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Kentucky Rain

Walking home Monday at midnight in the driving late-March Brooklyn rain, I hit a good twenty minute stretch. I rarely use an umbrella in New York City as it presents an awkward space-management dilemma, like navigating the already populous cement with everybody’s head expanded to triple-size. But given the hour and conditions the sidewalks were clear, so I opened an under-utilized bumbershoot from my pack and watched the encasing runoff as though staring from the backside of a waterfall. The bars on Atlantic Avenue were closing early, even for a Monday, with stools stacked on tables and mops hitting floors. I was plugged in to some tunes, sheltered, on-foot and self-contained, a condition only sustainable for short bursts during a lifetime. But like I said .. twenty minutes.

Hillybilly Deluxe – that’s what I was listening to – Dwight Yoakam’s 1987 follow-up to his debut LP. I used to make an argument for Dwight on occasion in mixed company, back when I was young and had the energy. He’s an easy sort to slap a knee-jerk label on, what with the tight jeans and that ever-present Stetson pulled low over his eyes. “You like this guy?” David Letterman joked in trademark punk fashion to Alec Baldwin, about to introduce Yoakam on a ’96 show. “I bet you a hundred bucks he’s wearing a cowboy hat..” I’ve grown tired of Dave but still listen to Dwight. The hat, jeans and swagger are all part of a crafted visual that he’s pulled off well, but without them the guy looks like he might be pumping gas at a 50’s Mobil station in Porterville, California. Not unlike Tom Petty, another exceptional talent looked down upon by some “sophisticated” music fans, part of Yoakam’s appeal is in the genuine transformation he achieves while performing. Several observations could be made about this process, but really, it all comes down to the guy’s voice. When Johnny Cash names you his “favorite singer,” chances are you’ve got something going on. He’s been labeled “country” – a derisive term for the clueless post Hank Williams masses – but he crosses genres. Elvis analogies are not out of line. Listen to his cover of the Kink’s Tired Of Waiting For You and then try defining the guy.

But I digress. Brooklyn, transient ruminative relief, late-night pouring rain. I arrive at my building where an elegant woman with baby strapped to front is exiting a cab, attempting futilely to cover from the deluge. I grab her suitcase and turn my key in the door, helping her in to the lobby. “Thank you,” she says with educated English tone. “Nice night,” I observe with some irony, though I’m still feeling OK. “Just awful,” she says, extending the handle and rolling her belongings away. Inside my apartment it’s warm and I switch in to a dry t-shirt. A quick Internet search reveals that Dwight Yoakam is facing an IRS lean on his property; the result of over four hundred grand in delinquent payment. I switch over to Youtube and catch a clip of him performing in Wheeling, West Virginia – a two part medley starting with Suspicious Minds and segueing seamlessly into a sublime, Kentucky-fied cover of the Bee Gee’s To Love Somebody. Maybe I can nurse an extra ten minutes out of this run.

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