13 Photographs

Slim the Drifter @ Vinos, Little Rock, Arkansas
My camera wasn’t the only thing out of sync that night

I like my town with a little drop of poison
Nobody knows they’re lining up to go insane
I’m all alone, I smoke my friends down to the filter
But I feel much cleaner after it rains

And she left in the fall, that’s her picture on the wall
She always had that little drop of poison

“Little Drop Of Poison”
(Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan 1997)

When Scott called me in February of 1997 and told me that he was ready to get out of Bakersfield and try a new start, I knew that things probably weren’t that cut and dried. It wasn’t the first, nor the last, time he tried to put it behind him. When he went to Los Angeles (multiple times, in multiple years), as he told the tale, “He told them he was from Bakersfield a couple of hundred times.” It is hard for anyone who has done time in the place to put it aside; the dirt doesn’t wash off in the rain. And by 1997, he had certainly smoked most of his friends down to the filter. Even Falling James had cut him loose.

There was a girl (isn’t there always?) after Mary who lived somewhere near Shafter or McFarland who had broken Scott’s heart, and he’d decided that he just had to get out of town. My ex-wife and I had split up and left California, just before Scott and Mary split up. Our break was amicable, and we both offered to give Scott a place to stay if he came our way.

As far as I know, he drove down I-40 (Route 66) until he got to Amarillo, as most Okies do, but he forked off to go to Austin, Texas. I don’t think he really loitered there long, but he stayed long enough to play some open mike nights. Then he headed up to Little Rock, Arkansas. He got a ticket the moment he crossed the border into Arkansas for expired tags, so when he got to my house he just parked the car. I drove him down to Benton to visit my girlfriend where he played an impromptu show in her basement , and then up to my ex-wife’s apartment so he could get settled in for a while.

A week or two later, she was noticeably upset. While she enjoyed his company, he seemed to be on the phone to California constantly, although she had told him not to run up the bill. He tried half-heartedly to make some local connections; I hooked him up with a friend of mine, Dan Limke, with the hopes he could find a project to work on. Dan recorded three songs Scott wrote while he was on the road, playing slide while Scott sang in his weary voice.

The first song was “Delilah”, written about the aforementioned girl, the second song was another Bakersfield heartache called “Nothing’s Changed,” and the final song they ran through was “Huntsville.” Huntsville was based on a guy he met in Austin who had just gotten out of prison there; Scott felt like he was getting out of prison taking this trip.

Scott started staying with me, and I tried to convince him that he had to get past the romantic idea of changing in order to make a serious change; change is work. Scott became really familiar with the liquor store down the street, and continued his phone abuse at my apartment. We were drinking one night when an ice storm hit town. Scott wanted to visit Graceland, and I told him that driving to Memphis in a southern ice storm was pretty much out of the question. In fact, even walking to the liquor store was probably a bad idea. He didn’t believe me. Sometime around 1 a.m. we had words, and he hit the road. I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to a phone call from Scott. He made it as far as a Waffle House in North Little Rock. The roads were basically impassable, and he was lost and stuck. I drove on the empty icy roads (most southerners have the sense to stay in) to rescue him and let him follow me back.

Shortly afterward, he called his father for the money for a bus ticket home. I drove him to the station, a little sad because I felt like things hadn’t worked out. He promised send money for the phone bills, and Karen was really concerned about that. Her bill, which arrived just before he left, was around $250. My bill, which showed up later, was about $175. Coincidentally, on March 1st fifteen tornados struck Arkansas.

Scott called right after he got back to check on the amount of the bills; he sent $200 which he no doubt borrowed from someone else. I gave it to Karen. I gave his car to a guy I worked with; without a title I couldn’t sell it. He was excited by the bus ride home. He had traveled across the U.S./Mexico border through the bottom of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. He was so excited about what he saw—“The pictures man, you’ve got to take the pictures!” We plotted to travel through there together but we never did. He called a month or so later, telling me about his habit of overdosing; I went back to college (after a 20 year hiatus) that fall.

Besides the songs, the main evidence I have of that visit is thirteen photographs, no more and no less. It seems fitting.

*Dave Wulfekuehler wrote a long thoughtful comment about the tribute concert, and after speaking to Debbie Sturtevant on the phone today I can report that there is a final testament CD in the works featuring music spanning his career. It will be a while though. As I mentioned before, there will also be a tribute site when Rex, myself and others get things sorted out.

2 thoughts on “13 Photographs”

  1. Very thoughtful. This was very much the Scott I remember. And of course, excellent photos. Did Scott ever show you any of his pics? Did he keep any of that work? Before he picked up a guitar, he was an exceptional photographer.

  2. Punky

    Punky Meadows, lead guitarist for Angel Marvin asked me if Scott every showed me any of his pictures. The answer to that is a little weird. Yes and no. He showed me some work he did for local music rags,…

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