Good fiction takes you to places a million miles from the hassles and annoyances of everyday life. Blair’s new title Long Gone Daddies is good fiction. It’s a tale of a struggling band with a conflicted leader. It talks about Carl Perkins, and that took me to a place from my past.
The Winston-Salem where I grew up was a different place from the Winston-Salem where I currently live. Back then, the streets were paved with golden tobacco leaves. Well, not quite, but there was a lot of money around. One of the things the money was spent on was a big street festival put on every September by the Arts Council, the Carolina Street Scene. Artists and craftsmen from all over would come to sell their wares. (My parents still drink out of wine goblets purchased there 35 years ago.) The festival also brought in internationally renowned musicians. Some I’ll always regret missing (Mose Allison, Muddy Waters). Others I’ll always cherish getting a chance to see (Dizzy Gillespie, Bo Diddley).
I vividly remember seeing Carl Perkins in 1983. I don’t remember how much I knew about Perkins at the time. I probably knew his biggest hit, “Blue Suede Shoes,” and that he was the least famous member of the Million Dollar Quartet. I definitely didn’t know the back story, how he was supposed to be bigger than Elvis but things didn’t quite work out. It didn’t matter. What I saw that September day was a transcendent musical moment. I define transcendent as when someone is doing what he does better than anyone on the planet and having a great time doing it, feeding off the energy of the crowd. Long Gone Daddies says this about Carl Perkins: “Carl’s guitar, it could power a train. Carl’s guitar could bring the freight.” For one glorious afternoon, I was lucky enough to be standing next to the tracks as the train went by, feeling its power and gazing in awe at it.
Perkins was a rock-and-roll messiah. Someone who could make you believe in the power of music, no matter how jaded you were. I’ve seen hundreds of live music shows. I’ve forgotten more acts than I remember. But Perkins really stuck with me—what a great guitar player he was, how much stage presence he had, what a great performer he was.
Over the years, music has become less important to me, getting shunted behind other distractions. Long Gone Daddies reminded me of a part of my life I used to really enjoy. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a transcendent musical moment. I should check the calendar of The Garage (www.the-garage.ws), the local bar where the Drive-By Truckers played all the time before they got famous. Maybe the next big thing is playing there this month.