26

Did you hear John Hurt play the “Creole Bell,”
“Spanish Fandango” that he loved so well?
And did you love John Hurt? Did you shake his hand?
Did you hear him sing his “Candy Man?”

         –Tom Paxton

 

Let us go back now.  Back to 1955.  To the time of David’s father’s death—Horace Threnody.  The man folks called Duke.  It was a strange time for David.  It put a strange impetus on his career.  As an artist.  As a musician.  He received word that his father was dead just after the New Year.  On the catholic celebration of the Epiphany—January 6th.   A Christian festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi.  The Twelfth-day.  And maybe it became such as it was—an intuitive perception, an insight into the reality and essential meaning of his life all brought about by a commonplace occurrence or experience.  This commonplace occurrence, this experience—his father’s death.  Not necessarily a manifestation of a deity, some deific, evanescent moment, but perhaps it brought him back to that first question and the revelation of answer.  For his father was going somewhere he hadn’t been.  His father, as in commonplace, was going first.  And for some reason this blew his mind.  He couldn’t wrap his previous perceptions of his father around it.  The unresolved question of whether his father just sought his son’s happiness or the continuance of a legacy.  Something David had already mourned in the death of his firstborn at the hands of his twin brother—what a divorced father sees in his children, Dulcinea, his daughter, just starting school.  And it wasn’t a long death.  It was sudden.  Duke Threnody already had lung problems from a chronic smoking habit—COPD—suffering the same symptoms as Bridgette, Bethany’s grandmother, but it was deep vein thrombosis—a traveling blood clot, which led to Duke’s sudden death of a pulmonary embolism in his sleep in the early morning hours of January 6th, 1955.  David was in Austin when he received the phone call from his mother, and therein are the accents to David’s epiphany.  Why we must go back to 1955 to understand David’s later career as a musician.  For he was soon to be 37 years old and he returned to East St. Louis to live with his mother.

And of course we don’t have it.  We don’t have David’s journals that document his ten month stay with her, with his mother.  Any journal entries from this time were burned by Benjy that fateful day, a Friday, the first of April, 1966.  We have only a last entry dated in late November, 1954, the day after Thanksgiving.  And as luck would have it I have Bethany’s journal, an entries from that time relevant even if written from an estranged point of view as David’s ex-wife.  But neither gives a facile understanding to what inherently can be deemed a man’s regression.  To what role he played with his mother after his father’s death and what a wife, a former lover, sees in this under the burden of raising his children, but it must be examined for it was about at this time David Threnody cut his third record lost in obscurity only rediscovered a decade later when in the late sixties of Gaslight Square the beatniks and bohemians who congregated in what is now the Central West End of St. Louis came to hear David play the music that inspired him, what came from his youth after the flood of ’27 and those hard years through the Great Depression—his meeting with ‘Ol Scratch at a crossroads in Mississippi before the war.  When he was nineteen at it was 1937, and what brought him back to that crossroads thirty years later, an anniversary as such, which almost doesn’t seem coincidental to the rediscovery of his songs.  But the epiphany perhaps was there.  A spiritual manifestation and maybe even a predestined foresight that led David Threnody to write what he did, not only in those last journal entries we have of him in 1954, but in the songs he composed then, his third album, what some musicologists esteem as his magnum opus now some sixty years later, whether it be in the vulgarity of speech somehow captured in its dissonant recording, or of some other gesture in it, or in a memorable phase of the mind itself—a light shining in David’s mind.  It was for a man of letters (as I am not) to record this epiphany with extreme care.  It is delicate and yet invulnerable.  In it are the mistakes exposed in his father’s death which need not have consequence.  For they neither define hero nor villain.  And good and evil are an abeyance lightly weighed in them.

 

it’s either/or with the earth.  Like how I love tacos and a rhythm section that knows when to keep going when close to last call my voice can’t carry the chorus.   The earth is a song between lovers.  A bride and a groom.  A song of birth crying out its requiem.  A song of land after time at sea.  What occupies it when you take a deep breath and name it a country.  Like a whore finding love.  The earth is simple.  Confounded in what you seek when you are sick and sleep brings unseemly dreams that pursue the desires only memories have the strength for.  A dialectic.  For you either love the earth or you hate it.  Your love a drug.  Your hate a coma to the pain.  A war really.  A constant at odds.  To love what is of earth is to deny thrice what isn’t.  A bipartisanship not on the ballot.  For there is only one common ground in this love and hate and that is in death.  That is where the two meet.  What is of earth and what is not…  And I feel like it’s on the tip on my tongue—what I want to say about this.  My capricious battle with the corporeal and incorporeal.  How I’ve felt one while indulging in the other.  Like in itch while meditating.  The memory of a woman from a scintillating scent on a wet rag I use to wash myself.  Perhaps a woman the avatar the vessel to my understanding of this earth and what abides forever.  That deliberate descent of deity to earth.  That epiphany.  And transfiguration…  Today is Friday.  And I remember you.  I remember you all.  A token in so many forms.  First loves.  Those almond-scented eyes that looked at me from a backseat window of a Ford as I left the shade of a tree in Mississippi, and I just nineteen.  Unobtrusive to an old man’s request when the day comes there are no old men and no country for them the weight of their offer without women in the bargain.  Those eyes and those days in Rosie’s bed before the war and the cold way she told me to move.  To get in and take that ride or get out of the way.  That first kiss and the words I said then.  The words I said when I said I would never work again—enslaved to this earth in its rancid perspiration.  So maybe that’s the story I must tell to be with it, the earth—the story of my poverty, the number of odd jobs I’ve held to make a living between songs on stage.    And there have been many of them.  Many in betweens.  Like in that upper room in Soulard with Bethany while she was pregnant with our sons and we waited in silence for the next song, while I tried to provide working in my father’s pawn shop.  The unanswerable silence I felt to her question of which did I love more.  The earth—her—or what I searched for in music my hands holding a guitar and the song I wished it to play—my desire for her…  And I have failed.  I have not been enlightened to fear, worry and regret.  I still desire the desire and before sleep my past comes to me.  The ghosts of former lovers.  The wages of half-hearted earnings.  I think of Mississippi before the war, my time as a soldier and Bethany knocking on my door on the West Bank.  The end of an affair in New Orleans.  Those days without food or sleep while I waited for our firstborn son to die and the aching echo this would have on our son that lived—Benjy—his twin.  The joy when Dulcinea was born like a rainbow promise that my curse had been lifted and I would not have to return to that crossroads a Highway 61 revisited with my bartered soul, my hands stained with blood—the blood of Bethany’s first husband…  I have failed because all this—all of it—is of the earth, and only in that common ground of death does the intransient torpor of my sins find its forgiver—me—abiding in the oneness…  And I know I must give thanks.  I must be thankful for my mistakes and all my shortcomings for in them perfection is found.  In that increment of time after the increment.  In that mad vision of hindsight—the time between times…  My children are six.  Soon to be seven.  I’ve seen them through sickness and health.  In tears and laughter.  I watched them learn to walk.  And my prayer of earth to what is not of earth is that my sins are remitted unto them for what is remitted here is supposedly remitted in heaven—a dimension of being yet barely visible through the veils, the mechanisms of our time here and how we measure it.  And no one owns it—not you, me or even God.  This the fallacy in all the top slots of the corporation.  Man’s capitalism.  That’s why the villains need heroes and the heroes need villains in all this our either/or fantasy.  And so I give thanks for my loss.  What’s lost here gained there, and I know I don’t have to wait.  I don’t have to wait for it.  I don’t have to wait on my father waiting on me…

            –David Threnody, on Thanksgiving—from his journals 1948 to 1955

 

But I don’t know what to really say about it.  How it correlates with my hero worship—a man living with his mother, and maybe that’s not really the story.  The story doesn’t end where it began.  We must go forward from the death of David’s father to the death of David’s son—what happened in April 1966—for that’s when David lost his hearing, or at least partial hearing—his perfect pitch.  Those earth tones to his bottleneck slide.  And maybe I can discern what he was saying here, in this last journal entry the day after Thanksgiving 1954.  The dichotomy he saw in what is earth and what is not.  The mediation of imperfect wills with infinite mercy.  How maybe loved soothed the symmetry and hate showed the contrast.  How if you love the earth you are in a modus vivendi the way life goes on, and in hate you exist in alienation where time is not a friend, inexorable.  What Native Americans know in their religion and why there’s no word for goodbye in Sioux. How every day is the same day really.  Your life on repeat through many suicides.  The path to never being reborn finding your life in others and all the rest a collage of hopes and dreams you have to give up to really like yourself really love yourself and wake up to a new day.  Along the way all the pitfalls called strategies succumbing to desire, self-help and self-reliance, games where we’re told we can win and that being alone isn’t so bad but by the time we realize we’ve always had a losing hand it’s too late.  We must give up aspiring to do good for the more good a person does the more likely they’ll end up in hell.  We go over it over and over again to understand our reality—a Jonathan Edwards guilt as sinners in the hands of an angry God yet how we can still take joy in the beauties of nature and delight in the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon—what David found in the birth of Dulcinea’s child, a child of incest.  For are we criminal?  Are we a good person that just fell?  And is that enough—to term ourselves as good or evil?  What’s sinful in one culture can be seen as an act of grace in another.  What’s praised by man in one society can send some to prison somewhere else.  Truly the matter of salvation is not consensual.  For what you see as your redeeming qualities might be dealt with harshly in someone else’s perseverance.  And so we go over it over and over again.  We say someone will not die today, but someone always does.  You cannot save your father from death, and the works of your faith are always misconstrued and end in the perception of the other’s judgment.  Can we be without nothing?  And is our existence conclusive only in the jury of our peers?  What I want to deal with here is not linear, not rhetorical, but two times two places at once—Duke Threnody’s death in 1955 and Benjy’s death in 1966—what David tried to hear in both, but some of the language lost, lost in a punctured eardrum from a gunshot, how it came out in his songs, songs he’d already written and songs he would write, his third album recorded in 1955, the better part of that year David living with his mother…

“You broke it again…”

And he has to wait on her.  David has to wait on his mother’s slow gait down the stairs.  Down from the upper room the upstairs apartment above his father’s pawn shop.  David just wanted to go outside to smoke, but in alarm was tied by a string to the front door—a wound-up bell.  He thought he had unhooked correctly, but as he came back in the string caught in the door, setting the alarm off.

“The string got stuck!”

“Move… move out of the way!  Your father had a piece of tape to hold the string when it wasn’t latched.”

“I don’t know why you need it.  The door is always locked at night and you jam a chair under the door knob…”

“Your father put it up.  He used it so I use it.  No tellin’ with robberies in the area.  Neighborhood ain’t what it used to be.  And you don’t remember those riots.  Those riots the summer you were born…”

David didn’t know how to turn it off.  His mother slowly uses the chair jammed against the door to reach and turn off the bell   It was wound pretty tight, but she spends the time to wind it again.  She’s in her house robe and slippers.  David still hears a ringing in his ears.

It’s a night in January, and winter has come to East St. Louis.  His father has been dead for three days.  And really it was two funerals.  Two funerals David had to go to.  His older brother, the third son—William—had also died.  The day after his father.  He was forty-seven years old…  But this we must put into shape and symbol, in all the proportions called for.  You must name the forces, forces felt by sentient beings.  You must familiarize them, and yet I feel nothing happens.  I have read and re-read this with tedious intent, trying not to forget anything—all that’s led up to this—David’s youth and time in war, the foreshadowing of his wife, Bethany’s past, and now I’ve come to the children, to his father’s death and what led to his children’s death, the grandson he raised as a son, and I’m not sure.  I’m not sure if I’ve made a miscalculation.  I try to bring it all together, the non-linear phases of this chronicle inextricably tied to linear laws and what I have yet to say and nothing—nothing happens.  Just the words, the symbols, the shapes of characters put in shadows, inscrutable yet serene against a turgid background, a horrible and bloody mischance of human affairs…  And William, the third son—who was he?  Was he content?  Content with his fate?  To die the same year as his father?  The day after?  Like a day after Thanksgiving?  And how does this simple violence, the simple violence of his death, all these simple passions I’ve written about, impervious to time and inexplicable, how in faded writing does this coincide with what happened when Benjy died?  Something is missing.  Perhaps in the shadowy attenuation of time it connects to what he lost, what David lost when that shotgun fired puncturing his eardrum.  The settling of that affair with Maddie, his and Benjy’s mistress.  The distrust and contempt which comes to any man with success.  Success brought about by the ubiquity of strength and not of luck.  It finally closed the coffin if but eleven years later to the last words David couldn’t hear in his father’s death, in the death of William, his brother, in the violent death of his son, Benjy—the seed to some divinity where we ourselves lay dormant and waiting.  What people today now find in that third album of his, the album he wrote in 1955 while living with his widowed mother…  William was forty-seven when he died.  He died to the violence of cancer, his insides his intestines rotted, and somehow I must tell his story to tell the story of David and his children, to tell the story of their same father.  For William always lived with his mother.  And he didn’t have a secret.  Some lurking suspicion he inauspiciously hoped another would uncover.  He didn’t have to ask that question.

He was retarded.  Born in 1908, in summer—premature.  From the time he learned how to walk metal braces attached to his legs, malformed, his right foot pointed in, causing an angled gait to any progress he made standing up.  But he refused a wheel chair, and from the age of nine, the same summer of the riots and David’s birth, he left the environs of school at the behest of the superintendent who had neither the funding nor resources to deal with William’s special needs and Cleota cared for him at home.  Dewey, the next youngest the seventh son, was four, and David was a newborn—Cleota’s attention spread between the constant care David needed as an infant and William, an invalid, who though David can’t remember from those early years spent much of the time watching David while Cleota went about cooking and household work.  Even as an adult he had the face of a child.  And time had no meaning to him—it was outside—his world ordered elsewhere.  He was never waiting on something.  But he always had something to look forward to.  I have this from Cleota’s journal.  There is no entry on her husband’s death, but the day after, the day William died, is clearly remarked:

 

January 7th, 1955—They used to play a game.  They made it a song.  While David took his bath.  William would blow bubbles.  He would carefully gather them up from the soap suds of David’s bathwater and from the palm of his hand blow them softly with his breath above David’s head as he laughed and splashed in the water.  It was William that taught him to count.  They would count the bubbles as they popped.  David laughing with pleasure at each one, each bubble as it disappeared, a suspension of film residue, like a hope answered in contrivances—life-like—floating in the air.  But they never counted past four and then they would start again.  William knew the numbers beyond this, but he always stopped at four, and so David did.  And now I wonder if there was magic to it, some meaning, some mystery.  It was almost like they were keeping a beat, a time signature, common time, accenting every other bubble, and sometimes they departed from this, enlisting a sort of syncopation.  Sometimes there was even a prelude to their counting, a pickup note that David though a toddler followed in their play.  And so it was William, it was William that initiated David into the timing of music.

So maybe that’s it.  I just have to let some time go by.  I just have to count.  Because I always knew he would die.  I knew Duke would die.  Die before me.  But I never thought I’d be alone because I had William.  I had the company of an angel…  And I suppose I should laugh.  I should remember to laugh just as I did when I had him growing in my belly.  I should remember the time in between times.  How one mistake leads to another—surely—but then how it all comes back around and that first mistake is fixed.  It’s fixed in the resolution of something new.  Something new is always the surprise of something old.  That I know from many years of living, but it never gets softer.  It’s always just as hard.  As hard as the first time.  You just have more of the past to go by, and yes, sometimes it makes it easier—a short learning curve—but even then you wonder why you’re doing it again.  Why you have to do it again, and if it was hard to learn the first time it doesn’t make it any easier to have those memories to teach you.  Sometimes you wish you had a fresh teacher.  Someone easy on the eyes and caressing to your ears.  Someone that makes even death new…  I will miss my husband, but I will miss my child more—for selfish reasons.  For the reasons of fear.  Not loneliness.  Not the fear of being alone, but being alone with my fears.  There’s a distinction few rarely recognize.  You think being alone makes you afraid, but it’s your fear that makes you alone.  At least that’s what my memories teach me.  On a long learning curve that doesn’t make it any easier.  It’s still just as hard as the first time.  The environment which always finds us that inspires the bodily reaction.  Like hearing the sound of running water.  Louder depending on how fast you talk.  You think it’s always new, but it’s not.  When you’re put to the test to see what you’ve learned.  And it’s not the specifics.  Some mnemonic you need to recall.  Some flat statistical answer.  It’s not a method or routine you need to remember.  Not some motor memory.  No password to recall.  It’s the process—what goes through your mind as you’re put to the test to see what you’ve learned.  What you learned about how you felt learning it.  And if you feel all alone when you’re put to such tests you haven’t learned anything at all.  Because it’s not about giving the right answer.  It’s how you give it.  Right or wrong is always a matter of perspective complicit even with math.  With confidence intervals.  The trick maybe being self-deprecating.  Self-deprecating to whoever or whatever is testing you.  Sometimes saying you’re stupid is not acting stupid.  It’s like a pressure valve.  An escape and an involvement with the situation and not the test in the situation.  Because the tests never stop.  Not even the day you die…

So maybe that’s it.  What I have to learn from him—William—how talking to him was like talking to an angel.  Because he talked slow.  He knew the difference between saying he was stupid and acting stupid.  How bringing it all out in the open is the best and only way to make the fear disappear in that dance embrace. How in a sense losing control is the best way to gain it. He knew how to count.  And not a count to ten for urgency or anger.  But a count to four sometimes three in waltz time—his dance with fear, his sound check.  Because you see that’s what he made it—a dance partner—he made it music…  I don’t think he ever felt alone a day in his life.  Even though others tried to make him different—special if said nicely, as courtesy, or defective in their complaints caught by the public.  No, William was never alone, and that’s how I think he made even death new and an old friend.  How being alone never scared him.  He was my teacher just as he was David’s in the awareness of timing.  He was never a mistake though some folks like to see it that way, and he went about fixing it.  Fixing that resolution people make every new year with the problems that bother them—the mistakes they made on some test.  In a way he intrinsically knew the mystery, which is why I’ll miss him, miss him more than my husband even though that grief carries more years more memories some good and some bad—he knew the count doesn’t end because you can always keep counting—it’s because it’s repetitive like death is repetitive and inherent in any regeneration.  It doesn’t just happen once—you don’t stop just once.  And you always start over.  You always start with one.  Even in your imagination, in that music you hear in your head.  In all preludes to silence.  He knew and he taught that to David.  He knew that’s how every song goes…

 

But sometimes you don’t.  You don’t start over.  You don’t start with one.  You keep counting.  And you do this because you don’t know who you are.  You don’t know who you are because you don’t know what the world is—your place in it.  How death and dying is but another start from where you left off.  The affluent progeny of murmurings little in the now the ever forward protest of the past never full insatiable always on the down low making the importunate opinions perspectives seen where the light is blocked transmutable suzerain in all the minutes capturing other minutes the lost found and lost again—the genesis where you read the ending first—death bereft of sensation.  All limbo you hear the translation of a caveat. A moment as you define it.  David stopped counting when his father died.  When William died.  But he didn’t start over with one.  He had a new time signature to his songs.  He just didn’t care…  And maybe it was the seven years.  The seven years since his divorce from Bethany.  A wound that wouldn’t heal that couldn’t heal because of the children for they were still counting.  Still counting up.  No start overs yet.  No pause to look over past numbers.  Only the encouragement the enthusiasm for the next number a to be to look forward to and not a child forevermore.  David saw his time and their time in the time of his father’s and brother’s death.  The time between their birth to Benjy growing up to be his father to Dulcinea growing up to be her mother but a small mode of numbers compared to the numbers counting backwards before and the numbers continuing after the wake and funerals the question from the discord and the silence of no answer when you leave the ones you love.  Because you leave but you still know them.  David knew his father his brother just as he knew his wife, and they knew him as well this knowledge and where it passes what left David wondering and how a rational nature a social being reflects on this our time in a world in constant change and dissolution how praise or blame falling on your ears from people passing through your life may or may not be remembered how it is but a changing from this to that and how little harm or good comes from blame or praise for it is but breath that will suspire on ears that one day will no longer hear—as David would learn from a shotgun blast a punctured eardrum in the resolutions he sought with Maddie with Benjy’s death.  And he said to himself:  Why do I trouble with the perturbations of this world I a man with perhaps Christian convictions the faith the belief that something doesn’t come from nothing and if there be a God all is well and the troubles and opinions I think do me harm or good come from one intelligent source and all that I see and hear will soon perish and pass away and those who have been spectators to this will also soon perish and pass away and even the man that lives many years into old age beyond the seventy years promised us will come to the same condition of someone who’s died young so that all Benjy knew in his eighteen years and what my father knew my brother I too will also know in my time and how in all time it matters little all fame and honor and all disregard I gather to my reputation is but bones and dust an etched engraving on some tombstone scratched there from one hand to another one mind to another and in rain and sunshine which wears on it after a while no one knows what the scratches mean what they were trying to tell and it doesn’t even matter because these etchings are on something that was once because it can die it is corruptible and how the incorruptible can’t be is because it can never become was—the incorruptible can’t die can’t perish and this how the knowing of love was and never is and how they that know you but no longer love you can’t be an enemy but a forgetting of a bed once full where now you lie still and alone and all you want is to find sleep where in a dream it comes to you again—the knowing and the love… For then and only then can you start with one.  Then and only then do you grasp the number that comes next and that breathless question answered elsewhere becoming declarative the words—come lie down beside me and tell me what love is…

 

And Bethany said:

 

January 13th, 1955—It’s not what I remember.  You would think it’s what bothers me, but that’s not it.  I remember fine.  What I want to remember and I remember I love him because I wanted to.  For the good times.  That part of the heart the seat of the emotions closed somehow to a memory and I look at him differently now.  I look at myself differently.  And if I still have a soul to lose I know because I feel myself losing it.  The control I have in his presence.  How I see the before and after while he feels.  This our inherent cause to subservience which any woman teases about…  No it’s not what I remember.  It’s what I forget that he makes me remember.  The mirror of his time.  There were a number of days we were together, and I can’t keep counting.  Do I remember them all?  The selective is a seat at all tables.  The truth what sets us all free.  Because you never really make a mistake.  Despite consensus and time.  The comedy happens for a reason.  Your laugh the smell of fear.

And maybe the heart has no closures.  It only beats.  Our children are still not accountable, and I wish not to confuse them.  I don’t know if I should ever mention his music.  They have it.  In his times with them.  I see other men with the same hopes the same fears what comes out in their loneliness.  And maybe one can make me a servant to the love I know I have to give what I gave him once but somehow time rejected it into another story some other ending I can’t say I haven’t read…  And where does it come from?  The trust?  From me or him?  All I know in the reasons I feel is that something must be right must get right for me to remember any day and remember it with a peace and a smile I don’t manufacture for someone else… It’s near the time when our boy will be seven—Benjy will be seven, and Dulcinea to follow and most of the time when I think upon them I think upon him in a rather misdirected way as in a face a smile and what I’m sorry about is I can’t trade places with him.  In what fell apart.  I know his place but I don’t know his time and this how I know the poor have but vices they can afford for their time and money and if given the chance how would they spend their time and money and is this so much better than the tenements in which they live with the liquor store nearby and the ground for cigarettes and closed doors the blinds down for other private adventures in which to drag this our holy spirit the only temple into such places, and I trying to judge that time in a place I wish not to take myself.  How my god is in you and my god is in me and how it all must be well in love even in places where love is not there because by not being there it is somewhere ready to refurbish the memory and forgive you—make you ready to forgive me…  Yes I do remember.  For the good times.  David is a man I love because I wanted to.  This my own free will what he has what we all have when we try to remember a day another remembers and our place the same in it.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s cold.  If it’s broken.  It is praise just the same.  And that (I have found) is everyone’s church.  And so I go to church now.  I take our children to church.  Because someone has to teach them the word of Jesus and not what’s just found in his music.  Because they’re not old enough yet.  They’re not old enough to learn anything beyond the roles they play in that tree house.  Here in our home in Texas.  And David isn’t always in Texas though his music finds itself here.  Maybe it will linger in the tree house where our children now play and what will happen… His father just died.  His brother.  And he says he’s going back to New Orleans.  That’s what he says, but I don’t know what he’ll do.  All I know is what I remember and I remember New Orleans. God knows what he’ll do there again…

 

But that isn’t what he did.  David didn’t go to New Orleans.  He stayed in East St. Louis with his mother.  He stayed ten months.  Most of the year 1955.  He didn’t write those songs we remember from his third album in New Orleans.  He just recorded them there.  After… after what Bethany said about him what he didn’t know she was or was not saying for this is what makes our place different, but not our time.  It is little what we have learned, but it is all of it.  And it comes out in what we can’t let go of in death.  No, David didn’t go to New Orleans, but he did after Benjy died.  So in the natural course of phenomena you see it backwards.  You read what’s now without having read the before first and an altered story becomes told.  Told long enough and it becomes a bad death.  Because everyone wants to see you go.  For different reasons.  Some personal some not.  Some selfish and some not.  And is this what you want to hold onto?  These opinions?  In the death of a father we become as a child.  In the death of a child we become as a father.  The time and place.  It’s all a cartoon which is why children like them.  In a cartoon a child doesn’t see dead people.  It is animated as it really is.  And you can go through your whole life without knowing this.  You even become confident.  David needed a woman to change, and it was Bethany that made him draw what he learned in the death of their firstborn.  What waited in the death of Benjy.  The opinions.  On the absurdity of a first cause what a child knows in the succession of the phenomena.  What is collected as a memory and how in death you don’t see backwards anymore.  You find it again.  Where the sound comes from ahead of the light… No David didn’t go back to New Orleans when his father died.  His older brother William.  He returned home to remember what he was when he left.  How a child picks their favorite cartoon character and the story told around it.  Free of anxiety and good.  Without knowledge but before it.  Before too many erasures of pain.  And it was after.  After he lost his hearing in his right ear when David learned the language he translated as malice and jealousy and what was now the perishable harm he thought would follow him since that day at a crossroads on Highway 61.  The successive phenomena matter formed from the reasons in his life what led to this and then that like the voices in a cartoon.  Read from a script and not improvised.  All the good stories and even the bad ones a way to cope.  A way to live with what little you’ve learned after learning all of it.  What they say after you’re gone what you never expected and owed just the same by the imperfect justice of your love.  And after dying and then dying again it can’t touch you.  You are impermeable in the movements of the drawing and all the colors come in a spectrum you can’t see but hear in the sound ahead of the light.  And your eyes become ears.  What you do what you hear…  So now I must go back.  I must read before to write to record the monstrous sympathy.  What David recorded in New Orleans after the drawings had already been made.  I must write the conversation.  David’s conversation with his mother on the death of his father and what she mourned in the death of William—superseded eleven years later and seven years after.  The divorce and the death.  How any man deals with being a man I suppose.  How a man is a son and a father.

 

            …and you didn’t hear.  We were worried.  Worried after William.  You couldn’t hear.  At least not all of it.  Those which spoke in a low voice or talked fast and any kind of accent.  The teacher noticed it with the other children.  When the other children spoke to you…  Your father was 37 when I had you the last the last after seven children.  And I don’t know what your father would say now on a birthday coming up that he will not see because you see it’s time that changes things and that body now I see in memory the last memory him in a casket time does things to that as well but it ain’t silent it can’t be for you must have already been learning it—the language—you were born crying it when the first words were spoken.  The first words you would hear.  And you don’t remember—how can you?  Because that would take words the phonetic sounds.  And I think that’s what your father would say what even your brother says in his death.   You were born without a language.  And look how strong.  How strong you’ve become!  What is all of it even all of it now that you’re divorced and for a time a woman hated you what ends every sentence in itself another the beginning…  Yes, David said.  And what in all of it am I to be?  … What?  What are you but you what you don’t want her to be?  You didn’t hear.  You can’t hear you can’t remember the first words I said to you the words you would learn to say back as your father named you.  The hand on your life…  And so we prayed.  You saw doctors this after after you choked in church at the age of three when you almost died on a communion wafer you wanted without the grape wine the blood of the earth and even if I was a bit superstitious I’d say and I think even your father would say we wondered if that’s what was wrong with your ears and you had so many of them so many ear infections when you were a child…  of course you don’t remember just like you don’t remember when you said your first word in this the English language and not some other the pantomime of tongues and how William taught you to count and as you began to read as you began to take in the sounds somehow you made music even before you made words.  So I suppose it’s my fault the fear inherent fear which comes from what you don’t understand what you can’t hear or you hear it but it doesn’t translate to anything happening other than now you’re behind the time and really it was a nameless fear because the fact is you could hear just fine.  My fear what you came to accept in making children with a woman—even you don’t want to be heard right.  You would rather what you say be not understood.  For the fear this causes in what you don’t understand… and the laughter.  So if I was your father what he would have to say about Bethany and your children is just listen even when it doesn’t make sense.  It’s just like what you heard when you were born.  And only God knows if you’ll make sense of it later…

 

Sometimes you say words and they’re better than anything you can say later.  Even if older you come to the full realization of what you said.  Maybe it’s what David realized writing the songs for his third album.  He’d come to the end of something and not his father’s death and not his brother and not even other memories of death and people he would never see again.  People like Johnny Tribout and Schultz in prison.  Even Gerald, the eldest brother, who he had not seen since that summer when he was fifteen and acquired that bullet hole in Jonathon Bonnor’s guitar.  And there were would be more people he would meet to never see again, echoes of Rosie Soledad and Popovitch in that last meeting he had with Maddie the day after Benjy died all of these events having dates like the day David lost hearing in his right ear—April 2nd 1966.  You come back to yourself after these meetings and parting.  You come back to yourself with memories of what you said that now you could say no better and how you make sense of it sense of what happened is how you come back to yourself a corner where you realize you said it and now you can say anything even if it’s nonsense because you know you already said it nobody knowing it but you that you can’t be held to it.  You can’t be held to it because you said it and you know it you know the glaring contradiction and that there will be more there will always be more and what you said then is always the same as what you say now though by all extremes of logic the syllogisms which say all this is that therefore that is also this a mere wordplay of the mind making reasonable comparisons but you at fifteen and then at nineteen and thirty-seven talking to yourself talking to your children at the age when they turn fifteen and then nineteen a hapless and futile repeat of denial and reversion and no sense at all to it to tell someone tell them you already said it and why don’t they remember for they remember other things you said that you don’t remember at all—and what?  What do you hold onto as you come back to yourself when a meeting becomes a parting?  And not just death, but life after love when someone you love takes a contrary road like at a crossroads a deal made but they go one way and you go yours.  And so who are you to them and to you if it be love if it was love which you remember saying a long time ago never plays the victim yet now if you look at it from their perspective what are you to say I’m sorry if this can’t change anything?  David couldn’t change her mind.  Bethany.  For if it is love it can never be was love and so what was it was the question on David’s mind returning home to live with his mother when his father died his brother William because maybe love is like counting and like in some sequence it goes backwards and forwards in the supremacy of numbers and since you don’t know where it begins and where it ends the patterns you make of it are but a temporal anomaly and really what you said can’t be said any better unless you make a joke out of it.  Perhaps this God’s humor on love.  And you why you are where you are now.  So, in 1967, a year after Benjy died and David lost his hearing in his right ear, he returned to the crossroads to say something on his father’s death twelve years before.  The nineteen years since Bethany divorced him.  And what he said he could never say again.  He could but now there were more numbers in the sequence.  So now was time.  Time for a new song.  As always in the count of four.  As always a dance.  And maybe that’s why he went home to live with his mother after his father’s death.  For a time he wanted to escape the count.  Something he would have to face eleven years later in what happened with Maddie after Benjy’s death.  What he would reckon with a year later back at that crossroads in Mississippi.  A woman you have children with.

And maybe David’s life happened at thirty.  That birthday he sold his copyright in New Orleans and drove across the Sabine with word his children were being born.  And what was it?  What was 1948?  For he’d already sinned already committed adultery nearly two years since Pete Southhouse was killed and Popovitch closing that story of his return to Mississippi some four years since first coming there at nineteen.  So eleven years since that crossroads and the time of Benjy’s birth and then seven years until his father’s death and then another eleven years when Benjy died David then forty-eight.  And in 1967 he returned.  He returned to that crossroads deaf in one ear—so what was it?  Maybe we need to know what happened in 1951 almost halfway between Benjy’s birth and the death of his twin and Duke Threnody’s death in 1955.  We need to know what happened when David was thirty-three if his life was just anti-climactic after that this some three and half years after Bethany divorced him and some three and half years before he came to live with his mother after his father’s death.  Maybe there’s a count to it a time signature a song.  Maybe there’s a fall from grace.

What we do know as to why Bethany divorced him is he couldn’t hold a job.  Sure he tried working in his father’s pawn shop and he tried other odd jobs to offset the unstable income from his music, which is why he made that trip to New Orleans to sell his copyright and maybe we can’t say can’t name the victim here.  Whether it was Bethany one child dead and the other but an infant still feeding from her breast or David wondering what was just as to why his records made no money because you see it was in 1951 that he cut his second album and Bethany was willing to give him another chance.  For if there is a victim there is a sinner.  And this maybe more than anything why David couldn’t get his head around it why when his father died he came home to live with his mother—a loss of faith.  He was broken.  They had broken him.  They some indiscriminate world where job after job hiding his music the unresolved passion of it his royalty check from Piety Street Records just twenty-six dollars in 1950 but still the small world after all of notoriety in the workplace like one job where he went door to door selling venetian blinds and a woman answering with a look of recognition not interested at all in what he was selling but that she had seen him in Soulard during Mardi Gras—singing—and she sang too in fact she was pretty good on the guitar even playing in her church and would he like to do a song with her…  Yes, these things.  Something David wished was just dead but it would not die and so even as a door to door salesman he had to face that cold sell.  The cold sell of his fortunes for ever having a guitar.  Jonathon Bonnor’s guitar.  The Gibson ES-150 which he took out of his father’s pawn shop window the day he signed Bethany’s divorce papers.  He just couldn’t get his head around it.  How if one sinned and asked for forgiveness what happened to the other.  The other partner to the crime.  For if both sinned and one asked for forgiveness did it not necessitate the other unforgiven?  You see David had to cut another deal.  In 1951 he cut another deal.  This time in Austin.  But this wasn’t another deal where he had to sign away his copyright again.  He had to sell something else when he turned thirty-three.  He had to sell-out to the idea that hope was evil.

And what about William?  What does David’s brother have to do with this other than vague remembrances of learning to count in a bath tub his death in that he was born that way and that he always lived with his mother Cleota learning the hard way about being alone how every song goes?  Because David went home in 1951 too.  He saw William this for the last time.  He saw his father for the last time alive.  David left Austin after his second record was cut by Night Owl first making a visit in Hemphill to see his children his journals marking it around Benjy’s third birthday his birthday about at that time of the Nashville ice storm one of the worst in history causing a complete shutdown in transportation and power failures.  Even Bethany worried wishing him safe travel and assuring him his children needed him this possibly the opening he saw the hope the chance of a renewal in their relationship after three long years of hardship three years of them both scraping by Bethany a woman with a mindset now forgetting to remember the love affair which began in New Orleans culminated in the spring 1946 when her first husband Pete Southhouse was killed and all those times she made it over to the West Bank to knock on David’s door how that was five years ago now and all that happened in between when in your mind and heart with time separated you say goodbye to a lover to a time of love and you make up your mind that it’s over now and a new life all forged on the foundation that that one life is over and a new life has begun the person in the old life gone and all the reasons why you’re better for it the one thing the only thing holding you to the past with this person the children—and David’s children loved him…  So, in a way, David’s brother is the reason Bethany decided to give it another chance.  What William had to say what he had to tell his brother in the shadow of the words of their father both of them still alive but for another four years, and how this hope this chance wasn’t wasted but it wasn’t taken either.  It was the hope the dream of their children, of Dulcinea in particular, the child-like faith William still had bestowed on his brother, but David and Bethany were adults.  They weren’t born that way anymore.

So maybe to understand why Bethany and David still loved each other but they never got back together you must go into that phrase—born that way—to know what faith is.  What hope is.  And love.  Bethany started reading the Bible after she and David tried to get back together.  She started taking the children to church.  The same church her mother went to in Hemphill.  There are a lot of begets in the Bible.  To the unobtrusive it may seem trivial, unnecessary, and boring.  But just saying you’re born that way takes away the responsibility.  For why were you born that way?  History is our first lesson.  Our only lesson.  So when so and so begat so in so who begat so in so you are led into those first things that are unintelligible, but they are the reasons for who you are.  And so what about William?  What happened in 1951 which is a precursor for where things stood in 1955 and later in 1966 what David returned to at that crossroads in Mississippi in 1967?  Who was David’s father?  The countless lives before us that lead up to us.  And Bethany too in how she was born and what she was born into.  The intangible effects in our adult education running in parallel to our children’s hopes and dreams.  Maybe William should answer.  In the words of his mother—Cleota’s journal—for there’s an entry there, in late February 1951.  A predated haunting of what happened fifteen years later when David lost hearing in his right ear, what was mourned four years later in the death of their father.

 

February 22, 1951—I don’t judge myself.  I leave that to other people.  And how many blasphemies and altered states make up my life in these judgments!  It’s like splits from your past.  You are seen and a measure is made.  You are this in a moment in time.  But things keep moving.  The day goes forward the sun and moon day and night and then another day like today is Thursday and tomorrow is Friday the last day of work week and then weekend routines until Monday rolls around again and are you the same as last Monday on this Thursday being the same tomorrow on Friday and what you do on Sundays?  No it’s almost like they smell it on you.  Your judges.  They smell something on you so you are this or that and then when you are something else they want to bring you back to what they already judged and perhaps this why there are so many splits in your past so many yous running around behind you who you were to someone yesterday or a year ago what David was to Bethany and her folks and friends in Hemphill who he was to me and Duke and his brothers here in East St. Louis what he was in Mississippi and the people that knew in him Austin and New Orleans.  Yes so many of you running around behind you like some marked measure of how you were seen once and how people keep seeing you halting the progress for perhaps a millionth of a second but a minute later you want to say something or do something be something that alters the path of what was seen and maybe this why I don’t judge myself because there’s plenty of this going on and all I have to do is take a minute to let the judgments in and I’m all kinds of people just with the same name I’m Cleota but I’m more than just a mother and a woman and black—I’m old.  I’m old because there are too many of me running around and who I am for the moment just depends on who I’m with and what they see so when David came home before his thirty-third birthday saying he recorded another album the window in my husband’s pawn shop empty of his electric guitar for going on three years now ever since Bethany served him with divorce papers and went back to Texas I didn’t try to see him as he was and neither did William but then of course William didn’t have a clue about any of this because what he saw was what he would see and that’s how the judgments never got to him—it’s the simple things—what confounds the wise.

My son has a low IQ.  Not David I’m not talking about David—William—and on a bell curve it put him in a percentile where many were above and few below.  But then I think having a few above is a curse for even if you’re in the 99th percentile with only one percent the same or above when you put that into numbers into a population say like the town of Hemphill where Bethany’s friends and family were from where say the population is one thousand if you do the math that means ten people are above so one out of hundred people you meet one might be judging you from somewhere up above or when you take it into a larger scale like America and say a hundred million people that’s a million people so even if you think you’re pretty smart even if you’re in that top one percent it would be better if you were in the top tenth of a percent because even if there are so many people below you there are always people above and if there’s any correlation to success or wealth or fame better to be dumb and not know it than to be teased with knowledge that when seen when judged still leaves you mingling in mediocrity.  And I think that hit home for David when he came home this time when he talked to his brother his second album cut by some small recording studio in Austin the numbers the judgments for he was seen by many above and many below and by the time he turned thirty-three there was a lot of Davids running around in his past a lot of people who had judged him as friend or stranger and even if you stamp that bias based on where you’re at on the bell curve the people seeing you and making their measure he needed that—some fresh insight into emotion—David needed what his brother had to tell him.  He needed to be seen outside the count of numbers again…

Maybe the only way to erase a time is to see it as a mistake.  What Cleota goes on to say is how David did come home in 1951 how he left Hemphill after seeing his children but it was before Benjy’s birthday before his birthday and he didn’t brave no Nashville ice storm because he crossed the Sabine he went to New Orleans instead around Mardi Gras time that year.  He paid a visit to Piety Street his ties to Night Owl and the time he spent in Austin always a hazy subject and not really dealt with here in this account of his life not as an oversight but to David’s own reckoning from journal entries that account for his stays in Austin his ties to it as never a home away from home but a good town—a good town for live music.  His heart was always in New Orleans.  Even when Bethany moved to Texas after their divorce.  East St. Louis was where he was born and raised but he always declared his home was New Orleans and that second album at Night Owl and even that fourth album Bethany mentions in 1960 though recorded in Austin and much of his later life lived there are not in this account for even these albums—his second and his fourth—were later resigned to Piety and his final album the last record we have of David the fifth was cut at Piety in 1967 after David made the return to that crossroads in Mississippi.  And in 1951 after that second album was recorded he did return to Hemphill—true—but according to Cleota he went to New Orleans first catching Mardi Gras in his business with Piety and he came home to East St. Louis just before his birthday.  So he didn’t see his son turn three, and what Cleota goes on to say is how he played for them on his birthday not on some stage in town but in the living room of that upstairs apartment on Bond Street his father’s pawn shop closed for the day below and with Jonathon Bonnor’s guitar he played some of those songs from his second album maybe even some of those first songs from the album in 1945 maybe even the one I heard at my own crossroads some sixty years later and William was there the only brother present for his birthday.  The other brothers never named in this account and even Gerald and Dewey, who I later interviewed to gather facts about David’s childhood, absent and living their own lives even the ones who still kept their father’s pawn shop open.  And so maybe that’s the only way to erase time to erase people and places in your time—to see it as a mistake.  In that moment when short term memory isn’t translated into something else and you forget what you’re thinking about.  Maybe some math you’re doing in your head and you forget about what you’re calculating something William could understand because he lived without short term memory no bad memories ever souring what he could see and perhaps David bonding with his brother in this way remembering his childhood and how William watched him so many times and the counting they used to do in the bath tub this somehow translating in David’s mind to the six going on seven years he’d known Bethany and almost three years now since their divorce since Benjy was born and David was erasing time—he was erasing time with those songs he played in his father’s living room—he was seeing it as a mistake even the good times the love that affair on the West Bank when Bethany used to come to his door like she was just a girl and as Cleota tells it Duke was sleeping in his chair lightly snoring as David played and it was what William said what he said at the end of one of David’s songs—my ears are never full…  My ears are never full.  According to Cleota that’s what William said.  And so now maybe we can go back.  Back to where things stood later in 1955 after Duke’s death after Williams death and what happened eleven years later on that date April 2nd, 1966.  I’ll let David end the chapter.  In what he said in his journals in 1967 this twelve years after his father’s death.  I’ll end it with a PBS interview the televised documentary of David’s life aired in 1971—an account of what happened that April in 1966 when David lost hearing in his right ear from a shotgun blast aimed at him.

 

… yes and how much of it?  What you’re told and what is.  What is based on what’s told.  No I guess you don’t erase time.  It’s like a map redrawn.  The natural landmarks stay the same.  The lakes and rivers.  But boundaries.  Boundaries and names—these change.  Telling you if you live in one country or another.  And it’s just you and the GDP—what’s on TV—who owns what and what they want to tell you…  I used to love maps.  In my father’s pawn shop growing up there was an old Atlas.  Sometimes when I wasn’t strumming my guitar I looked at it.  In fact when I was nine years old when Jonathon Bonnor walked through my father’s door it was what I was looking at.  And Israel wasn’t on any map.  Sometimes even William would quiz me.  He’d ask me what’s the capital of so and so and it was like my school—my school with William who sometimes couldn’t pronounce the words he would just pick a country a color and point and like when I was boy something I have a hard time remembering now there was almost an inaudible count between his question and my answer… an inaudible count.  And twelve years.  Twelve years now since his death my father’s death.  What I have to get my head around now.  How the maps have changed.  What gets me to where I want to go, and when I came home that winter of 1955 I started some new songs, but I didn’t start where I left off because it was like I could see now I could see what was behind the curtain of why this was sung and why that wasn’t and I wanted to stay—I wanted to stay a sinner so I always needed saving.  And do you think?  Do you think you don’t pay for your sins?  It’s there in who begat who and the fool disgraced—the treasure of your name…  There are guns there now.  In my father’s pawn shop window.  My guitar no longer graces that place on red velvet.  No it’s guns, small hand guns, different calibers, and I saw that in ’51 when I returned after cutting my second album some three years since I took the Gibson out of the window some three years after Bethany and I divorced and what does it say?  What does the Bible say about adultery the proverbs on the adulteress?  And she loves Jesus now taking our kids to church to teach them in the way they should go while I’m left with guns, small handguns, in my father’s pawn shop window and when I asked him when I asked my father not knowing it would be one of our last conversations because after ’51 I didn’t come back I went down to New Orleans to be what I was because of what she was now seeing my children sure but now outside, outside their life without me, and I asked him—I asked my father why were the former days better than these and maybe it took me twelve years to know why I asked that question and why my father’s answer was right out of the Bible the same Bible Bethany read to give her soul peace and he said—if I love you what is that to you?  Because you see he knew it came down to who got bested.  It was why there were guns in his pawn shop window.  Because you see even in what you follow you still ask who’s the greatest and that’s why who owns you and what they want to tell you is what you’re willing to hear and being number one is all that matters even if it means being a number one fan…  And so now I guess I’m a fan of my father—dead twelve years now.  It’s why I remember counting with William.  Why I remember an old Atlas with outdated maps.  I need to get where I need to go now—the past depressing the future anxiety.  But this moment in this moment is my past where I can’t dwell and the consequences of it I yet can’t see but I do as the future becomes the past.  There are only promises and commandments.  A long life.  Young men’s visions and an old man’s dream.  And somehow someway I guess my father was still proud of me even though I was a fool, and like a dog returning to his vomit I had my fate and not a hardened heart…

            –David Threnody, on repentance—from his journals 1966 to 1975

 

He received word just like the last time.  In the middle of the night.  Just like when he was born was how he heard about his death.  And he drove across the Sabine…  You see he was obscure then—nobody knew him—and I guess he kinda liked it that way.  After seein’ how it was.  Because he’d played all kinds of venues by then.  Up in East St. Louis where he was from.  And in New Orleans and Austin.  All kinds of places sprinkled through the South—the backwaters.  That’s how he met me where I’m from when he came to Sunset in the winter of 1966 his ex-wife staying with a cousin while Dulcinea waited on a child.  Yeah I first laid eyes on him after the crawfish season.  He came to our black folks church and when Mardi Gras came time he played at our fish fry our crawfish boil—I played with him—it was late February that year but we still had it outside our little picnic after the floats paraded through town the decorated trucks and trailers with hay bales stacked up the families in the streets not asking for beads but moon pies to go with their RC Cola—a family affair you know and the church had some land out back so when he came to the picnic carrying a guitar case it was sorta improvised from there…  But he was a nobody then—obscure—you know.  And he didn’t put on any airs.  He just saw my harmonica and found himself a chair and sat down and began playing.  He kept himself in the shade though.  I remember we was under an old live oak the Spanish moss hanging down and it was a colorful day you know the sun shining good weather and folks dressed up…  No I didn’t realize til later who he was or why he was in Sunset, Louisiana at the time but we played together a few more times after that and I got to know him a little bit as we talked between songs.  He always had his whiskey and a cigarette dangling from his fingers…  So I knew he’d cut a few albums.  Startin’ in New Orleans.  That’s where he said he met his wife, or ex-wife, and he said he recorded a second album in Austin, but I know him or how I remember him now leastways is songs from that third album.  He said he wrote most of it after his father died.  Said he went home back to East St. Louis to live with his mother—lost a brother about that time too—it was those songs he played for me that I played with him and not his fourth album he said made no sales this some six years after he made it and I didn’t know and maybe he didn’t either that he was making ready for his last album the last songs he recorded a year later in ’67…  It’s been four years now and it’s funny that nobody had heard about him then I and nobody else knew who graced our presence at that picnic during Mardi Gras.  And it was only about a month later that we got the full story why he was in Sunset and why when he received word he crossed the Sabine again just like he did when his son was born—what he told me he was doing then in New Orleans some eighteen years ago—selling his copyright to a place called Piety so songs from his first album could still be heard.  And it was in the middle of the night too.  The day after Fool’s Day.  That’s when he received word his son was dead.  The rest sort of legend maybe.  What happened when he went back to Hemphill, Texas and confronted the white woman who’d been sleeping with them both—she’d been sleeping with both David and his son…  Yeah I guess it’s funny now.  How you get bested in some things and in some things you best others.  Because you can say you’re better than no one and no one is better than you but that’s denying the fact that there are always winners and losers in anything you do and you can love your neighbor sure even love them as much as yourself and love can overcome all evil but even in this there’s no greater love.  So when he came back when I saw him there were all kinds of stories as to why his ear was all bandaged up, but it was over a whiskey and a cigarette, after a few songs when he laid his guitar down and I laid my harmonica to rest that he told me what happened how he told me the woman was dead and Dulcinea was expecting in June…  He was kind of a preacher you know.  And his songs were laments.  Like it was all vanity to him.  A striving after the wind.  Because the laws show us our death our sins you know and David didn’t want to put up no stumbling blocks.  He knew it was adultery.  He told me about it.  What happened to his ex-wife’s first husband.  And maybe in a way he knew why nobody knew him though now lot’s of folks know about that third album the songs he wrote back in 1955 after his father’s death when he lived with his mother.  They know him now, but they didn’t know him then.  It’s almost like you have to be disobedient to know mercy.  And I think it’s mercy what he was singing about.  Not for now, but for later because he knew and I knew and everbody else knew why he was in Sunset then and why he was going back to New Orleans.  The strange nature of his relationship with his ex-wife and rumors as to their daughter’s Dulcinea’s child.  But nobody knows the mind of God.  Why you get away with some things and some things you don’t and how there are always debts that come to collect maybe not from you but from your children or your children’s children.  It gave an inaudible sound to the songs—a weird time signature.  That’s one of things I noticed when I first played with him and didn’t know who he was.  At first it seemed like the timing was off.  But once you got to know it once you joined in I gotta say it’s the best damned Blues I ever played…

–Alfonse Dupree, from a PBS interview, September 1971

So all this to say what was left out.  David was left out.  But this will change.  There’s been a lot of dates thrown around many time lapses years between things that happened over the span of eighteen years from 1948 to 1966.  And I can’t refute it.  The stories behind what happened April 2nd, 1966 for many people have come forward with different ones different versions to the legend.  Folks that saw him in Sunset before Solomon was born.  Musicians in Austin and New Orleans.  What Bethany had to say about it.  Cleota.  And through all these refutations I could come up with maybe it was just another deal gone bad how Maddie died and how David was responsible just like he was responsible for the blood on his hands from Pete Southhouse’s murder.  But despite all the facts the relationships between David and his family his father and mother and his brothers his ties to East St. Louis the relationship between David and Bethany their memories from New Orleans and his children after whatever happened in the spring of 1966 in Texas David was left physically and emotionally and spiritually bankrupt.  He was left out.  Alone.  Alienated from God by his sins.  That’s a lonely place to be.  After the early years with his children after 1955 he was on the outside of their growth and development—left to watch from the vantage point of visitations, but in 1966 he took an active role again in what he mourned all through those years as a divorced father.  He blamed himself for Benjy’s death.  Because Benjy went first just like his father his brother William and David couldn’t get his head around it what maybe comes out in those songs he wrote in 1955 while living with his mother…  But all this was soon to change.  For in the summer of 1966 the date you already know Solomon was born and in the summer after David returned to that crossroads in Mississippi and not long after that his songs were rediscovered David later playing in venues like Gaslight Square in St. Louis and even in New York.  There’s even a KDHX interview from 1987 just a year before his death that I heard over thirty years later attached to those first songs those first recordings I heard of him at my own crossroads in the American Bottom.  He recorded his last album that year in New Orleans.  At Piety in 1967.  Some thirty years after a meeting a deal when he was nineteen.  But that’s not all because Dulcinea also turned nineteen that year.  And she met a man.  A man she would marry two years later…  So that’s the story that comes next.

27

Don’t you let that deal go down…

–The Grateful Dead

            You must remember those first things.  You must return to them.  Like when Dulcinea was three…

 

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