THE LAST PLACE YOU’D EXPECT to begin a beautiful friendship with Pat Green would be at a Jewish wedding in Mexico City. But there he was, looking like the Jolly Green Giant, trying to open a bottle of tequila while repeatedly adjusting the yarmulke on his head. It was a strange sight, all right, but in this modern world, maybe not so strange. Pat and I, whom some might characterize as wedding guests from hell, had a mutual friend in the groom, Eddy Levy. Pat knew Eddy through the Texas music scene as the manager of Honeybrowne, a band he’d often played with. I knew Eddy and his brother Isaac as little boogers at my family’s summer camp, Echo Hill.
The wedding was at the Four Seasons in Mexico City, one of the classiest, most lavish hotels in the world. Everywhere you go, there’s the sound of rich people laughing. Pat is talented, intelligent, fun-loving, and humble, but his appearance can often be described as that of a big, sloppy Boy Scout with a merit badge in hell-raising—in other words, not your basic Four Seasons guest. That was fine with me. Every time I stay at a fancy hotel, some employee always comes up to me with deep suspicion in his eyes and says, “Can I help you?”
As I was checking in on Friday morning, I could hear a loud, boisterous voice singing in a ballroom just off the lobby. People were shouting and laughing in both Spanish and English. My curiosity piqued, I thought I’d check it out before I checked in. I left my busted valise at the desk and walked into the ballroom. There I saw a sight I shall not soon forget: Pat standing stubbornly like a giant statue of an Inca god, trying to play a serenade on a small guitar he’d “borrowed” from a determined little mariachi who was attempting to get it back. Like David and Goliath, the two of them struggled over the instrument, with the mariachi finally winning.
To smooth over any ill will, Pat proceeded to buy $60 shots of Don Julio Real tequila for everybody in the place. He bought so many rounds that the bartenders thought it was his birthday. Later, a large man was seen mooning people in the Four Seasons courtyard from his second-floor window. I’m not suggesting that the two events were related, but it’s possible. Of course, after about eight shots of Don Julio Real, the man could have been me.
The ceremony itself, the following night, was a traditional one, performed entirely in Spanish and Hebrew, two languages that neither myself nor Mr. Green Jeans is fluent in. Unaware that a Mexican wedding party usually starts late and goes until dawn, we drank a good bit more Don Julio Real before, during, and after the ceremony. By the time Eddy and his lovely bride, Noa, entered the great hall as husband and wife, five hundred people were waving silk napkins over their heads, the band was playing, and Pat was kissing the father of the groom. We drank a lot more tequila and then were compelled at gunpoint to participate in an extended series of highly frenetic Jewish folk dances, which resulted in projectile vomiting and, from Pat, a few drunken words of wisdom.
“The problem with being drunk,” he said, “is that you’re drunk. And the problem with being in love is that you’re drunk.”
“That’s pretty good,” I said. “It ought to be a song.”
“It will be,” he said, “if I can just light this cigar.”
“How does it feel to be playing your music to a crowd of fifty thousand?”
“It’s exactly as cool as you think it is. The only reason they’re there is because I can’t put fifty thousand people in my house.”
“I know how it feels,” I said. “I’ve played to fifty thousand people before. Unfortunately, they were there to see Bob Dylan.”
“Man, I love Bob Dylan.”
“He speaks highly of you. You do appear to be taking your success as it comes. You’re not going to allow yourself to turn into a brand name with nothing behind it, are you?”
Pat didn’t respond directly, or maybe he did. It was hard to tell, because we were both making serious headway into another bottle of tequila. This is what my notebook tells me he said: “I’ve never met a man who was more or less important than me.”
“Why is drinking so much a part of your life and your music?” I asked, rather rhetorically, as we both killed another shot.
“I don’t like drinking songs,” he said. “Just songs I can drink to. My dad says the key to a great love song is to never use the word ‘love.’ But back to drinking. Glen Campbell just got caught drinkin’ and drivin’. Now, we’re all bad drivers sooner or later. But I’m talkin’ forgot-you-were-on-the-planet-Earth, left-your-kid-in-the-truck-stop-bathroom kind of drunk driving. He was arrested, and when they were taking his picture, he was singing his greatest hits to the camera. Now that’s drunk. I’ve probably been there a time or two. But when I’m ready to leave a bar, I always ask myself the same question: ‘Can I puke in a straight line?'”
You couldn’t help but like this guy, I thought. He was Pecos Bill from Texas Tech. He had mastered the art of being himself. Now he was working to a little larger audience, telling the story of how, in 1995, in Lubbock, he’d sneaked into Jerry Jeff Walker’s dressing room just as the performer was coming offstage. “Hi, Mr. Walker,” Pat said in an exaggerated drunken slur. “I’m Pat Green. I’m a Texas singer-songwriter. I’ve brought my favorite guitar for you to sign.”
“What did Jerry Jeff say?” someone asked.
“He said, ‘Take your favorite [expletive deleted] guitar and get out of my [expletive deleted] dressing room.'”
Let the history of Texas music record that Jerry Jeff did sign the young fan’s guitar.
Later that night, much later, after the room stopped spinning, I thought about fame. “Death’s little sister,” Hemingway had called it. Pat seemed to be handling it very well, indeed. Something his father, Craven Green, a friend of mine, had once told me came to mind. “His long suit,” Craven had said of his son, “is enjoying life rather than figuring it out.” Craven told me the story of when he and Pat’s mother were getting divorced. He’d bought a little book to explain to his two small boys that Mommy and Daddy still loved them. When he’d finished reading, both he and ten-year-old David were very torn up. But six-year-old Pat’s reaction was quite different. He put his arm around his father’s neck. “Hey, Dad,” he said, “it’s not the end of the world.”