March 03, 2010

Purple Pajamas

By Paul McGuire © 2010

"A girl from Texas once told me that grasshoppers were lucky," said Lucien as he balanced his guitar on his leg and leaned into the microphone. "I didn't believe her. I used to kill 'em whenever I came across 'em. Started when I was a little kid. I found out some years back that killing grasshoppers was bad luck. That would explain all that crappy luck I had in the 1980s."

"Are you referring to the trial?" Major Jackson asked.

"Damn hoodlums and communists," barked Lucien.

"You mean the IRS?"

"No, not the IRS. I'm talkin' bout my shyster lawyers. It took me the rest of the 80s to pay off the gov'ment. It took me all of 90s to pay off those damn lawyers."

"Well, if you just joined us, we have the rare and sincere honor of having Lucien Dexter in the WBRK studios with us. He's going to be playing a few songs off of his new album Purple Pajamas and the Old Wind Up Clock later this morning."

"It's morn already? I've been up all night."

"Some things never change, eh, Lucien?"

"That Red Bull? Mix it with vodka and you got yerself speed in a can. Back in the old days, and I'm not talkin' bout 1860, I'm talkin' bout 1960, we drove ourselves to the gigs. Three bands all on one old school bus. Except, it wasn't yeller like most school buses. It was painted white by a Baptist Church. One of them rich Dallas school districts donated the bus and those Jesus Freaks fixed it up and would use it to go on recruiting missions. I dunno how the hell we got stuck on the Baptist bus. I suspect that Curly, our slick New York manager, stole the damn thing. Anyway, Curly booked us on one of those tours through the Midwest. Ohio. Indiana. Illinois. We'd have to drive 300 sometimes 400 miles each night, often doubling back to where we had played days before. Curly always made sure we got paid, but that Heeb had no sense of geography. He'd book us in Dayton on Monday, then South Bend, Indiana on Tuesday. We'd double back to Ohio on Wednesday with a gig in Columbus, drive to Kokomo on Thursday, and return to Ohio on Friday with a show in Akron. We popped Benzies to stay awake."


"Speed. You kids have no idea about speed. But Red Bull is the closest thing to Benzies or Bennies. We called it by both names. Benzies puts a pep in your step. It makes my Peter stand at full attention. Makes your eyes watery but at the same time, they are dry as a bone. First time I visited New York City, I took Benzies with Hank Walcott and his wife. We walked around Times Square. Looked like we were floating underwater. All those blurry lights. Fuzzy. Halos."

"What was the real reason you didn't play Woodstock?"

"Because I hated hippies."

"Seriously, Lucien, why? It would have been the biggest turning point in your career."

"Truthfully? I was in jail. Drank too much one night. Slept with the wrong gal. Her old man got pissed. He shot my dog. Except, I didn't have a dog. He off'd my neighbor's dog. That didn't sit well with him. Let's just say, a lot of people got their heads bashed in. Including me."

"So you spent Woodstock in lock up?"

"Yeah. Don't regret it at all. I never had a desire for acceptance. That hippie generation was a generation of tenderness. Then they became disillusioned. The kids. Stupid kids. They didn't know any better. Could you blame them for getting scared with the violent reaction to their attempt of a revolution?"

"Is it true that you never held a job? Says here that you were a session musician from the age of 13."

"Now now Major. Don't believe everything you read. My publicist is a lying whore."

"So then, what was the last job you had?"

"I used to sell fruit at a roadside stand just outside of Atlanta. Did that for most of the 1950s. I sold berries and peaches during the day. At night, I'd go to the black part of town and sit in with Lightnin' Williams and the horn players from The Turtlebacks. Everything was segregated in those days. Even the clubs. Colored musicians couldn't play in the white clubs, but a few of us went down to play with them."

"Did you have any problems?"

"At first. They were suspicious and paranoid of whites. Thought they were spies or narcs. Not me, of course. I was too weird. They felt sorry for me mostly. Probably thought that I was a retard or somethin'."

"Why did you move to Spain in the 1970s?"

"Her name was Camila. She was beautiful. I followed her to Europe like a sick puppy. She made me sleep on the streets of Barcelona for four days. She broke my heart. I got hooked on heroin to get unhooked from her."

"But you still managed to produce not one, but two of what I feel are your greatest albums of your career."

"I could always play... until I started nodding off. Here's the deal, we recorded most of Dharma Blues in the afternoons. I'd wake up around noon. I'd shoot up. Go to the recording studio. Shoot up in that bathroom, drink wine, and then we'd play for a couple of hours. I was evading the cloud. It was always on the horizon. The dark cloud. As soon as it caught up to me, I was done. Couldn't function anymore. I'd go back to my pad. Shoot up some more and sleep. Wake up and repeat the process. Did that for a few months. We had a couple hours every day, that small window, where I was flying high and feeling no pain, but having to rush to figure out how to play all those notes inside my head. I never took notes. I just memorized the riffs. But I had a small window before the dark clouds swept me away. But in those moments before the cloud, that's when the magic happened."

"Maybe you can make a little magic for us in the studio? Will you play something?"

"Sure thing," said Lucien as he strummed his guitar. "I wrote this song about a man in purple faded pajamas who slept on the floor with an old wind up clock set a few inches from his head."

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.

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