Black Water

Yesterday, during my 650-mile one-way trip to visit my dementia-addled father to help as his caregiver while his real caregiver was undergoing surgery, the brain tends to wander towards thoughts that aren’t pleasant to contemplate. To help navigate the trip my Pandora station brought me song after song that I had harnessed over several years so that I basically had an eight hour trip of uninterrupted music that pleased the proper chords of my meandering brain.

It was a pleasant drive until the Doobie Brother classic “Black Water” came on and became the catalyst for one of my most pleasant memories.  The memory involved friends on a camping trip being driven by me in my new van, with a new girlfriend, singing Black Water but many of those voices have been silent for over 30 years even though it felt like just yesterday.

It was the summer of 1976, I had flown across the country to Virginia to buy and pick up my brothers’ van. It was a Blue Chevy Van that was a three on the tree with a middle seat built by my brother for his girlfriend to sit in next to the driver.  I drove the van across the country and arrived back in Los Angeles with a means of transportation that immediately had me ferrying folk around and thus was invited on a camping trip that I normally would not have been part of.  The trip was up to Little Rock Resivor and we ended up camping along a river.  The group included my new girlfriend who would become my first wife, my brother, his best friend Vance Faulker, another friend of my brothers named Chris Clark, Robert Raitt and his new wife Lori. I don’t remember much about the camping except for two things. The water was ice cold but my girlfriend loved it and was the only one who actually went swimming in the river, and they all got very drunk and stoned. My brother was the last to wake up the following morning so his “friends” were eating watermelon and spitting the seeds on his sleeping body.  I wasn’t part of this group, I was just the chauffeur. I was 17 and already going to college, and they were already a group of blue-collar folk who worked hard during the day and partied most every night.

None of them would have much of a future but on this trip for four minutes, I had as much fun as I’ve ever had driving. The drive back to Los Angeles after the trip was long for me as I wasn’t a very experienced driver. Lori took the middle seat next to me to keep me awake while everyone else was passed out on the two beds I (or my brother) had built into the back of the van. We were about an hour into the drive and I was sleepy as hell when the radio (probably KMET) started playing Black Water. Lori started singing and so I joined in. How could you not sing along with Black Water? The cool part though was one voice from the back of the van started singing, and then one by one everyone who had been passed out joined in so that by the time the song had hit “Yeah, I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland and dance a honky-tonk” the impromptu chorus was rocking the van. It was over in minutes but that moment has stayed with me forever and it is what I always think about when I hear Black Water.  Partly because of the memory and partly because some of those voices have been gone for a long long time.

Vance Faulker would leave Los Angeles and move to Needles where he could get stoned and not have to work. He was afraid to drive in Los Angeles but not in Needles but those nightmares he had as a kid of him dying in a car accident almost came true. He didn’t die but he was paralyzed in a car accident and a few years later died of pill overdose related to his paralysis.  Vance was probably between 25 – 27 when he died. Vance will get his own story because he was a fascinating man who I always thought of as the Natural because of his 6’4 frame and athletic ability.

Chris Clarke was run over while sleeping on the side of the road in Lancaster.  It is the end that surprised no one who knew him. Chris worked hard and partied harder. I didn’t know him well, not sure anyone did.

Robert Raitt would die of a heart attack but luckily his young wife Lori would make an improbable decision to those who knew her and divorce Robert a few years after the camping trip and marry our mutual friend Scott.  It was a decision I didn’t understand at the time, but she might have saved her life by ending her relationship with Robert.  She has been happily married to Scott for almost forty years and that story might blow your mind because it blew mine.

Anyway, Black Water was playing, and I did my best to pay homage to my old friends whose voices I hadn’t heard in forty years.

Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?

 

Black Water
Well, I built me a raft and she’s ready for floatin’
Ol’ Mississippi, she’s callin’ my name
Catfish are jumpin’, that paddle wheel thumpin’
Black water keeps rollin’ on past just the same
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Yeah, keep on shinin’ your light
Gonna make everything
Pretty mama, gonna make everything all right
And I ain’t got no worries
‘Cause I ain’t in no hurry at all
Well, if it rains, I don’t care
Don’t make no difference to me
Just take that streetcar that’s goin’ uptown
Yeah, I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland and dance a honky-tonk
And I’ll be buyin’ ev’rybody drinks all ‘roun’
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Keep on shinin’ your light
Gonna make everything, everything
Gonna make everything all right
And I ain’t got no worries
‘Cause I ain’t in no hurry at all
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
(By the hand) hand (take me by the hand) pretty mama
Gonna dance with your daddy all night long
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with your daddy night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
Songwriters: Patrick Simmons
Black Water lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

 

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4 Comments

  1. 68elcamino427

    I really enjoyed this story.
    It brings to mind similar experiences from the past.
    Like sunny August afternoon that I pulled the el camino to the side of the very quiet road in an orchard and my girlfriend and I stopped for a lovely picnic.
    “Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy.”

    She spread that blanket on the ground … I can still feel the sun on my back.

    Like

  2. 68elcamino427

    I often think about you and your father.
    I cared for my mom and the last seven years were tough.

    Things did not get easier as time passed.
    She had enough funds available so that I could hire people to stay with her and do the things your brother is doing. We wound up having two ladies there 24/7 the last three years. I live just five miles from her old place soit was easy for me to check in and dote on them.

    From all of your accounts in the past, your dad is a fine and honorable man who deserves respect.
    My heart goes out to you and your family.

    Like

    • The worse part is not being able to communicate. You start to formulate a question and it stops in your throat because there is no answer he can give you. This all started about the time my Mom passed away three years ago and after an initial sharp decline, it has been a slow decline to the point where he can’t ask you a question and you can’t ask him one, but because the brain is weird, every once in a while something triggers a cohesive thought and he’s able to articulate is perfectly. Those moments are priceless but I’m not around enough to get those, but my brother has gotten a few.

      Like

      • 68elcamino427

        Yes, I went through this with my mom.
        She would have a thought, begin to verbalize and then part way through would stop and be searching for the next words and it was like a punchline in a joke when you start to tell the joke and the punchline escapes you.
        She knew that I always loved baseball, but she could never come up with that thing I enjoyed so much. She knew I liked it a lot though.
        I would give her the answers to many things, but a few minutes later is was like the words were never said.
        I just took comfort in knowing that she was safe and cozy.

        Like

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