The Ayatollah Khomeini admits his favorite song is "God Bless America."
Jimmy Carter is releasing all his delegates so that Democrats may choose their leader in a free and open convention.
While you slept last night Hell froze over in a hailstorm.
But all that is very small potatoes, indeed. The Big News this morning is that Jerry Jeff Walker has gone straight.
I ain't kidding you. Jerry Jeff has quit dope cold turkey. He eats health food. He runs four or five miles each morning. He drinks only an occasional beer. He shows up on time for his concerts and knows what town he's in. He hasn't had a fistfight in four months, or thrown his guitar at an autograph seeker, or pitched backward -- in midsong -- onto a set of drums.
Cut to last week.
Jerry Jeff is sitting in his traveling trailer, parked behind Eskimo Nell's in Arlington, ignoring all the pot and booze passing back and forth. "Naw," he says, "I haven't found God or anything like that. Last January 15th I realized I'd hit bottom. It was time to change directions."
Walker's pretty wife Susan had left him, taking along their 3-year-old daughter. He'd missed a few show dates which had led to legal complications; there was no new record album in the works; he'd gone five or six 24-hour days without sleep except for catnaps on bar stools, in front of urinals or at red lights.
It was Jan. 15, as Jerry Jeff says, and he bleakly called his accountant with instructions to transfer "all my money and property" to Susan; It would be the first step in a campaign to woo back his wife. The accountant said. "You mean your pickup truck and car?" Jerry Jeff said, "Naw, man! Everything!" The accountant said, "That is everything, Jerry Jeff. You don't have any money or property. And you're $26,000 in debt." Jerry Jeff sat there stunned for a few minutes, in the old country house a few miles out of Austin, Tex., and decided he simply had to clean up his act.
Boy, it took a lotta scrubbing. For years and years ol' Jacky Jack Double-trouble -- as his friends called him -- had wandered in a crazy daze. His main hobby was causing riots of one kind or another. Like the time he walked into a motel room full of drunk cowboys, during the National Rodeo finals in Oklahoma City, and very shortly inspired them to give him a good stomping. Jerry Jeff looked up from the floor, while dripping blood and surrounded by broken furniture. "Ya'll aint so bleepin' tough," he sneered. "I been beat up worse than this by motorcycle gangs."
Once I was hosting this sedate cocktail party at Princton, see, for delicate literary academicians and their proper wives, when Jerry Jeff Walker, who'd been playing a club in Ne York, appeared very much unannounced, dressed like a buffalo hunter, and looking like three months on field bivouac complicated by the blind staggers. Jackie Jack Double-trouble proved that he was a natural showman by immediately imitating the walks and lisps of sherry sipping academicians; he crashed about stepping on long gowns and howling for Lone Star beer.
He asked a highly placed faculty wife her relative expertise in an exotic sexual discipline and generally cleared staid old Maclean House as efficiently as a drunk with a switchblade. He left in a snowstorm at supersonic speed, in a rental car charged to my American Express card. The car was found abandoned in mid-town Manhattan, long on traffic tickets and short on operable parts. Jerry Jeff's explanation was that he couldn't remember being in a car that night. . .
One memorable night at the Castle Creek Saloon in Austin, Jerry Jeff showed up at 11:20 p.m. to play the 8 o'clock show. His audience was a bit miffed, having paid a heavy cover charge for more than three hours of silence, and greeted him with catcalls and obscenities. Jerry Jeff gave as good as he got and then some. When he wearied of cussing he grabbed a live armadillo from a bystander and flung it into the first row. Then he seized the microphone again and challenged everybody to come on stage and fight. Two or three did. After order had been restored, he started singing a tender number called "P---' in The Wind." Halfway through it he began to stagger backwards and didn't stop until he'd crushed his poor drummer's equipment to smithereens. He lay there and snored while the house management churlishly chunked refunds and caught abuse. Well, hell, ol' Jacky Jack just needed his rest, that's all.
Jacky Jack rarely slept in those days. "I don't dream, man," he'd explain. "See, if I ain't dreamin' nothin's happenin'. It's like bein' dead. So if I'm asleep I miss things." Quite obviously, the solution lay in never sleeping. Dr. Doubletrouble simply quit going to bed.
Jerry Jeff's insomnia policy was hard on his friends; he got insulted should they want to sleep. One summer pre-dawn in Austin, after several dozen hours of trying to match his pace, I despaired of the goal and took to bed. Dr. Doubletrouble stood in the door cursing and reviling me until I threw a lamp at him. Just as I dozed off a cloudburst happened in my bed. J.J., laughing maniacally, was washing me down with a garden hose. I changed the bedclothes and got to sleep. I shortly woke choking and coughing, my nose and throat on fire, to discover Dr. Doubletrouble chuckling at the other end of a teaspoon full of cocaine being held under my nose. One of my talents is knowing when to surrender. I got up and the party went on several more days.
J.J. sleeps four or five hours a night now, though he still complains that he never dreams.
Between shows at Eskimo Nell's, standing by his trailer while signing autographs and occasionally hugging pretty girls, he says, "Say, man, I got up early this morning in North Carolina and ran four miles. You believe that?"
"No," I say.
Jerry Jeff shows me what little is left of his pot belly and urges his band members to confirm his running story. They do. He beams, sticks his tongue out and says, "Lookit that. Cleaner than a baby's. And every morning I drink about a quart of a hot saline solution. And guess what? Everything is clear as club soda."
Jerry Jeff has arrived at Eskimo Nell's, an Arlington club located in a shopping center of no particular distinction, fresh from a concert at P.b. Scott's in Blowing Rock, N.C. It is the front end of a month-long tour that will take him to such places as Grandaddys in Ames, Iowa, and Gunther Hill in Greely, Colo., and to Skip's in Ellis, Kans.
Onstage at Eskimo Ness's, when a microphone momentarily malfunctions, he goes to another one and says to the crowd, "I just play these joints, I don't pick 'em. But don't worry, y'all can get as sloppy in here as you want."
Jerry Jeff certainly had not picked Eskimo Nell's. He'd been booked to play the Ontario Theatre in D.C., but 48 hours before the gig, management had canceled because of slow advance sales. That kinda burned old J.J. "Hell," he says, "I told them people my fans don't buy nothin' in advance. They just show up loose and ready." But the Ontario people got nervous and shifted booking.
A huge man named Charley, who maybe threatens 300 pounds and has something to do with Eskimo Nell's, says "They called me two days ago and offered Jerry Jeff Walker. Frankly, I'd never heard of him. Then they told me he'd wrote 'Mister Bojangles.' What the hell, that's all I hadda hear. And look at this crowd!" Charley is delighted. Near to 400 people have crowded in for the first show; long before the second one hundreds more are shoving for position in a long line that swoops and stretches and curves. Everybody is buying drinks like prohibition might be coming back on the next train. It is a happy crowd -- real hard-core Jerry Jeff fans who want to hear his old familiars like "Redneck Mother," "London Homesick Blues," "L.A. Freeway," "Bojangles," Desperado," and so on -- and they whoop and stomp and can't spend their money fast enough. Big Charley says happily, "He gets all the door money but we get all the booze and food money. It's gonna work out real neat for everybody. Walker'll take away -- oh, 3,000 plus, maybe close to four."
A fella asks Big Charley if he knows that Jerry Jeff has played 'em all -- the Village Gate and the Lone Star Cafe in New York, to say nothing of Madison Square Garden and -- dig this, Charley -- Carnegie Hall. Charley's eyes grow big. "Jeeze," he said. "And we just fell in to this thing!"
Crowded around the bar at Eskimo Nell's are three lovelies, with wonderful names and hometowns, all of whom work for Texas Congressman Charles Wilson. nWilson, better known as "Goodtime Charlie," was supposed to be at the concert himself, but he got to having such a good time elsewhere he didn't show up. There was Amy Sue Trites of Cut 'N Shoot, Tex. And Julie Ann Booty of Farmers Branch, Tex. And Karne LaNell Webb of Conroe, Tex., a young blond with a home-fried accent bordering on parody. Karen LaNell says, "I told my friends in Conroe I was gonna come to see ol' Jerry Jeff do his thang and get commode-huggin' drunk." She didn't think it unusual to have flown from Texas to Washington to see a Texas-based performer. "I just can't git enough of him sangin' that "P - - -' In the Wind,'" she sighed.
It's been many years since Jerry Jeff Walker broke into the New Orleans jail on charges of rowdy conduct and there met an old black man who inspired him to write "Bojangles." Probably only God and the auditors know how much money that song has made for J.J.; even so, it long has been a sore spot with him. He is expected to sing it everywhere he goes, maybe three or four times in one night, and back in his hellion days he'd occasionally punch somebody out simply for requesting that song.
You can still get a rise out of Walker by ragging him about Richard Nixon once having named "Bojangles" as his favorite tune. Somehow, Jerry Jeff seems to find a certain shame attached to that. "Dammit," he says, "ol' Nixon just liked that song because his little buddy Sammy Davis Jr. sang it."
Three or four years ago Jacky Jack staggered into the Austin home of author Edwin (Bud) Shrake one night.
"He was scratched and bleeding but I didn't think anything about it," Shrake said. "I just thought somebody had beat him up again."
But after a few minutes Shrake noticed that Walker seemed uncommonly quiet, and began quizing him. "I just had a wreck in my jeep," Jerry Jeff said. "It's down the road in a ditch, turned over, and I can't remember if anybody was with me." Shrake called Walker's home but Susan did not answer. Fearing the worst, he took Walker back to the wrecked jeep and they poked around in the dark calling "Susan." And after awhile J.J. began to cry.
They went back to Shrake's house to call for help. As they entered, the phone rang. It was Susan, hunting Jerry Jeff, mad as hell because she hadn't heard from him in several hours or maybe days. Jerry Jeff was so relieved he kept laughing all through her tongue-lashing and telling her how he loved her.
Ol' Jacky Jack was really wailing last week. There he was in clean clothes, with a haircut and not even wearing his usual dirty cowboy hat; he sang with more vigor and competence than he has in a long while, and played the bejeebers out of that ol' guitar. "It helps a little," he grinned, "to be able to remember the words." The crowd at Eskimo Nell's whooped and cheered and it was like old times.
I guess you could say the man's making a comeback. Now that word is around he is actually fulfilling his contracts, Walker has been booked for appearances at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden, at the Lone Star Cafe in Gotham, at the Paradise Club in Boston and at Ontario Place in Toronto. He's even started writing songs again, something he hasn't done in ages.
And oh yeah, to end on an upper -- (whoops, excuse me, J.J.; I nearly forgot you'd quit taking 'em) -- Susan and the baby have come back home.
I ain't booking any bets on how long the "New" Jerry Jeff will stay straight; I know too much history. But give him this: Anybody who could be born in Watertown, N.Y. as Ronald Clyde Crosby, and turn out to be a singing Texas outlaw named Jerry Jeff Walker, will always have a few resources to call on.