OK. Cheap move, titling this post "twilight." Shameful, really. No, this isn't a piece about oversexed, pale teenage vampires and the girls who just can't let them die. It's about a cruise ship I took the other night when some of Justine's friends were in town, a group dubbed "The Chis" (pronounced, like, "Thai"), cute bubbly SoCal girlfriends from college, who stayed at our house for a couple days, and though there were no panty-clad pillow fights, it's always nice to have cute, bubbly college girls at your house.
So they have a nickname for their group, these Chis, and I don't mean just "Chis." Apparently there are even groups within groups. For instance, this particular two-girl contingency is named "Team Yinky." I guess Team Yinky is part of the Chis. This is something only girls do, like Sisterhood of the Traveling Yeah Yeahs or whatever. I mean, is any guy ever going to say, "Yeah, baby, I'm hanging out with Rich and John tonight, y'know, The Wumpets"?
Anyway, since the girls are from LA, Justine wanted to show them around, and we booked the Twilight Cruise around the bay, one of those red and white line boats, where you circle around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate at dusk, and hear stories about Indian occupation and prospector justice and shit in the 1800s. And I like doing that stuff. You only get to take visitors to cheeseball places like Alcatraz under the pretense of showing them around, because you can't ever do touristy shit like that if you live there.
The whole point of this post isn't about cute college girls who make up cute girl gang names (and occasionally have panty-clad pillow fights?). It's about a guy I met on the boat, this old outlaw cowboy-type named Billy D.
Billy D has a nightly gig singing and playing the guitar on the cruise line. In between, he helps manage Rambling Jack Elliot as well as makes music with his own band, The Billy Boys. He gave me a CD they just recorded called "Under the Big Sky." (On a side note, which may not last long if Justine takes this the wrong way and makes me take it down, but like the Ramones or the Donnas, everyone in the Billy Boys has the same name. There's Billy D, Billy W, Billy C, etc. Now Justine is really smart, is getting her MBA at Mills and all that, but every once in the while she can have these moments where it's like the blonde dye has seeped into her brain. So when Justine sees the CD Billy's given me, she looks it over and is, like, "How cool! What a coincidence! Everyone in the band is named Billy!" God, I love her.)
It's a great CD, full of cowboy songs--real cowboy songs--about lone riders on long plains and hanging trees in Montana, and this guy Billy D has a helluva voice. He's one of these guys whose whole life story is on his face. He's seen a lot. He's been around a lot. A true artist.
Right when the ship took off, he'd given up his booth so we'd all have somewhere to sit with Holden, and he and I had started talking. There's that saying in AA I love: water seeks its own level. Artists will gravitate to other artists, especially when you get a little older, because it is like a little club. Maybe you don't make up a nickname for your club (artists are too cool to do that), but you share the same...fight? Trying to carve out a way to stay alive, while staying true to your need to create, finding a way to pay the bills without compromising, etc.
I am always enthralled when I meet guys like Billy. I get down a lot, since it feels like I have been beating my head against this same wall my entire life, trying to find someone who will let me in and pay me for my art, and you can only complain so much. There is an unspoken social edict, one that almost says, "OK, you want to play artist and not get a real job? Fine. Then do it. But shut up about it. I don't want to hear you whine about nobody buying your crappy paintings." And it's easy to see where it comes from. I mean, who isn't an artist these days? You've got self-publishing and the Internet, you've got...blogs...and digital marketing, plus you will always have the girls playing with beads and gluing macaroni to construction paper. Bottom line is: if you are good enough, eventually you will get paid. The question is, how long do hang in there before you have to face the facts that you just may not be?
Old cowboys like Billy give me hope that I might have a little more time to find out.