Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Hard Death To Take.

I hadn't seen him in 35 years but the moment his wife, Annie, finally found me and delivered the news that Dwight Franklin of Buna, Texas had died, hot tears slammed out of my eyes and burned my face, turning me into a total wreck. Hell, I don't even have a picture of him.

But when our family moved down into the deepest part of the east Texas woods, one of the few persons who kept me sane was a grumpy, long-haired, intolerably sexy guitarist singer named Dwight Franklin who was only a few years older than me.

I wrote about him once in the diary, back when I found out he had throat cancer. I can't say it better than this:

Dwight Franklin is the coolest person I ever met. He never actually tried to be cool. He simply is/was the embodiment of cool itself. And not cool in a dumb, street kid way. No, Dwight was smart. Dwight was a musician. Dwight was one of the first persons I ever met who made me realize how much I didn't know. He made me curious.

Dwight lived out in the woods near Buna, Texas in a place called Gum Slough (pronounced "sloo"). He lived in a big ramshackle house at the end of a road that wound through the slough.

When I arrived in Buna in the middle of my sophomore year of high school, it was the late 60s/early 70s. The Vietnam war was raging and my life's goal at that time was to become a hippie and live in San Francisco. However, since I was in 10th grade and the Baptist preacher's kid, the best I could do was wear Indian moccasins and engage in the ongoing Haircut Wars with my parents.

Dwight was a year older than me and I don't even remember how I met him. I think I met him because he was friends with Butch, a bass guitarist. Dwight, with his long hair, ever-present electric guitar was a god to me. I took one look at his home made studio, his ability to play the best blues and rock songs, and did everything I could to just find excuses to hang out at his place.

He even drank beer, which was very exotic to me. (I never indulged).

I think he could tell that I was a smart person but he also laughed at my naivete and goaded me into smartening up. For instance, one time he asked me if I liked jazz music. My response was that, well, at Disneyland I kinda enjoyed listening to the...

He interrupted me. "Not that kind of jazz. That's dixieland for tourists. I'm talking about real jazz."

I shrugged. In one question I learned that there was a "jazz" out there that I knew nothing about.

He also liked to read intense science fiction novels, the kind written as almost literature. He gave me one to read -- Stand On Zanzibar. It was unlike anything I had ever read at that time and it made me thirsty for smart writing.

After I left for college, I lost contact with Dwight except the occasional visit. At one point, he had a terrible accident. He was working as a lineman for the county and got involved in a bloody concussive accident with the power line that cracked his head open and left him in a long recovery. I then lost track of him, but recently we hooked up again because he's been battling cancer in his throat.

His wife, Annie, dialed my phone the other day and forced Dwight to speak to me. He was crying. He spoke to me and his voice was so weak. In his voice I heard myself back when I was near death. I guess for two singers like us, it's all about the voice. Back before The Last Session was on the boards, I tried recording a demo. On that day I couldn't reach the high note because my voice was just too weak. I didn't have the power. It was when I first really felt the touch of death hovering over me.

Immediately I realized what he was going through. We talked for about 20 minutes. I did get a few laughs out of him. Other things we said must stay between us -- and I sincerely hope this entry doesn't make him feel bad, but it wasn't until all this started happening that I began to remember what Dwight Franklin meant to me. He was part of my escape from a world I didn't feel I belonged to.

Thank you, Dwight. And by the way, it doesn't matter how weak you may feel or how much indignity you might suffer through your recovery, in my eyes you will always be the Coolest Human Being on Earth.
I hate that he wasn't famous and that you, reader, didn't know him. But I do remember what it felt like to be in Dwight's presence, and as long as I live, I will strive to be the smart, engaged person he thought I could be.

Thanks for waking me up, Dwight. Thanks for making me see that there really is a big, big world out there -- and that it's not scary. I miss you so much already. And thank you, Annie, for taking care of him.

The one good thing is that I got to tell him how much he meant to me. And he got to see that diary entry, too. Bye, Dwight. Gone but NOT forgotten. Never.


Gabi Clayton said...

Dwight Franklin sounds wonderful - I remember that post you wrote.

Steve, I'm glad he woke you up and that you had him in your life.

My condolences to you, to Annie and all who Dwight touched.

Bev Sykes said...

Big hugs.

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Unknown said...

I played in the King Beats with Dwight back in the 60's and he was a dear friend that I will always miss. He kept my teen years interesting and I will always have rock and roll memories of Dwight.

Ron Blake

Steve Schalchlin said...

Really? You played in the King Beats?? Wow!