Confessions of a “Social Alcoholic”

I busted my left shoulder recently and had to wear a sling for awhile. Blame it on two pints of beer at four-thirty in the afternoon in a nearby town. I made it to the bus in time, travelled for about half an hour and then fumbled for the keys to my suite. That”s when it hit me like a runaway semi. I rocketed back, hit something solid and banged myself up fairly good.

This, regrettably, is not my first experience in which alcohol and injury has been combined. I have always had a glass jaw for the stuff.

During my youth I worked for several years as an all-nite DJ at a country music station and over a period of time acquired a fanbase of local musicians. Those guys could drink what seemed to be gallons of the stuff and still behave themselves.I tried to keep up, only to land face down on the floor. (Ever get carpet burns on your forehead?)

Folks who visited my place were always surprised that there was no beer in my fridge. Truth is, I didn’t like to drink alone. But as has become an all too familiar story, I drank in social situations in order to cope.

I haven’t been consuming alcohol on a regular basis in the last few years. In fact, outside of meeting a buddy at the pub once in awhile, I don’t drink booze or smoke weed (a habit I managed to kick a number of years ago.)

But. apparently, it doesn’t take much.

So, anyway, that’s the name of that tune. Hopefully, I can stick to non-alcoholic beverages from now on — and write in this blog a little more often.










True Confessions of an All Nite Country DJ (Inspired By the Movie “Crazy Heart”)

"Could someone wake up Rick Dennis before his shift?"

For years Hollywood city slickers have been trying to exploit the deceptively large and wide demographic for whom country is more than just songs on the radio. It is a lifestyle and a passion.

Crazy Heart may be the first movie I’ve seen that  gets it right.

Now, I never claimed to be an authority on the subject.  I have never lived in Nashville or hung around the bars in Austin.

No, my opinion is based on five years of working the all night shift at a radio station in that hotbed of country music …. Victoria B.C.

Well, let me amend that remark. Cuz although CJVI-AM was based in Victoria the overwhelming majority of calls I got were from the satellite communities of the city … Langford, Colwood and Sooke, known better as the Western Communities or, as some city folks called it,  “Dogpatch.”

Okay, they may not have been as sophisticated in their cultural tastes as yer average Victorian but when it came to country music, they took things very seriously indeed.

And that’s where Crazy Heart gets it exactly right.

Jeff Bridges plays scruffy country music hasbeen Bad Blake  as a flesh and blood character rather than a caricature.

He sings songs that sound as if they could have been actual hits (rather than the mouthwash that spills all over most alleged country movie soundtracks.)

Better still, he sounds as if he wrote them. And, contrary to rumor, not all country songs are about trucks and trains and cheating love affairs.

“He played his last refrain/oh but the song will remain/Though he’s put his bow down and closed his case,” Bridges sings in one scene, “Open the gates/welcome him in/ ‘Cause there’s a brand new angel/with a old violin.”

Man, that’s deep. Singing in a gravelly weathered voice, Bridges finds the somber truth in the lyrics just as he locates the truth of the complex character he portrays.

It’s a marvelous, unaffected performance that fits comfortably on Bridges’ rumpled frame like a faded pair of jeans.

Yes, the people listening to Bad Blake in the humble venues in which he has been booked are mostly working class blue collar types but the movie never talks down to them. Cuz these folks possess a kind of innate wisdom that doesn’t translate into five dollar words.

I met more than a few of them. Cuz when my longtime live-in girlfriend left (that’s a whole other movie) I began to hang around with the folks who phoned me up on my radio show. And I started taking them up on their invitations.

Most of the bands played at small venues like the ones in the movie. And whether onstage or off we all enjoyed yourselves because we all liked the same kind of music and had the same understanding of what it was all about. 

I quickly learned that country folks are very forgiving. That’s why Bad could get away with the stuff he did. And that’s why George Jones kept getting bookings even at the height of his alcoholic misbehaviour.

And that’s another thing the movie gets right. The toxic allure of alcohol.

Bad seems to be imbibing most of the time on and off stage.

The country musicians I knew back in the day were heavy drinkers too.

Like Bad it never seemed to interfere with the show.

Unlike Bad they also knew when to stop.

Unfortunately, I didn’t. 

I guess I was what you could call a social alcoholic (to put it politely).

People always seemed to be surprised when they visited my place and didn’t find any booze in the fridge. Frankly, I didn’t like to drink alone.

But take me along to a country music festival, Saturday afternoon jam session, house party or club gig and I couldn’t stop.

Unlike Bad, I had a glass jaw when it came to the stuff. Two drinks and I was funny and charming for fifteen minutes. Then came several hours of slurred speech and intermittently idiotic behaviour.

Like Bad, I eventually realized the toll this was taking on my friends and  my life and I stopped for good.

Still listen to country music though. In fact, I like the way film producer and music co-ordinator T-Bone Burnett put the soundtrack together.

Burnett mixes c&w classics by artists like Buck Owens and Louvin Brothers with newer material by rising star Ryan Bingham and the late Stephen Bruton.

The soundtrack also has a sample from Waylon Jennings’ outlaw anthem “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”.

A lyric snippet from Texas native Billy Joe Shaver has a key role in the dialogue of one scene.

Burnett uses the original version of  Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” rather than the better known cover by Nashville vets Emmylou Harris and Don Williams.

Yeah, I figure Crazy Heart gets it right.

To see how you can get it wrong, rent Country Strong. It takes more than custom tailored country outfits, dropping the names of a few country music greats and putting Tim McGraw in a supporting role to make a movie “country.”  The whole idea of the character played by Colin Farrell in “Crazy Heart” is to show how country music has changed in the era of Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and other arena country acts who seem to have lost the earthy roots and true country spirit exemplified (for better or for worse) by Bad Blake.

"Are You Sure Pete Done It This Way?" Jeff Bridges to "Crazy Heart" co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal (Mrs. Peter Sarsgaard in real life)

This article goes out to Orville Henry, Terry Murray and the late great Norm Watson