The beautiful loser

Keith Ferguson keeps a loose grip on Fabulous past

"I kept hearing someone screaming, 'Fuck you, fuck you,' deep inside my walls," Ferguson says. "I thought I was having a nervous breakdown the first few weeks." Ferguson released several gecko lizards under the house for insect control. "I'd be shaving, and suddenly from within the wall something would shriek, 'Fuck you, fuck you!' I'd whip around and cut myself...It was the geckos!

"They emit this uncanny shriek that comes out as 'fuck you' in English. They're indigenous to Laos and Cambodia. Freaked out our boys in 'Nam who thought they were Cong, cursing from the trees--'Fuck you, fuck you!' But they eat roaches, rats, mice, and do anCR> amazingly efficient job. Don't leave over anything, no blood or tails. They breed like Catholics, grow up to 20 inches over the years."

"Aren't they also a delicacy in Southeast Asia?" asks a porch hippie.
"Delicacy?" comes Ferguson. "Doesn't that word usually mean something on a stick that shouldn't be there? Something's balls, or brains?"

"They call him Chago."
Ferguson sits on his porch, beatific over bajo sexto player Santiago Almeida, or "Chago," heard playing on a scratchy Narciso Martinez conjunto record from the 1930s. It's simple folk music, but Ferguson rides some low wave underneath, inaudible to most human ears. "Listen to that tone," he says.

He leads me into his bedroom to show his new bajo sexto. Though he's hesitant to fess up, it's a Keith Ferguson model. Built on his design, he named it the Rodando. "This is the cheesiest one of the bunch that were made. Keith Hofner owns the company. A Mexican luthier now makes 'em with truss rods and contours. No two are alike."

Bajo sextos please Ferguson immensely. But they are transient, like visitors to the house, or old girlfriends. For years, Austin players have spotted his bass guitars sadly hanging in hockshops.

"I always got 'em out myself," Ferguson says. "Or else I left 'em. I don't know where people get the idea you gotta play the same bass forever. One guy bought my '52 Fender Precision, took really good care of it. I borrowed it for that Solid Senders tour to Holland, then gave it back. I brought it to watch people's reactions. It freaked 'em, because they remembered the bass, but they never seen me lookin' like I do now."

Keith Ferguson does the only sensible thing when an old tattoo fades: He gets a new one over it. A feathered serpent Aztec god adorns his left elbow-to-wrist. The 17 lizards, resembling Escher prints, run up his right arm.

"I got most of 'em so I'd remember where I'd gone," he explains. "I used to play so many different cities, everyone was so screwed up and tired, tCR>hey wouldn't know where we were. But I remember gettin' each tattoo, where I was at the time, 'cause that's the thing that lasts, innit? You look down at your arm and think Spokane or Atlanta or Toronto or Seattle or Austin...

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