“You gonna play a song or what?”
I was strumming an orange Washburn acoustic the bartender handed me. It was one of several guitars hanging over the bar at the Oasis on Merrill Avenue, in the heart of downtown Glendive. I’d just interviewed for the reporter position at the Ranger Review and wanted to get a feel for the people.
Brady, a heavy-set outlaw close to my age, sat near the end of the bar, wearing a white T-shirt and a baseball cap. He’d been there for a little while, taking it easy, having another. It was a cold, windy day in June, making it more welcoming to take a load off. By the time I got there and was fiddling with the guitar, he was ready for some entertainment.
The bartender, Sean, looked over at Brady, then looked back at me, and smiled, deciding he’d have a little fun with the moment.
“He used to box. I’d say he’s probably been in around 60 fights. If someone starts messing with him we try to hold them back,” Sean told me.
It was clear Brady was respected and his requests were granted.
“Alright, I’ll play something.”
I jumped into “Long Black Veil,” an old traditional about a man who was hung because he couldn’t bare telling a soul (or a judge) that he’d been in the arms of his best friend’s wife the “night a man was killed ‘neath the town hall light.” Brady was familiar with the song, and he liked my version. He asked for another, so I sang Willie Nelson’s “Blue Rock, Montana,” a tune about entering a bar, among other things.
Before the song ended I felt a connection with Brady. He gave me one of those “not bad, man” nods, and we were cool.
That never changed.
Even though we were never close, Brady and I had a kinship through music. This was further solidified a few months after we met, when Brady signed us up to sing “Feed Jake” by the Pirates of the Mississippi at Oasis Karaoke Night.
It was late in the evening and we were both lit up. I had a friend visiting who confused many in attendance with a heartfelt rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Our House.” Brady and I were up.
I think Brady was surprised I didn’t know the song, but it didn’t really matter. We still made it our own. I had no concept of the vocal melody (or timing), so I started ad-libbing and messing around. I got the concept. Jake needed his food. The request to feed him must be respected. Brady and I enforced this. We even got angry about it, insisting and pleading that Jake not only be fed but also walked and bathed. We even got the audience involved, although I don’t recall how. I just remember everyone was with us. Brady ate it up. We were in it together, laughing our asses off, derailing the train together with hilarity and debauchery.
Performance – even drunken karaoke – can be a beautiful thing. Granted, I don’t have the best recollection of that duet, but I do recall we were locked in. The laughing didn’t really stop, for us or the spectators. The fact that I didn’t know the song provided a comic relief we wouldn’t have had otherwise. The hilarity was healthy, and it became ingrained in our friendship. From then on, almost every time we saw each other, we’d remind the other to feed Jake.
This never left us.
When I heard he passed I was devastated. Although our friendship consisted mainly of drinking buddies who ran into each other while out on the town, it was a friendship with an unbreakable foundation. Music united us, and we remain untied even after his passing.
I miss my friend and I wish him peace in the great beyond. I hope to see him again some day.
In the meantime, I’ll make sure to feed Jake.