Friday, April 28, 2006

Goodbye Bonnie


Bonnie Owens died this week, about a month after the death of her first husband, Buck Owens.

There was a period of about five years when I was living in New York and going to see every Merle Haggard show at what was then Tramps. Some of the shows were a little perfunctory, but the best of them were among my favorite music memories ever. As far as I can remember, Bonnie opened and sang backup for every one of these shows.

I have always wondered about the oddness of Haggard's decision to have a three-wives-ago ex accompany him on tour. But the relationship endured for whatever reasons. When a friend of Bonnie's calls her "kind of the glue for both these guys" (meaning Haggard and Owens), it seems like more than the typical platitude.

The L.A. Times obituary mentions the outlines of an American life—sometimes glorious, sometimes hard-bitten. Bonnie Owens was born into a sharecropping family ... moved from Oklahoma to Arizona when 12 ... met Buck Owens at a roller-rink ... married to him at 18 ... waitress at the legendary Blackboard who wrote song lyrics on cocktail napkins ... meets Haggard at 21 ... marries Hag ... named the 1967 ACM best female vocalist ... divorce ... then the lifetime supporting role, singing backup and "washin' and ironin' and pickin' up"—always, it seemed, with consummate good cheer.

Laura Cantrell's song "Queen of the coast," is a respectful but sometimes sharp, and pretty heartbreaking look at Owens' life, especially her decision to "drop the torch of her own career to stoke mine," as Haggard describes it.
She was the Queen of the Coast back in nineteen sixty five,
Prettier 'n most, she could keep a room alive,
With the catch in her voice and the beehive on her head.
Do you remember anything she ever said.

Well, some stars fade faster than the rest,
And the promise wore off though she did her best.
She finally looked around for somethin' else to do.
What she found was a man who needed what she knew.

Have you forgotten? Have you forgiven?
Tell me are you livin' just a little in your past every day.
Time sure has changed you; it's walked right on by you.
Does it satisfy you to have so little to say?

For the next ten years she rode around on the bus.
She did washin' and ironin' and pickin' up.
She had a place to stand at the back of the stage.
She was there every night, lookin' her age.

She lent her voice, but she gave her heart.
And, I guess, that must've been the hardest part.
She figured out exactly what was goin' on,
All the love she had given for a song.

Then things unravelled like they usually do.
She got her old heart busted up by husband, number two.

Have you forgotten? Have you forgiven?
Tell me are you livin' just a little in your past every day.
Time sure has changed you; it's walked right on by you.
Does it satisfy you to have so little to say?

I'm not quite sure when she got back on the bus.
But she's still washin' and ironin' and pickin' up.
If you look all the way to the back of the stage,
She's standin' at her mic, lookin' her age.

In a roadstop in Reno at supper time,
The waitress comes over with a look in her eye.
Says: "I saw you in Modesto almost thirty years ago,
"An' I can still remember every song in your show."

"Please Help Me, I'm Falling." "Don't Come Home A-Drinking."
Well, there's a pair of swingin' doors for every cowboy sweetheart tonight.
Time sure has changed you; it's walked right on by you.
Does it satisfy you to have so little to say?
RIP.

1 comment:

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