Saturday, July 20, 2024

Sorry, Lyle

Can a personal website be an alternative to A.A.? We’ll find out. Got another story for ya.

I’m not talking about American Airlines, whose random flight cancellations and delays have caused many a sober traveler to fall off the wagon (or, the skateboard in my case because I’m constantly off and on). I’m talking about the place that’ll give you a hand up when you’ve hit the bottom. Tried it three or four times, but didn’t last more than a couple months because I peeked ahead in the Big Book and saw that somewhere down the road I’d have to make amends to Lyle Lovett.

Not counting SXSW, I’ve reviewed about five shows in my life on deadline when I’ve had to type with one eye closed. That’s in over 35 years. And two of those were Lyle Lovett shows. My friend Robert Wilonsky up in Dallas used to keep the first drunken Lovett review in his desk drawer and when I was feeling too good about myself I’d ask him to read any part of it and I would come crashing down to earth. Sample line: “That Lyle Lovett is so full of himself.” It wasn’t even writing. It was pathetic. I was partially incensed because in the intimate Majestic Theater in Dallas, Lovett positioned himself onstage as far away from the audience as possible, where most performers would stand near the lip.

Let’s also back up a bit. I was an early, early supporter of Lyle. Even before the first record came out. He was opening for John Prine at the Paramount in 1984 and I had a young girlfriend who I was going to turn onto Prine. During Lovett’s set she kept whispering how great he was and I’d say, “yeah, but wait until John Prine comes on.” But Lovett’s set was the highlight of the night, though Prine wasn’t bad. Lyle just connected and he had this great self-deprecating wit.

I wrote his first national magazine feature in Spin a few months later. Then, he added the Large Band and that was kinda cool the first couple times, but after the sixth or seventh time of Francine singing “You ugly, too!” I had enough of that. I wanted to see him with his trio again and felt he was almost hiding behind the band. He was “my discovery” and I felt he had strayed.

In February 1993 I married a woman far too attractive for me and around the same time Lyle Lovett got hitched to Julia Roberts outta nowhere. The National Enquirer had a front page that said “‘Pretty Woman’ Marries Country Music’s Ugly Duckling” and my “friends” at the Dallas Morning News made up a mock Enquirer front page with me and my bride’s faces over Lyle’s and Julia’s with the headline “Pretty Woman Marries Country Music Criticism’s Ugly Duckling.”

Two years later I came home from SXSW to find that she’d moved out. Not a surprise, but still jarring.I had to review Lovett a few days later and, to cheer me up a bit,  Wilonsky took me out for a few drinks across the street from the Majestic. I’ve never been a hard liquor drinker, but I was downing shots of Maker’s Mark like it was cola and Martin Scorsese kept doing retakes.

So then Lyle and his Fucking Large Band Crutch came out and I headed to the bar for more. Two or three times. Didn’t matter that I was missing parts of the show; I’d seen that same set a dozen times. The third time I was in line, it was finally my turn to order and the bartender said, “That’s it. Bar’s closed.” The show was not even half over, so I went back to my seat, seething.

My deadline was 11 p.m. and so I went upstairs at the theater’s office to write my review and I could hear the venue managers in the next room. “Could you believe that Lyle Lovett stopped the show to tell us to close the bar?” one said to the other. “He was distracted by people leaving their seats to get a drink.”

I have no clear memory of the rest of the night, but the newspaper sat in the driveway a long time the next day. I knew I had made a huge mistake. I knew that somehow I had projected the blame of my miserable existence onto a man in a suit singing songs, who was still happily married to his pretty woman.

I started reading the review, then tossed the paper against the wall after a few lines. Never felt so low and that day I went to my first A.A. meeting. “A.A.’s not for everyone,” someone said and after about a week I decided he was right.

There was one other incident with Lyle a few years earlier that may have had something to do with this. He played the Vic Theater in Chicago, around 1990. After midnight, the Vic changed into a dance club and all the Puerto Rican go-go dancers were in the hall backstage smoking a joint while Lyle was still back there. My God, did he throw a fit! “You know what that stuff does to me!” He yelled at his manager. I said, “well, what do you do if you’re onstage and someone in the audience smokes a joint?” And he said he’ll stop the show cold. Then he stormed out.

I started looking at him differently after that. Still, no excuse.

If someone could pass this on to Lyle Lovett, I’d like to apologize. I was unprofessional and remain deeply embarassed about that review. Somehow, Lovett recovered and he’s never been anything but a gentleman to me on the occasions I failed in avoiding him.

One thought on “Sorry, Lyle

  1. Wow, that’s great, Michael. I’m one of those guys who made it to AA and got weirdly lucky somehow, so this September if I continue this streak, it’ll be 20 years. I’d probably be dead or else booze-sick and disgruntled if I hadn’t made it into the Cult.

    But I still have amends I haven’t made for people I reviewed after a few shots of what I used to think was an essential ingredient to my writing. Most of those I’ve forgotten, because I probably killed those brain cells that might remember, so it’s a moot point now. Perhaps I’ll remember them on my deathbed.

    As for Lyle Lovett, I hadn’t read your review but I’m guessing he deserved whatever you had to say. He did get awfully boring there with that Large Band shtick. I mean, if I’d been at one of those shows stone cold sober, I’d probably have opted to join the drunks in the bar, unless I was in the company of a beautiful somebody whose rapturous attention on Mr. Lovett’s music would translate afterward into a real cool time for me.

    Anyway, Cheers. Hope you’re doing well. JBG

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