Photo by Joe Carducci
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
David Lightbourne 1942 - 2010
I met Dave in fall 1977. I had given up on Hollywood after a year and was getting into music. Dave influenced me that way, but by indirection because he hadn’t listened to electric rock and roll since Jimi Hendrix died. As recently as a couple years ago in the car I had to point out Led Zeppelin to him when they came on the radio. But his relationship to music was striking, as if it was the earlier version of what a few hoped punk rock was becoming. I got him to write for my late seventies Portland fanzine (posted soon), and he got me onto KBOO FM via his own three-hour fifties program, David Lightbourne’s “Rock ‘n Roll House Party”. More recently he wrote an introduction to my Wyoming Stories volume, and occasionally here in The New Vulgate. His music writing is mandatory reading for anyone with a prayer to get up to speed on American music. It all should’ve appeared somewhere more visible then my black hole projects. Dave was a student of the Green Hornet, Elvis Presley, Charley Patton, Marshall McLuhan, Bob Dylan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hunter Thompson, Ishmael Reed, and Chester Himes in that order. He was on his family’s daily radio program in Chicago in 1951. He had only just told me he would write up this disastrous Denver Nuggets season as the great promise of this ugliest glamourless showtime sputtered to an end under the pall of coach George Karl’s battle with cancer.
Below is some music and some writing by Dave. He generally sacrificed his writing for his music, which meant you were that much luckier to be in earshot of him or on his speed-dial. I need more time to do justice to his story so I’ll put that off for a week or more to work on it. I’ll time it for a soon tba memorial in Portland, Oregon. Enjoy this stuff, but first dial up KRFC-FM for today/Monday’s “SuperMondayBuffet” program. Beth will reprise some of David’s live performances and interviews.
Today/Monday at 3:15pm locally (5:15pm Eastern). You can listen to it streamed here.
First a rare email I received from Dave on May 26, 2007 while he was at Jane’s in New York. He would generally call, but Jane is an early adopter of gadgets and gizmos and one of them must’ve been lying around handy. He wasn’t much for salutations.
“Got to Red Hook late - had to help a Haitian cabbie find Conover Street after almost taking the big bridge in the sky to Staten Isle. He ran up a $50 fare and had to knock off 25 and I surely hope he found his way back, maybe to Haiti. Sufferin' Sucotash have leader Schlomo Pesco back on fiddle, mandolin & banjo but Trip led the charge. After triple-bypass Schlomo is taking it slow and easy but Peter and Bob play excellent backup and both are featured vocalists in their favorite genres, so they're a full deck. I got to get up for two songs late in the last set & did a nice fingerpicked instrumental then Johnny & Jack's "This World It Can't Stand Long", at which point the boys all actually began smiling. These old guys my age are now as cranky as the older guys who got cranky heretofore and should've provided a cautionary object lesson. (In reality, they need to add Krim and change their moniker to something like the Ill-Health String Band.) The hipsters all came up to talk afterward but the fellow from Spin didn't make it (real good phone conversation today) and two different people said my appearance was ‘impressive’. The F train from Park got me home at 2 am. Jason's machine has your # & Jane's but no word about Saturday night as yet. Will call before i go to LGA mid-afternoon.”
The following are pieces Dave wrote in recent years, the first three are up at The New Vulgate, the fourth was done as an introduction to my volume, Wyoming Stories, and is at the Redoubt Press Myspace page.
David on seeing Elvis in March 1957 at the International Amphitheatre, Chicago: “Elvis Presley Up North”. It was Elvis’ first gig in the north other than TV show performances. And you are there.
David’s “Little Sandy Review and the Birth of Rock Criticism”, for which he interviewed its editors Paul Nelson and John Pankake. He had hoped to get Tony Glover on tape as well, and develop it into a book of annotated reproductions of the first modern fanzine.
David’s “Mike Seeger 1933 -2009”
David wrote this for me to introduce the very idea of publishing unproduced screenplays: “Storytelling: Mass Media to Massed Media”
Dave and I on a roll in Elliott Johnston’s “Upland Slapdown” from August 2007; we somehow neglected to put our PR caps on.
David’s Metropolitan Jug Band - “I Can Beat You Plenty”. Summer 1980, Little Theatre on the Bay, Coos Bay Oregon.
David appears in Michael Hurley’s new documentary, American Boogie.
There are two live performances by David’s Stop & Listen Boys archived and available to hear at Meredith Ochs’ radio show page at WFMU. The shows are from 2001 and 2003.
David talks to Erin Yanke of KBOO about his 1970s program, “The David Lightbourne Rock ‘n Roll House Party” for KBOO’s 40th Anniversary documentation.
The Last David Lightbourne Interview (excerpts)
Elliott Johnston on David Lightbourne, David Lightbourne on Everything
The first time I met David Lightbourne, he maxed out my digital recorder. I was up in Laramie, Wyoming, working on a cover story on Joe Carducci and Lightbourne’s Upland Breakdown for a then healthy/now-defunct alt-weekly, the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, based one state line south in Fort Collins, CO. With a cigarette burning, staring straight ahead at more than one flickering television in his apartment, he verbally slaughtered most things that are eternally applauded in Fort Collins – bluegrass music, jambands, the Grateful Dead. No one talks like this in the entire state of Colorado, I thought. My brain went electric. David had played with the later-day Holy Modal Rounders in Portland, he had been amassing old folk and blues vinyl for decades, he had a really great CD out with his Laramie jug and old time blues band The Stop and Listen Boys called Monkey Junk. Whether I agreed with everything David said or not, it didn’t matter. The quarry of knowledge behind every extensive rant, the delirious love for music that underpinned his frenetic speech, and the piles of old records on his floor—I was hooked.
In 2008, without an assignment in particular, I spent a Sunday afternoon with David, getting about 4 hours with him before he hosted his weekly jam at the Buckhorn Bar in Laramie. We spent half the time talking about the Little Sandy Review, a small magazine David’s friend and rock critic Paul Nelson helped put out in the early sixties. The magazine gave David a lot of early fuel for his thinking about pre-WW2 folk and blues music. We also got into Elvis going Hollywood, the Holy Modal Rounders, and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.
David was such a great storyteller. I’ve transcribed about 30 pages of interviews we did together. Actually, they aren’t really interviews as much as monologues: with Dave poring over with intoxicating musicological data, colorful anecdotes, and hilarious-slash-cranky opinions—basically asking more from music than most anyone else really has the stomach for, all with a comedian’s sense of timing and absurdist exaggeration.
I took it all in. I learned so much. As a tribute to David, I’ve clipped out his best stories, anecdotes, rants, and musicological musings from our time together on tape.
I could listen to David talk forever. It has hardly sunk in that I won’t have that chance anymore.
David Lightbourne on the “Laramie version of Western humor”:
I like great anecdotes about musicians. I like a funny story. I like the story they tell about the day that Johnny Cash met June Carter. She was really young and he wasn’t that old himself. And that’s a funny story.
The guy that started the newspaper here in Laramie was a Western humorist from the 19th Century named Bill Nye, and his mule was named Boomerang, and that’s the name of the Laramie daily paper. It was founded in like 1890 or something. And Mark Twain in his Autobiography quotes Bill Nye as saying, “As I understand it, Wagner’s music is much better than it sounds.”
And that’s the Laramie version of Western humor. The Will Rogers simpleton who is profound without knowing it.
DL on The Little Sandy Review and vitality:
So once the Little Sandy Review captured my attention, I started paying closer attention to releases that were of old authentic American music instead of modern reinterpretations of American music.
Little Sandy’s argument was that the closer to the American social vernacular the music was, the closer to the root, whatever the roots are. In my mind, the roots are more in the black church and the South, than they are a lot of things. But anywhere, wherever the roots are, they wanted the music to be as close to that point as possible: As unsophisticated, as unadorned, as unmarketed, and as unarranged and produced, as natural as possible. And they claimed that that music had more of what they called vitality. They said it had vitality. And Leadbelly had vitality, Woody Guthrie had vitality, Doc Watson had vitality. All these old guys had vitality. And, people who grow up in the suburbs and go to college, and have more or less sedentary lifestyles indoors most of their life, don’t exhibit the same quality of energy or some kind of inarticulateable something that they called vitality.
I think of it as being a dynamic soul. An active soul. What you call the life force. There may be an irony in the idea that when life is slower paced, when you do express physical energy, you have more of it. You can dance faster because you’ve been laidback mentally. The media haven’t permeated your life yet. You are living in the South. You may not have electricity.
I one time had a girlfriend that was a fashion model and also a very eccentric woman. She liked to live in ghettos. And she lived in the black ghetto in Portland, which is, you know, really just looked like a run down suburb somewhere. But it was a house without electricity or plumbing. There was a john in a mop closet on the backporch outdoors. If you want to take a piss you’ve got to do it outdoors in this mop closet. She went somewhere and pumped water, and then heated the water on her wood stove, you know, for hot water. And there were wood stoves in all the rooms, and very little insulation, the house was about to be torn down I think, but there was no electricity you know. And you just chilled. The absence of that 110 cycle-per-second energy circulating around your own nervous system just disappeared.
So what was life like? Why was it more vital then? I think among other things people also did harder work. When they worked, they worked harder. It was much more physically demanding lifestyles. And they had the strength to maintain that energy level, when they expressed themselves. And they were mellowed out when they weren’t excited. So it could have been that there was an opportunity for greater extremes.
Music today is fast, but life is fast. And you don’t notice how fast everything is. But I think they were just a more relaxed kind of subculture.
DL on the church:
My argument is probably the church maintained a continuous musical and educational process for everyone. In some communities, it’s my guess that you went to church like 5 times a week as you where living on one can of beans anyway. So why not all get together and pray and shit? And, so if you went from choir practice from Wednesday to Sunday morning, by the time you sang on Sunday morning, you had your part down. And I think that’s especially true in black society, because black society just kept getting devastated politically, economically, whatever, in ways that the whites didn’t quite have to put up with. So, white music could be disseminated on white radio stations long before black radio. And white records were available long before black records were available in those communities anyway.
But the black church is essential to understanding how black music developed. But the whites—you still hear it though—the very best bluegrass singing comes out of the little tiny white church in the South. They would be singing spiritual lyrics if they weren’t singing about murderers or desperate lovers or something.
DL on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music:
It is a great source of material. And it is a great source of hearing people that are completely their own person. There’s an authenticity to these individuals; they are such gifted artists that they’re not generic. They transcend the setting of their style and performance standards.
DL: A story about Harry Smith and Steve Weber:
They were in the West Village. And Fritz [Richmond], the bass player in my band one time had to escort Harry Smith out of an apartment in the Village in the ’60s. He said the Smith was just too cantankerous. But anyway, Weber is probably high on Colt .45, acid, heroin and cocaine, and he and Harry were walking across the whole island, from the West Village to the Lower East Side. And every car they pass, Harry breaks off the radio antenna. And he’s collecting a quiver of radio antennae under his arm. And Steve Weber, nowadays anyway, looks like Waylon Jennings in his coffin. That’s how bad Weber looks. These guys are not exactly like Wall Street Bankers with pinstripe suits with umbrellas and briefcases. They are a couple of real fucking interesting looking dudes and one of them is collecting everybody’s car antennae. And Weber is getting edgier and edgier and antsier and antsier. And he said he almost had to fucking flee.
But he stuck with him. It was something not even Weber would have done: break an antenna off of every car he went by. And undoubtedly, Harry had a plan. He was gonna use them for sculpture or something. It was funny that Weber couldn’t handle Harry Smith. That was the ultimate tribute to Harry Smith was that he was more than Weber could handle.
DL on mixing art and politics:
It’s just pure artistic bankruptcy. That’s what happens when art and politics mix, among other things, is artistic bankruptcy. It’s the didactic quality in political art that is offensive. Politics are a different thing than an emotional, artistic experience of some kind. And art wins you over emotionally and makes a complex point, where as politics tries to win you over with sophistry. Making a pretty obvious, non-sophisticated point.
DL on buying obscure mining records at the Library of Congress:
I was at the Library of Congress, taking a ten-minute tour of D.C. on this road trip we were on. We were on the Rentrak bus, and you could only park it for a certain amount of time. So we ran in and out of the capitol, and there is the Library of Congress’s bookstore. I thought, “Goddamn man! A fucking bookstore in the Library of Congress.”
They were selling off their Library of Congress LPs for a buck apiece because they were going to CDs. This is ’89, and they decided to just shitcan their entire LP stock. So I bought 65 Library of Congress LPs for $65. Our driver just said, “You are out of your fucking mind!” Because he saw me pull out Songs of Bituminous Miners. And who in their right mind would pay a dollar for an album called Songs of Bituminous Miners? And then I pulled out part two of the series, which is Songs of the Anthracite Miners. And he just walked away in disgust.
DL on seeing Paul Nelson in No Direction Home:
My immediate reaction was, “well that’s just the nicest little gift anybody could give anybody. Scorsese has now made it possible to feel like you are sitting across the room from Paul Nelson.” Because that was exactly what it was like being in the room with him. I could have been the camera in those scenes. That’s exactly what he looked like, that’s exactly how he talked, that’s exactly what he talked about. And I have about three 90-minute cassettes of my interviews with him. And I’ve never transcribed them, but I’ve always thought about getting that done. I think a lot of it is me talking, unfortunately. But, we talked for a long time. He told me great stories.
DL on “the geographical analog to aesthetic distance”:
What I call the geographical analog to aesthetic distance: the distance where you get far enough back from a painting where you can see the whole work of art, you know. Or, you can hear the whole symphony instead of just parts of it. The aesthetic distance is the right focal point for a piece of art to the observer, you know. And, and I maintain that there is this thing provincial distance, where you are living in fucking Iowa, and you’ve got a clear view of the fucking world. You really don’t have big buildings in the middle of Manhattan obstructing your view of the horizon and shit.
DL on white blues bands:
I mean how many white blues bands are in America today? There are more white blues bands in America today than there are registered Democrats. I mean, do I hear any of them? No. I avoid them like the plague. But they’re all over the place, you know.
DL on band names, and the Grateful Dead’s first album:
When I was in high school, it was the Ventures or the Capris or the El Dorados. You know, you named bands after car models. And, and then there were like the original rock and roll touring band. There was a badass band, there was Little Richard and the Upsetters. And we would see footage of them, old 16mm, black and white, newsreel documentaries of them onstage outdoors somewhere in the South, you know in ‘53 or something. Man, they looked like they were ready to upset everything. They looked like the upsetters. They all looked like they’d just gotten out of jail, and maybe not with a pardon.
And so when the San Francisco thing happened in the early sixties, I was living in Iowa, but there were people in Iowa connected to the West Coast, you know they’d all like gone out to the West Coast on one summer between college and high school, you know. And so I got letters from people telling me that there were these bands called the Charlatans and The Warlocks and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and all this stuff. And um, even the Jefferson Airplane sounded like a really cool band. In fact, I think somebody sent me a poster or their fliers long before they had a contract with a record company and then when it turned out that those bands were lame-ass-pieces-of-shit bands. You said to yourself, ‘ok, well it’s cool that they’ve got cool names, it’s just too bad they aren’t any better.”
And in 1965, I thought like the ultimate name for a band in the world was the Grateful Dead. I was, you know, late in my teenage years: misanthropic, cynical, you know. Grateful Dead, yeah! Right! We’re grateful to be dead, right on! And then when I heard their first album which was on RCA instead of Warner Brothers, and they were doing the same songs that I had done as acoustic songs, I thought they were the worst thing I’d ever heard in my fuckin’ life.
I’ve rarely heard anything worse than the first album by the Grateful Dead. It is just really like a bad rehearsal tape by people who don’t have a future.
And the idea of cool bands names quickly evaporates as soon as you find out that the Jefferson Airplane are a bunch of people who have taken Peter, Paul and Mary and stuck a pick-up on them. And that the Grateful Dead want to play chops and don’t have any understanding of music or anything and so it’s like, “take acid and maybe we’ll discover jazz by accident in a random exploration of scales.”
DL on the United States Government:
I’ve always thought that the United States government was a hothouse tomato grown with steroids, hydroponics, all kinds of artificial stimulants under ideal conditions and that sooner or later, it wouldn’t be able to maintain. It wouldn’t be able to survive a bad winter. But, I always thought that the only way to deconstruct the greenhouse was for the federal government to go broke. And, the conventional supposition is that if the Federal Government went broke, millions of people would starve to death. It would be an absolutely unacceptable alternative. But the fear of the government going broke has ironically just increased the chances of it going broke. Because they make it pay for more and more programs and put it further and further into debt by barrowing money for those programs. It’s not a sustainable pattern and we’ve known it for a long long time. And at some point the government is going to go broke.
DL on the Holy Modal Rounders:
The Holy Modal Rounders. I know ‘em all and I don’t know if they consider my story insulting or not. But, Prestige had put out all the jazz artists of the ‘50s, before they were on major labels like Atlantic or Columbia. Miles Davis and John Coltrane and all those guys recorded on Prestige. They were like a poor man’s Blue Note Records or something, out of New Jersey. And in the early ‘60s, they changed from being just strictly a jazz label. The first thing they started was this thing called Prestige Bluesville, and they were all modern, hi fi recordings of 60 year old blues dudes who’d had one major huge hit when they were 23. And now they were 60 and could barely remember the words. There were like a 100 Bluesville albums, and out of those hundred releases, I guess there was maybe a dozen that were just plain masterpieces. There were some must-have albums.
I was in college and I was gonna send them a request for a catalogue. I was gonna buy about four of their records. And you live in Iowa, you’re not going to go to the store and buy Prestige Bluesville, you know?
I sent them $100 and they sent me 100 albums. And I check off all the Lighting Hopkins and…I got to 99 and I was stumped. So there was a box at the bottom and it said, NEW RELEASE: THE HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS. PRESTIGE 1005. I didn’t have anything to loose. I was getting 99 dynamite records at a killer discount.
So I said, what the fuck? Check off the Holy Modal Rounders. You know that Rounder means an unemployed black dude living in a railroad yard, so these are unemployed black dudes living in a railroad yard. But you also know that modal is a form of music only practiced by Appalachian banjo players, and you know that Captain Marvel always said, “Holy Moly!” before he changed from Billy Batson into the worlds greatest mortal superhero, so Holy Modal Rounders, they are obviously some fucking hare-brained nuts. But who knows why?
And the box came and we unpacked the box, and somebody put on that record, and that record never left my turntable for a year and a half, because everybody at Grinnell had to hear it once a day. Usually after coming home drunk. We had to play it a lot after two in the morning.
I had already become enamored with several of the people who they were crazy about. I loved Charlie Poole myself. I decided very quickly that it was one of the ten best records of the ‘60s. It’s a masterpiece. It’s more enduring. People will stop listening to Pet Sounds and they’ll give up on Rubber Soul, but they’ll still be listening to the Holy Modal Rounders. It’s that good. It’s not conventional in any way. They can’t sing, they can’t play, everything about it is a drug accident. That’s what it is, if you want to be fair.
I vowed right then and there to meet them. And I didn’t meet them until…that was in ’65, I didn’t meet them for another 8 or 9 years maybe.
I knew those guys, we were pretty close. Because I think they knew I knew everything that they knew. I might even know more.
DL on Sting and hummingbirds:
I formed my first band in the mid to late 70s, ‘78 for the sake of argument. And in 1978, the only venues available to you were NHL arenas. All the music in America was played in a hockey arena somewhere in a giant city; there were no bands that didn’t have a stack of 27 Marshalls on top of each other for every instrument. Now they were beginning to put drummers in cages.
And I said, “No. Give me an acoustic guitar. One microphone, a washboard and a mandolin, and I’ll show you what rock and roll is supposed to sound like.” Its just my reaction against the Arena rock era. I tried to take it all the way down to Elvis and Sun records in ’53 with just a Martin acoustic bluegrass guitar. That’s all he had. He didn’t have a synthesizer. They couldn’t punch in and punch out bad notes.
That’s rock and roll. Not Sting saving the hummingbirds.
Friends of Dave, new and old on the bad news:
“Seems we've buried most of our friends
The last untamed Americans
There's Elwood, Rube and Lonesome Wayne
Weber, me and our boy Dave
Down now to a remnant few
Chuck de Mutt and Morgan, too
Kustom, Wax and Garbage
Who among us ain't a goner
Here’s an excerpt of Gary’s eulogy from his blog:
“When I met Dave, he was playing in the Metropolitan Jug Band in Portland, with Fritz Richmond, also gone now, along with their incredible knowledge, memories, and lore. Hipsters of legend. I'd arrived in town with Michael Hurley and The Sensitivos (Michael, Dave Reisch and me, and often other friends, especially Lonesome Wayne Thomas and Robin Remaily. Billy Foodstamp, another Portland hipster of legend gone, now, too, also was known to play washboard with us in that period.) We'd been moving on together for a long while from Vermont to Boston to New York to Nevada to California and up to Portland. The first night we were in town, we went out to hear the Metropolitan Jug Band, I don't remember where, and they were sounding good, too. But what I remember most was a grin Dave got on his face while up on the stage, playing, when he saw the bunch of us walk in. We played some that night, for free beer. Really bad beer, as I recall.”
Read the rest here.
THE LIGHTBOURNE TRAIN
(earth bound blues)
light born train
crashin' thru the pearly gates at dawn
earth bound sounds old time blues
born with the weight of the world
on the shoulders of his time
the natural birthright
one foot already out the door
living with the light
smooth street talker
in worn out shoes
every way to choose
a genuine friend
to all he knew
honest and true
tells it like it is,
like it was,
not afraid to upset a few
the light born train
keeps rollin' on
lingering words and songs
remind us all
of the way back home
to earth bound blues
from the liner-notes to The Stop & Listen Boys album, “Monkey Junk”:
“…Lightbourne’s room [Grinnell ‘61] -- then as now a fair indication of the state of his head -- offered at least a high probability that some sort of cultural mutation might occur. Somewhere in it, I surmise, was a bed, since he cannot I think have conquered even the need to sleep: but if there was, I couldn’t find it, or much of the floor, either. Too many piles of paperback books; and precipitous towers of record albums, each one more obscure and esoteric than the last; and trains of literary journals -- The Evergreen Review, The Paris Review -- like fallen dominos, languishing in a kind of total surrender, the very essence of beat, under titles by Beckett and Genet and Artaud. Science fiction and detective story, sexual phantasmagoria, folk music rags like Sing Out! and The Little Sandy Review, albums on Yazoo and Origin of ‘twenties rural blues, midsouth urban jugbands, mountain stringbands, real workingman’s bluegrass on King and Starday. . . and I doubt not a few schooltexts as well, our Marx and our Reinhold Neibhur and our Suzanne Langer, our Plato and our Homer and our Henry David Thoreau, certainly our Melville and above all The Great Gatsby. Little order, and little organization, but inexhaustible curiosity, fascination, and endless delight, the traditional modus vivendi of what David calls, and of which he is himself a charter member, the lumpen intelligentsia….”
“I learned a lot about guitar playing sitting and watching him in your little lounge area in that old Laramie whorehouse hotel you lived in. I remember one particular time maybe when Vanessa and I came to visit where he & I had smoked a lot of weed and he was all mellow and picking and playing and teaching me the history of the tunes. I thought he talked too much but the tone of his voice was nice. Ha. He also told me once on a tour (the one where Bill & Jack didn't make it) that I was anti-social based on a (Grandpa‘s Ghost) performance in Ohio, I think, where the frat boys became upset at the wall of sound that we were perpetuating upon them - he said it with a gleam in his eye and a slight devious smile that I took as the utmost compliment. He was quite an entertainer and a historian. And I didn't know the 1/10 of him.”
I was only tangentially familiar with Dave in his musicologist incarnation. Oh, don’t get me wrong - I was privy to more than one sprawling tale about long dead and longer forgotten bluesmen and I saw him perform with that wonderfully bizarre jazz horn contraption plenty of times. Nor could I avoid becoming familiar with his oft told contention that Rock ‘n’ Roll began in 1910 (or 1905 or 1890 or medieval England. This and other pet Lightbourne theories were under constant revision.)
The Dave I knew best was the one-man American Studies program and Olympian Ranter. We were members of the same coffee shop cabal at Muddy Waters, a now defunct java joint by the train tracks in Laramie, Wyoming. In addition to Dave, this group was home to a few other local characters of note. There was Tony Ricca, the former paleontologist and a being of pure negative energy whose chief talents were complaining and reminiscing about the food orgies he used to host back in the 1970’s. Tom Butler was a Lower East Side tough turned beatnik turned army grunt turned hippy turned Bellevue patient turned coke addicted seismic-crew roughneck turned dishwasher turned Tibetan Buddhist. Sometimes Joe Carducci, the obscure and reviled rock critic, would drop by on his way to the coffee shop’s back corner cubbyhole where he would read giant stacks of articles from the Financial Times, Rolling Stone, and Wall Street Journal, along with various printouts from right wing blogs.
Dave was the real standout in this group, though. Out of nowhere he would appear at our table, copy of the Laramie Daily Boomerang under his arm. Once again, the local newspaper of record had failed at something elementary and Dave was on hand offer his critique. Didn’t matter much if the offense was an above-the-fold headline typo or an instance of sloppy reporting -- he was off on a tear about how the downhill slide of newspaper journalism began with the invention of the telegraph and accelerated with the building of the transcontinental railroad. Before long the wheels would come off the jeremiad and Dave would be on about something else entirely, perhaps about how the die-off of Oregon lumber barons led to a golden age of flea markets and yard sales in pre-Disco era Portland. From there, the story of dead lumber barons and yard sales would morph into the tale of Dave’s opium dream about finding a magical stash of mid-19th Century back-issues of Life Magazine, despite that magazine not being founded by Henry Luce until the 1930’s. An hour or four later, all these threads would re-converge to once and for all prove Rock ‘n’ Roll was indeed invented by negroes and hillbillies in 1910. Rant finished, Dave would scurry out the door and attend to his next errand -- probably to score some vinyl or weed. Or both -- it was usually both.
Our old cabal is long since scattered. I moved to Maine, the old coffee shop is now an insurance agency, and Tom Butler is dead. Dave is too, and I have one less reason to visit home.
Strange isn't it, how the mind preserves past places we've been and people we've seen in exactly the shape we last saw them. Wyoming in my mind is still in that cloudy muggy-midwestern-summer stage where rain seems a perpetual threat. And David Lightbourne is as I saw him during my last trek through that state in July '07.
This was the Dave I knew casually: an old hippie troubadour, though he might correct you on that point. He was of the late 50s-early 60s post-Beat proto-hippie bohemia, born in '42 or '43, as distinct from the 18-year-olds who met under the media spotlight of '66-67 to constitute the first mass bohemia. That was the young Dave I didn't know, part of a group that scrounged for forgotten early 20th century American folk-blues-country-everythingelse on 78s and were first in line to buy that music when it was compiled on LPs in the middle sixties. Those guys read too. Not just the beat canon, they hoarded the works of McLuhan, Mailer, Leslie Fiedler, Dwight Macdonald...
Anyway, back to '07. He was playing Sundays at the Buckhorn in Laramie then, but the concert I really remember was at the Friendly Store in Centennial, 20 miles west on the highway. There was a young guy, he looked like a college kid, might actually have been, who I got to talking guitar with. I asked who his favorite players were and he pointed at Dave on the stage (it was more like a corner). Dave attached his Dylan-style harmonica rack which supported not a harmonica, as I recall, but a small horn which emitted a kazoo-like buzz. "I had to wear one of those when I was ten," someone at the bar quipped. Altogether there were only about 15-20 people in the audience, but it was a memorable evening all the same.
Dave called his music blues, but to my ears the better term would be mountain music or maybe old-timey. It didn't have the dragged-out cadence and heavy heart of Son House or Robert Johnson. He played early 20th century tunes that, even when hitting the blue notes, had an amiable fun-time lilt to them. And, befitting the music, Dave would smile warmly at the applause after each song. The show ended and I told him this was my last night in Wyoming. We shook hands, and Joe and I went back up the hill to his place where I was lodging. The next day I started my way back to California, taking the two-lanes southwest into Colorado and over the Rockies and down into Utah. And that was the last time I saw David Lightbourne. It's not a bad way to remember someone.
David Lightbourne ruined my week so here’s the only story of note I can manage to wedge into my usual news in review section. It’s a piece I printed out for Dave but he never saw it; for the record, Dave did not think that Dwayne Wade would leave Miami for Chicago next year but he admitted to perhaps being biased in favor of parity in the east.
K.C. Johnson’s Chicago Bulls wrap in the CT.
This just in...
Mike Safran and Jan Leonhardt both reported in late last night with a description and photos from the first post-Lightbourne Buckhorn Sunday. Mike was Dave's right hand man on Sundays and played his short set right after David opened the evening. Gradually David and friends had imposed their will on the Buckhorn this one night a week, whereas I remember in the early weeks the pool table and jukebox Zeppelin occasionally competing. Jan founded a local weekly email about all things music in the Laramie area. Dave would have loved the evening, he may even have drank some alcohol.
One for the books, as Dave would say.
A huge turnout standing room only with about everybody I could think of there at some point. I broke the ice by reading my poem to an attentive crowd and playing for about 15 minutes. Ransom in the background with his drums he brought. Jake and Joe played an excellent set next doing some tasteful covers including a Zevon tune with a chorus like 'keep me in your heart for awhile' from his last album that was fitting. Tuffy did a rockin' set next and the spirit continued the whole evening. Then Peter Queal played a couple songs. Birgit's band Black Crowe/White Crowe played. The music never stopped till just after midnight when Nick Szakas essentially closed it doing a version of 'Cocaine' that I think he said Dave taught him. it was an over the top night totally fitting and revealing that his spirit is still there. It's probably the essence of any memorial that could take place. The college grad school hipsters in the crowd all invited everyone over for an after party at their pad. I showed for a little. It was getting as packed as the bar. I took a shot of whiskey and left. Been awhile since in that sort of youthful party setting. Anyway, better I jot these notes down now before they escape me in the A.M. I remember Dave always appreciated that when he was out of town and I filled in. I told Ben Jones I'd help him next week setting up, etc... the consensus is it should continue. Whether it can sustain the momentum we'll see. It's good to see everyone out of the woodwork. It makes apparent the talent in this town. Just needs a cohesive energy and a hang out.
[Illustrations & Photos, in order: Dave at Jane's apt., New York 2000, by Bill Emerson; Metropolitan Jug Band business card, designed by Robert Armstrong; Dave and Beth Malmskog at KRFC, Fort Collins 2008, by Joe Carducci; Dave and Jane Schuman at Wright's Seth Peterson Cottage 2008, by Joe Carducci; Dave & Shaun Kelley, Upland Breakdown 9, Centennial 2008, by Elliott Johnston; Cabal at Muddy Waters Coffeehouse: Tom Butler, Tony Ricca, Dave Lightbourne (left-to-right), Laramie 2005, by Pat Banks; Dave at the Buckhorn Bar, Laramie 2007, by Joe Carducci; 2 Buckhorn photos by Jan Leonhardt]
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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