It was only eleven o'clock, and we couldn't bring ourselves to end the night so soon. We had managed to hook up with a legendary musician, albeit a legend of a very specific niche. Billy was a banjo player who had played with the likes of Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seger. He had run around in the same Greenwich Village circles that had produced Bob Dylan, and had even interviewed the great song writer for a radio show that he hosted. "Absolutely impossible f$%#er!" he had blurted out when talking about Dylan. It's not every day that you get to hang out with someone who had crossed paths with Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and I'd be damned if I was going to let the night end at eleven o'clock.
It was decided that my friends and I would stop by the motel and pick up a couple of bottles of wine that we had stashed away to open tonight, and then head out to his house – about a 45 minute drive from the motel. After we had picked up the wine and gotten back into the car, it took us about 15 seconds to break Texas open container laws and start dispensing the Cabernet into the plastic cups with the motel logo stamped on the side. We only had two cups, so we passed them back and forth between the occupants of the car. There was no swirling and sniffing going on here, just straight drinking and singing. For everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn.) Bruce kept trying to remember the words to Deportee, fumbling around between every song we sung for the parts that eluded him. We did our best to help, but wine isn't really the best memory aid.
How Billy had ended up packing up his place in Woodstock, New York and moving out to the middle of the Texas desert was never entirely clear to me. If there was a place in Texas for an old folk singer to settle, this was probably it. A little art community had been developing here for quite a while now. The whole area was a bizarre mix of traditional cowboy ranch motif and hippy artist colony, a sort of Lone Ranger on acid type thing. Still, if you were to put together a list of unlikely places to find a Jewish New York folk icon, this would be pretty far down that list.
The guitars came out when we got to Billy's house. I was easily the most inexperienced musician there that night, so I sheepishly avoided playing anything for most of the night, choosing to just sing along instead. Finally I had enough wine in my system that my courage was piqued, and I was talked into playing a song, which everyone quickly realized was a mistake. I happily relinquished the guitar to one of my betters.
That night we sang old folk songs, and cowboy tunes, and even a little rock and roll. We recited poems and told stories. We drank wine until it ran out, then shifted over to the Lonestar beer that was in Billy's fridge, and we drank that until it ran out. We didn't really care what we were drinking. We were too caught up in the song. Billy told us stories about Woody and Ramblin' Jack, and we pulled out the old photo album filled with black and white photographs that Billy had taken in New York.
The night ended far too soon, as the nights you remember always do. The drive back to the motel in the predawn hours seemed longer than the one that had taken us out to Billy's. Listening to Billy's stories was like brushing up against immortality. It was as if we had spent those midnight hours gazing at the ghosts of beatniks past. The second hand history had given me a contact high that lingered like a jet of perfume sprayed into the air. None of us said a word as we drove back, we just tried to lock down the moment in our minds.
Although I know that I've had better glasses of wine than the ones that I had that night, I will always remember that Cabernet that we drank from the plastic cups. The moment is the thing that matters. The moment can make a bottle of cheap Cabernet the greatest wine of your life. When you find yourself in such a moment, you just have to drink deeply.
Note: This story is based on a really awesome weekend that I had about a year ago, but I have embellished it a bit to condense the weekend into one night.