Jay Meehan: Remembering the Alamo
“Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism.” ~ Bob Dylan
You could say it began when Cindy from Austin slid herself onto the barstool next to mine. The Alamo Saloon was far from crowded at that time of day back then so it was easy to tell she had something on her mind. She said she wanted to talk and ordered a pitcher of beer; I hunkered down, thirsty for both.
She had arrived in town the day previous as point person for an upcoming show at the Egyptian Theater, part of a tour featuring John Prine and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. She was looking for assistance in promoting said gig. I remained fairly stoic – hard to get, even – considering my pleasure centers were doing backflips.
It would seem that, as a disc jockey and newspaper columnist, I had been pointed out to her as someone involved in the then under-the-radar-yet-somewhat-burgeoning Progressive Country music scene and she figured the price of a pitcher of Alamo beer might be an investment risk worth taking.
Performance arts-wise, the second half of the ’70s had landed on the historic main drag of the old mining camp turned ski town with a bit of bluegrass, old timey ’60s rock, and folk. What would soon become a live music scene for the ages had yet to get its sea legs. So news that Prine and Ramblin’ Jack would be stopping by caused bells to toll.
Having already partaken of some mushroom-centric cross-country skiing shenanigans hereabouts, the upcoming show wouldn’t be Elliott’s first rodeo in Park City. No, indeed, Jack had left ramblin’ residue all over town on his initial stop.
Friends who had retrieved him from John Perry Barlow’s bunkhouse up in Cora, Wyoming, had also made sure to bring him and his Martin guitar by my late night radio show in Salt Lake. Part of it ended up on vinyl and the finger-picking remains exquisite.
Prine, however, loomed familiar solely through his first couple of albums and the compelling countercultural poetry therein. So it was a no-brainer for me to volunteer my vehicle of the time and my very much excitable fan-boy self to take Cindy to Salt Lake International for a pick-up of our two illustrious performers.
Having been touring the likes of Aspen, Telluride, Steamboat, Sun Valley, and such, the lads emerged from their turbo-prop at the final gate of a somewhat recently added concourse that came to an end somewhere this side of Reno. Prine’s manager, the late Al Bunetta, also tumbled out to complete the threesome.
First things first! We adjourned to the bar with nary a dissenting vote, or, as it turned out, a thought as to our deadline for getting the performers to the venue in question. More on that later.
The first round arrived and all three, of course, proved to be excellent raconteurs. To the casual observer wearing Han Solo 4D goggles, it must have looked like individual anecdotes caroming off each other in space.
At some point, Al noticed that a large ball of what resembled butcher’s wrap but that contained somewhere north of $5,000 in cash, had turned up missing. To this day, I swear that by interpreting the manner in which he measured me visually, I thought I had become his prime suspect. I prepared to be thrown up against the wall and cuffed.
Once he returned from a jaunt back down the concourse to an onsite restroom where he discovered, still intact, his wad of cash, we continued to pile onto the cocktail tab we had opened in his name.
Not that I got buzzed but I did toss Jack my car keys and jump in back with Prine and Cindy. Thankfully, the Ramblin’ man didn’t so much “carom” as “careen” as he piloted us back up Parley’s Canyon to the Egyptian.
Upon arrival, Cindy found herself very much “in Dutch” with the Austin promoters who were following the tour in real time. They also pulled out their best glares to level at me. Having sold out two shows, our tardiness had caused them much chagrin. I hope Marcel Proust found his seat without too much trouble.
What triggered this somewhat nostalgic trip down memory lane was an astutely-penned op-ed in Monday’s New York Times entitled “John Prine: American Oracle.” Do check it out and do vote. Remember, your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore. And as they say, we need him now more than ever.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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