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Richmond Fontaine is the name of Willie Vlautin’s band.

Like Creedence Clearwater Rivival was the name of John Fogerty’s band, and Foo Fighters is Dave Grohl’s band, Willie is a musician comfortable without his name in lights.

There’s no me, me, me with some guys and it’s a relief. They let their work speak for them.

With that in mind there’s a difference between the three singers: neither Fogerty or Grohl write novels like Willie Vlautin, which brought him to Portland where Willamette Writers gather.

The Old Church has seen it’s share of writers over the years, but no one like Willie. He stood up there in his touring rig, the same clothes we all wear, the image he shows Europe when he plays there.

I like to think he’s showing his fans some Oregon in far away places.

He said his piece and took questions. One of them felt just right.

From the back row a man asked, “You say everything saved your life, a song you heard, a book you read. Why does everything have to save your life?”

This wasn’t a young man, not someone looking for lifesaving lessons, but a guy closer to my age. Willie isn’t twenty four himself. Closer to fifty than you’d guess.

The question didn’t throw him off one second. He answered with the artist’s answer, the same answer you heard Red say in Shawshank Redemption: “You better get busy living or get busy dying.”

Though not in the same words.

How does a guy in a writer’s gathering ask that question? He’s either busy living or dying himself and he ought to know writers are busy living, creating, trying to make sense of the time they spend writing even if it’s not a living.

I asked a writer what made them feel like they’re living and they said, “Remembering the time I walked past a man on a city sidewalk while he was pissing on a wall in broad daylight. Half a block later the same guy caught up with me and said he could get weed for twenty bucks. I gave him twenty and never saw him again. Best twenty I ever spent. Didn’t want the weed from his dick hand or the twenty after he touched it, but hoped he spent it right.”

You had plenty of money to throw away?

“Not at all, but I had a pot to pee in and this guy didn’t. I just did my part.”

You think he bought pot?

“Probably. That was probably his plan all along. Or more booze. He didn’t look like a drug dealer.”

Someone saving your life is more than CPR. A book doesn’t do chest compressions, a song doesn’t do mouth to mouth breathing, but both of them surge with life the way Dylan explained.


The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Yes, that Dylan, the one Bob liked enough to name himself after.

The right book, the right song, at the right time throws a lifeline whether you see it or feel it.

When you do feel it, time changes.

Why is it important to keep that door open?


About David Gillaspie
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