Some things he did

Roxy Gordon was "one of the great outlaw artist misfits" and so much more

To those who knew Roxy Gordon, the news of his passing on February 7 may have caught them a little off guard, but the official cause of death didn't come as much of a surprise: cirrhosis of the liver. The man loved his liquor. Sorry if that sounds blunt, but that's the way he was. Blunt and right to the point -- no bullshit. Roxy was the most unpretentious person I've ever met in my life, and his writing reflected that. After years of watching alcohol take its toll on many of the creative people around him, he kept right on drinking. Old habits tend to die hard, and old drinkers die harder.

But Roxy and his fascinating assortment of friends wrung as much out of life as they could during their time together, in every possible way. He was, first and foremost, a Native American activist. But he was also a poet, multimedia artist, and a fixture among the outlaw country set. And much of his life was a combination of it all.

For example, a couple of years back, my girlfriend Perla and I were in East Dallas on our way home from dinner, driving west down Oram Street toward Greenville Avenue. As we swung past Gordon's house at the southwest corner of the Matilda intersection, I noticed that the porch light was on and the front door was open. We decided to drop in for a minute and say hello. Roxy was like that: You could drop by his place any time you wanted, and he and his wife Judy would always welcome you inside and make you a drink.

Roxy Gordon was Indian, and most of the rest of us ain't.
Roxy Gordon was Indian, and most of the rest of us ain't.

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As Perla and I walked up the steps that night, we could hear someone inside playing an acoustic guitar. The man started to sing in a flat, monotone voice, and he sounded a little drunk. As we got closer to the front door, it became obvious that it wasn't Roxy who was mumbling through "Pancho and Lefty," a song that I was beginning to recognize from one of my dad's old Willie Nelson records.

I peeked through the door at the intimate little gathering that was happening inside. There were seven or eight people strewn all over the living room, some holding vodka bottles, most smoking cigarettes. Roxy waved us in and Judy rose up to give us each a big hug. Man, it was just such a great vibe in that room. I could tell right away that we were in for something special that night.

The skinny guy in the corner with glasses and a beat-up guitar in his hands was Townes Van Zandt. For two hours he sat there and knocked out one amazing song after another, stopping only to do a shot of cheap vodka or light another Winston. The inside of Roxy's living room was like a thumbtacked museum of photos, books, and artifacts dedicated to Native American culture. It was absolutely the perfect place to hear Townes do his thing.

After about 10 or 15 songs and stories, I got up off the floor and went into the kitchen to fix a drink. A couple of minutes later, Roxy came in and sat down at the kitchen table. I wanted to seize the opportunity to tell him how much we appreciated his letting Perla and me in on this amazing little experience. We were pretty much awestruck by Van Zandt's rather intoxicated interpretation of his songbook.

"Damn, Jeff...can you guys take him with ya?"

What was that?

"He's been here for a damn week," Gordon explained. "He came to town to do some show at Poor David's, and he's been on our couch for days. We can't get rid of him. He thinks all he has to do is sit there in that chair and sing all night, and we'll put him up for however long he wants." Roxy poured himself another shot into his Styrofoam cup.

I laughed out loud. "No, man, I wish I could, but Perla and I are in the same boat Townes is," I said. "We just got back from Los Angeles, and we're staying in the room above the garage at my mother's house."

I thought about it for a second: Townes Van Zandt staying at my mom's house, sitting in our living room smoking cigarettes and singing songs until three in the morning for a week or so. Sure, she'd go for that.

"Well, damn it. I don't guess I'm ever gonna get to sit on my own damn couch again."

Roxy was smiling when he said it, half putting me on, certainly meaning no disrespect to one of his best friends in the world. I'm sure it was the vodka talking. It said a lot for him sometimes.

We left about three in the morning, but things were really just getting going, if you ask me. In the car on the way home that night, we agreed that we had just had one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Even as passive, casual observers to the goings-on in Roxy Gordon's living room, we felt damn lucky to be able to hang out with a group of folks who were so unpretentious and real.

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