For the past 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of making the cover art for Steve Earle’s CD and album covers. The new one, Terraplane, is a blues record, and it is a knock-out. It is named for the old car that Nash used to make; one that blues men referred to as, “The Money Ride.”
My pal Penn Jillette once owned a vehicle named Pink Death. It was a Ford Bronco painted a color Penn invented, called “Stripper Inner Labia Pink.” So candy-colored pink was this car, that the guy at the body shop made Penn stand there and watch as they gave his formerly butch truck something like a hundred coats to get it the right blush of “Inner Labia Pink,” which is, “Stripper.” There is actually a paint-chip named Stripper.
Damn I love this country.
I spent a week zipping around Vegas with Penn on assignment from Playboy and it was a holy hoot watching people’s reactions to Pink Death. It were as if the goddamn thing were radioactive. Even twenty years ago in Vegas this was regarded as weird.
Penn is full of funny traits and quirky observations; one of the benefits of being his friend is, though we are polar opposites in some of our political beliefs, we never fail to crack each other up. He is also one of the smartest people I’ve ever known with a searching intellect and endlessly inquisitive mind that wants to know the nuances of every single thing that interests him.
For years, Penn and Teller have had a bit where a rabbit winds up in a chipper and for years, Penn convinced me that they actually just threw the fucking rabbit into the chipper. “Rabbits are CHEAP,” Penn would explain, and I believed him. That’s a bad habit of mine; believing Penn when he’s pulling my joint.
He once staged an elaborate subterfuge to get me to believe that everyone we knew got a discount from Federal Express, except me. He surreptitiously emailed all of my friends to get them to go along with the gag and I believed them.
So, like an asshole, I called FedEx and asked them if they thought I was a fucking mark. I told them that I used FedEx almost everyday and that I should get the discount that my friends enjoy.
They asked me what I was referring to. That while they valued my business, their rates were their rates and everyone paid the same. I told them I wasn’t some douche-bag or a mark; that I knew how this game was played and I wanted in on the discount, and to quit working my stick.
The woman, Nora, assured me that there was no secret discount and that I was mistaken, which just infuriated me. I started yelling, “I’m not a sucker, lady. I’m not some fucking hick you can jerk-off like Dickie Dope. I’m not a mark.” And I added “Now don’t fuck around with me Nora. I’m in no mood!”
She asked me who told me this and I said all of my friends had told me, in fact, Penn…
PENN! Mother-fucker. That Mother-fucker.
Then I got it. I swear I could hear him laughing his Newfie ass off all the way from Vegas.
The “Tony Called FedEx” story was born and all of my friends know it. And at every opportunity Penn relates it, with great relish and much embroidery to entertain all who are present, including me—the Sap who called FedEx.
I used to draw rabbits for my mother. As a kid, my sisters had them as pets and they got huge. They were also not as gentle as you might think. I saw one of our bunnies kick the holy dog-shit out of a wild rabbit that had come into the yard and attempted to eat some of his food. They’re nasty little fuckers and territorial as hell. Whenever I felt the need to get out of the doghouse with my mom, I’d draw her a rabbit or a bird and she would then become convinced of my better side long enough to get me out of the house and back on the street with my friends. I was good at charming my mother. I once sold her a baggie full of Cheerios by telling her they were “donut seeds.” She gave me a buck. Even I, as a child had some of the Penn Jillette carny-trash in me.
In the city where I live, you mostly see squirrels, though lately I’ve noticed a lot more rabbits. I like them. I love drawing their odd shape and when I spot one, the stillness of them is almost eerie. Often they freeze right in the middle of the road and get creamed, which is kind of a dumb-fuck way to get killed. At least squirrels run away.
I found out later that Penn and Teller don’t kill the rabbits—cheap or not, they actually treat them quite well. As Penn explained, “Hey, the little fuckers work six shows a week.”
Crazy Horse wanted little to do with other people, red or white. He was happiest out wandering in nature. He was as content to sleep in a cave or a hole, as he was in a camp. He loved being out under the stars and was comfortable with his own company. There was a reason the Oglala Lakota referred to him as “our Strange Man.”
His nonconformity set him apart in a tribal culture. He had much responsibility in his tribe. He was among the most fierce of warriors; a brilliant tactical fighter and a superb hunter, and to his tribe, he was necessary and he was up to shouldering his immense responsibility to his people. He hunted buffalo, he led war-parties and raids, but when the opportunity arose, he would go off by himself to be in nature and fast and seek visions. He was curious about the spirits and the next world and he sought wisdom. Like Basho, he was always searching and seeking knowledge.
In Tokyo, I visited some Shinto shrines and was struck by how much Shintoism reflects the beliefs of some Native American beliefs as well. I’m not religious at all, but do tend to cede the power most attribute to god, to nature. The Shinto teachings have an intense reverence for the natural world and the shrines are sublimely beautiful.
In battle Crazy Horse adorned his forehead with three hailstones and red lightning bolts on each cheek. He also carried a small pebble or hailstone behind his ear. These images were powerful talismans in his life and visions. When it would hail, the Native American believed it was raining stone and, depending which text you read, this was alternately ominous and hopeful at the same time.
It may sound odd that I once went to Japan to better understand Crazy Horse, but I think it helped. In every culture, there are these odd-spirited men who don’t quite fit into the world easily, yet they push that culture forward for better and ill. They are necessary people who don’t want to punch a clock or color inside the lines. There is an otherness about them. In Japan, the Haiku monks were thought to be oddballs in their day. Basho was an admirer of Li-Po, the great Chinese poet of the 8th century, another wandering spirit enamored of wandering in nature. It is not an accident that Haiku is rooted in nature and reflects the seasonal shifts of one’s lifetime.
I hope that after Crazy Horse was murdered, he went somewhere. He certainly deserved better than he got. I don’t believe in the afterlife, but I’d like it if he had one. Haitians refer to the land between the living and the dead as the “Gray World” and there is no time continuum; it is a place where Basho and Crazy Horse could meet. I hope wherever Crazy Horse went, he wore a necklace of stars.