remembering Davey g. johnson
I had just started my new job and was googling something on the web, enthusiastic to be putting my writing skills to work for my new employer, but my hands froze on the keyboard and my blood ran cold when I saw the headlines pop up: a local automotive journalist had gone missing. Clicking on the banner, I was stunned to read that the missing journalist was Davey G. Johnson, a one-time editor of Gearhead Magazine.
I read with shock and numbness the details of his disappearance. Traveling back to Sacramento after taking a bike out on a test drive for an article he was writing, he was just a few hours from home when he stopped at the side of the road, apparently to rest and take a quick dip in the snow-fed river that wound through the mountain pass he was traveling on. There were pictures of his last text to his girlfriend and a photo he had texted of himself to a buddy; he is bare-chested sitting down.
The authorities had found his motorcycle parked purposefully, with his helmet and gloves balanced on the seat. Further away, his laptop, phone, some clothes, and his backpack rested on the shore. Search teams and sniffer dogs scoured the area over the next 10 days looking for traces of Davey, always leading back to the river’s edge. Late in the day June 20, 2019, they found his body, washed downstream in a local reservoir ending the worry and anxiety that had gripped our close-knit community of automotive and lifestyle journalists for almost two weeks. Accidental drowning is the believed cause of death, but there were few clues about what happened to a man who spent his life on the road.
Shock, disbelief, and a deep sadness filled my heart. And yes, anger. Anger flooded my body as quick as molten lava in the next split second because he grew up in an area where late spring snowmelt turns rivers and lakes into surging death traps; he should have known better! I was angry at him for leaving his new fiancé alone to struggle with the unanswered questions, never knowing for certain what happened.
It had been many years since Davey and I spoke. We were once so close as we worked together on Gearhead issues #12, #13, and #14 in the early 2000s with Davey sporting the editor's cap and me supporting him as owner/publisher. Being close to fifteen years older than he, our relationship was more that of big sister and little brother than that of editor and publisher.
His giddy joy at being tapped to head up Gearhead bubbled out of his body like so much foamy beer poured too fast in a warm glass. He was ecstatic, ebullient, literally bouncing with joy and enthusiasm at the opportunity that landed at his feet.
But on the flip side, like the two sides of a tarnished coin, he was also crushed with heartache and struggling with depression and despair, lacking confidence and consumed with grief from having just been dumped by a girl he thought he would share his life with.
We spent many hours together in person and on the phone; me encouraging him to focus on his work as therapy and healing, and he wallowing in heartache. Flipping back and forth between gratitude for his new position and despair at ever finding a partner to share his life with, he proceeded to produce three of the best issues in the Gearhead library.
His style of writing was just like his style of living: a mash-up of punk rock attitude and clear-cut automotive authority. Snarky and pointed at times, but also sweet and complimentary, I was amazed at his ability to mix these various attitudes and write with such a clear personal voice that it felt like he was there talking to you.
After those three issues, Davey stepped down, handing back the editor hat to my former partner, claiming it was just too much responsibility and too overwhelming to continue. He was so dedicated; he threw his whole heart and soul into his work. But he was also deeply self-critical.
He worried he wasn’t living up to our expectations, but I encouraged him to keep going, but he declined and went back to freelancing, doing what he loved; prodding and poking and being free to work when he chose, with no rails closing him in.
He moved on to write for many well-known publications and we lost touch. I had reached out several times over the intervening years but was met with silence from the other end. I don’t know why, but I never stopped being proud when I read one of his amazing articles, his voice shining out loud and clear, that giddy little kid thrilling in the ability to shock people with his punk rock references and then pulling them in with his stunning automotive knowledge.
Mixed emotions still tumble around in the pit of my stomach like river rocks being tossed by a violent current. Right after his death was announced many tributes that flooded the Internet honoring this incredibly complex man; some beautiful, some thoughtful, all impressed with his knowledge and style. It has been a year since his passing and I am still struggling to put words to what I am feeling. I wasn’t sure I had the right to pay tribute to him. But throughout this year, I’ve thought a lot about how much his life and death impacted my life.
.These memories will forever be frozen in time. We will never have the chance to reconnect, and I will never have the chance to tell him how proud of him I am, and how happy I am to see he finally found the love of his life.
As I write, I wonder, do I have a right to mourn someone who no longer was a part of my life? The tears well up and spill down my cheeks when I think of his deep yearning for love and companionship and I ache for the woman he left behind. Even now, one year later, I struggle with this bitter twisted mix of anger and sadness, numbness, and grief. His giddy giggle haunts my dreams now.
What happened? Why did we stop talking? I don’t know. When my former partner in Gearhead and I split up, deep gaping crevices in both our business and personal relationships appeared. It’s like a divorce you know? Once a couple splits up, friends inevitably take sides. I don’t know if that caused our drifting apart but it could be. I will never know.
We use to talk deeply and personally about our heartaches and shared experiences of longing for love only to have those hopes and dreams smashed to the ground by betrayal or apathy. We didn’t talk about cars much; music was our shared language of pain and grief, hope and excitement, and joy.
He touched my life at a pivotal moment in time when I was struggling after my divorce to find my voice and authenticity and to define myself separately from the looming shadow of my business partner. Davey helped me find my voice as he searched for his. He gave me the freedom to dig deep into my soul and share the language of passion as it related to our silly little punk rock hot rod world of Gearhead. His voice gave me the courage and confidence to write with my voice.
When I wanted to write about Dwight Yoakum, he encouraged me, even though country music at that time was far from cool. He urged me to explore it because it mattered to me. That is what I most remember and mourn now as I think about Davey.
He was fearless in exploring his overlapping passions, mixing them into the same article with such authenticity and sincerity that it left those reading his words laughing and shaking their heads in amusement. I wonder if he knew how much he was admired, and how inspiring he was.
This morning, I crawled up in the hot dusty attic looking for the old cardboard box of Gearhead press clippings I have saved over the years. I have a vivid memory of a story Davey did for Drive magazine back in 2002, when he sweet-talked the manufacturers into letting him take a Prowler on the road to Texas to be part of Gearhead’s first US Gearfest in Austin, TX.
Somehow he was able to write an article about The Prowler in the context of the festival and the story went to print with a mix of punk rock mayhem combined with the technical savvy using Gearhead bands and Gearfest as the backdrop for the story.
I haven’t opened up that box since I taped it shut with clear cellophane packing tape years ago as if I was taping up old cherished love letters. I knew this treasure trove was there, just waiting for the right time for me to feel safe enough to dig through the faded ink and weathered paper; to allow my heart to celebrate the events and people long gone from my life, not by death but through attrition or the desire to move in a different direction in one’s life.
As I dug through the dusty files my heart leaped every time I found a new article I had forgotten about. It was a walk down memory lane, and one of deep validation.
But I didn’t’ find the article I was looking for. I have such a vivid memory of seeing that article; I recall there’s even a picture of Davey and me with the Prowler. Why didn’t I save that? It seems like something I would have kept and cherished as it involved a moment in time that was so pivotal for me.
Mostly though, I just wanted to re-read Davey’s words and see how he managed to meld Gearfest with a review of the Prowler. I'm sure it was cheeky and irreverent but relevant to the reason he was loaned the car in the first place. I reached out to Drive Magazine, but it is under new ownership and they had destroyed all the old files.
Maybe not finding that article is just as well. It is a symbol of a time long forgotten, of relationships turned to dust, of music and friendship and bombastic coolness wrapped around faded memories like a rich piece of smoky bacon wrapped around chicken and grilled to perfection; delicious, satisfying and stored in the memory banks to be savored in leaner times.
I tug at these memories and find peace and stillness in my heart. Even if I can't find that old article, I have the words he wrote for Gearhead right in front of me, and they help soothe the grief. We dreamed and manifested something tangible; a testament and validation of the joy and authenticity once felt while collaborating creatively on a passion project. His spirit and energy are embedded in his writing and his voice will live on forever, rooted in black ink on thick white book stock. I can read those words and feel close to him still; love, pride, and surrender fill in where tears and grief once lived. As I grieve Davey, I also grieve those long-forgotten experiences and how different everything is now.
Davey allowed me to deep dive inside my soul. So many people reminisced about his contributions to the world of automotive journalism, but that was only the periphery of how deeply he touched my life. It was the open door but not the interior.
He died a happy man, doing what he loved to do, with a wonderful loving partner waiting for him at home. He left this world having achieved what he yearned for all those years ago.
As you crossed that rainbow bridge, I hope you found D. Boone and the other rock and roll angels you admired and were inspired by waiting for you. I hope you know how much you inspired those around you, and what an incredible impact your life had on those of us left behind.
Thank you for your passion and fearless approach to life. Thank you for giving me the courage to write with my voice. The Spark Plug shirt you designed for Gearhead says it all: Rock. Davey G. Johnson, you Rocked.
Beth Hood 8/3/83- 4/13/20
My heart is heavy as I continue to process the sad news that yet another friend has died. Beth Hood passed away this last week and the news has just devastated me. She was bright, fun, smart, and passionate. How could she be gone? She was a mama first and foremost, and an artist and musician secondly. She was also voted Ms. Gearhead 2016/17 and it is in this capacity that we got to know each other. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and this sad news was all just a bad dream. Someone so alive and vibrant could not be gone; it just doesn’t seem real.
I created the Ms. Gearhead contest because I was sick of women being treated as eye candy in the hot rod world. I wanted to celebrate the qualities women brought to our community and Beth had those qualities in spades. Smart, outspoken and fiercely committed to giving back to her community, she embodied strength, courage, resiliency and fortitude. As a single mom raising two little boys, she taught them by example. Helping them to embrace their own passions, she explored art as well as sports with her kids. Her dream was to one day open an art school for children, hoping to help kids find their own creative voice as she had.
Sure, she was gorgeous. But it was that inner spark that shone bright through her eyes and laughter. She savored life and all it had to offer and lived it out loud, exuberant, passionate and creative in all she did. She became the Gearhead brand ambassador, wearing her Ms. Gearhead crown proudly to car shows and punk shows, posing for pictures and talking to customers but above all, being deeply true to her own person every single moment.
I am blessed and grateful to have known and worked with her these last few years and deeply saddened that this bright vivacious light is gone from this earth. You now grace the heavens with the brilliance of a shooting star Beth. You will be missed each and every day.
Read Beth’s interview here. Proceeds from the sale of the remaining posters will go to the Go Fund Me account set up for her boys.
Happy Memorial day
RIP Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist
It was a cold wet winter day and I was feeling a little down. Not depressed, just not real motivated. Then I got the call from my boyfriend. He had just heard from a Facebook friend that Hellacopters guitarist Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist had died.
I couldn’t believe it. How could such a talented young man with so much ahead of him be dead? He was only 40, with plans for a new record and touring shaping this New Year. After confirming the truth of this rumor, I sat back and put on one of the two records I worked on with the band, High Visibility, and let my mind wander back to fifteen years ago first meeting Robert.
It’s pretty crazy when you’re working on a record. There are a lot of parts to manage, from the masters to the artwork. Usually there are one or two band members who one works with closely to get all the details sorted out and the record finished. Since I was working out most of these details while the band was in Sweden, I mostly communicated with their manager Patrick and drummer Robert via phone and email.
When the band arrived in town April 2002 to start their US tour promoting High Visibility, I was a little tongue-tied. I’d seen the band play once before, I think it was 1998, but had never officially met them or spent time with them prior to putting out the record. I was always one of those shy types, never feeling comfortable enough to talk to the bands I admired from a distance. They were cool for goodness sake, and I was just a geek who dug their music. I had to get over that for this tour though because I was handling all the distribution, sales and merch for the band and the tour, not to mention the production of their record. Talking to them and getting to know because I was the head of their record label was a must.
Much as myself, Strings was also shy, reserved and quiet. He hung in the background mostly talking in Swedish with his band mates. We chatted a little but I was never able to overcome my own shyness to really open up with him, and consequently, never really got to know him like I did Kenny, Robert or Nicke.
But that reserve disappeared when Strings got on stage. If I had super x ray vision, I would swear there were lightning bolts sparking off his fingertips when he played. He was focused and technically superior, but rocked with a passion and love that could color the notes flying out of his guitar with a fury and aggression that pushed the band to play harder and faster.
It strikes me as somewhat prescient that the band all have wings barely visible sprouting from their backs on the cover of High Visibility. I don’t know whose idea this was.
When they played they were in synch with a higher power, channeling passion and love and companionship through their music. Strings added a touch of American muscle to the band and on that recording, taking their sound into a more 70s classic rock approach, channeling the bands he loved like Kiss, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones into his playing and making their world his own.
I don’t know what happened to him. After the Hellacopters moved on to a new label, I had no further reason to be in touch constantly.
He was such a beautiful passionate young man in his prime, giving the world his love through his music.
My heart hangs heavy, my soul weeps for the loss of this brilliant child of the universe. I know his former band mates and the people who loved him are struggling to put their pain into context. For me, I celebrate the brief time we connected by listening to the records, sifting through the posters and sharing the few pictures I still have. I wish him Godspeed on this journey to the afterlife. Those airbrushed wings from the record cover are now real. I’m certain he is connecting with the rock and roll greats who left this earth before him, rocking the heavens with his glorious sounds.
Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist 4/16/76 – 2/3/17
I Am Jan Brady
I grew up feeling like Jan Brady. I was the middle child with 3 beautiful sisters and 3 handsome brothers. I had long blonde hair hanging to the middle of my back. I wore gray cat-eye glasses and was always saying or doing the wrong thing. I was also painfully shy, very introverted and always had my nose buried in a book. My dad called me stubborn and my mother called me “wild flower.” I never felt like I belonged to this family; for a while I was sure I was adopted and my siblings took full advantage of that fact and teased me mercilessly. After all, I had golden blonde hair (but not like my mother!) and all my siblings had lustrous dark hair. I was the alien outsider, always out of step with the rest of the family.
When the popular TV series The Brady Bunch was on TV in the early 70s, I watched it obsessively, looking for clues about how to relate. My mom was a first-generation American Sicilian vivacious stay at home mom, once in the theater, now acting the part of a lifetime as the matriarch of this clan of 7. My dad was an Austrian-born brilliant scientist who single-handedly saved the US brewing industry by developing hop varieties that produced more and were resistant to a strain of fungus that was destroying hop plants around the world.
I aspired to have a life like the Brady’s’ where my parents would take me aside and gently ask me what was wrong. I yearned for a mom like Carol Brady, who intuitively knew how to say the right thing, and help me sort through my feelings of anger, jealousy, and weirdness. But the reality was, with 7 kids, there was never any time to do that. You just have to hope your kids figure it out and find a way to make the best of whatever situation was tormenting them at the time.
Jan’s cry of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” in response to the attention her beautiful sister always got struck a matching chord of frustration so deep in my soul that even today, when I hear people chant that phrase, I laugh weakly and get chills all over my body. No one can understand how painful it is to feel invisible unless you’ve experienced it.
In one episode, Greg Brady became a rock star, and a light went on. Rock and roll was a way to stand out, be noticed and be cool. I started listening to my records all the time, wearing floppy hats and sunglasses and bell-bottom jeans that were flared out with shocking orange and purple paisley silky material. I felt hip, I was cool, and I looked like a rock star.
I learned to embrace my weirdness, my freakish otherness that the rest of my siblings never struggled with. I learned to make it a part of who I was, to enjoy standing out in a sea of conformity. Punk rock and the underground lowbrow world of hot rods, art and music became my family. It didn’t matter that I didn’t look like everyone else. That was the whole point. It was ok to be different. In fact the weirder you were, the cooler you were.
The passing of Florence Henderson, the actress who played Carol Brady, several weeks ago triggered a moment of mourning, as if my own parent had passed. I deeply love and respect my parents, but Carol Brady was the mom I longed for as a child. I see now that my own mother accepted me for who I was, and was happy to help me express myself. She sewed the clothes I wanted and supported my struggle to find my creative voice by signing me up for art and music lessons, no questions asked. I will always be grateful for that support.
When I was in college, a record by an all-girl band called The Lunachicks caught my attention. I played their hit Jan Brady every chance I got, an inner knowingness that I had found kindred spirits in this raggedy group of girls empowering me every time I played the song on my radio show. I longed to tell them how much that song inspired me, but was too shy to track them down and tell them. Maybe someday I’ll get that chance.
Jan eventually learned to love her “otherness” just as I did in real life. Embracing your uniqueness is what gives art, music and hot rods that special something no one else can; your own voice, your own perspective.
Live Fast and Be Weird! It’s the key to enjoying life.
Remembering Norton Records' Billy Miller
The world of independent music darkened a little bit more Nov 6, 2016 with the death of Norton Records head honcho Billy Miller. To say the secret caverns of garage punk, rockabilly and r & b have lost a shining light would be an understatement.
His infectious grin and manic passion for raw, wild undiluted rock and roll will live on with the hundreds of records he ushered into existence. Because we mined much of the same earth for raw heart on your sleeve punk and garage music, our paths crossed many times over the years.
His curly brown mop of hang hung above twinkly eyes as he gave me a hug and greeted me each time we met, happy to connect with a fellow music freak.
I was always a little tongue-tied around Billy and his lovely wife Miriam, a former drummer for one of my favorite bands, The Cramps. They were my heroes. It was through Norton that my mind was first blown by some of my other favorite bands: The Real Kids, Bobby Fuller, The Sonics, Link Wray, and the awesome compilations of garage punk from the early 60s.
These were the records that lit the passion for raw crazy-wild rock and roll bubbling through my veins back in the mid-80s when I was first dipping my toe into the sludgy garage-punk underground.
In 2001 I was hired by Valley Music/DNA Distribution to set up an independent distribution branch called Emerge Distribution. The company was looking for independent labels to distribute and I excitedly went to bat for Norton Records, lobbying my bosses to bring them on for distribution. At that time, this sort of music was still ridiculously underground, not heard yet on the airwaves and really only supported by in-the-know mom and pop records stores and music geeks. But the marketplace was catching on and sales of “indie” records were skyrocketing as the mainstream started to discover the secret world of DIY rock and roll.
Billy and Miriam were humble, delighted that I thought their label deserved to be supported and promoted alongside other better-known labels such as Bear Family and Sugarhill. At that time, I was a firm believer in the “bigger is better” distribution model and I knew I could help spread the gospel of Norton Records with the vast resources that I had at my fingertips.
Much to my horror, just nine short months later, 9-11 came crashing into the comfy world of record sales and shortly later the parent company of Emerge, Valley Music, filed for bankruptcy, stiffing labels big and small for thousands of dollars and records.
I frantically called the labels I was responsible for bringing into the fold, trying to give them a heads up before it all got rolled into the bankruptcy. I felt horrible, but Billy and Miriam were gracious and supportive and never blamed me for what happened.
My own label Gearhead was also mixed up in the mess and they were empathetic and encouraging that everything would work out, despite my utter devastation at the shocking turn of events. They lost thousands of dollars and inventory but never held it against me, instead grateful that I helped shine the spotlight on the emerging marketplace for garage and punk rock.
Billy, Miriam and Norton Records soldiered on, despite numerous set-backs over teh years, saving many musicians and amazing tracks from obscurity by steadfastly and passionately documenting the raw and wild side of music. Billy was The General in the war to save rock and roll from the bland insipid side of the music industry. I was happily part of the infantry, supporting his vision by playing those records on independent radio shows and writing about them in DIY fanzines.
Few in the corporate towers knew his name but to those of us in the trenches, he was a hero, digging one obscure gem after another out of the dusty recesses of anonymity.
My heart goes out to Miriam. I have no doubt she will continue the legacy she and Billy started back in 1986. They were an unstoppable team of passionate music collectors and revivalists. My heart is broken with the news of his passing but the music Billy championed will live on one record at a time, spinning round and round feeding my soul, inspiring me to keep going on my own journey of documenting and recording the sounds and words that ignite my soul with excitement.
Rock on Billy; host an endless dance-party in the heavens with the fellow musicians and record enthusiasts who have gone before you. Make the heavens shake with that wild foot stompin’ rock and roll you loved so well.
Jan. 1, 1954- Nov. 6, 2016
RIP Gene Wilder
As a child, I was painfully shy. I had several close friends but relied mostly on my brothers and sisters for playmates. We had fabulous imaginary forts and tree houses and romps in the woods. We rode our bikes and played pirates and cowboys and Indians and all sorts of fantasy games inspired by TV shows on the air at the time such as I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched.
I also spent hours with my nose buried in books, sometimes reading 4 or 5 books a week. One of my favorites was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, followed by Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
When the story made its TV debut in 1975, I was eleven years old. I had a vivid, colorful imagination, encouraged by my mother and the playtime with my siblings, but nothing prepared me for seeing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in living color. It blew my mind in a way nothing up to that point had, except maybe The Wizard of Oz. To see the strange and curious Willy Wonka come to life I could imagine him no other way except as actor Gene Wilder played him in the weird and wonderful show.
As I became a teenager, Gene Wilder movies figured prominently. It gradually dawned on me that being weird, funny and a little off was OK, and in fact, maybe a desirable thing. Which was good because I was definitely a weird kid.
Young Frankenstein became a favorite movie in my family. We’d laugh hysterically repeating lines from that movie like “Werewolf! There wolf!” I sought out the movies Gene Wilder starred in because I knew they would make me laugh.
It was inspiring to me that this pop-eyed, frizzed haired zany man was a movie star. He wasn’t cast for his looks, but for his personality. His humor wasn’t forced, and he didn’t rely on profanity. He was truly a silly funny guy who made his quirky personal style the basis for laughter. I always felt better after I watched one of his movies: it gave me hope that, as different as I was from my siblings and friends, it would be ok. The taunt of “you’re weird” didn’t hurt so much.
His relationship with the unconventional Gilda Radner was also inspiring, proving there was a special someone out there for everyone.
The remarkable impact Gene Wilder had on pop culture cannot be emphasized enough, and I am so sad to hear of his passing. The world has lost a man who made us laugh but more importantly gave all us weirdoes permission to be goofy and unconventional. RIP Gene Wilder, your laughter, light and quirkiness will be deeply missed.
(6/11/33 - 8/29/16)
I never really got why people cried when someone famous died. It’s not as if they knew them. Why all the hysterics? But when I heard the news of Guy Clark’s passing, I found myself deeply mourning and grieving this loss. I felt like a friend had died and left a hole in my heart. All I could do was listen to his music and let the tears flow. This was a person who’s art touched me deeply, and whose songs felt as if they were my songs. I gave in to the sadness and mourned in the way I knew best: driving down a country road and listening to the music that filled my life for so many years. It has been almost a week now and while the tears have lessened, the emotions I feel while listening to his music have deepened. The well-loved lyrics seem to have new meaning now.
The Cape by Guy Clark
Now, he's old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
And he's still jumpin' off the garage and will be till he's dead
All these years the people said, he was actin' like a kid
He did not know he could not fly and so he did
Well, he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
My love affair with Guy Clark’s music began when I was just a teenager. I was hanging out with a group of friends who were really into The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Kinks and other 60s groups, but they also really dug the country and folk scene too, music from Emmylou Harris, Kate Wolf, Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark.
I was just getting ready to head out to the desert for my first class at Malheur Field Station where I would study the Survival Skills of the Primitive Paiutes with Jim Riggs, a do-it-yourselfer who had put together this class teaching kids like me how to live off the land the way the native Americans had for centuries.
I was studying cultural anthropology at Oregon State University, so the class made perfect sense. To help pay for it, I got a gig being a kitchen assistant for the following session, helping to prepare meals for the nearly fifty students who would be taking other classes from ornithology to bird watching and geology.
At eighteen, I was fearless, ready to try anything and go anywhere I could get myself, and a summer spent in the middle of the Oregon desert was just the adventure I was looking for.
As we packed up our belongings from the house we shared, music blared from the boom box, including Guy Clark’s Old No. 1. The lyrics to the song L.A. Freeway hit me deep in my gut with hope, excitement and a little sadness:
Pack up all your dishes.
Make note of all good wishes.
Say goodbye to the landlord for me.
That son of a bitch has always bored me.
Throw out them LA papers
and that moldy box of vanilla wafers.
Adios to all this concrete.
Gonna get me some dirt road back street
Fast forward to 1992 0r 1993, I can’t remember exactly when. I had moved to San Francisco in 1990, and was a devoted fan of all things garage and punk rock. I worked in a record store and wrote and DJ’d for Maximum Rock n’ Roll. But my country and bluegrass roots never left me and I got a lot of shit for listening to Guy Clark, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons and Hank Williams during my shifts at the record store. When I found out my hero Guy was playing the Great American Music Hall, I jumped at the chance to see him and got there early so I could get a good spot.
The opening band was a young duo, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I was mesmerized by their haunting harmonies and raw lyrics. They reminded me of John Doe and Exene Cervenka from my favorite punk band X, but they were pure Americana. After their set, I tracked down Gillian and asked her where I could buy her record. She just laughed and in a soft voice with a hint of a drawl said she was working on it, and maybe in the next year or two it would be ready. Guy Clark did the world a big favor bringing this unknown artist on tour. Their music would go on to attract millions of fans when that first record Revival came out in 1996.
Then Guy took the stage and I was transported back into a world of hard living, open spaces and following your heart. Songs about life, heartache, bad decisions, faith and good food filled the hall for the next hour or so. I left that show further enamored with his music and vowed not to let my negative punk rock friends sway me from listening to the music that touched my heart.
Fast forward another several years, to 1995 or 96. Guy Clark was coming back to the Great American Music Hall and this time I had a partner in crime join me. My friend Cathy and her boyfriend Andrew were both fans so we went and had the amazing pleasure of going back stage afterwards with Guy. Andrew had toured with him as a roadie, so he was the one who finagled us back stage. Rambling Jack Elliot opened the show and they were both hanging out at a shaky wooden table telling stories, sipping off a bottle of Stoli, and just letting loose. I was a little in awe. There I was hanging out with these legends, and let me tell you, they don’t call Rambling Jack that because he moves around a lot. That man can talk! And he and Guy clearly dug each other’s company shooting the shit, laughing, drinking and swapping stories. Two hard-living guys, credited with creating the outlaw country genre, just hanging out. I was transported to another world.
After a couple of hours, it was time to head out. Guy very sheepishly asked if anyone could give him a ride to his hotel. I was the only one with a car, and of course I jumped at the chance to assist this artist who had given me so much pleasure that night. I neglected to tell him that it was a tiny 2-door Toyota Tercel.
When I pulled up in front of the venue, Guy just looked at my tiny silver car with a wry smile on his face. He’s a big man, well over six feet. I apologized for the size but he was so gracious, he thanked me profusely for helping him out. I opened the door and flipped the seat back so he could stow his guitar in the back seat, then stood mortified as he folded his massive frame into an accordion to fit into my tiny car.
We drove those ten city blocks making small talk, all the while I was freaking out inside, “Oh My Gosh, I have Guy Clark in my car!!” When we got to the hotel, he unfolded himself and I helped get his guitar out of the car. We shook hands and he thanked me again for the lift and for coming to see him play.
I headed home that night, knowing the only people who would be as thrilled as I was were my friends Cathy and Andrew. None of my other punk rock friends would get that I just had a legend in my car.
Fast-forward to 1999, my first time in Austin, TX for SXSW. I tracked down one of the spots he sang about. South by Southwest was still a relatively small festival in 1999, and I had gone by myself to check it out and see some of my favorite bands play: The Derailers, The Dragons, Steve Earle and The Briefs.
I was determined to find the Texas Chili Parlor bar Guy sings about in Dublin Blues:
Well I wished I was in Austin, hmm,
In the Chili Parlor Bar
Drinkin' Mad Dog Margaritas and not carin' where you are
I headed out of the heart of SXSW, 6th St and Red River on foot, with a vague sense of where I was going. This was before Google Maps and Siri and I asked people I passed on the street for directions. Some had never heard of the place, but those who did looked at me with a knowing smile and asked me if I was a Guy Clark fan.
When I got there after walking for almost 40 minutes in the muggy Texas heat the first thing I did was order a Mad Dog Margarita and a chiliburger. Everyone there knew that song, so that fact that yet another tourist had found this secret hideaway because of Guy wasn’t big news.
Guy’s music is so much a soundtrack to my life; it’s hard to separate the events and emotions from the music. I only met the man once but his songs painted such clear pictures in my mind of people with worn and lined faces, scrabbling a living from an earth parched and dusty, but with hope and love in their hearts. Plates of Texas BBQ, drinking and smoking and riding the rails, and of love and loss and pain and perseverance. His music has given me the strength to keep going and walk my own path, even when I’ve been surrounded by people who thought I was nuts and said so to my face. When I get down, I pull out a Guy Clark record and sing at the top of my lungs until I feel able to face whatever situation has me all tied up in knots. I know I can keep going because of Guy Clark’s music gives me courage:
Come From The Heart by Guy Clark
When I was a young man my daddy told me
A lesson he learned, it was a long time ago
If you want to have someone to hold onto
You're gonna have to learn to let go
You got to sing like you don't need the money
Love like you'll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody's watchin'
It's gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
Now here is the one thing that I keep forgetting
when everything is falling apart
in life as in love, what I need to remember
there's such a thing as trying too hard
You got to sing like you don't need the money
Love like you'll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody's watchin'
It's gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
Thank you Guy for always being there for me with the right words of encouragement.
Guy Charles Clark (November 6, 1941 – May 17, 2016)
Thank You George Barris!
George Barris shaped my life. Truly. As child of the ‘60s and ‘70s I grew up watching his famous cars in TV shows that would forever imprint themselves on my psyche and later, on my choice of careers.
The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, Batman, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Green Hornet…. iconic TV shows all with way cool cars that the shows revolved around, almost like the cars were part of the cast of characters.
Rock and roll, hot rods and muscle cars burned their way into my soul as a youth, and like the cars Barris kustomized, my destiny was shaped little by little.
I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with George several times at various car shows.
He was a doll, absolutely charming and delightful, still working the angles, promoting his brand and the line of famous cars he became known for. He invited me to come visit him and tour his museum, and urged me to call his daughter Joji to set up an interview. I had planned on doing that this upcoming spring of 2016, but sadly I won’t get that opportunity now. George passed away Nov. 5, 2015 at the age of 89.
He was scooting around in a little motorized jalopy, which hadn’t been kustomized, much to my surprise. Delighted to talk with fans and pose for pictures, he was sharp and with it, sporting a groovy yellow satin jacket, hipster shades and slicked back thinning gray hair both times I met him.
We always fought over who got to be Batman and drive the Batmobile. Of course as children we made due with whatever we could find, our old red wagon, or my pink stingray bike, and used our imagination to supply the special features.
Thank you George for all you did to energize the imagination of my youth, and fuel my path towards the weird, the quirky, and the kustomised culture. Never be boring, always stand out and do your own thing. These are lessons from George that I will embrace always. Rest in Peace George. Thank you for your vision and your impact on the pop culture that made me who I am.
I fell asleep last night with the words "I live in my heart" repeating in my head. I had no idea what that meant, but I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget.
The first thing I read when I woke up were the words "Trust the changes you are experiencing as they are answers to your prayers about your career and finances."
As I drank my morning coffee, I pondered these two seemingly separate sentences, and I realized, they were actually connected.
If I live in my heart, then I am living in love. And if I'm living in love then I am following my passion. And following my passion means I'm following my bliss, which means in the long run, it will all be ok, no matter what is going on.
Things have felt pretty shitty lately. It feels like I"m struggling to make things happen instead of following my passion. I love my company. I never set out to just have a company to make stuff and be detached from it.
I created this company from love and passion and enthusiasm and ecstatic exuberance. And then it became something bigger than me. It was authentic. It was born from the heart and created in love and heat and passion, and the knowing I had to do this.
Maybe that's why it feels like a struggle now. It has become detached from me and I am in effort to make it be something again, instead of just allowing it to blossom like it once did.
Dr. Wayne Dyer passed away last week quite suddenly. He was a motivational speaker and my mentor. His books and lectures really helped me in some of my darkest days of running this company. I was fortunate enough to get some counseling from him, and he told me to live in my passion, follow my heart and it would all be ok. He was right. He lived from love. He touched many people. He lived spherically.
Part of what I'm running into with Gearhead is I've taken someone else's vision and tried to put it on. Instead of inhabiting it, I'm swimming in it, desperately looking for a floatie to save my drowning ass. Wayne Dyer told me to find my passion and live in it, but there was a time my passion was drowning me.
The Pizz, a tremendously talented artist who created a style many copied killed himself a few days ago. Why? Was his passion drowning him? Had he stopped living in love and instead was being consumed by it? We will never know, but I have felt that bleak, that drained, that destroyed by my passion.
Neil Young says it's better to burn out than fade away. That place of burn out is excruciating. When you are so tired you can't even open your eyes, when you breathe in and it feels like scorching flames in your lungs and your body is so heavy it feels like you're dragging a two-ton automobile behind you....
This weekend at Ventura, sales were disappointing and all the magic that I had felt when I first started going to car shows again was gone. Each car seemed like a shapeless lump of metal, each face a foreign blur. I know these clues now. I am no longer living in love, in my heart center but from duty and effort. Willing each person who walks by my booth to stop and buy something. That desperateness repels people. Its like having dog shit smeared all around my booth. Who wants to go near that?
Maybe that is the place The Pizz got to. Maybe his life smelled like crap and he was no longer living in his heart. Maybe he was so weary and discouraged because what once was his alone had now become second nature and mundane to the world. So many people copying his style and vision that his gifts and creations no longer stood out in this sea of wanna-bes.
Things have changed so much. What once was original and unique is now common place and boring. Every mall has a "punk" shop where you can just go in and and buy mass produced "punk" items and clothing by dropping a couple hundred bucks, and walk out looking like you've inhabited that segment of the underground for years because that's what you see celebrities wearing.
I remember how revolutionary it was to get your nose pierced or to get a tattoo, and now its part of our everyday landscape. Garage punk music now sets the pace for advertising everything from telephones to take out food. But when it first started, it was mind-blowing! As an artist and originator, you long for your work to be accepted and for it to make you a decent living wage so you can keep creating. But when it achieves that, then what? Where do you turn? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that trust, and faith in love and passion to keep guiding us as trailblazers is essential. When the horizon is dark and cloudy those are the only lights we have to guide us through the darkness to the new day dawning.
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,