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.