Friday, August 27, 2010
Twenty Years Ago Today
I remember hearing the news on the radio. I believe it was the day after Stevie died, in the morning as I was pulling into the parking lot at Midlothian High School. I was listening to the long-lost Q102. A helicopter crash somewhere in the Midwest, and suddenly he was gone. Another great Texan musician, another Buddy Holly tragedy, 30 years on.
Stevie Ray Vaughan was a true Texas hero. More than that, he was a Dallas boy, an Oak Cliff boy just like my dad. Stevie and I were born just about 19 years apart in the same hospital, Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas. He grew up on the streets I knew so well as a kid. Although I grew up in little Midlothian, Oak Cliff was my second home. (It was actually my first home during my first two years of life.) My dad's dad (and my granny, who died when I was 7) lived on Catherine Street. My mom's mom lived on Marvin Avenue, not far from the Jeff Davis shopping center. Grandma was Stevie Ray's homeroom teacher at Kimball High School in the '60s. My mother's uncle ran the old Lamar & Smith funeral home and was a prominent member of the community, along with his wife, my Aunt Pokey.
Thanksgivings, Easters, family birthdays, Christmases--I spent most of them in Oak Cliff as a kid, just as I spent countless summer days there with my grandmother. I remember the huge pecan trees in my grandma's front yard; my granddad's back porch with the old metal chairs, where my granny would show me how she could take her teeth out; my cousins' yard, where we used to play football on Christmas day; some place called Soul Man's Barbecue, or something like that, which my granddad loved; my dad signing the Sunset High School theme song every time we passed his (and my mother's) alma mater. A lot of that is still here, but grandma and granddad aren't anymore, and neither are Uncle John and Aunt Pokey. And I now live about 1500 miles away.
I would have loved Stevie Ray Vaughan if he had been from Idaho, California or Bangladesh. His music was that soulful, that skillful, that engrossing--he was a magical guitar player who also had the unusual advantage of having a blues-soaked voice straight out of the 1930s. But since Stevie was a Dallas boy, a bearer of my own and my family's heritage, I had begun to practically worship him by the time he died. As soon as we could drive--and that wasn't long before Stevie's tragic death--a friend and I used to go to Austin's Barbecue in Dallas (also long lost), at Hampton and Illinois, hoping that Stevie would drop by. My buddy's girlfriend's dad owned the place by then, and Stevie was known to drop in now and then. He never did while we were there, but we did have some great ribs.
Stevie Ray, not long before that fateful night 20 years ago, had kicked addiction, had turned his life around and had moved back to the old neighborhood, where he'd mow his mother's lawn and shop for groceries with the locals. He might have found his fame in Austin and conquered the world from there, but at heart Stevie was one of us, a Dallas boy who probably ate at Polar Bear Ice Cream on Hampton and maybe even played with the toys at ME Moses Dime store over in the Jeff Davis center as a kid before eating a horrid meal at the shocking J's cafeteria next door. Or maybe his family was sensible and went over to Sonny Bryan's on Inwood for some famous barbecue.
At the age of 16, hearing of Stevie Ray's death, sitting in that school parking lot, I was devastated. I had really just gotten into his music a few years before, and I had just come to understand who he was and why he meant so much to me. For all his brilliance, his mainstream career had only just seriously taken off when his life was cut short. Everywhere I go, people have heard of Stevie Ray Vaughan. People love him, revere him. But not many of us truly understand him, who he was and where he came from. I do, probably as much as anybody who didn't know him can. Today, 20 years after his death, I still miss him.