Johnny Mac died yesterday. I got the news around 2 pm as I was weighing my options for the day and thinkiing about going fishing at the Hiwassee or maybe staying home and getting some work done…it’s seems that I can always finsd something that needs catching up on and it seems that I give myself a lot of anxiety by thinking that I don’t work hard enough. I guess if you looked at my tour schedule that might seem kind of crazy, but to me, driving all over creation and visiting radio stations and/or playing gigs doesn’t feel like work even if it’s how i keep my lights on and for someone who supposedly works hard I make time for play and to exercise my mind and body. I mean, In the last couple weeks, I’ve flyfished in New York and Tennesse, surfed in California, Drank beer in TX, OK, AR, etc…I’ve played hockey, gone to hockey games, watched hockey, read about hockey, read about the settling of the American mid-west, I’ve run many many miles, walked some too. I’ve watched some great movies, some really bad ones, I’ve made movies of my own, I’ve written stories, I’ve written songs.
Some of that stuff might be considered career related. None of it feels like work.
Well, maybe songwriting does sometimes….When you’re uninspired, jaded, or trying to cowrite with the cliueless….Fortunately for me these days I write with people I know have “game,”: I write by myself when I’m inspired, and (thank-you-jesus) I’m inspired by a lot of things.
It was yesterday and I was hemming and hawing over how to use my time and I got a text from Kenny Wright telling me about Johnny. Johnny was the Keyboardist in the Eagles tribute I was in, “Tequila Sunrise.” Kenny was the Drummer-Don-Henley-Guy. I was the Glen-Frey-Guy. Kenny and Johnny and me and John Pavlovsky were all pretty tight back in the day. (John Pavlovsky was the Don-Felder-dude). I guess I had heard sometime back that Johnny had been diagnosed with Cancer but to be honest I think it was over a beer soaked conversation with John Pavlovsky and the details were vague and it never struck me that it was serious, I mean really doesn’t everybody out live cancer nowdays? (Sarcasm on). I always liked Johhny Mac, I guess at one time we knew each other pretty well, but bands break up and you have a million other experiences and the details get fuzzy and all of us in Tequila sunrise got out of touch in various degrees…I mean, I think the world of Brian Wolsky, (Randy-Meisner-Timothy B-Schmitt-guy) and I don’t think we’ve been in touch for a couple years…not on purpose, things just go that way.
Last I heard Johnny Mac had split with his wife and was working a 9-5 job and had cancer. The details of the cancer were vague, but I knew this, the dude was young, his marriage had been rocky, and someone with his talent should have been able to get somewhere if they wanted to. I think the guy set aside some aspirations to try and do the right thing, but again the details are sketchy, we really had not been in-cominicado for awhile.
Rergardless. Young guy. Talented guy, Little guy with a big heart. Gone.
And maybe it’s a strange Irish gothis sense of hiumour that I’ve inherited…..my dear deprted dad went to Roy Stokes funeral years ago, and made an aside to the widowed Mrs Stoke:
“Jean, It’s a sad day, but it’s also a happy day?”
(As I was told Mrs Stokes looked at him with her head turned side ways) and said
“I get the sad part, what the hell could be happy about it?”
“Well”, said my dad, “It’s a a sad day that Roy is lying there, It’s a happy one that I”M NOT.”
And while I’m very sad for Johnny Mac and even more so for his family, I’m happy for me that I’m here to to write this at this moment and I was happy to think that–when I got the news–that If I wanted, I was free to drop the little things that seemed so pressing to me and get in the truck and drive off with with a tent and a sleeping bag and some fly fishing gear and waste some time in a beautiful place like Reliance, TN and maybe catch a few fish.
It’s what Big Bill (my dad) woud have done.
So I loaded up my vehicle with my flyrods and reels and a tent and a sleeping back and some camping food and gear and I headed off for East Tennessee. On the way I got a phoine call from John Pavlovsky with a few mnore details on how it went for Johnny. I guees he was feeling fine one minute and not breathing the next and if that doesn’t say it all…I know we walk this earth for a blink of an eye in the span of history. I know as I get iolder the years go by quicker and I know when I look back on the life I’ve lived thus far my biggest regrets are not so much for things I’ve done but for what I didn’t do. It seems like most of us get a warning when our time is near, cancer gives you one, but I’m not taking living a long life for granted and if I’m not living every day like it’s my last there’s a least an undercurrent in my psyche that says LIVE your life, or to paraphrase Ayn Rand (I think) “It would be sinfil to have wasted one day just surviving your life and not living it.” (or something like that? I read Atlas Shrugged at 22 and some of it stuck with me…some of it seems to have outlined the platform of Americas politivcal right, no regard for human nature, but that’s another blog i’ll write when things aren’t so polarized as in, probably never…)
It was a stunningly beaultiful day in Tennessee yesterday and I could get away so I did get away and I drove for a couple hours with Johnnie Mac on my mind and my Dad on my mind and the music business NOT on my mind and I arrived at the Hiwassee River with just enough time to rig up and present a fly to a pod of trout before the sun went down. And I managed to catch one nice lil ‘bow before it was too dark to see and I went in search of a camping spot over in Quinn Springs and was succesful and set up camp and got a nice fire going and had a beer or two and then slept like a rock in a tent until daybreak when I got up, struck camp and headed down to the river.
The Hiwasse has been fickle in my experience. I’ve had some days on her when it seemed that there were trout everywhere you casted and I ‘ve had others that made me wonder were there any fish in there at all? The last few visits I made were with my dad. The first in the spring) we’d had lots of action–if not many fish–the second ( in the fall) had been pretty great so far as fish and scenery and the third (In winter) had us wondereing if there hadn’t been a fish-kill (it was winter though, who knows?). I know this: my father loved it here. He and I had some great times on this water. When I think of my dad, in my memory, this is one of the place i picture him.
So I drove down to what used to be the lower trophy area and parked and rigged up and waded in and caught a few nice little trout in a pretty short periood of time. A C130 flew overhead and I caught myself thinking “Someone’s out there fighting a war and here I am standing in a river waving a stick (to quote John Gierach). And I was thankful for their servioe and thankful do god that I live a life where I can waste my time if I feel so inclined and that I can do it in such a beautiful place.And as pretty as it was where I stood the day started out cold enough that even with fleece and a hoodie on I was shivering after an hour or two and I walked back to the truck figuring i’d build a fire and make some coffee if the outfitters wasn’t open. Luckily it was and I grabbed coffee to go and headed back to where i’d parked and figured I’d hike back in on the trail a bit and explore some. I say “explore” because it seems half the time I say I’m “fishing” is actually time spent on reconnaisance and as inntuitive as it would be to assume that the water less-fished-fishes better, my expereience has been that the water less fished is also the water less stocked. In the case of a larger river like the Hiwassee–one that is a tailwater to boot–sometimes this is NOT the case and the fish are dispersed like they should be so that guys like me who are willing to hike and seek out the remote stretches are rewarded for our effort….unlike the put-and-take water that I most usually get to fish where, if you want to find the fish, find the bridgethey’ve all been dumped under.
I walked about a mile and a half in on the trail (i’m guessing) before i heard the sound of a riffle in the mostly nearly-still-moving water of the middle Hiwassee. The riffle was out in a slot in the middle of the river, as though only fifty yards in the center of a quarter mile-wide river had any current while the surrounding water column stood still. The Hiwassee’s bottom is a a jagged, ankle-breaking juggernaut of upheaved strata. I’m not a geologist but i’m thinking this is a fault line? I don’t know for sure about that but I do know tha sideways slippery rocks aint easy to traverse and that my first pair of felt soled wading boots was purchased after a session on this river…one where I’m sure I left with bruised shins and at least one “baptism.” I felt clumsy at the time. Since then I’ve watched enough people fall on their ass here to know it ain’t just me.
I took my time getting out to wher the river was moving and found the water clear enough to put to use a few lessons on reading current that I learned from a great guide out in Montana. Basically the pedagogy went like this:
“You see that big rock there? that’s cover for a big fish. Put the fly where he’ll see it but hit the water with it far enough away thayt you don’t spook him.”
So I could see where a few large rocks were submerged and I cast a quill gordon (that’s the name of a dry fly pattern, one that looks like a generic cross between the caddis flies and sulfurs that were supposed to be hatching at the moment) into the seam of the current above one of the rocks and WHAM!! Fish on. Compared to the little 8′ stockers I’d hooked into near the parking lot, this little guy felt like a real bruiser. I might have played him for a minute or two before I was able to bring hiom to hand: a nice 13″ rainbow. Not a wild fish but a holdover who had some “shoulders.” After releasing him I saw another like-sized ‘bow launch himself from in between the two large submerged rocks in front of me. I cast two or three times before the little guy launched himself out of the water after my fly and again it’s FISH ON!!
Can I admit to whoo-hooing to myself at the time?
And it went along these lines for the next hour or two and I caught a LOT of fish, all on the same dry-fly. And I’ll say that It’s a rare moment that I feel like I really know what I’m doing with a fly-rod in my hand but this was one of those times and I know it might sound kooky but sometimes I think I get a little divine intervention from Big Bill and and maybe Johnny Mac was looking down on me this morning saying “You son of a bitch, I hate you for being able to just fuck off like this!!…..nice fish by-the-way…”
I hope so John. I really do. And fuck you for leaving so soon, The party was just getting started and you were half the fun.
Love you, man. Rest in peace.