Living in the Woods in a Tree
Remembering Blaze Foley
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of North Texas Press
Series: Lives of Musicians
In the course of our love affair Depty Dawg would reinvent himself as Blaze Foley—the enigmatic, outlaw singer/songwriter whose fatal shooting at the age of thirty-nine would insure his status as legend. I, too, would become a writer, only to spend the next couple of decades trying to put that time and that man into words. Stuffed into plays and shaped into idealized characters, he eluded my attempts to recapture his untamed spirit, as there was always...
Part 1: Moonlight
Chapter 1: Things I Can’t Throw Away
Depty Dawg had come back without warning two months ago, in early September 2002. In eight short weeks I’ve gone from being a menopausal skeptic about love, to a hormone-drenched teenager who believes in ghosts, who waits at night for one to visit her. Where once I prided myself on self-knowledge— a contradiction at best—now I stumble blind through memory and grief, astonished to find myself jealous of rivals I never knew, for the...
Chapter 2: The Mill
I was twenty-four that spring. Three years had passed since I graduated from the University of North Carolina with a bachelor of fine arts in theater. College had been all about social development; my educational advance as a freshman was that I’d finally made out lying down. I’d matriculate to intercourse senior year....
Chapter 3: Hear My Song
Years later, his music would bring him back. Though I’d distanced myself from his memory, my feet had never stopped responding to the melodies he taught me. Bluegrass, country, gospel, and swing—these were the rhythms I still claimed as my own. Yet all I had of Blaze’s songs was a 45-rpm single of “If I Could Only Fly” released in 1978. It had to be at least twenty years since I’d listened to it. I told myself that was because nobody had record players any more....
Chapter 4: Stolen Hearts
Our romance would not begin till Ben, the Mill jeweler, fell hard for a local girl, and was rumored to have kidnapped her. At the age of thirty-five, Ben claimed to be barred from seven counties in Georgia on account of being a warlock. Broad-chested and rangy, he had a mane of red-gold hair and a Viking sex appeal, cinched by a wide metal belt and the...
Chapter 5: Exodus
What I knew of folk music was admittedly sketchy. Weaned in the ’60s on Elvis, My Fair Lady, and A Hard Day’s Night, in college I was introduced to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Elton John; Joni Mitchell. Depty Dawg brought with him a tremendous knowledge of music of all kinds; his only criterion was that it be heartfelt. Over time he would introduce me to an eclectic mix of Doc Watson, George Jones, Jackson Browne, Jerry Jeff Walker,...
Chapter 6: Legendary Loves
It was way too soon to tell my folks about Depty Dawg. And it would be months before I got up the nerve to put him and my mother in the same room. At twenty-five, I was tethered to her by invisible and opposing ties: I adored her and she terrified me; she was so easily wounded. Early on, I had learned to keep secrets from her....
Chapter 7: Waller
Leona’s sister could have been describing Depty Dawg and me, fleeing Banning Mill in those first heady weeks, living on kisses and blissed-out faith. Though I was more or less a newcomer to the county, Depty had already put down some kind of roots. Soon after leaving the Mill, he introduced me to Waller....
Chapter 8: The Tree House
Homeless and penniless, Depty and I crashed where we could, though we yearned for privacy, for some place of our own. Zonko Joe’s property lay five miles east of the Alabama border, on the outskirts of Roopville, population 300 or so. There, in the thick pinewoods, sat a handhewn wooden shelter. Dep thought the little tree house, as Zonko Joe called...
Chapter 9: Udo
Udo encompassed the universe of the tree house. It began at Joe’s trailer and included the unfinished house. It was the pines and the path through the field where, after a rain, the grasses shook their rust-colored heads, releasing clouds of seed. Udo contained the red clay and the black oak marking the turn to the tree house. It was the song of the creek, the spiders weaving webs above our bed, and the moon shining like a stage light down the firebreak...
Chapter 10: Alternative Lifestyles
Our life in the tree house was governed by simplicity, not lack. Who needed television, a dishwasher, or curtains, when we had spiders for company, no dishes, and a delicious amount of privacy? Groceries, beer, and Depty’s Kools were all we needed money for; that, and enough gas to drive to Opal’s to get them. The way we figured it, the less we had, the less we were responsible for,...
Chapter 11: Interdependence Day
If Udo was our private lovers’ universe, Waller was the way station where we refueled friendships and caught up on new trends in alternative living. At Waller, we first encountered the über miracle of duct tape when Glyn showed us how he had repaired his sweat pants with the shiny stuff. Glyn was our altered fashion guru: frugal, quirky, and redneck chic....
Chapter 12: Homecoming
It would take coming back to Georgia for many of these memories to resurface. Now here I am, falling like Alice down a rabbit hole in pursuit of a forgotten wonderland. Am I seeing the past through rose-colored glasses, or was it truly that way? And how did I come to be in our friend Billy’s car twenty-six years later, driving away from the Atlanta bus station...
Chapter 13: Ghosts
The main intersection in Whitesburg has been turned into a roundabout where logging trucks and SUVs do a traffic dosey-doe. Bunk Duke’s Package Store is boarded up, replaced by the inevitable Stop N Shop. The other concession to the twenty-first century is down the road: Lamp Music South, a Christian music recording studio-slash-tanning salon....
Chapter 14: Livin’ in the Woods in a Tree
For the record, I was a Depty Dawg fan before he ever wrote a song about us. His name (albeit misspelled) and then his voice beguiled me, though I was not alone in that. Wherever he sang, the music flowed out from him, and that grace extended to me, reflected in his star shine....
Chapter 15: JAB Blues
We had come from different worlds. My grandfather was a shmata-peddling Orthodox Jew on the streets of Brooklyn. Dep’s was a fire-breathing Evangelical fiddler from the Ozarks. As a kid, Mike Fuller had listened in his bedroom to Chet Atkins and Red Foley, while I swayed in the living room to Eddie Fisher and Harry Belafonte. He was raised...
Chapter 16: Romantic Codes
Depty’s vulnerablity could be startling, especially when it ran so at odds with his freewheeling views. By the time we met, he’d had his share of one-night stands, but where true love was concerned, he adhered to a strict code, a conservative blueprint for how lovers should be. One of its guiding principles was that they not mention previous loves to each other. I...
Chapter 17: Number the Days
My breasts grew sore, my belly bloated. Depty’s response, like mine, was mixed. We couldn’t picture having a child now when we were still children ourselves. Nor were we sure it was fair to bring another into a world where we had no money, a house without walls, and no clear vision of where our lives were going. The women I admired had worked this all out. Sas was a mother,...
Chapter 18: Revelations
Years would have to pass before I let myself feel that pain again. Being here in Georgia has brought on a springtide of bittersweet memories, crashing on rocky shores. I need some private hours to sort through the scattered details, washed up like broken shells after a storm at sea. Yet neither solitude nor time is mine for now....
Chapter 19: Inner Prizes
Depty Dawg had said he wanted to be a legend, not a star. For him, celebrity meant compromise and trappings; being a legend was the opposite of that. His myth would be his own creation, and he would love it, since it meant breaking the rules, laughing at the demands of success. He told me he had role models for this growing up: Hank Williams, Johnny...
Chapter 20: When in Roanoke
My father had already been prepared, when a business trip three weeks earlier allowed him a brief layover in the Atlanta airport. We’d ridden over to meet him and spend a few hours. There he had taken our picture, and now I could only imagine how Momma had reacted to Dep’s battered cowboy hat and my worn-out bellbottoms....
Chapter 21: Three Dawg Nights
Some mornings we woke to find the glass of water by the bed frozen solid. So during a cold snap we would often stay at Bubba and Helen’s, partying and playing music till all hours of the night. Or on Old Black Dirt Road, regaled by Billy’s storytelling. There we could take a bath which, for conservation purposes, we did together; it didn’t take much water to fill a claw-foot tub with Depty Dawg and me both in it....
Chapter 22: Departure
The nation’s bicentennial year arrived. By January of ’76, Depty Dawg had a full bag of brand-new songs; he was writing and practicing constantly. His confidence was growing and with it, his ambition. He was eager to get out in the world and become Blaze Foley. He said we couldn’t stay in the tree house forever; we had to make lives, not to mention money, if we were to realize our goals of family and careers....
Chapter 23: Our Little Town
It’s the final night of filming the Blaze Foley documentary at Waller. Kevin and his crew had hoped to get out to the tree house with me, only I’m not sure how to find it, and now there isn’t time. The crew has to start back to Texas early tomorrow morning. Over the past five days I’ve given them our story, and they, in turn, have taken tender care of me. We won’t say goodbye,...
Chapter 24: Nowhere to Hide
At times, I suspect I’ve glommed onto Depty’s ghost out of my own unrequited longings and hunger. Other times, I feel like Larue, like a bitch intent on marking my territory, claiming this song or that as my turf. I don’t know if it’s regret, or just pride, that compels me to retrace an identity I threw away years ago: that of being Blaze Foley’s true love....
Part 2: Autumn Winds
Chapter 25: Miles to Go
The night before I leave, Yukon the monk helps me try to bury Larue’s ashes in the grove of pines behind the house. The ground is frozen, impossible to dig; no resting place there. It will be summer by the time we finally scatter her ashes in the percolating stream beside the cottage where she last lived....
Chapter 26: Fat Tuesday
In February of 1976, Depty Dawg and I had nothing to lose, except Margery’s Empire State guitar and a battered attaché case filled with Blaze Foley songs. The nickel we flipped to decide our fate had long been spent. Udo was behind us; the wide world beckoned. Embarking on an adventure to jumpstart a legend, our first stop would be New Orleans—and Mardi Gras...
Chapter 27: Tumbleweed
A day later, we were on the road again. Grody drove us through the French Quarter to the western outskirts of New Orleans to catch a ride on Interstate 10. Like Depty Dawg, the French Quarter was still recovering. Mountain-high mounds of wine bottles towered above workers with push-brooms, bulldozing knee-high piles of confetti into the gutters....
Chapter 28: Big D
At daybreak, Bonnie and Roy let us off outside Shreveport, promising to keep the radio tuned for Blaze Foley. By noon, we were in a black sedan driven by a middle-aged salesman going straight into Dallas. He’d picked us up out of parental concern, he told us—a reminder of how young we must look standing by the side of the road....
Chapter 29: Wacko
LaNelle was a college friend of Margery’s whom we’d met on Old Black Dirt Road. At one time a psychological researcher, lately she’d acquired a law degree to practice alongside her attorney husband. Johnny was easygoing and preppy in crisp white shirts. He and LaNelle were in the midst of restoring their ornate Victorian mansion. As luck would have it, they needed a...
Chapter 30: Lovers and Music [Includes Image Plates]
Austin is where Blaze Foley’s legend would ultimately take root, and where it is still unfurling. I can feel its gravitational pull on me as I touch down at the Austin bus station, twenty-seven springs after Depty Dawg and I first landed here. I don’t know what I expect to learn by coming back to Texas, but I’m committed to being educated. Consumed by...
Chapter 31: The Live Music Capital of the World
The bleakly furnished basement room opened onto a scudded backyard with a hedge of young live oaks, a crusted barbecue grill, and what was then Lamar Avenue. Its charm was its rent, which was cheap. There were frogs in the shower and wood roaches big as my fist in the bed, crunching under us when we rolled over. Reminiscent of the tree house minus the magic, the flat had its compensations. After living for almost a year without refrigeration,...
Chapter 32: Good Enough for Jesus
I thought there had to be some way to make a home for us in Austin. Since our present accommodations were shorter on beauty, I decided that what we needed was comfort. No sooner had I landed under the garage than my JAB genes began to reinstate themselves. I fell into the trap of civilization: I wanted things—not a lot, just a few, to feather the nest—a toaster, for instance. In my mind there grew this notion that we needed to own a toaster...
Chapter 33: Jumping the Gun
Later came sooner than we expected. At the end of June, we drove back to Georgia with Lindsey and his wife, the couple who had taken us in when we first arrived in Austin. We were homesick for Whitesburg and not about to miss the Fourth of July festivities at Waller, especially on the country’s 200th birthday....
Chapter 34: Letters from Blaze
His ambivalence about performing had not gone away, and so soon after his return, he turned around and went back to Georgia, this time determined to accomplish his aims. It would be our longest separation. By then, we’d upgraded from Parkway to a furnished flat on Castle Hill Road. The new place was in a row of ticky-tack apartments with the square impersonality of a dingy motel room. It had a small separate kitchen and no amphibians...
Chapter 35: Dear Blaze
In love stories, the characters write letters to each other whenever life conspires to keep them apart. Mail is the consolation prize for absence. No doubt it would be helpful to slip into these pages the letters I wrote to Depty Dawg that autumn. Except I don’t know what happened to them, if they got lost in his wanderings, or if he kept them a time. It occurred to me they might show up when I returned to Austin, just as Margery’s recordin...
Chapter 36: Artist at Large
The second letter I received from Blaze that autumn was addressed to “Mrs. Little Sybil Rosendawg Foley.” The return address read “c/o Old Black Dirt Road.” Inside were two pieces of paper, one a drawing of himself. Alongside it, he had written:...
Chapter 37: Address Unknown
The seeds of our sorrow are in these letters too. We were so young, honey, so ill-equipped to mend the fissures absence and uncertainty were creating. Yes, conventional wisdom says that you can only save yourself, but we’re alike, you and I, undying romantics, and I can’t seem to throw away the certainty that love can...
Chapter 38: Postcards from the Road
Often he was able to meet discouragement gracefully. One afternoon while waiting to perform at Good Ole Days, he wrote me tongue-in-cheek: “I’m going to play again to a totally empty house. But the people that work here are a good audience, both of them.” Being his own manager meant having to promote himself, offstage and in print. Sometimes the results were maddening. When a local gazette incorrectly printed an announcement of his act in...
Chapter 39: Postage Due
This is the letter I never wrote you. I didn’t want to tell you that night on the phone, but the reason I hadn’t written was because I’d been crying for three days. You weren’t the only one in hiding, honey. In your absence the depression that had stalked me for years had begun to show itself. There were times on Castle Hill when I couldn’t get out of bed, a condition so like my mother’s it...
Chapter 40: On the Road Again
November ’76 brought us things to celebrate. Jimmy Carter was elected to the White House, and Depty Dawg, despite his frustrations, could still write letters that held glimmers of hope. In a note written on Election Day night, he listed the acts playing in Atlanta that evening:...
Chapter 41: Cold, Cold World
Our first frigid days in Chi-town were spent numbly watching Mayor Daley’s funeral on TV. Scott had a brick house in Evergreen Park, a well-appointed suburb north of the city. Once a hardcore hippie, lately Scott had traded in his Harley for a three-piece suit, and a job with his father at the stock exchange downtown. Dep and I slept in his attic, clinging...
Chapter 42: If I Could Only Fly
Now I was the one leading a double life. Immersed all day in the rhythms of James and his parents, I was riveted to them by my affection—and by my appetite for my ongoing feminist education. By early ’77, the women’s movement was in full cry; I had no idea how thirsty I was for stories of heroines claiming their own lives. Every day I drank in women’s literature...
Chapter 43: My Reasons Why
My memories of Chicago remain more elusive than those of Georgia and Texas. And maybe that’s due to the gap between what I thought was happening—and what was really going on. The new verse to “Cold, Cold World” expressed Dep’s fear that I would leave him, when in fact he was already gone. All these years I believed I broke up with him; in...
Part 3: Country Music Widow
Chapter 44: Scavengers
The entrance to Live Oak Cemetery is marked by a sprawling grove of ancient oaks whose leathery leaves are evergreen; they don’t fall in autumn. Live oaks can defy the seasons for hundreds of years, and here their sprawled branches cast a dense canopy over the sun-baked Texas plain. Under the great trees, gravestones—some of them dating back to the 1800s—are nestled comfortably...
Chapter 45: Lone Stars
By the time I encountered Depty Dawg in Georgia, Mike Fuller’s life was already half over. When we parted in the summer of ’77, Blaze Foley had little more than a decade to live. It would be several years before I saw him again in New York City sometime in the early ’80s; the date eludes me still....
Chapter 46: Texas Troubadour
Decades later, I’m tormented by what I don’t know. I want to unravel the rest of his story, to see if and how our paths entwined beyond our last good-bye. Fleshing out his life, I take the torn shreds of fact I find and tack them onto our tattered history. Like Blaze, the truth is hard to pin down, and my efforts are confounded by his myth, of which he was the...
Chapter 47: Loma Ranch
As the keeper of the Blaze Foley timeline, Kevin is my guide to Blaze’s last decade in Texas, providing the roadmap to places he frequented. This morning we’re on our way to Loma Ranch, where Blaze and Gurf recorded in 1980. Apparently the ranch became a refuge for Blaze in the years that followed, a place he returned to again and again....
Chapter 48: Brink of Devotion
I was living alone in a fifth-story walk-up in the Village. The coldwater flat had a bathtub in the kitchen, from which I could see my neighbors’ laundry hung like medieval banners above a shadowed courtyard. Having discovered the thrill of my words coming alive in the mouths of actors, I was devoting every second I could to writing plays. To pay the rent, I worked as a waitress and later, wrote narration for documentary films, many of them odd and obscure....
Chapter 49: Blaze Takes a Request
The task I’ve given myself here is absurd: to encapsulate a man’s life in a few pithy paragraphs. The more I learn about Blaze’s years in Austin, the more I’m struck by his mystique. His history tends toward exaggeration and embroidery; I know this for myself. Yet even a distorted truth is accurate from some perspective, and when certain details are mentioned...
Chapter 50: Udo Revised
In December of 1988, I was living in a tiny, sky-lit apartment on treelined Charles Street in the Village. It had been twelve years since Depty Dawg and I left paradise. In that time we’d each had our share of romance, though the AIDS epidemic had slowed us both down. I still dreamt of finding my heart’s home in a man; unfortunately I had a penchant for bad boys, erotic...
Chapter 51: Lord of the Dead
Kevin drives me past the house in South Austin where his shooting occurred fourteen years ago. The drab, mustard-colored bungalow is shutdown, blinds drawn across every window, the brown untended lawn an advertisement for permanent limbo. We get out of the van and step across the sidewalk into the yard....
Chapter 52: Duct Tape Messiah
The morning of Blaze Foley’s funeral was stinging cold in Austin. Stunned by his dramatic exit, his friends had worked tirelessly to get the money for his coffin, and a plot to bury it in. The coroner released his body to his good friend, drummer Leland Waddell, for $600. Leland knew a woman who ran an escort service, and her girls sold sexual favors, drugs,...
Chapter 53: Fathers and Sons
Not even the trial of his killer eight months later would be the end of the story. And for many Blaze Foley fans, Carey’s verdict of not-guilty remains an unhealed injustice. His trial began on Monday; by Thursday it was over. It took three days of testimony, and less than two hours of deliberation, for the ten-woman, two-man jury to reach a unanimous...
Chapter 54: Meeting Persephone
Jealousy is a tenacious sickness. It chokes this grief like a cancer, eating through these belated declarations of regret. The journey back to Texas was intended to heal us, but my need to claim Blaze’s devotion as mine alone is only causing me more heartache. His return has reassured me that I can love and be loved, and my enlightened response to that is to hoard his...
Chapter 55: Funny Valentine
Michael David Fuller was born on December 18, a week before Jesus, Depty Dawg liked to say. And every year now since his death, Blaze Foley’s birthday has been celebrated in Austin. Each winter the music community holds a birthday bash, collecting clothes and toys for the homeless, and honoring Blaze through his songs and through those written...
Part 4: Small Town Hero
Chapter 56: True North
Meanwhile I have one last stop in Texas. This morning I’m on a northbound bus to Athens, where Blaze’s younger sister, Marsha, lives. We haven’t seen each other since 1976 and frankly, I’m nervous about our visit. The botched attempt at mythmaking in the cemetery was a wry reminder. The fates may be free to pronounce me Blaze’s wife, but I’ve no idea what his evangelical...
Chapter 57: Christian Ladies
I learned all this when Marsha and I spoke on the phone in December, a few weeks before I left New York for Texas. She told me then that after Paul’s birth, she’d fallen into a tortured run of addiction and crime, ending up in prison twice. Each time she’d held to the belief that Jesus would one day free her from this self-created hell. She read the New Testament over and over until its...
Chapter 58: Family Secrets
Late that same evening Marsha and I sit on the porch in the dark, a thing she likes to do when Tom has gone to bed and she’s up by herself. Louise has already said good-night, so it’s just the two of us, listening to the wind and the distant cries of nightjars. Mike’s presence flutters around us, innocent and elusive, attracted by our efforts to recollect his scattered beginnings....
Chapter 59: Prodigal Daughters
Howard was Louise’s second husband, a musician who sang with her in church. She spent eighteen happy years with him on a farm in Missouri until he died quietly in bed one night. He was a Christian man, good to Louise, but she feared he might not approve of Mike and his ways. She didn’t want her son’s feelings hurt, so she’d go alone to visit him at Doug’s, her eldest...
Part 5: The Moon Shines On
Chapter 60: Numbers
Every morning now since the end of February, I’ve sat at this desk by a window, watching the green seep up out of the earth. By May, Georgia is spring-steeped, hot already. Leaves no longer shimmer with youth; like gardeners’ hands, they’ve darkened with the serious work of summer: gathering sunlight, making sugar. Against a wall of emerald woods, the flowering privets make a shield of white. The Chattahoochee has disappeared behind...
Chapter 61: Head Over Heels
For instance, in trying to recreate that first night Depty and I spent together, certain images remained vivid: the little smokehouse behind the main house, the bed against the wall, a record player on a high wooden table. Yet I had no idea where we were exactly, on whose property in the county....
Chapter 62: Udo Revisited
I’ve found Udo. Or rather I finally located someone who remembers where the tree house used to be. Shirley is a pretty countrywoman in her late twenties; she’s lived in Star Point all her life. As a kid, she played in the tumbledown shack back in the woods across the road. Now she has two little boys of her own, and the tree house is part of their mythology....
Chapter 63: Untitled
The writing belies that of course. It requires me to shape you into fragments with names: Mike, Tex, Depty, Blaze. A necessary illusion—helpful I guess—like the notion that there were two Blaze Foleys. Your anger mirrored the depth of your sensitivity; they were one reality, just as you were one man living one...
Any appreciation of those essential to this memoir must begin with Kevin Triplett. In undertaking a film about Blaze, Kevin set in motion the circumstances that would bring this work to life. He gave me generous access to his documentary archives so that I might more fully understand the arc of Blaze’s life and death, and also helped me to assemble many of the photos...
...1979 If I Could Only Fly/Let Me Ride in Your Big Cadillac [45rpm] (Zephyr 1983? Blaze Foley [unreleased Muscle Shoals album] (Vital Records)1983? Girl Scout Cookies/Oval Room [unreleased 45rpm] (Vital Records)1989 Live at the Austin Outhouse (…and not there) [cassette tape] (Out-2006 Blaze Foley and The Beaver Valley Boys: Cold, Cold World (Lost Art ...