Standing in the crowd at last Saturday night’s appearance of Jesco White at Headliners, the thought of investing in funeral homes came to mind. I had not seen “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia,” the cult documentary about the life and times of the colorful Mr. White, aka “the Dancing Outlaw,” and his family of hillbillies.
I had no idea what I was walking into, but as a fan of Wild and Woolly Video (and the handful of brilliant events they have sponsored in recent years, like the appearance of Roky Erickson), I found it easy to pony up.
I regretted the expenditure almost immediately. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I lived in a city that could belch up such a grotesque mass of near-humanity. It was bad enough that there were hundreds of sweaty oglers stinkin’ up the place, but I saw two District Court judges (one retired), at least two assistant county attorneys, and one off-duty sheriff. This was as close to the proverbial “wretched hive of scum and villainy” as might be found in Metro Louisville outside of the Louis D. Brandeis Hall of Justice on a weekday morning. I even saw a guy from church.
An uninitiated participant in what was more of a social experiment than an evening of entertainment, I nearly bolted from the venue the instant I realized the not-quite-competent heavy metal band on stage was actually part of the “attraction.” I had to be in the wrong place! How had my life gone so wrong? Not only was I in hell, I had paid for the privilege.
The closest I came to finding humor in the occasion was when a photographer from The Courier-Journal approached, snapping pictures of some of the young women in their skimpy summer clothes near the back of the room. He passed a pad of paper around and had them write their names down so they could be identified in the paper. They were, no doubt, envisioning the first few seconds of their alleged 15 minutes of fame.
I used to have a friend who could rattle off clever fake names with the speed of an automatic weapon. That always busted me up. Would I be able get them to run my picture with the name “Hugh Jorgen” in the cutline? I was probably the only person in the room who would have devised such a scheme. It was so dangerously subversive! Slyly injecting false facts into Louisville’s once-great daily newspaper? It could bring about the collapse of civilization … as we know it!
The highlight of the evening’s entertainment on stage came when Johnny Knoxville’s cousin or brother or whatever relation, R.A. Wade, took the stage and performed a set of songs that reminded me of Tim Wilson without the highbrow pretensions. (That’s a joke, by the way.) He opened with a song about his ex-girlfriend, “She’s Gone Back to Whorin’!” Judging from the audience’s reaction, this was very funny; the lines about how she could suck the chrome off of a trailer hitch and so forth seemed to be fresh and hilarious to the hundreds of mentally deficient concertgoers. Stone cold sober, I had begun to doubt the fabric of reality. Another song about seeing Waylon Jennings at Freedom Hall in the ’60s actually showed some heart, but we had to wonder if Wade had changed the words for the local audience.
Jesco White’s performance was anti-climactic. The frail-looking White, dressed in black and celebrating his 55th birthday, drifted out to center-stage in front of a reportedly sold-out crowd, “danced” like he had arthritis and a painful back problem, attempted to sing into a mic stand, and finally resorted to jauntily walking back and forth along the foot of the stage, as dozens of mobile devices recorded the incident for posterity.
I couldn’t take it any more. Later, I heard that the band came back out and that Jesco sang a song with them, but I can’t imagine I missed anything. The real show, I was told, had taken place backstage, before, during and after what we saw on stage.
It may have been the saddest thing I have ever seen. I felt sorry for the whole of humanity. But, having been there, I can see that it’s all up from here. Right?