His steps rang off the asphalt like a carpenter’s hammer the night before the hanging. The dim light spilling from the smoke filled clubs puddled along the edges of the night like pools along a stagnant river and the noise of the city made the music of the night sound like an improvised piece on a jazzed up saxophone.
Except of course there ain’t any of that any more.
Poor Raymond Chandler, he wouldn’t recognize his mean streets with the slouching P.I.’s and the frails and let’s not even bring up Dashiell Hammett who would be spinning like a Dervish if he knew how the streets of San Francisco had changed.
The days of smoke filled clubs and hot jazz have gone like the Dodo, they’re extinct.
We don’t smoke or cuss or stay up half the night and that’s just the start of it. Weight has become the next target of the forces of the health Nazis and who knows what they’ll find to ban next.
Back in the fifties and sixties when I was growing up in Gravel Pit we had the VOICE OF GOD in the form of Reverend Odom. He was a Hellfire and brimstone Baptist preacher who didn’t like much of anything and was happy to share that view anyone within the sound of his voice and being a tent preacher that voice carried a long, long way.
Consequently it was the duty of every red-white-and blue blooded boy to see just how many of the sins the good Rev was so opposed to he could break from one Sunday to the next. The Catholics had it best, they could break all of those nasty sins and then go to confession and be shrived and be ready to start right after Sunday school.
The rest of us just had to live with our over worked souls cause there was no relief for sinners. Now, some of the most inventive were in fact the sons and daughters of the good Rev’s folks and they managed to do a fair bit of sinning even with the Rev breathing down their necks.
Course back in those days Gravel Pit was dry, a hold-over from Prohibition which allowed Texas cities to vote whether they would allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in the city limits and they did vote dry cause they didn’t want that demon rum in their towns, no sir. They went the five miles to Arlington where the forces of the college had the good sense to vote wet and get all of the restaurants to move there so that folks could get a shot with their steak and bring in all of the tax money and that is why Arlington grew at a rate five times faster than Ole Gravel Pit but that didn’t cut any ice with the Rev who swore, in the most Godly and sacramental way that the LORD, pronounced Lairrd like a Scot with a speech impediment, would rain fire and storm on Arlington any day now.
Which is why I spent most of my time in Arlington until I got a driver’s license and could go to the real flesh pot, Dallas, where wimmen danced nekkid as a jaybird and liquor was available by the drink and jazz music played in clubs so small that four or five was a mob and people smoked stuff which wasn’t always approved of by the government and might just not have come wrapped in a sealed package with a tax stamp. Or so I heard.
There was a place just off the road from Oak Lawn tucked beside Highland Park and yet still in Dallas called the Villager. It was a tiny jazz club with a fantastic river stone fireplace set in the center of the room and a long and badly abused bar running down the side the club shared with the Village hair dresser. The Jac Murphy Trio played there six nights a week and when I had the money, which fortunately didn’t take nearly as much as it does now, I went and stayed all night.
Now most of the journalists in town did their drinking there so the drinks were not watered and they did not come in a Lite style and the staff serving them did not wear hot pants or show a lot of cleavage and they said “Hon” with every order, but they always got it right and could if necessary manage a two hundred and fifty pound man as far as a cab when closing time came before good sense had a chance to take hold.
I learned that musicians don’t have instruments, they carry an axe, that a “West Coast Turnaround” has nothing to do with flight attendants or air lines and that smoke and weed are not always a sign of forest fires and gardening problems.
I also sucked in a lot of secondhand smoke. We won’t talk about the Levee where Tommy Loy and the Upper Dallas Jazz Band played and the night Tam Mott lead the audience out the front door, down the street across from SMU playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” at about eleven o’clock while Dallas police watched and shook their heads.
But the forces of clean-living, exercise and diet have killed all of that. There are no more smoke filled rooms with journalists chewing cigars and pinching waitress on the butt or jazz men doing pills which never came from a pharmacy or playing the kind of music which only happens when booze and bad behavior have a chance to perk a bit.
Here in Oregon with the nice Oregonians doing all of this running and biking maybe you never had that sort of thing to corrupt you. That would be sad and it would leave artists with nothing to fuel their imaginations but the 5K Clam trot.
And I just not sure you can get much mileage out of so much healthy living.
Maybe Mae West had it right after all, “When I’m good, I’m very, very good, but when I’m bad I’m better.”