Love and Death in Charlottesville

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Photographs of Old Cville by Paul Whitehead

True Stories by Jamie Dyer

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I Am Talking To My Friend

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For a time, the C & O Club on Water Street was a small hub of American music. Some of the best musicians of the day played there and a lot of them came back. It was and still is one of the best clubs in Virginia to have had its day.

Townes van Zandt played at the C & O Club in Charlottesville in the early 80s, I'm guessing '83-'84. The period was a low point of his career so the turnout wasn't high. I was one of 30-40 people that showed up, along with my friends Chris, Howdy and Janet. The C & O Club had one of my favorite all time pieces of grafitti in the men's room:

The Developer's Prayer

Chop it down,
Fill it in,
Pave it over,
Amen.

I might have put it there and not remembered. Hard to say.

At the time, I was a ladder runner at the C & O Restaurant, which at the time was the hardest food service job in town, so I got into the club for free. Dave Simpson, owner of the C & O, was a generous soul to his employees and we had limited run of the place. I quit that job twice and he fired me once (it really was a rough job) and we still stayed friends. I also later worked for Dave at a bakery he ran on the Downtown Mall but that's another story.

Townes played his first set and went to the bar. I walked up next to him and told him I loved his music and his poetry. He thanked me and asked me if I had any weed. I did. We went outside to the old walk-in storage spot and burned one. We talked about music and carpentry. We found that we shared an appreciation for Skeets McDonald. Common ground on Skeets is about as rock solid as it gets.

We went back to the club and Townes bought me a shot. Then he bought me another shot. And another. I lost track. We continued our conversation about music and woodworking. I told Townes I always wanted to write songs but was still learning to play an instrument. He told me I'd write a song if I really wanted to. It took a few years but he was correct.

Another shot or two and then a fellow was at Townes's side. The fellow wasn't happy.

"I paid eight bucks to hear you and you're just talking to this burnout."

Townes turned his head, looked at the unhappy dude and said in a forceful but gentle tone, "I am talking to my friend", then turned back to me, ignored the unhappy fellow and we continued our conversation.

Townes went back on stage to play and I went back to my table with my friends. I was hammered. Townes had gotten me so wasted I passed out near the beginning of his second set. I didn't get to hear the song I'd requested, 'Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold'. My friends had to pony me to the car and they said Townes dedicated a song to me as I was being carted out the door. I wish I could remember it. I spent the rest of the night unconscious in the back seat of Janet's car.

That 30 minute exchange with Townes changed my young life. Few human beings had affected me the way he did. I got the feeling he didn't care too much about being Townes and was more interested in connecting with a kindred spirit. My experience wasn't unique as Townes really got around during his life. It was a great lesson that I hope to be able to perfect someday. I've since heard many people in the music biz tell me what a depressed mess of a drunk Townes was. But of Townes, I've never heard anyone say one of the most commonly heard things of almost all of us in the biz at some point, "What an asshole".

I quit drinking a couple of times in the intervening years. It killed Townes and many other friends. I'll let something else kill me instead, later rather than sooner.

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