Well, shit. The trouble with wobbly trains on wobbly train tracks is that, sooner or later, those motherfuckers come off the tracks and then there’s a heap of twisted wreckage and smoke, and those of us who were standing trackside as the train wobbled by all look at each other and mumble, “Well, kinda told you so, no?”
Amy Winehouse, dead at 27. People die from addictive disease. You keep doing the shit and getting fucked up and bouncing in and out of rehab, and sooner or later your number is gonna come up. Sooner or later, you’re not going to get another chance. Those of us who have spent any time around what’s euphemistically called “the rooms” recognize this. We’ve gone to the funerals, and when that broken-hearted parent or sibling or child asks us “Why?” we shrug our shoulders and respond: “Because that’s what happens to alcoholics and addicts.” It’s no mystery. You either accept the gift of sobriety and recovery when it’s offered to you, gratis, and then you treasure that gift by putting it into practice and then paying it forward to others who need it the way you needed it, or else you bounce back and forth until something like this happens.
So, yeah. I look at an event like this filtered through the prism of, at this point, 18 years, 10 months and two days of continuous sobriety, with periods of solid recovery interspersed with other periods of being a miserable old cuss because I wasn’t working it. I’ve also buried a few people with similar stories who weren’t famous. It’s always the same with people who don’t understand addictive disease: “Why?”
Anyway, I’m not one of those people who thinks that anyone who picks up a drink or a drug is an alcoholic or a drug addict, but I sure can recognize a drunk or a junkie when I see one, as in: takes one to know one. Oh, well. Rest in peace, sweet wasted princess, and hope that others can learn from your example.
Last night I played music in Stockton, at a cafe I got permanently 86’ed from 30 years ago for drunkenly heckling poets. I get to play places like that now, because I’ve learned and accepted what happens to me when I take that first drink or do that first hit or line or pill. Shit happens. Handcuffs mysteriously appear out of the blackness of night. So, instead, I just show up with my guitar and songs and goofy stories, and if the stars are aligned nicely like they were last night, a good time is had by all.
I wish that Amy Winehouse could have experienced what I have in sobriety. Sadly, she won’t. —Jackson Griffith
The evening started okay. Drove home from work in Lodi listening to and singing along with Lefty Frizell. Flirted with the nice woman at the bank, drove over to the Urban Hive to say hi to Brandon. Then, a hint of sideways that I’d rather not go into, except that I left feeling pissed off, like I’d been played by and patronized by one of those oily hipster types, one of Gram Parsons’ green mohair suits, another assclown in a social media circus populated by an endless sea of gladhanding jackoffs. Then, went to a coffeehouse, was texting someone who’d called me by mistake from another town, which I’d kinda turned into a mild flirtation. Logged onto Facebook. A message from a friend: Call me, I have bad news.
Look, over the past couple years, during a time when my life hit a real bumpy patch, I had the good fortune to make friends with a guy named Tommy Vanwormer. I’d known Tommy from this band he had with Tony Passarell and Kele Duncan called Hunting Game in the late ’70s or early ’80s, and then knew him from other stuff. Anyway, Tommy was one of those rare birds who, when it felt like this stupid town was serving me up one shit sandwich after another while promoting the usual parade of buffoonery, would pull me aside and tell me not to listen to these assholes, to keep on doing what I was doing, that eventually someone would figure out that it was of value, and the important thing was to keep going and keep creating and stop worrying about what the idiot philistines in this hapless burg who don’t know shit from Shinola think because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.
So tonight I called Passarell back, and he told me about Tommy’s death on Sunday night. That Tommy and some guys had gone drinking at the Fox & Goose on Saturday night, and they closed the bar down, and then instead of taking Highway 50 home to Folsom, Tommy had gotten onto 80 and got pulled over in Rocklin. That the cops figured he was something other than wasted, and that he got admitted to Kaiser Permanente in Roseville sometime around 3 a.m., and then sometime in the morning, either Kaiser had kicked him loose or he left on his own accord. That Tommy must have walked back home to Folsom, got his bike, and then went looking for his car, which had gotten impounded, and then something happened and he got admitted to Mercy San Juan, where he died Sunday night.
I don’t know. All I know is that losing someone of Tommy’s caliber really hurts. I sat in Weatherstone tonight, feeling progressively more numb. At some point, I called our mutual friend Mindy Giles, who hadn’t heard. Then she and her boyfriend Greg came down and we hung out and commiserated, which eased the pain. But still, I feel stupidly hurt and confused. And now I can’t sleep after trying to no avail, so I’m typing this.
I’ll write more later. All I can say is that I’m sick and tired of reading story after story about some dumbass bint named Lindsay Lohan and why she needs to get it together and how she fucked up again and again and again and, lo, behold, she’s got another chance and another shot at some reality show and another wheelbarrow load of cash and another goddamn blank slate and fresh start that she’ll fuck up again and again and again, and yet guys like Tommy make a wrong turn somewhere and then all the people whose lives he touched are sitting here crying and wondering what the fuck, does god have a cruel sense of humor or what? Just take Lohan and her whole stupid family and throw them into the fucking volcano and even the score, deity. Please don’t take any more of our friends while these human cockroaches go on living, rubbing our faces in the sheer unfairness of it all.
Fuck it, I just don’t understand. I wish I could bawl like a goddamn baby, but I got trained by too many fistfights in the sixth grade that real men don’t cry, so those toxic tears are corroding me from the inside with their acidity, and I got no way to let ’em out. This is one of those nights when I wish I had some loving arms to gently coax them out of me, but instead I’m lying alone on this makeshift bed of a massage table two floors above a downtown club, listening to the usual cast of drunks talk on the sidewalk and yell in the street. Can’t sleep. Gotta type instead.
Last night, I was tired, took a nap, went and visited some old friends. Then, on a whim, I went by the Fox & Goose for open mic, having missed it for the last month. I figured Tommy might show up after Nebraska Monday at Luna’s, and maybe Sal Valentino might show up too, and the three of us would hang out in the parking lot afterward and talk about music.
Tommy never showed. I shoulda known something was up. Rest in peace, dear friend. —Jackson Griffith