The Last of the Grown Men

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by Howard Owens

dressed in black, Kim grips the corner of the jukebox for balance. She punches a number and tries to focus on the juke's menu; her rings glitter in the shine from a neon beam.
spacerA Donna Summers tune starts to throb through speakers hanging from the ceiling. "I didn't play this shit," Kim yells to the bartender. "Punch the button."
spacerThat song ejects. With three clicks, the next one queues up. Again it's the wrong song. Rosie taps a button behind the bar. Kim gets two more chances for her last dollar. Two lame hits: If Country Dick Montana were in the bar this Friday night, would he approve of moldy '70s sap pumping from the box?
spacer"Hey," says a patron, "those are good songs." Rosie shrugs. "It's her dollar."
spacerKim takes another stab at the numbers, clearly having a hard time focusing on the ivory buttons. She hasn't stopped drinking since 10:30 a.m. Thursday, when she learned Country Dick Montana, leader of the Beat Farmers, died Wednesday night while performing in Whistler, British Columbia.
spacerKim is a bartender at the Spring Valley Inn. Tonight, she isn't working. She's mourning. She's workd at the Inn for a year. She took the job because she knew the Inn was one spot Dick liked to drink when he wasn't on tour.
spacerThe dive bar, in a ramshakle strip mall, next to a used car lot and across the street from a recycling center, is where a Beat Farmer boot first counted time. Back in 1983, the Beat Farmers would push the pool table out of the way and set up their equipment. The barroom, only about 30 feet wide by 150 feet long, would fill up with bikers, punks, mods, longhairs and Inn regulars.
spacerThose were wild nights, when the band played for $50 and all the booze they could drink. Country Dick Montana would swig beer and cuss, spin bottles of brew through the smoky air and splash liquor all over himself and his fans, including the 18-year-olds he let in through the back door. The music was a roots, rock, country hybrid played at hyper speed. Too rockin' to be called country, and with one spur janglin', too country to be accepted by pop rockers.
spacerThe Beat Farmers didn't even graduate to a larger venue before Rhino Records signed them to record their first album, Tales of the New West, which contained the band's signature song, "Happy Boy."
spacerKim first met Country Dick in 1985.
spacer"I loved the guy," she says. "I loved that deep voice, and my favorite thing was that he was tall." She shakes her head and rubs her eyes trying not to cry. She points to a newspaper article that discusses his use of drugs. "That's not the Dick I knew.
spacer"He used to come in here two or three times a month and get drunk," she adds. "He didn't do drugs. He would sit here and drink and write songs."
spacerRosie, passing by with a couple of empties, adds, "Yeah, and a lot of people would hide from him because they didn't want to wind up in one of his damn songs."
spacerWhen Kim's tune comes on the juke, the five Inn patrons stop talking. They listen. A voice rumbles about two octaves below the bellow of a foghorn:

"In a bar in Toledo, across from the depot, at a bar stool she took off her rings.

"I thought I'd get closer, so I walked on over and sat down and asked her name.

"When the drinks finally hit her, she said, 'I'm no quitter, but I finally quit living on dreams.

"'Hungry for laughter and here everafter, I'm after whatever the other life brings.'"



Continued



Copyright © 1996
Howard Owens
All Rights Reserved