Dave is an enthusiast and given to the list, so let us flip through Air Guitar and make ourselves a partial catalog of his enthusiasms: Lawrence Sterne, Gustave Flaubert, Johnny Mercer, Norman Rockwell, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Charles Dickens, florist shops, Santa Monica in the fifties, Liberace, Julius Erving Shaver, Billy Lee Brammer, James Naismith, \(the inventor of basketWarhol films, Jacques-Louis David, Tiepolo, Grover Lewis, man-toman defense in the N.B.A., Cezanne, Hank Williams, Thomas Jefferson, Perry Mason, and Las Vegas at night. Hickey begins with Las Vegas. He is strangely convincing when he says that this rain forest of neon placed in the desert, founded on the principle of fools and money soon parting, is not only perhaps the most beautiful spot in our country but also the one that best embodies Jeffersonian notions of democracy. Most importantly for me, Vegas is a town that can serve as the heart’s destination a town where half the pick-up trucks stolen in Arizona, Utah, Montana and Wyoming are routinely recovered in casino parking lots where the vast majority of the population arises every morning absolutely delighted to have escaped Hometown America and the necessity of chatting with Mom over the back fence. This lightens the tone of social intercourse considerably. To cite an example: While I was having breakfast at the local IHOP the other morning, my waitress confided in me that, even though the International House of Pancakes wasn’t the greatest organization in the world, they had transferred her out of Ogden, Utah, and she was thankful for that. But not so thankful, she said, that she planned to stay in “food.” As soon as she got Lance in school, she was moving up to “cocktail” where the tips were better. She was looking forward to that, she said; and, to be honest, it’s moments like this that have led me to adopt Las Vegas as mi varrio. I mean, here was an American, in the nineties, who was thankful for something and looking forward to something else. \(“A Hickey is pretty deadly when he describes his visits from conventionally elitist academics or writers, who are typically confused by Las Vegas’ non-hierarchical culture: “In any case, when visiting culturati actually start shivering in the horizontal flux, I take them couraged. This is the best I can do to restore their sense of propriety, because the “secret of Vegas” is that there are no secrets. And the same. Just as one might in a democracy….” “A Life In the Arts” is Hickey’s meditation on the life, art, and death of jazz trumpet player and singer Chet Baker, the hero of his boyhood in Fort Worth. As the son of a would-be modern jazz player, Hickey soon discovered Sumpter Bruton’s record shop close to the T.C.U. campus. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of a good record store to an aspiring young bohemian, and it was there that Dave bought Chet Baker Sings, “my all-time favorite record and, not coincidentally, the best make-out record of all time.” My dad had been a jazz musician an old swing guy with aspi 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER rations to bebop. My friends were all hillbillies. Chet Baker’s music was in some new place between them. It was horizontal music that flowed in a steady groove and sang those haunting double lines that from Bob Wills’ twin-fiddles to The Allman Brothers’ twin guitars put unrequited sadness into country music. Chet, however, infected that Oklahoma lonesome with L.A. citylights tristesse, so, the songs seemed to glide past me like low-riders down Pico Boulevard, sleek and self-contained, with the fleet glimmer of the city chasing down their dark reflective surfaces. Dave then examines Baker’s seemingly chaotic life in and out of legal trouble for heroin use and other hard drugs, and finally, a life of jazz exile in Europe where he played for ecstatic audiences. His life ended at the age of fifty-eight, when he fell out of a hotel window in Amsterdam. In fact, Baker’s life was in no sense a tragic one, nor was his talent wasted or unappreciated. Given the opportunity, I’m sure he would say of himself as he said of Charlie Parker: “He had a very happy life.” He lived fifty-eight years, recorded sixty albums, played ten thousand gigs for millions of people and died with gigs left to play, thus deserving the freelancer’s ultimate epitaph: “If This Dude Wasn’t Dead, He Could Still Get Work.” Hickey then links Baker’s music to a later generation of rock and roll: [Baker] provides the classic model for a new tradition of steadystate, postmodern popular music which is probably best exemplified by Lowell George’s Little Feat and Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground. These bands operated on Baker’s premise: that the song plays the music and the music plays the player and that, consequently, the song as played is not a showcase for the player’s originality, but a momentary acoustic community in which the players breathe and think together in real time, adding to the song’s history, without detracting from its integrity, leaving it intact to be played again. “The thing you learn,” Lou Reed told me in an interview, “is that popular music is easy. The song will play itself. So all you need to do is make it sing a little, make it human, and not fuck it up.” Dave looks back on his Texas days in a number of pieces, including “Dealing,” his account of leaving graduate school before he defended his dissertation, and instead making the liberating decision to start an art gallery: Over the intervening years, between that time and now, I have been asked a lot of questions about A Clean Well-Lighted Place, because it did have its moments. But I am never asked the same questions for very long. Back in the nineteen seventies, people always wanted to know if it was any fun, and I always told them yes, it was a great deal of fun…. In the nineteen eighties, people wanted to know how much money we made, and they were shocked and dismayed to learn that we didn’t make any money. We made a living. We paid our bills, paid our artists, and eventually paid off our note. We had a place to live, food to eat, work we liked doing together, and no “spare time.” Had I been more candid, I would have confessed that we were totally disinterested in making money. That was what my professors at the University did. They “made money” working in a vicious bureaucracy, so they could spend it in their “spare time” doing exactly what they liked which, as far as I could tell, was writing crummy novels about working in a vicious bureaucracy, and summering in Italy. Thus I JULY 23, 1999
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