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Hello, Iím Dr. BLT & Iím a Buckholic:
What itís like for a Songwriter to be Under the Influence of Buck Owens
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Iím a Buckaholic
Denial is the hallmark of addiction. Christians arenít supposed to be addicted to anything, so we tend to try even harder to cover up and vehemently deny our addictions. I knew I was a Buckaholic when I tried to deny the death of Buck Owens by unconsciously sabotaging all hopes of being at his funeral at a respectable hour. I wouldnít have missed Buckís funeral for the world, and I certainly would not have envisioned myself being late.
But Freud was at least partially correct in averring that are no accidents in life. At first I looked for flimsy excuses as to why I would arrive inexcusably late for the funeral of the Kern county man I had admired most (along with Merle Haggard, that is). It would probably be too crowded to get in, and I would end up watching the whole thing on a giant TV screen, something I could do more comfortably at home. It was time to spring forward and I had become disoriented by the overnight time change. But, as an existential psychologist, I was keenly aware that the avoidance and the denial of death is the most powerful motivational force upon our behavior. In the end, I concluded that my tardiness was the result of not wanting to face the death of a larger-than life, rock Ďn ďroleĒ model.
As a songwriter who has a deep admiration for a man who was never afraid to take creative risks, and as a person who loved the musical road Buck, and folks of his ilk paved for the rest of us struggling artists, I have been, and will always be under the influence of Buck Owens. I didnít realize it until his funeral, but I am a Buckaholic. I will never recover, and never want to recover. It is one of the healthiest addictions known to humankind, and I am proud to be a Buckaholic. Although I started working on my tribute CD, Confessions of a Buckaholic many months prior to his death, Buckís death, and the awareness of my own Buckaholic condition that ensued as a result of his death, drove me into the feverish songwriting frenzy that took me over as I was completing the CD. And it has driven me to write this and other articles about the king of the Crystal Palace.
Where do I begin? How do I begin to describe the man who has been the very heart and soul of Bakersfield? How do we begin to say good-bye to a larger-than-life legendary figurethe one who, with a little help from his friends, defined the Bakersfield Sound and paved The Streets of Bakersfield with gold? I guess Iíll begin by describing The Last Time I Saw Buck Owens.
On a hot summer evening, on the night of June 29, 2005, I can proudly proclaim that I was on the streets of Bakersfield backing up Buck Owens on a CMT-video-taped version of the country classic, The Streets of Bakersfield. Notice that I used the term "proudly" with a small, not a capital P. Much to my chagrin, I was one of nearly 200 Buckaroo-wannabes who stood on that same street near the intersection of Sillect Avenue and Buck Owens Boulevard, right next to the Crystal Palace, singing the same song. We were the dewy-eyed desperadoes who answered the call proclaimed in the June 29th edition of the Bakersfield Californian to participate in the creation of a production involving the top twenty country songs based on American cities. That was, as Iíve announced in a song, The Last Time I Saw Buck Owens. Itís a memory that will be forever etched in my mind.
His streets were the streets that welcomed and embraced strangers. His streets were streets that redefined heartbreak and loneliness. His streets knew no artificial boundaries between rock, country, and rhythm and blues. His streets were big enough for the rich, for the poor, and for the middle-class working man and woman. His streets wandered through the good times and the band, and made even the worst day of our lives seem bearable. His streets reached out to younger, underground artists like John McCrae of Cake, who regarded Owens as his mentor. I had the pleasure of watching Buck and John perform Excuse Me, Iíve Got a Heartache live, on stage at the Crystal Palace. And I was there when Cake recorded their forthcoming CD, Live at the Crystal Palace. I was under the influence of Buck Owens that night, so if you hear some crazy chanting in the background on that CD, when it comes out, thatís probably me.
The news of Buckís death came crashing into my heart like a hit and run head-on collision. I knew it was inevitable, but yet, oddly, I didnít see it coming. And now that Buck is gone,
The Streets of Bakersfield seem empty. I suggest we begin filling them up with memories and musicmemories of Buck and the music of Buck.
Buck was born in Texas, where everything is either born super-sized or in the process of growing on you. Buck was once a little bitty baby, but boy, did Buck become big! He seems to have become the apotheosis of rags to riches stories.
He became a man with just a simple plan, and a guitar in his hand. The guitar, along with his twangy vocal chords, were the primary tools he used to dig himself out of poverty, shape the face of country music, and maneuver his way into the hearts and minds of millions of fans across the world. He was destined to be a big country rock star. He dreamed big and made all of his dreams come true. Though he was born in Texas, he made it big in Bakersfield, California. And boy, did he make it big! Iím not saying that there would be no Nashville West movement, if it were not for Buck, and Iím not saying that there would not be something called The Bakersfield Sound without his presence. With its overly-produced songs, and its penchant for the prosaic, ountry music had turned into a diabetic that had just binged on sugar. But he and Merle Haggard were at the helm of the movement that would turn country music on its ear and wake the world of country music up from its sugar-induced country coma.
While other country rebels were either drunk as a skunk, doing drugs, or doing time, Buck was making the most of his time, staying out of trouble, and making all of his dreams come true. While Merle was still stuck in San Quentin (not to be released until the day I was released from my motherís womb), Buck was busy landing his first national hit, Under Your Spell Again.
While Johnny Cash was busy hammering out his own hits, (often while in the midst of being strung out on uppers and downers), and while I was busy hammering on the plastic strings of the Bugs Bunny guitar my parents bought me for Christmas, Buck was busy beginning a string of 15 consecutive #1 records.
When I was old enough to know that there was a musical life beyond Bugs Bunny, I began to change the channels away from my favorite cartoons. I graduated from Bugs Bunny to Hee Haw, the show Buck co-hosted from 1969-1986. Somewhere within that same time frame, I began to watch The Monkees (The television show) and The Johnny Cash Show, where Johnny Cash once teamed up with my then-favorite band, The Monkees, to perform Everybody Loves a Nut. By that time, Johnny Cash had faced some of his darkest demons. Buck, on the other hand, (with the exception of growing up poor, and then struggling with a rocky first marriage) never really got up close and personal with his dark side until 1974. Thatís when his lead guitarist, backup singer and close friend, Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident. That accident, and that profound loss, really seemed to take the wind out of Buckís sail. It was as if everything came to an abrupt halt. His music suffered, his personal life suffered, and his mood sunk to a new low.
Never forgetting his roots, and never forgetting that he was the ďCaptain CrunchĒ among boring bowls of soggy country Corn flakes coming out of Nashville, Buck gradually began to pick up the pieces again, and put his life back together. He remarried in 1979, and made a huge comeback in 1988 with his signature hit, The Streets of Bakersfield, performed with Dwight Yoakam.
In 1996, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and, in 1996, he opened the Crystal Palace, the museum and dinner club that would be the performing arena for scores of ineffably talented country and rock stars, the place that would house a legion of bronze statues representing such country icons as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Owens himself. Though it will likely survive, with donated funds and the legacy of its founder, it has become a haunted castle without a king, framed in a shrine of flowers, cards and balloons.
When Buck Owens passed away
on March 25, 2006, it we lost more than a multi-millionaire multi-media
mogul. We lost the King of the Crystal Palace and the King of Kern
County. I said it one before, and Iíll say it again. Buck Owens was,
and is, the heart and soul of Bakersfield. We will really miss him.
Iíd like to ask the rest of the world to listen to the song Homer Joy wrote
for him, The Streets of Bakersfield, I envision Buck walking down those
streets with his red, white and blue guitar in hand, and then take a moment
of silence to remember one of the worldís greatest country singers, and
creative forces in the history of Western civilization. Yes, Iím
a Christian and Christ is my lord and savior. And I wouldnít recommend
addiction of any kind. But if one is going to be addicted, there
is no other safer addiction than music, and the music of Buck Owens is
a pretty good thing for a songwriter, musician or fan to be under the influence