I sometimes wonder how my life would’ve turned out if the police officers who arrested me outside a country music club in Dallas in 1992 weren’t called off to back up another squad car in the vicinity. I was in my car in the parking lot of Cowboys, drinking a beer and smoking a joint, and when I backed up a little to get some vision between two pick-up trucks, I had a flashlight in my eyes. Because my car was in motion, they wanted to try for DWI (it was my first beer), then there was the roach.
Cowboys had started a “Young Guns” series, in which the club was open for the night only to those under 21, and the band was Brooks & Dunn. As the country music critic of the Dallas Morning News, I had to review the show. This was before the duo had a hit with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” so there was no real need to numb myself. But since the club wasn’t selling booze, I just wanted to get a little buzz going in. Better for the band, believe me.
After the cops handcuffed me, a stream of kids walked by, looking at the bad guy, and one of them yelled out. “Hey, that’s the guy from the Morning News! The guy who doesn’t like country music.” Suddenly there were about 30 standing around watching, until the cops told them to move along.
When you’re about to lose the first fulltime writing job you’ve ever had, your past doesn’t pass before you, your future does. I was going to be fired and when it was written about it would sound a lot worse. A 36-year-old critic doing drugs and alcohol at a kid’s-only event. I wasn’t going to get another newspaper job.
But then the call came, the cops cut me lose and tore off down the street. I gave the show a great review and wrote that there should be more shows for teenagers and young adults, who were such an amazing audience. I don’t think I gave a bad review all week, as I waited for the call from the editor that never came. This one: “Michael, we’ve had several people call and say they saw you arrested outside Cowboys. Is that true?” Also pictured the DMN cops reporter listening on a fuzzy police scanner that night as a cop said ‘He says he’s with the Dallas Morning News. He’s the country music critic.” Second cop: “Is he the one that doesn’t like country?”
“The worst thing I ever went through, never happened.” The paper never found out and I got to keep my job. Stayed in Dallas, met a woman, got married, had a kid, got divorced. That eventually would’ve happened, but if not for the pass from the cops, the wife and kid would’ve been different.
Later, I’m going to tell you about the time I was arrested at an Austin concert in 2000 for a similar offense and was also cut loose with a warning after being marched, handcuffed, through a crowd of 6,000. No one told on me and I got to work at the Statesman for all my ’40s and half my ’50s. I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d been fired.
I don’t like that ending, so I should tell you that I did like some country music- Randy Travis, Carlene Carter, Vern Gosdin, John Anderson, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, the Mavericks, plus all the old greats. I even liked the first Garth Brooks record. But I hated most of what was popular in the early ’90s. Going to Billy Bob’s or Cowboys was like a home run derby for one-liners and eventually Brooks & Dunn became “Loggins and Oates,” Mary Chapin-Carpenter was “Mary Blatant-Carpetbagger” and vapid country-schmaltz was dubbed “grain elevator music.”