Heaven's Gate

If there is a hill behind the sun, it ain't Heaven Hill. It ain't the brown-colored liquid that is sold at two bucks per half-pint in neighborhood liquor marts where food stamps are the legal tender of choice.

No, it can't be the same Heaven Hill that ruins lives faster than you can spell b-a-t-h-t-u-b g-i-n.

Perhaps the name of the whiskey drink is meant as a sad little joke on those poor bastards whose life is pure shit, so when they drink enough of it, they will arrive at a happy bluff called Heaven Hill.

Maybe the makers of Heaven Hill are offering a ride to the spiritual alcoholic higher ground. An alcoholiday of sorts?

Big John is a good-looking Canadian-Dutch guy, mid-50s, with a big kick-ball belly and a hearty laugh. A onetime lady-killer. He's brilliant and educated. He tells stories and jokes that are both witty and engaging, and he speaks numerous languages.

While living in Canada for the first two-thirds of his life, he had purchased the yuppie myth: the giant salary, the lovely wife, the big house, the expense accounts, the trips abroad, and blah, blah, blah. But the Big John story is shadows; it's as if he's on the lam, in transit, like there was a tragic and horrible twist somewhere along the way. And whiskey is Big John's Achilles heel. Just the smell of Heaven Hill whiskey can make Big John meaner than a motherfucker--a kind of Pavlovian junkyard dog.

Now, Big John has been evicted from the lovely trailer park here--the place he has called home for the past six months--basically, for getting drunk and, therefore, mean. But he hasn't left. He's already beaten up a couple of guys, broken windows, been arrested and even threatened some lives. Big John has a way of sucking people into his whirlwind, then wreaking complete havoc. It's the heady mix of charisma and whiskey. And lately, Big John's breath has been a warm, floating bouquet of Heaven Hill.

Earl is skinny and white, in his late 20s, maybe early 30s, and he hails from New York City. Earl is a beer-swill, but like Big John, he's not stupid, although his past seems equally as dubious. Unlike Big John, Earl is gentle, almost passive. And they have two things in common: One, a woman. Not just any woman, but a woman with whom Earl had been sharing a trailer before Big John's arrival. (When Big John moved in and he took over Earl's position in her bed, Earl was forced to move into a trailer a few doors away.) Hence their second commonality: a deep mutual hatred.

The punches came hard and the punches came fast. Mm bip bip, mm bip bip, yeah! Blood flew around in strange leaps like some kind of animal sacrifice. Big John caught Earl completely by surprise. Earl was sitting in a chair just outside the open door while Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" blared from within.

"I don't care for you at all, ya little fuckin' pipsqueak," Big John barked between Heaven Hill-fueled blows. Earl said nothing while absorbing the pounding. He didn't even raise his arms. Nothing but the horrible sound of flesh and bone on flesh and bone. Above their heads, bugs swirled around the glowing outdoor bulb attached to a fixture on the trailer. It was nearly 1 a.m.

Mm bip bip, mm bip bip, yeah! Big John's patented left hook, the one he often boasts about after much whiskey and countless cans of Old Milwaukee Ice, had Earl's nose queerly pointing east while his face looked north. Mm bip bip, mm bip bip, yeah! Big John laid in like a drunken Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot pounding a helpless rag doll. Mm bip bip, mm bip bip, yeah! Earl's eyes were turning into purplish, fleshy pillows. Big John was going for it, and Earl was no opponent--he just remained seated in front of his trailer while his head bounced back and forth in accordance with the strikes. Mm bip bip, mm bip bip, yeah!

When the unprovoked ambush ended, Big John was off like a prom dress, disappearing into the cool June night. Earl's face was fresh fistkill, and for the first half-hour, he stumbled around the court with a handgun. Then the cops showed. They found Big John hiding under a vacant trailer at the bottom of Heaven Hill. They listened to Earl assert his side of the skirmish and rightly let him resume his nightly position under the swirling bugs in front of his trailer with Dylan going and a can of beer in his hand.

When the cops split, Earl's ex-girl and I joined him at his perch, and he didn't mind, even though he had a busted face. Kindly Earl even brought out a fresh, ice-cold 12-pack, which the three of us worked into. Just an alcoholiday in the life.

Just three drunks under all them bugs.

Road Cases
(Plum Records)

Man, some of my neighbors have the life, especially ones without the tragic children. They get to lie around all day, watch TV, drink, argue and then screw. Then at night they can go out to eat, catch a flick, or whatever, then come home and drink, argue and screw some more. Some of my neighbors even have satellite dishes atop their single-wides! And even more funny than that, none of 'em work! What the fuck! How do they do it?

Me, I have to sit in summer heat and agony typing out hack-porn-video and recording reviews for various periodicals just to cover rent. I have to haggle for money with editors who take bloody butcher knives to my journalistic tripe because nobody reads fiction anymore, and even if the "public" still read books, I would still be whoring out the hacksmithing for hamburgers because fiction writers are like songwriters: Everybody else makes a better living off them than they do. And that's a fact-o mund-o, dear readers.

So how do most of my neighbors get so lucky?
Here's how: They get these checks from the government that ensure them relief from life's one major discomfort: WORK. Yep, their bitchin'-ass lifestyles are taxpayer subsidized, and all they have to do is make it to the mailbox for the timely state-issued checks and food stamps that show up monthly. It's the consume, rest and create-waste-while-wasting-oxygen polka. And they do it so well.

Anyway . . . I almost forgot. My job. Hacking away. Oh, yeah. Foghat. Blah.
This recording got me going about my neighbors and their still-active classic-'70s-thud-rock-torturin' eight-tracks that strain out occasional distort-o pangs of "Fool for the City" and "Slow Ride." And that Yankee Yin midtempo blues din of yesteryear still resounds a hearty thumbs-up in the old trailer park, and this recent live testament of said motor-speedway jive will go quite well in a neighborly trade for a 12-pack of somethin' bargainy. At least the tired Grand Funk/Free racket and dull thud of its intent will come in useful some way. And besides, it ain't such a bad deal, a free record-company promo CD for some government-subsidized beer. Cheers!

Joe Cocker
Across From Midnight
(CMC International)

One listen to Cocker's Across From Midnight and I got to thinkin' (like you care), "Man, this Joe Cocker sounds an awful lot like that wuss Lionel Richie these days. This can't be the same impassioned Woodstock weirdo whose sound is now so vapid that nothing but air comes out of the stereo speakers when the CD is going, can it? Can it be the same 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' pub crawler of yore, who knew how to pound the lager, bang the chicks and have a good time?" Can it?

Yeah, well, aging is no fun, but Joe Cocker has always been suspect in my book, regardless, and here's eight drunken reasons to never trust Joe Cocker:

1. An English guy singing the blues, making a career of mimicking Ray Charles even, and then parlaying it into three decades of careerdom and multiple gold and platinum records.

2. Anything released on CMC International records, for obvious reasons.
3. Someone who, after burlesquing American black artists for years, turns around and throat-throttles Bob Marley's anthemic "Could You Be Loved" (Across From Midnight's first single).

4. Anyone who has won a Grammy ("Up Where We Belong," with Jennifer Warnes, from An Officer and a Gentleman).

5. Butcher baby refrains of "With a Little Help From My Friends," "Something" and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," duh.

6. Anyone involved in Woodstock and still making recordings: They were either lying or faking the hippie dream, or both. (Someone holy once said: "Never trust a hippie.")

7. Anyone who quacks his own blackness but covers the snow-white wuss ooze of Squeeze (Difford and Tilbrook's "Loving You Tonight" is included here).

8. And worst of all: ANYONE who has ever had ANYTHING to do with Huey Lewis and the News!? Heaven forfend! (Wouldn't ya know it, kids, it turns out Sir Cocker and Huey did tours together back in the dreaded '80s.)

Off to the trade counter . . .

Contact Bill Blake at his online address:

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