Monday Nights at El Farol

Butch. That was the singer’s name. An old, grizzled cowboy in a beat-up hat and boots, just him and his guitar. I would go with the young boy I was dating, and we would listen to him for hours. He introduced me to some incredible music that I would have never experienced if it were not for those evenings.

Butch Crouch. I think that was his last name. I’m going with it. It fits him.

He would sit in the corner of the room, near the bar, and strum his guitar as his rough voice sang John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, so many others. Candles flickered on the tables. We could smoke inside then, and I inhaled my American Spirits with abandon, along with whatever we were drinking.

He knew Sean, the boy, though I cannot remember how. Was it through his mother? Or father? They had divorced years before and he was on the trophy wife. I am sure it was his mother. I cannot imagine Butch putting up with the “upper class” bullshit Sean’s father carried with him. Some nights, knowing what my favorite songs were, he would dedicate them to me, and I felt my inner light glow. Often during his break, he would come sit at our table and we would buy him a round, as he told us stories of his past.

He was the closest things to what I imagined a cowboy of old to be. An outlaw. The epitome of what I imagined the west would have been like. He was one of my favorite things in that town. He had lived a life, completely. I do not think he regretted anything. As I sit here and write this, I wonder if I will ever be able to say that about my life. But tonight I feel nostalgic, and those were early, halcyon days…

Before Sean betrayed me. Before I lost myself for several months.

I can’t remember what my drink was at El Farol. I know at Evangelo’s it was Jack and Coke. But that was in the days it was a glorious, grimy bar. It was transitioning from an establishment of the 70s to one that fit in more with what the culture there is today. I am sure I wouldn’t even recognize it.

I loved going to see Butch. The place he performed was an old adobe building. It had history. Just like he did. And personality. But the whole city did in those days. It was a few years before the Starbucks and the Banana Republics would take over the downtown common and completely erase the culture of what had been a city that existed in a glorious time capsule.

During my time there, I went to see a palm reader during one of my afternoons roaming around with Natalie. I never gave much leverage to these readings, but knowing the city was considered a “healing” zone on planet earth – where people took their crystals into Whole Foods to see if they moved the correct way when held over a piece of produce and sage permeated the air from people smudging away bad omens – I decided to give it a try. One thing stood out for me. He said music would be a great part of my life.

WTF? Yes, Natalie and I listened to grunge all day or reggae if we were at her boyfriend’s house, I played Tom Waits over and over at night in the studio as I painted and battled insomnia. Sean introduced me to Butch and the songs he played for us every Monday, as well as the Cowboy Junkies, and my roommate was involved with the college music scene and the bands that were still considered indie in those days- REM, the Samples, Blues Traveler, the list was unending. But I never thought of this. I never thought music was a driver for me. For years I had performed. I was a singer. But it wasn’t a passion for me, like art or writing. It was there. I think I loved the poetry of it more than anything. The stories of pain and anguish that were a balm on my confused soul.

And that’s one reason I fell hard for the boy, Sean. He was poetic. He had a deep soul. And he was as lost as I was. His father wanted him to go to college, but after being forced myself to go when I was 18 and completely unready for the experience, I knew that it wasn’t something one should be made to do, simply because they had turned a certain age. I believed, and still do, that you get the most out of higher education when you are ready for it, regardless of what age you may be.

I fell in love with Sean because of the potential I saw in him. In his softness that came out when he wasn’t around his drunk, skater friends. I could see he carried wounds with him that made him sometimes seem older and wiser than he was. I could talk to him about anything and feel as if the conversation held meat. He took me to foreign films that I still love to this day and into the desert at night to stare at the vast universe. He was my guide, introducing me to a culture that existed within my own country, but one that was so foreign to me.

And then he cheated. He told me right away, but I couldn’t forgive him. Not for a long time. If I wasn’t enough for him, then he meant nothing to me. Gone were the nights at El Farol and Butch. Gone were the art films and poetry readings. I began to go to Evangelo’s alone, early in the day long before happy hour. I would sit at the bar, in the darkness as the sun beat down outside, and observe the other patrons in the mirror behind the bar. I would listen to Sheryl Crow lyrics as her voice wafted out from the jukebox:

“All I wanna do is have a little fun before I die, “
Says the man next to me out of nowhere
It’s apropos of nothin’
He says, “His name is William”
But I’m sure he’s Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy
And he’s plain ugly to me
And I wonder if he’s ever had a day of fun in his whole life

We are drinkin’ beer at noon on Tuesday
In a bar that faces a giant car wash
The good people of the world they’re washin’ their cars
On their lunch break
Hosin’ and scrubbin’ as best they can in skirts in suits
They drive up in their shiny Datsuns and Buicks
Back to the phone company and record stores too
Nothin’ like Billy and me

I like a good beer buzz early in the mornin’
And Billy likes to peel the labels off his bottles of Bud
He lays each one up on the bar
Then he lights every match in an oversized pack
Lettin’ each one burn down to his

Thick fingers before blowin’ and cursin’ them out
He’s watching the bottles of Bud as they spin on the floor
The bar is ours – the day and the night and the car wash too

That was poetry to my sodden mind. It replaced the love sonnets Sean would read to me, the music he had played for me. I was alone again, as it always felt I was, and sitting in the dark bar with Billy, Mac or Buddy beside me, I felt like a rebel. Though I suppose my only cause during that phase was to soak my brain with alcohol to forget my past, my present, and how I had gotten where I was. But while everyone else in town was working jobs, respectable or not, I would nurse my drinks and my cigarettes and try and forget that I had lost my road map somewhere along the way.

Sometimes during the nights when I couldn’t sleep I would drive around town, after all the bars were closed, imagining I was the only person left alive. I would take long drives out on winding roads just to escape – whether myself or someone else depended on the day. And music was a part of that. It’s funny how I never listen to anything while I’m driving now. I like the silence and the ability to think. I still feel as if I am running away – perhaps I will always feel untethered in that fashion – because I don’t feel as though I fit in anywhere.

But I did at El Farol. And for a season, it was magic. Sean and I eventually began seeing one another again, but it wasn’t to last. I had grown up by then, or at least tried to morph into something representing an adult. I had a job. I no longer had 2 PM drinks waiting for me at Evangelo’s. I was one of the “good people” who washed their cars on their lunch breaks. And even though I hated having to conform to societal norms, he was still a child, trying to discern what he would become and I knew I couldn’t wait around for that day. I needed someone who help me become a better version of myself, and that person, I decided, was me.

But in reminiscing on all of this, perhaps that palm reader was correct. Unbeknownst to me, music was seminal in my life during that time. And although it has come in waves throughout the years, and the artists may change or fade from my consciousness, I see how it was pivotal during those early adult years. In the last several years, some of my most favorite singers have died – some from a terminal illness, some long before it was their time. And with each death, a little part of myself dies as well. Perhaps I regret not appreciating the music more when it was fresh and alive. Perhaps I regret my own life deviations or the fact that time is ticking away and I am not living the life I dreamed I would be. I am not even the person I imagined I would be, but that is due to the illness in my head, perhaps the biggest minefield in my life and one I battle with daily.

© Sorrow & Kindness


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