Fretting

"We have mortgages, high cholesterol, and I swear I have arthritis in my fingers. Our sixth CD is due out this summer."

She takes my hand--if she weren't so drunk, she might notice the ring around the fourth finger--and repeats her request. The boyfriend fidgets and stares at his shoes. Oh, crap. He must think I'm a turd.

She babbles some more and repeats the request. Damn it, what's wrong with people? How the hell can I get out of this? The skunk has its odor, the tortoise its shell and the gazelle its blistering speed. But what defense does the lead guitar player have for the drunken obnoxious fan?

"Hey, how would you like to meet Rhett?" I ask.

The author with his son Audie, 3. "He's been bargaining with me all week about how long I can go, how maybe he can go, too."
Mark Graham
The author with his son Audie, 3. "He's been bargaining with me all week about how long I can go, how maybe he can go, too."
"For the millionth time, I think of these guys as my family": Murry Hammond, left, and Philip Peeples, right.
Stewart Ransom Miller
"For the millionth time, I think of these guys as my family": Murry Hammond, left, and Philip Peeples, right.

Bingo.

Backstage, I tell Rhett some girl really, reallywants his autograph. He pretty much runs me over. Five minutes later he crashes into the backstage flustered and spewing something about a girl trying to hump his leg.

If this were an e-mail, right about now I would do this: ;-)

January 24-25, New York City. "King of All the World."

I grew up on a dead-end road outside Tyler, where it was rare for anyone to even visit New York City. Now, we sell out the Bowery Ballroom both nights. Backstage, I meet Norah Jones' guitar player Adam. Being a card-carrying member of the Stay at Home Soccer Dads, I'm a big fan. We exchange guitar-player pleasantries: amps, guitars, pedals and whatnot. He turns out to be a bit of a 97's fan, so I tell him how we used to play Naomi's for tips from a pickle jar, how we crawled up the ladder of the national bar scene and, after an electric night at SXSW in 1996, signed a deal with the big boys. That night, Rhett and I stayed out until dawn we were so giddy.

I ask how Adam met Norah. Turns out he met her in a bar through some Denton friends before she had her record deal.

"So we pretty much just described the best nights of our lives," I tell him.

He concurs.


In the middle of Sunday night's set, I remember what is sitting on the floorboard of my van bench. A certain padded manila mailer containing a pair of faux leopard-skin house shoes. Realizing I'm a dead man, I play like a banshee, spewing sizzling guitar licks that burst out of the Bowery, through Midtown and would still be ricocheting to this day had they not been nabbed by a homeless guy playing Bob Dylan in Central Park.

As we blast through the set, the crowd singing along and cheering, I don't give a damn. Playing music is fun. Traveling around the country is fun. Having a point to your life outside family and job is fun. I didn't get into music because I had to, only because I wanted to. It's great to be back doing it, spreading happy seeds across the country. I'll be excited to hop on the plane tomorrow and fly back to Dallas, but for now, life is swell. As my 3-year-old once said, "Dreams are tricky. Sometimes they are pretend, but they feel real."

I hail a cab. "Take me home," I tell him. "The Hotel 3030 between Madison and Park on 30th."

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