Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Celebrating Al

I promised to write about Al Grierson, so here goes. Before proceeding, I want to make it clear to everyone who reads this that every word of this is being written with love.

Al was one of the most interesting persons that I have ever met. I am still learning from him after all these years. Every time I think of him, I am reminded of something valuable to me. He remains an outstanding example of how much a person can change if he really wants to do so. At different times in his incarnation as Al, he was a railroad worker in his native Canada, a newspaper editor, a Buddhist monk, a raging drunk and the "Poet Laureate of Luckenbach”. He was always a peace activist and labor supporter.

I met Al at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1995. He was at the worst part of his raging drunk phase. Luckily, it was almost the end of that phase as well. His behavior was so poor that he did not come around me for several years after he sobered up. I did not get to know the sober Al until I moved to Austin in 1998. He still did not approach me. I had to speak to him first. He had his young daughters visiting him that summer. Watching him interact with them was thing that drew me to begin a conversation with him. He was a wonderful father when he got to spend time with them.

Al was one of a number of friends who knew Stephen and knew me separately before we met. I remember talking with Al at ARTZ Rib House one night after my 18 day first date with Stephen. Al said, ”I would never have thought of the two of you together, but when I saw you, it looked so perfect.” Almost eight years later we are stilll proving him right. We went on to have a deep discussion about James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code.

Stephen and I were living in Hollywood, Florida when we started seeing entries about Al’s truck being found without him in a low water crossing near Luckenbach, Texas on a list to which we subscribed. It did not take long to figure out what had happened. Coming home from a gig at a local school, Al had tried to cross the low water crossing, which had water in it at the time. The truck stalled. Al stepped out and rode the flood into his next adventure. His guitar was found still in its case inside the truck dry and unharmed.

Not wanting to mourn by ourselves, we went around the corner to our friend Chris Chandler’s apartment. After breaking the news to Chris, we sat in his living room reminiscing and telling each other stories about Al for several hours. I remember Chris sitting on the floor. Every now and then, he would jump to his feet, spin around in a circle and say “Al Grierson” a time or two then sit back down.

Although, I miss Al, I am certain that he chose how and when to leave. He was only 52 years old but I had thought he was at least 10 years older. He was beginning to have health problems that would most likely have increased and had no insurance to get them addressed. His ride on that rushing wall of water added to the legend that he was becoming.

Al was a songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Utah Phillips .He wrote story ballads that contained chapters rather than verses. They went on and on but you were never quite ready for them to be over. His song Resurrection was recorded by Ray Wylie Hubbard on two albums. You can still get his music and can listen to it at AOL Music. Quite a few songs have been written about Al. My favorites are Al’s Ashes and Me by Chuck Brodsky and In the Texas Sky by Jack Williams. It seems that Al’s sister took some of his ashes to the Folk Alliance in Vancouver. Chuck and Jack got to thinking about traveling with the ashes and these songs happened.

Here is an excerpt from on of Al's songs. Enjoy.

"May you set your shoes to dancing

in the hour of your death

and meet it with the courage it deserves.

May your shadow pass in pirouettes

of such amazing grace

that the tears of those who mourn you

disappear without a trace

In a smoke that shapes their sorrow

to the fading of your feet

In a ring around the rainbow

where the circle is complete."


tammy vitale said...

Lovely story. Thanks for sharing.

Top cat said...

Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories of Al.

A tip of the hat to Al.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Al sounds like the kind of legendary personality most of us hear stories about, but never meet. I wish I had known him.

Such people are distinctive in that they choose their lives. They do not live by default. And if they are very lucky, they also choose their deaths.

It's a shameful thing when a health care system excludes anyone.

I hadn't realized that it was 8 years, but It is hard to think of you or Stephen without the other.