have always associated the desire to make money with a profound lack of confidence in one’s ability to make a living, to make one’s way in the world through wit and wile. Hickey’s ode to psychedelic drugs, “Freaks,” likewise finds him reminiscing about old days in Austin. My contemporaries, under the influence of psychedelics, tended to understand things rather than see them. In fact, the only people I know who actually saw things were the two Billys. My friend Billy Joe Shaver, the songwriter, saw Jesus, but that didn’t surprise us much, since Billy Joe also saw Jesus when he got drunk. My friend Billy Lee Brammer, the novelist, who was a fool for glamour and for grammar, saw Kim Novak reciting from Tender is the Night against a field of stars, but this didn’t surprise us much either, since we were all familiar with Billy Lee’s aspirations. One of the few times in Air Guitar where Hickey cuts loose with some honest-to-God contemporary art writing is in this piece, when he contemplates the visual and literary impact of psychedelics: In my own experience, it always seemed as if language were a tablecloth positioned neatly upon the table of phenomenal nature until some celestial busboy suddenly shook it out, fluttering and floating it, and letting it fall back upon the world in not quite the same position as before thereby giving me a vertiginous glimpse into the abyss that divides the world from our know ing of it…. Because it is one thing to believe, on theoretical evidence, that we live in a prison-house of language. It is quite another to know it, to actually peek into the slippery emptiness as the Bastille explodes around you. Yet psychedelic art takes this apparent occasion for despair and celebrates our escape from linguistic control by flowing out, filling that rippling void with meaningful light, laughter, and a gorgeous profusion. You may take my word for it that Hickey’s report on the opening of the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas \(“The Rhinestone As Big As lights in in his hometown, and that “The Glass-bottomed Cadillac” is about the funniest thing you’ll ever read. This is a letter written from Heaven by Hank Williams in which he reveals that there is no Hell, meditates on the phenomenon of the country music groupie, explains the differences between southern men and southern women, on the advise that Hank received from his father: “Don’t get any on you, pipsqueak.” That other country music philosopher, Waylon Jennings, provides Dave excellent cautionary advice about what happens after you become a success: “Right now, hoss,” he says, “it’s completely out of my hands. I’m looking at those people out there, but I don’t know what I’m seeing. And they’re watching me too. But they don’t know what they’re looking at. My best guess is that they’ll keep on loving me till they start hating me, or their Waylon duds wear out. Because they already hate me a little, just because I’m me and they’re them. That’s why they always go on about how talented you are. Because they hate you. Because if they had this talent they would be you…. My real people, they get jealous because their girlfriend thinks I’m cute and try to kick my butt. They get envious because singing pays bet ter then roofing and try to kick my butt. But, basically, they under stand that I do this job for them that I’m up on stage with my Telecaster, sweatin’ in the lights, coughing in the smoke, and trying to hear the monitor that they’re sitting out there all cool and comfortable with a bottle of beer and a bowl of peanuts. So when all this blows up, I’ll just go back and do that, find out if I’m still me.” \(“Romancing the The most affecting essay in the book is “Shining Hours/Forgiving Rhyme,” in which Dave sentimentally juxtaposes his love for his dead father with the platonic ideal of an unlikely group of Americans gathered together to play jazz the essay pulls together many of the other themes in the book having to do with community, individuality, democracy, and art. Hickey begins with a personal anecdote about going, at the age of eight, with his father to a Saturday afternoon jam session with other Fort Worth jazz enthusiasts. It was a motley group of Texas eccentrics, including two black beboppers wearing zoot suit high-ride pants. The piano player was a jolly German Jewish woman who fled Germany during the war \(the jam sesing Duke Ellington songs in Texas with real jazz musicians. Thinking of this small-town yet swinging group of musicians, Hickey wonders who could do justice to this living room scene in art: … to my own surprise, I came up with Norman Rockwell of the Saturday Evening Post. For worse or for glory, I realized, he was the dude to do it that, in fact, he probably had done it had painted that scene in my head, because when I was eight years old, Johnny Mercer was teaching me how to listen, and Norman Rockwell was teaching me how to see. I was a student of their work, and they were good teachers. Years before I heard of John Donne, I learned about the intricate atmospherics of ‘metaphysical con ttAf`ftitAAY otRits `. JULY 23, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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