Richard Haskins is a free man. After serving six and a half months in prison for an attempted bank robbery, the Denton punk singer, showman and provocateur is on the patio at Killer's Tacos, surrounded by friends. On the table before him is a welcome back cake and in a few minutes he'll be performing his first show since being arrested for a probation violation in March 2016.
Suddenly, a woman storms up the stairs of the patio deck and bursts through the crowd, a young child in tow. Before anyone knows what's happening, the woman rushes Haskins, who's sitting next to his girlfriend and his girlfriend's mother, and punches him twice in the temple. Then, with the child now crying, the woman rushes back into the throng of people and disappears before anyone can stop her.
Haskins, though stunned, is unfazed. "Did she at least pay the cover?" he asks, as the confused crowd swarms in to make sure he's okay.
Having fathered children by three different women, the question isn't so much why he was assaulted as who from a number of different possibilities might have done it. "That's the first time I've seen that kid, so go figure," he says, wryly. "I think that was the best welcome back I could've had."
Such drama has a way of following Haskins around. An admitted "bullshitter," fact, fiction and exaggeration have a tendency to blur for him, with the chaos of his life imitating that of his wild art — which makes the next chapter of his life a difficult one to predict. The consequences of his impromptu, unarmed attempt to rob a Wells Fargo bank in Denton in December 2012 culminated in his arrest early last year. Haskins spent almost exactly one year behind bars, first in county jail as he awaited sentencing and then in prison.
"If I had to redo everything, I guess I would do it the exact same. I had to learn a lot of tough lessons," Haskins says of the nearly four and a half years since the robbery attempt. "For a guy like me, those do come pretty hard. But I'm happy with what I've learned and happy with the people in my life — and with the people who aren't in my life."
Being out of prison finally gives Haskins a clean slate — to an extent. "In a lot of ways, yeah. But in a lot of ways — I'm a fucking felon, man, so automatically that rules out a lot of shit," he says. He's "curious" about finding a steady job to augment his work as a musician and audio engineer, but knows that will be easier said than done with his criminal record. "I'd like to live a normal fucking life, but I don't know if that will ever be in the cards for me," he says.
"Normal" is a relative term for Haskins, for whom instinct, whether good or bad, has a way of taking over. When the show at Killer's gets started, it's the same old Haskins that his dozens of friends in attendance remember: During the very first song, he excitedly bum rushes one fan, whom he knocks into a nearby chair, sending the fan's beer sloshing out of the glass. Within minutes, Haskins has ripped off his black Ramones T-shirt and stripped down to his underwear, his ass crack sticking out as he sweatily crashes into everyone within reach.
Yet Haskins has been changed by his incarceration. "I've had some trouble going into big crowds. That sucks being a musician and being agoraphobic because that's the environment that I play in," he says. "I went to a Brave Combo show a couple weeks after I got out and I was sweating and so uncomfortable. I kept thinking that someone was going to stick a fucking shiv in my back."
Getting back to performing is crucial for Haskins, who feeds off the attention as much as he does from the thrill of playing music. "A couple months before I got out, I had Leah [McKinney, his girlfriend] start sending booking emails to book some shows and I remember being worried people wouldn't remember me," he says, echoing a recurring fear he voiced in interviews he did with the Dallas Observer last year. "I couldn't remember some of my friends' names because it's been so long."
Before he went to prison in September, he'd received letters of support and even had benefit concerts organized in his honor to help pay for his legal expenses. "I'm used to being treated special, I'm used to being treated different," he admits. "Like, 'Oh, he's weird. He's a musician.' So people always accommodate for that. It's just not that way [in prison]."
While serving time, Haskins did his best to keep writing — songs, poems, stories — but couldn't always get his reflections down, both due to a lack of pens or paper and a fear of being caught snitching about things he'd seen in prison. He says he sang Hank Williams' "Lonesome Whistle" repeatedly in his head, a song which he covers at Killer's.
Haskins also plays a new song that he wrote while in prison, "If I Was Your Dog," a self-lacerating reimagining of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" that ends with the line, "If I was your dog/You'd have to put me down."
One of the things that helped Haskins get through that past year was his relationship with McKinney, whom he had invited out on a date the night that he was arrested before his show at J&J's Pizza during 35 Denton. They'd dated once years before ("I fucked that up," he says) but weren't officially a couple until after his arrest. "I was shocked. I couldn't fucking believe she rode with me the whole way. I wasn't expecting it, even toward the end," he says. That support helped give him a different perspective: "Everything feels so heavy [in prison]. All you have is time to think. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I realized life's not that bad," he says.
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That Haskins has come to see himself in a different light, and maybe even learned some lessons, is one thing. Just what he'll do to act upon those revelations is another. "I'm trying not to be a drunk fucking asshole," he says. Dating back to his time in the military, prior to his attempted robbery, Haskins had been diagnosed as bipolar, but he says that's changed. "I just got a piece of paper from an MHMR saying that I have no clinical need for psychiatric drugs. I attribute that to buddhism and not being a drunk idiot," he says.
Once again, things get blurry here; there's something far-fetched about a newly zen Haskins finding his nirvana, not least because he's knocked back plenty of whiskey and water before he even starts performing at Killer's. Then again, while so much has changed around him in Denton since he was arrested — both J&J's basement venue and 35 Denton are casualties of the past 12 months — Haskins is still here taking punches.
"The only time I feel comfortable and know exactly what I'm doing is when I stick a microphone in front of my face," Haskins says. "I'm a lifer. I'm not going to ever stop playing music if can help it. There's no way."