Dear Ray Wylie Hubbard,
Sorry I didn’t make your birthday show here in Austin last weekend, I was taking the kids to visit their grandparents in East Texas. I spent my weekend just southwest of the first liquor store across the Gregg County line and just northeast of the Starrville Church of the Living God. I’m betting you know the feeling.
And sorry I didn’t get around to wishing you a happy 70th birthday last week, when, you know, it would have been timely. I had a rough week. I mean, my Aggie football team went from playoff contender to completely tits up. Yeah, and there was that other thing, too …
But, hey, happy birthday! Big 7-0! Like most journalists, I’m a sucker for big round numbers.
You might not remember me, but we go way back. It’s been almost 23 years since I worked an evening — fortified by youth and bourbon — checking wristbands at the doors of the Luckenbach dancehall. You’d be amazed at what some people would do to avoid a $5 cover charge (like trying to work dancehall security when you’re 5’7”). I didn’t know anything ’bout you except, well, you know. But I learned a lot that night. I was a fan right away.
A few years later I saw you in Bryan, playing a show so small that you joked with the handful of folks in the audience, “we’re gonna play what we want, because we think we can take you.”
Don’t worry, I’m not going to mention how a Luckenbach Willie Fourth of July Picnic interview with you was interrupted by a knee-high Lucas … and how I saw the same kid on stage with you at a Picnic in Fort Worth a decade later. I must have told that story every year since. But I will say that I’ve heard every “Redneck Mother” you’ve sang at the Picnic since 1995 and enjoyed every one.
(Secret handshake time: I know, no matter what Bob Livingston says, that “E” is for “Ethel.”)
And there’s no way I’m going to re-hash that story about how I dropped by your house one time with the Mayor of Luckenbach and though you weren’t there, I ended up saving a mouse from your swimming pool. Not going to mention it. (Seriously! Ray Wylie’s swimming pool! The Fountain of Groove!)
Our visits slowed down a bit once I started acquiring children. But I have all of your albums. I even paid for them! Substantially, in a few cases involving vinyl and eBay.
And I don’t miss a chance to put “Snake Farm” as my daughter’s favorite song on the paperwork for her parochial preschool. I’m sure they love that. (But I did have to take “Texas is a State of Mind” off an iPod playlist some years back when I overheard my then-preschool-age son singing softly to himself “ … we got cowboys out the ass.” He’s nine now. He turned out OK. He says “hi.”)
Enough about us, though. Here is my birthday wish — and request — for you: Let’s make your 70s a hell of a decade. I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but I need you around. Not just around, but busy doing great things.
When it seems like I don’t have enough, I need someone to remind me about keeping my “gratitude higher than my expectations.” When it seems like I can’t, I need someone to remind me about Rilke and “our fears are our dragons.”
As I push on toward 50, feeling the effects of my excesses, it damn sure doesn’t hurt to see someone who has turned sobriety into high-quality creativity — and is still getting better. And we all need someone to inspire and instruct the younger Texas singer-songwriters. Just saying.
And sometimes I just need that little bit of guitar groove in the middle of “All Loose Things.” Or to stand in a field and yell “It’s a reptile house!”
You probably don’t need my encouragement on any of this. But 2016 has made me a little jumpy. Figure it won’t hurt none.
Probably won’t get out until income tax refund comes in. I’m as busted as an Edsel. But Willie and God willing, I’ll see you at least once next year.
(P.S. For your next book, I’d recommend not letting your wife write the last bit. I mean, it was a great book, but I came away thinking “yeah, that Ray Wylie did some crazy stuff, but Judy Hubbard? Man she is a badass!” Totally stole the show, I’m thinking.)