I got 10 miles to go on a 9 mile road…
Didn’t your mama tell you? If you can’t write somethin nice about someone on the bathroom wall, then don’t write nothin at all. Though the artwork is captivating… This gas station bathroom outside of Madison, WI is repugnant- sticky & foul- like if dungeons had bathrooms. (Did they?) It’s the wee hours and I’m considering how to wash my hands without touching the faucet when I glance up at the cloudy mirror and see it for the first time: Holy crap- I’m wearing Jim White’s coat!
A tiny apartment next to the funeral home on a muggy night, that was the first time I heard a Jim White record- his first- The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus. What a find, like a four-leaf clover or… a parking lot 10-spot. Scary devil-cowboy on the cover, Jim White’s face obscured by a book on the back. The Good Book. I’d never heard of him. But now the strange sounds & words & mosquitoes & sticky night air all sloshed together, making a potent cocktail that I was very thirsty for. One of those records that gradually becomes the soundtrack to your current existence, for better or worse.
Walking back to my truck in Jim White’s coat with some extra swagger- which is to say any swagger at all- it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet reached into the pockets of Jim White’s coat. Hell, until I just looked in the smudgy mirror I’d forgotten I was even wearing it. And now, with Herculean effort, I still abstained, for then I could still cling to hope of finding a weathered rabbits foot or forgotten scrap of paper with an unfinished poem or a mysterious phone number. The wondering was mildly electrifying.
Some months before I’d ventured to Kiki’s House of Righteous Music in Madison to see legendary Texas troubadour Sam Baker, and was honored to join my pal Gerald on a couple songs during his opening set. Pre-show in Kiki’s kitchen, Sam apologized for taking a call. “It was Jim White”, he’d said. “Do you know Jim White?” Well, I mean, I don’t KNOW him… That afternoon during the drive I’d listened to the new record Jim White had produced for North Carolina’s Packway Handle Band, which included a few of Jim White’s songs. The next morning, after waking on Kiki’s couch with a whisky head, I gave Sam Baker the new CD to listen to in his rental car on his way to the next town. He was most appreciative.
Between a rock called heaven and a hard place called home
We wander the shadows so restless and lonesome.
For in the fallow field where what’s reaped is what’s sewn
There lies a road to ruin and it’s paved with our tombstones
If you believe everything I read, then you’ll believe that Jim White has been a film school student, fashion model, comedian, boxer, preacher, pro surfer and a New York City cab driver. I once described him to someone who asked as being David Byrne if David Byrne was raised in the rural South on gospel music, Pentecostal ranting and lots of drugs. After the Wrong-Eyed Jesus discovery I immersed myself in Jim White’s next several records, each one a different journey I was exulted to take. Gun-to-my-head favorite? It’d be Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See, co-produced by Joe Henry. Aural cinema. I had my personal Holy Trinity of songwriting geniuses but Jim White couldn’t be denied, so I had to update to a quartet. My Mount Rushmore of songwriting geniuses, tortured misfits all.
With vile gas station coffee and a Snickers, I was humming back down the lonely interstate in Jim White’s coat- no music just thoughts. Earlier I’d been back at Kiki’s House of Righteous Music to see Jim White. In her cordial basement, like God intended. Jim White told a story leading into That Girl from Brownsville Texas that spooks me still today. He tells a lot of stories.
After the show I told Jim White about how I’d given his CD to Sam Baker. It made him happy. He insisted on replacing it with the vinyl version. I was also purchasing his record Where it Hits You on vinyl, as I only had it on CD. He refused my money, but knowing he was out on the road and working I refused his refusal. Impasse. Finally he said “Tell you what. I’ll give you both records if you’ll buy my coat for $25” Uh… what? I recalled seeing him in Chicago several years prior at the Old Town School of Folk and after the show he was selling thrift store clothes out of a duffel bag from the stage. It was odd. It was perfect.
So Jim White says he sells used clothes on his travels, and at the end of the year he gives all monies to Doctors Without Borders. He peels off the coat he’d been wearing- brown leather with a heavy ‘ish lining- and I worried about him staying warm, as he was heading north for shows in Minnesota where it was even colder than here. He still resides in the south- his blood is thinner! I put Jim White’s coat on. Mojo for days. I’d never buy a coat this style, so I had to buy it. Jim Whites coat. Jim fucking White’s coat.
God was drunk when he made me, but that’s OK
‘cause I forgive Him