Thursday, January 14, 2010

Billy Joe Shaver

I've been trying for years to convince people that Billy Joe Shaver is the Real Deal. All of the rest, Willie, Waylon, Kris, are pretenders. I spent my younger years waiting for the next LP to see how B.J. was doing, like waiting for a blog entry. I ain't converted even one person my knowledge. Once in a while I stumble onto someone who gets it. This is from The Selvedge Yard, a quirky photo based blog. Truthfully, I'm not certain that he gets it either. B.J's songs are not just songs, they are a diary, a journal of his life.

From Billy Joe Shaver’s “Honky Tonk Hero: An Autobiography”–

I was not even born yet when my father first tried to kill me.

It was June and the evening light had started to fade, but it was still hotter than nine kinds of hell. We were outside of Corsicana, a little cotton town in northeast Texas, and I was in my mother’s belly, two months from entering the world.

Buddy Shaver was convinced that my mother, Victory, was cheating on him. That was bullshit, and he probably knew it. But he’d been drinking. My father was half-French, half-Blackfoot Sioux, and one-hundred-percent mean. He drank a lot, and the booze didn’t mix well with his Indian blood. You know there are some guys who are just born naturally strong, with big shoulders and a chiseled upper body even though they never work a lick at it? That was my father, and my mother didn’t have a chance.

It’s just a story I’ve heard, told by family members who don’t enjoy the retelling. But I can see it as clearly as if I was there. They were standing next to a small stock tank with black, still water. It was the middle of nowhere, with no roads or houses in sight. Who knows what he told her to get her out there, or whether she knew what was coming when they stopped there? He held nothing back, yet his cold gray eyes showed no emotion as he beat her within an inch of her life. When she was down, he stomped her with his cowboy boots until she stopped struggling. Then he tossed her limp body into the water like a sack of potatoes. Years later, when I was a grown man, my momma couldn’t stand to be around me when I wore cowboy boots— she never could forget what they did to her that night.

Momma laid there for hours until an old Mexican man showed up to water his cattle. Even though he knew my kinfolk pretty well, he didn’t recognize her at first. He thought she was dead. But she spoke to him through the bruises and the blood, and he threw her over the back of his horse and carried her home.

The violence of that night set the stage for my childhood: It’s the reason my father left, it’s the reason my mother didn’t want me, and it’s the reason I went to live with my loving grandmother. In many ways, I think that night is the reason I write country songs.

I hope this happy little ditty, backed up by his son, the late Eddy Shaver, helps make Billy Joe's life make sense. It seems important to me.

The evening sun is sinking, moving homeward

As darkened shadows claim the fight they won

With upturned eyes closed from the light of darkness

And two crossed hands that raised another's son

Gone, oh gone the one who really loved me

For what I was not what I ought to be

Who never questioned falling leaves in autumn

Nor silver nests built on a dying tree

In gingham gown she warmed me from the coldness

The winter nights seemed warm as summertime

Another love will never touch as deeply

As love that flew on silver wings of time

On pension for the aged she raised a young man

Who learned the love of God and other things

Now, love he knew that twelve times warmed his winter

Has flown away on time's bright silver wings


Anonymous said...

What the hell are you talking about. I was a believer from the beginning. I even stole his title for my first unpublished novel--Ride Me Down Easy. I will say that you turned me on to him; I didn't find him on my own. Dex

Gunnar Berg said...

Never mind.