Goin’ down on Alyce
(for Jesse Guitar Taylor, 1951-2006,
written several years ago after a cool birthday party
for Alyce Guynn)
Upstairs, in the back room, at Threadgills
where someone, sometime before 1971
spray painted "Janis sang here" on the cement front
of an old gas station cafe, there’s a Texas
Music Museum now, a bar and a party room --
where you can buy a country turkey
dinner for Thanksgiving, or Christmas.
Alyce held her 61st birthday party there tonite
and invited her musician friends to play --
music legends like John Reed, and Jesse Guitar Taylor.
Mandy Mercier played and belted out song after
song. It was hopping and Alyce was in heaven
or thought she was --
We are proud of our musicians here, the ones who
stay up all night, work all day, fill our rooms with
virtuosity, delight our hearts, make us laugh, cry,
sing along. There are three John Reeds Butch Hancock
explained after I met one's grandmother
in Amarillo -- which one I never figured out,
and he wasn’t there tonite.
There is one Jesse Guitar Taylor, one winding complex
guitar lick that's danced around every West Texas singer/
songwriter for 30 years. We call him Mr. Guitar. He sings
like Wolfman Jack, a deep growling sound I'm not sure
he can still hear, after years of standing next to
rock and roll speakers. But he can play --
There is one Mandy Mercier, finger picking and wailing
on the violin, deep blues voice belting out rich tones,
brilliant songs. Mandy is a friend of mine, reminding me
why we have voices and like to tap our feet. I met
her through Alyce, who was on cloud nine, having
her picture taken with her children, listening to music
with her friends, at least she thought she was.
But it wasn't until the end of the show, when the
flajitas and queso were almost gone and the iced tea
in the container marked lemonade was half full.
It was about the time the chocolate cake was replaced
by mysterious and delicious brownies. The room was
still full, old friends hanging on to the moment
and the music, when Jesse stepped over to the table
right up front where Alyce held court, and reached
to touch lightly one finger on her left hand.
And then he played. To Alyce -- he bowed down,
let that old guitar wail out the most beautiful riffs
I've heard him do, this musician who can stop
anyone mid-step, hold our attention in a swell
of embroidered melody, which he did, for Alyce
who thought she was in heaven, honored,
knowing she was part of a new piece of Texas
music history, on her birthday. But she wasn't
And she didn't care, or even know it because the
ride was wondrous, all those notes, weaving
us into a rich Alyce fabric, silky and fine --
which was about the time Jesse knelt down,
bending again sweetly, gray hair tied back,
a thinner, aging face that might end up
beautiful, odd, because Jesse has always looked
like a prize fighter. But tonight, as he knelt down to
play for Alyce, as the most delicate guitar
sounds possible laughed around us,
Jesse was a melodic angel.
And when he let go of the last exquisite note --
he reached out and again softly touched her hand.
And bowed. And turned back to the band, turned
again, spread out his arms and called out,
"We love you Alyce."
Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.
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art courtesy of Eng Tay