column. Put it this way: I'm glad he's funny as a writer, 'cause he's not nearly as funny in person.
The scene at Waterloo was insane. Every news station in the area turned up to cover the story, as did about 150 Austinites. It was such an Austin crowd, all the rednecks and hippies in one place, as well as a professor from our department. The delay of an hour (Shaver was running late, probably due to the fact that he turned himself into the Lorena authorities yesterday afternoon) gave me the chance to grade three more midterms, and to have a bizarre conversation with a couple who, upon retirement from NSA and NASA contracting, moved to Austin and spend their time driving to and from Wyoming (via Lubbock) on a Harley (him: "We drove through Lubbock towards New Mexico and there were 70-mile-an-hour wind gusts and I'm trying to drive and not knock her off the back." me: "Yes, it's windy in Lubbock."). He told me that the secret of life is to challenge authority. I asked if grading papers made me the authority. Yeah, it was that kind of hour-long wait.
Shaver finally showed up around 6 and said, "It's nice to be here. It's nice to be anywhere," and the crowd cheered and he said "I guess we'd better do 'Georgia on a Fast Train.'" I got that on tape. (Sorry about the poor quality of the filming. There were lots of dancing rodeo queens to my right and I kept getting bumped into.)
It was a fantastic set. Shaver is either on or off when he's performing, and last night was an "on" night. Even when his cell phone started to ring, Shaver just grinned and kept on going. Among other songs, he sang "Try and Try Again," "Honky Tonk Heroes," and "When the Fallen Angels Fly," one of Shaver's most beautiful songs. Shaver lived a hard life and found Jesus, and when he sings about redemption, he means it. He flaps his arms like an eagle or an angle when he performs the song, then transitions into my all-time favorite song, "Live Forever." I have tape of one verse of that, too; I'll try to upload it when there's more time.
Everyone in the crowd clearly adores Shaver, and the energy that came with all the dancing and singing along seemed to be just what Shaver needed. His request at the end that we pray for him, and get our kids to pray, too, was sincere. I'll pray for you, Billy Joe. Just keep yourself out of trouble, you hear?