Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Speaking of Pissing Out In the Open...

We were talking about urinating out in the opened reminded me of my handshake with the late song writer Ernie Marrs.

Have you ever heard of the Ernie Marrs? No? Well, have you ever heard of the underground weekly newspaper in Atlanta named “The Great Speckled Bird?” No?

I need to brief you a bit about each before I continue with this episode.

“The Great Speckled Bird” was a weekly underground newspaper in Atlanta. It supported mostly radically left causes and spent most of their pages showing their side of the argument. It roughly had the format and style of New York’s East Village Other. Hippy-like kids and bohemians earned cash in their spare time by selling The Great Speckled Bird on street corners.

Ernie Marrs was one of the editors and always had great articles in the paper.

But basically Ernie was a poet and songwriter. He collaborated with a great number of folk singers who recorded songs he had written. Probably the most popular was “Dashboard Jesus” or “Plastic Jesus”. I think it was Plastic Jesus and maybe I thought of it being on the dashboard. Ernie died in the mid ‘80s.

Before I knew Ernie I saw him at several concerts for different folk artists – he seemed to be rubbing elbows with the promoters or the artists, but I did not know his name. He was a short fellow, very unpretentiously dressed, and dark and muscular.

Anna had a co-worker at her first job named Pat. When I met Pat it seemed she and I went on a three to five year drunk together with all the details blurred. Anna was always the designated driver. We stood by Pat’s side through three husbands and at least one love affair.

Pat was something of a folk singer herself. She played the guitar good and had sort of a Carol King voice.

One Sunday while we were aimlessly riding around drinking, as usual, Pat mentioned a friend she hasn’t seen in a good while, a song writer by the name of Ernie Marrs.

He lived in the Little Five Points area of Atlanta. Little Five Points is an area of older houses and cheaper rent – then – but I don’t think it is that way now… now, there is a demand to live in these older houses, so where there is a demand the price goes up.

We went to where Ernie lived. He lived in a garage apartment behind a nice but old house. A flight of stairs on the side led up to his apartment.

Pat wasn’t sure Ernie was at home or not, she didn’t see his car. So, being the gentleman I am, I offered to go up the stairs and knock on the door. I climbed the stairs, and knocked on the door. Nobody came. I knocked again – nobody came.

I had to urinate very badly. My bladder had to be stretched out of shape. I was having pains. I had to pee – right then!
Up on the top of a staircase over looking a beautiful sunset and Atlanta sky-light, I thought, why not?

So, I unzipped and peed away.

Thump thump thump! I heard somebody coming up the stairs at trotting pace.

It was the little fellow I saw at all the concerts we have been to with Linda and Joe!

Still holding “it” and peeing with one hand and a beer in the other, my torso was sort of twisted around facing him, and I said, “You are Ernie Marrs?”

He smiled and said yes. He is a very quiet humble little guy that wasn’t bothered by the fact somebody was on his top step pissing away.

I held my hand out to shake it and to introduce myself then had a second thought, and balanced the beer can on the top railing and used my beer holding hand to shake hands with Ernie with my left hand.

Then as I was explaining why I was here pissing off his steps Anna and Pat came up the steps and he was very glad to see Pat. I could have went on to say I was there to rob him and kick his ass and just as long as he could embrace Pat he was happy, I could do what I had to do.

We spent several hours with Ernie. He pulled out songs to show us, correspondence to show us…. He had letters from Bob Dylan, and others… Bob Dylan is the only one I remember. He and Pat sung some of his songs together. I drunk some more. Anna drove us home.

Ernie was so muscular and dark because he was a roofer by trade. He earned his money by putting roofs on houses. His song writing, at that time of his life, was not paying the bills or putting food on his table. He lived alone.

He visited us a week or so later. We invited him and Pat up for dinner.

He was a very nice person. And very dedicated to his efforts. I think I didn’t pursue being friends with Ernie because it would be something very phony about me if I made friends with the guy just because he was popular in the folk world – that would be something Linda and Joe would do.

He must have made quiet a splash in the music world. I ran an google on Ernie Marrs and the hits seemed to be endless.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Glen said...

When I met Ernie in the fall of 1964 it was at a party in Atlanta and Larry Crismond's apartment. Larry was a Tech student and a guitar teacher. Bud Foote, as Tech English instructor, was there as were a number of other folk-music oriented people. My date was Kay Cothran.

In any case, I had a tenor banjo. It was an unusual instrument for the folk music crowd, but Ernie noticed it. He told me how he came to try to play the instrument himself. (I'll save that story for later, as it also involves how he met Pete Seeger.) In any case, we started talking and found out we shared a number of interests. And that started the next six years or so, while I lived in Atlanta.

During the times Ernie and I hung out together I got to meet and spend quality time at Ernie's place with Patrick Sky, Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, Pete LaFarge (and his wife - another story there), and a number of local Atlanta folks of less fame.

FWIW, I was the person who ran the tape recorder for the Broadside collection's version of "Plastic Jesus". The "Marrs Family" consisted of Bud Foote and Kay Cothran.

In the 70s he had built a respectable gun collection. He was a lifelong member of the NRA, despite his liberal political bent. However that collection gradually got sold-off to meet expenses -- mainly his drinking.

I kept in touch with Ernie by letter and phone after I moved away from Atlanta. He went down hill, badly. Alcoholism, cataracts, just age. When I last saw him in 1996 he was a wreck, living in squalor.

2:55 PM  

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