Getting My Goat
When an old friend and street preacher from New Orleans called just before Hurricane Katrina hit, I offered to help in any way I could. I let him live on my ranch, wear my clothes, drink my beer, and yap endlessly on my phone. But after two years of hospitality, I did what any other gracious host would do: I tried to get rid of him.
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The Reverend Goat Carson claims to have been the last man ever to dance with Judy Garland. The place was the Salvation club, in New York City. The time was late November 1968. The Reverend Goat Carson, of course, was not a reverend back then. He wasn’t even a Native American yet. He described the Judy Garland encounter as “dancing with a soft little marshmallow with legs.” Very soon thereafter she flew to London, last stop before booking a package tour with a chirpy group of bluebirds over the rainbow.
Unfortunately, Goat saved a dance for me. We first met in 1976 in L.A., where Goat got his name. It had been given to him a few years earlier, along with adult-size portions of smoke and mushrooms, by a medicine man named Yippee!, a Yaqui Indian from Acapulco. Yippee! took the then-21-year-old David Carson on a “vision quest” to show him that music was the power that would change the world. “You’re a Native American,” said Yippee!, and Goat told him truthfully that he was part Cherokee. That was good enough for Yippee! apparently, who then led the young Goat to the Sunset Strip, where he introduced him to the members of a band called the Doors and one called Iron Butterfly, plied him with more marijuana and mushrooms, and then took him down to South Central to see Hugh Masekela.
Somewhere in the middle of this vision quest, everything seemed to stop. Goat saw a light pulsating in his chest and realized that he was outside of time and body, watching himself in a movie. “I feel like I have the power to do anything,” he said.
“Then go on and try,” said Yippee!. “Your name will be Goat, and that will stand for ‘Go on and try.’” With varying degrees of success, Goat has ever since.
I had drifted out to L.A. myself trying to get a record deal peddling a quasi-legendary living room tape of the Texas Jewboys. Goat was living out of his car, parking it at night at Errol Flynn’s house. We met as a result of both of us hanging out with Bob Dylan. Half the free world was hanging out with Bob Dylan at that time; the other half, of course, was trying to understand his lyrics.
The first time Goat met Bob was at a semi-exclusive Hollywood
after- party at which Goat performed upon his homemade instrument of choice, a three-stringed jawbone of an ass, his own version of Bob’s popular song “Sara,” an elegant, poetical ode to his wife of many years. Few in the room knew that Bob and his wife would soon be going through divorce proceedings. This, indeed, may have been the reason why Goat and his sacred jawbone did not get thrown out on his ass.
Goat’s version of the song went something like this: “Sa-ra! Sa-ra! Spirit of dawn, child of the night/Sa-ra! Sa-ra! Shut up, you bitch. I’m tryin’ to write.”
A deadly silence filled the room. The faces of everyone appeared ashen with horror at this blasphemy. A large, impeccably dressed black man walked over to Goat and began gently but firmly removing the rather arcane instrument from the offending musician’s cold, dead fingers. Then Bob himself got up and came over to Goat. Some strange sensibility struggled across his inscrutable countenance, and every eye was upon Bob’s face until at last, chimera-like, he smiled. “I like your song,” he said.
Almost immediately the small crowd began laughing and chuckling. “That song actually was brilliant,” a publicist observed. “I must have had a nail in my head.”
Eventually, I lost touch with Goat. I went on the road with Bob, and Goat, I presumed, went with God. In those days, there sometimes didn’t seem to be a hell of a lot of difference between the two. I did see Goat again in the early eighties, when I was performing at the Lone Star Café in New York, and he showed up dancing onstage, wearing a giant stuffed polar bear’s head. Goat would never speak when he wore the polar bear’s head, but he would sing one song. That song was always “Big Balls in Cowtown.”
But Goat Carson was much more than a helper monkey whoring himself for the amusement of the fickle masses. Goat was also a visionary, a veteran soul imbued with a deep, mystical nature that often manifested itself precisely when the chips were down. Witness this virtually spontaneous little poem Goat delivered to the crowd at the wake of our mutual friend Tom Baker in New York in 1982.
He just sat down on that same bar stool,
He was still living for the day,
He still wasn’t worried and he still wasn’t married.
Don’t count on tomorrow, he’d say.
Between the gutter and the stars,
People are what people are.
Tom Baker was a friend of mine.
Our American lives had intertwined in L.A. and New York, and now they would shatter and split. After the death of the Bakerman, a personal fast-lane hero of mine, I returned to Texas while Goat remained in New York. We did not see each other for almost 23 years. I wasn’t even aware that Goat had moved to New Orleans or that he’d become an ordained street preacher. It would require an act of God to bring us together again. An act of God in the form of a woman. Her name was Katrina.
Thus it was that on August 28, in the year of our Lord 2005, just approaching nut-cuttin’ time in my campaign for governor, I received an urgent call from the man who was to become my personal evacuee for the next two years. Goat told me he’d called every rich Christian friend he had in California, to no avail. It was mildly ironic, I thought at the time, that he’d be taken in by a Texas Jewboy who’d been running his campaign like his life, on a shoestring.
Goat showed up at my house in Austin in much worse shape than I’d expected. A complete emotional wreck, he walked in with nothing but the clothes on his back, a satchel containing various gris-gris concoctions, and a small bundle of sacred rabbit furs that were eaten by my dogs when I took Goat out for Mexican food. The next day we both watched New Orleans die on television. Goat had gotten out just in time.
I took him up to my Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, near Kerrville, in high hopes that he might do some work with the animals. He shared some of their background, being homeless, stray, traumatized perhaps. I thought, “This could be a cathartic experience.” These hopes were dashed quite early, however. My evacuee, so he informed me as he proceeded to decimate my liquor cabinet, did not believe in work. The credo of his flock, the Black Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, was “Always for Pleasure.” This did not bode well, I thought, but trying to tell a homeless person to go home is almost like trying to run for governor of Texas as an independent. In the days, weeks, and years to come, Goat seemed to become happier and happier while I began to wake up every morning in a dark, suicidal rage. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s go back to early times, and I don’t mean the whiskey. That was already gone.
If you’re going to be an evacuee, I told Goat, you’ve got to dress like an evacuee. We went through my wardrobe of eclectic, perhaps over-the-top items, many of which I’d hung on to for sentimental reasons. Almost all of them seemed to fit Goat well, so I said, “Take what you like,” and he did. He cut such a fine figure, indeed, that when the Kerrville Daily Times interviewed him, they put his large photo on page one, wearing all of my clothes from head to toe, including rattlesnake boots with the rattlers’ heads still attached. I wasn’t really envious; it was just a bit unnerving watching Goat strut around the house in all his uncircumcised glory, drinking beer for breakfast in my favorite bathrobe (given to me by Miss Texas 1987) all the while singing “Big Balls in Cowtown.”
Then there was the matter of the telephone. Since I’ve always believed the Internet to be the work of Satan, the phone remained my lifeline to the world, especially in the heated last months of the gubernatorial race. Goat was monopolizing it like a one-man Jerry Lewis telethon. Not only were most of the calls and messages seemingly for him, but he was also racking up phone bills during all hours of the night calling his many musician friends and other members of the modern diaspora.
I hated to be an insensitive host, but I needed the phone as well. Cousin Nancy (of Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch) and I had been working frantically to save 24 greyhounds trapped in a New Orleans attic by rising floodwaters. Now Goat began a frenetic series of calls to Dr. John, Levon Helm, the Neville Brothers, and many other musical luminaries, telling them Kinky was bringing 24 greyhounds out of New Orleans. As Goat yapped on and on, I confess to have been basking somewhat in the sunlight of my good works. The truth, unfortunately, did not reveal itself for several more days, when Goat turned to me in my favorite Billy Joe Shaver T-shirt and asked, “When are the greyhounds getting here?”
“We’re working on it,” I said. “Cousin Nancy’s gotta make room at the rescue ranch for twenty-four more dogs.”
“The greyhounds are dogs?” said Goat, removing my reading glasses from his nose in astonishment.
“Yes, Goat,” I said patiently. “The greyhounds are dogs.”
“Jesus with jugs,” said Goat. “I thought they were buses.”
Things went downhill from there. The care and feeding of Goat became more all-consuming, tedious, and expensive with each passing week. Not that Goat wasn’t a soulful, talented, well-intentioned man, not to mention a man of the cloth. It was just that the cloth, in his case, was a little coarse. It was not unusual for him to drink a case of beer a day. At dinner parties and restaurants he would sometimes take his teeth out and make loud, obnoxious spitting and snartin’ noises into his hands, creating a New Orleans beatbox. He often would endlessly describe sexual desires toward women in television commercials, declaring them “table” or “not table” and always providing running commentary on all bodily functions in colorful, though somewhat graphic, language, such as “letting the possum out.”
Don’t get me wrong. Despite some rather glaring personality and hygiene drawbacks, there were, as well, many spiritual and charmingly human aspects of this modern-day holy man. First of all, he did not proselytize. This can be important when you’re a Jew and you have a street preacher living with you. The reverend, indeed, proved himself to be not only eccentric but refreshingly ecumenical as well. During Thanksgiving, for instance, Goat opened the proceedings with what he called the Cowboy Prayer, i.e., “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, hold this horse while I get on.” As an afterthought, the Native American essence of the man also manifested itself. Goat’s Indian Thanksgiving prayer went as follows: “Thanks for nothing.”
When Goat was not on the phone at my desk, he busied himself sitting in my chair, wearing a terrific Hawaiian shirt I’d forgotten I had, drinking beer, and watching the History Channel with almost pathological persistence. He moved so little, I worried, in fact, that Goat might himself evolve into a historical artifact. I had never personally been responsible for the health, education, and welfare of an evacuee, and given that he might well have been traumatized by the experience, I still did not see how the therapy of sleeping, drinking beer, and watching the History Channel was ever going to get Goat off his ass and back to New Orleans. It was time for tough love.
I assigned Goat the daunting task of being the nanny for my five dogs, the Friedmans. Some say the Friedmans are spoiled rotten, difficult, demanding dogs, but this is not precisely true. They are merely older dogs who, like older people, have become set in their ways. Soon the Friedmans could be seen following Goat like a flock over the hills and valleys of the ranch. Perky, Mr. Magoo, Brownie, Chumley, and Fly all seemed to be quite fond of Goat and to accept him, more or less, as their spiritual leader. Goat himself fed this religious fervor by dressing the part. Wearing my black Willie Nelson sweatshirt with the hood over his head and carrying a large staff, he looked like a cross between a biblical shepherd and the grim reaper.
Using his New Orleans background, Goat soon began cooking for the Friedmans as well. He named one dish that really seemed to catch on the Triple Dragon. It consisted of bacon, chicken livers, and chicken gizzards. It wasn’t long before the Friedmans, normally a rather cliquish clan, had welcomed Goat into the family. The one holdout was Mr. Magoo, who, while he was fond of Goat, would never permit him to sleep in my bed when I was on the road.
It was during this time of harmony and bonding that the fate monkeys struck again. Goat, who now was “wee-wee-weeing,” to use his term, and letting the possum out approximately every five minutes, received yet another blow to his fragile physical constitution. Goat came out of the guesthouse one morning singing, “It’s a double possum morning, Baby left me without warning sometime in the night.” His mood seemed upbeat and positive. When I returned from town later in the day, he appeared almost as depressed as I had been since his arrival. He informed me that, during his fitful slumbers the previous night, a spider, apparently, had bitten him where the sun never shines.
This amused me greatly, which only plunged my evacuee into deeper, darker depression. He took his Indian knife and cut up half of my aloe plants and applied the natural elixir directly to the spider bite. This Native American remedy soothed the wound but apparently only temporarily. Goat then proceeded to pillage what was left of my Jameson Irish Whiskey, applying equal portions both rectally and by mouth. He claimed that the healing process had begun, but in the morning I noticed the level of my Listerine bottle had dropped precipitously and the cap was loose, causing me to spill the rest of it all over myself and the floor and causing me, as well, to curse my evacuee, who’d just rounded the corner carrying a large flagon of Kona coffee and leaving, I noticed, a very small amount in the pot. His spider bite was doing much better, he reported.
Any house pest will get on your nerves after two years. Particularly if the person has been a victim of what must certainly be considered one of our country’s greatest modern tragedies. My evacuee indubitably did his best, not only cooking for the Friedmans but also serving up great New Orleans-style meals for both of us. He labored in the important task of West Coast Under-Assistant Hummingbird Man, helping his host with his only hobby, feeding the hummingbirds. You can’t ask much more of your fellow man.
It wasn’t Goat’s fault that many times when I looked at him, I saw before my very eyes myself, a clever form of identity theft. He would sit in my chair, drink my whiskey, smoke my cigars, watch my TV, wear my clothes, answer my phone, all the while talking about or performing bodily functions at rapidly increasing intervals. As for me, I would play a little desultory eight ball by myself and watch my life pass before my eyes. Having a man of the cloth living with you for a two-year stint, a man who drinks ten times as much as you, a man who incessantly vocalizes his sexual desires concerning Angelina Jolie, a man who often speaks in the argot of the gutter, can be an unnerving and eye-opening experience. But the same man recently buried a dead hummingbird with a full traditional ceremony poignant enough to possibly bring a tear to the eye of any abiding Christian or Native American, and, in this case, one Jewish cowboy.
Then came the day, early in the summer of the second year, when Goat received an offer he couldn’t refuse. He had been invited back to New Orleans by Xavier University to teach a course on—what else?—the Black Mardi Gras Indians.
Goat is gone now, and I must say, I almost miss him. And I do sometimes wonder what might have happened if things had been the other way around. I do know that ours is a friendship that has been tested by time, adversity, and the fate monkeys. There may, however, be yet one more test to come.
In October Goat and I are planning a book tour together. He’ll be promoting his new novel, a dark, disturbing book about Hollywood and witchcraft called Shallow Graves (available on Amazon.com). I’ll be flogging my latest masterpiece, a dark, disturbing book titled You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Think.
Will it be like old times when Goat and I get back together? Who knows? All I’ve learned is that it’s okay to think you’re a cowboy just as long as you don’t run into someone who thinks he’s an Indian.