Nothin’ is ever permanent.   That’s why you can’t win.  Because you can’t conquer it—the human spirit.  Not permanently at least.  It always gets back up.  It always rises again.  And the conqueror is conquered.  By fear.  Fear of this immutable truth.  How what you fight always gets back up.  How what you try to put down will never stay down.  And so you know you should have made friends.  Friends rather than enemies.  If you’re ever to relax.  If you don’t want to be constantly watching your back.  Wishing you could just go home.  To a place you didn’t try to conquer.  Where people don’t just greet you in cold obedience, in the silent and dark forever searching your weaknesses, but people that actually greet you, with open arms, giving willingly what you didn’t try to take…  No… it’s the winner that’s afraid.  Not the loser.  Because the loser can later win.  All the winner can do is lose.  And I guess that’s what Popovitch was afraid of.  He’d won once, but he was afraid he wouldn’t win again.  The past is a horrible memory for a winner.  For you don’t remember your accolades.  Your rewards.  You remember what you had to do to attain them, and how easily it can be taken away.  That’s why the earth lives in fear.  For all it gains is the dead.  There’s nothing in it that’s eternal.  Just somethin’ bein’ born and somethin’ dyin’.  Just bodies churnin’ under the current of a waterfall.  Hidden in the noise and the mist.  Ain’t no accolades, no rewards waitin’ for ya here.  That’s why no one likes a wise ass.  Those that seek only to destroy.  That’s just fear, and the slaves to it.  Ain’t no winners in that game…  I saw it in his eyes that night.  When David asked me to go with him on a drug deal Bethany told him about.  We’d been rehearsing.  Some new songs for another record.  He said there’d be some boys there we met on our walks to Piety Street Records.  A meeting set up by Bethany’s uncle—a boy named William Bloodwood—said he was gonna get a deal on some weed.  Honestly I didn’t think he should be associating with her, with Bethany.  First of all she was married.  And then she had a weed habit.  I wondered if it was love or some other love—that habit they could share.  Friends become friends in what they can share, and David found a girl he could share what started for him in Mississippi—maybe a bad memory he wanted closure on, so he could finally leave it—what happened there—I don’t know.  I just wondered why he had to bring that guitar.  Didn’t seem like he had to bring a guitar to a drug deal, and it was missing somethin’—I noticed it.  Not a string like in Biloxi, after Nina’s murder and Popovitch winning over on us—it was a capo.  A capo she gave him as a birthday gift.  She left it at our door while they were carrying on their affair.  Those visits she paid him at our place over on the West Bank.  Those days I knew we wouldn’t be rehearsing.  He left the guitar outside the door.  The door to his bedroom—that was his signal to me that she was over—kinda like how you put your hat on the doorknob, lettin’ your buddy know you had a girl in your room…  But that night I saw it in his eyes.  Not David’s eyes—they just gleamed with some expectance, and didn’t know for what (I just figured he was excited about getting some weed), no, I didn’t know for what until I saw his eyes—Popovitch—I saw the fear as he handed David back that capo and took out a knife…  The rest is just assumptions.  What happened that night under Huey P. Long Bridge.  Assumptions about who won.  Who lost.  Who really had something to fear.  David already had my train ticket, and the names of some friends, some music buddies back in East St. Louis—a place I could stay until things cooled off.  He never told me why Popovitch was there, or whether he knew Bethany’s husband, Pete Southhouse, would be there.  But I knew why the cops showed up.  Men from the State Department.  You see Popovitch was a Cossack.  A betrayer of the White Army back during the Red October revolution in 1917 that began the Soviet Regime.  What allowed him to escape with his family to America, Nina just a baby.  And what happened in Biloxi, well, that wasn’t a secret no more, and his people, Popovitch’s people, had aided the Nazis while we were fighting over there, when David and I met again during the siege of Bastogne, his people betrayed again by the British after the war, massacred by Stalin.  Popovitch’s past I’m sure of interest to the State Department, which is why they were there that night under Huey P. Long Bridge.  They weren’t interested in the marijuana…  But all I have is assumptions.  And a scar on my neck.  To this day I don’t feel like David betrayed me.  Maybe he was using me as bait that night.  Maybe that’s true.  I was the son Popovitch never wanted.  His daughter’s last lover.  And David had a lover, which is why he did what he did.  And it all makes quite a story—a legend, you know.  No… what I regret is we never made another record.  And I wonder.  I wonder if he still has that guitar—the one he stole from Mississippi.  I wonder if he still thinks about me every time he replaces a string.  Nothin’ is ever permanent.  I wonder if he still has that capo…

–Johnny Tribout, from a PBS interview, September 1971

Advertisements