"I wish I was in Austin at the Chili Parlor Bar, drinking Mad Dog Margaritas and not caring where you are."
- Guy Clark
Guy Clark followers packed the Texas Chili Parlor in downtown Austin on Tuesday and downed copious amounts of Mad Dog Margaritas. Clark died that morning at age 74, leaving a treasure trove of songs such as Dublin Blues, quoted above.
I'd never drank a Mad Dog Margarita. Didn't even know what one was. But I know Guy Clark's music. I had laughed and cried and waxed poetic with him for about 40 years. And so I had to visit the Chili Parlor. Had to see if anyone else was looking to share their Guy Clark memories and stories. And lean on each other with a little margarita buzz and lament days gone by.
I arrived about 1 p.m. and the place was humming with the energy of a banjo solo. I found an empty bar stool and claimed it. Carter Blackburn was sitting to my left. A Mad Dog, a bowl of XX Chili and a copy of "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail, '72" sat on the counter before him. The busy bartender said he'd never made so many Mad Dogs in one day, ever. And the Parlor had been open only two hours. A waiter, about 60 with a ponytail and thin frame, ordered three Mad Dogs. I asked what's up with all the Mad Dogs. "You don't know?" he shrieked. "Or are you being rhetorical."
The bartender explains a Mad Dog uses mezcal rather than tequila. I survey the crowded dining room. Mad Dogs are on every table. I turn around and a delivery man with a dolly is standing behind the bar. A stack of liquor bottles, rush order, has arrived. The bartender tears open the top to another case and shortly I'm sipping a Mad Dog. Salty and sour. I clink glasses with Carter, we raise them toward the ceiling and thank Guy for all the great songs.
Carter tells me he once worked for a radio station in Kerrville. He met Guy at the Kerrville Folk Festival, waiting patiently in a long line. But when he was next up, Guy shook Carter's hand and apologized but he needed to step behind a tree for a break. When he returned, Guy said you probably don't want to shake me hand again, do you?
Sipping my second Mad Dog, I scoot over and make room for Kathleen O'Keefe, a Texas music historian and aspiring singer-songwriter working on her first album. She orders a Mad Dog. Another toast. She's got a Guy Clark story, too. Escorted him on stage once not long ago when his vigor was waning. The man introducing Guy is long-winded (not a good formula for writing poignant songs, Guy would tell you) so Guy sits in a chair and waits. When he starts to get up, Kathleen offers a hand. Guy barks, "Don't Touch Me." Apparently, the proud songsmith would not be seen onstage needing help to stand erect. (By the way, Kathleen, that might be a good hook, "Don't Touch Me.")
After more stories and a bowl of chili, no beans, I wander outside in bright light. I find my Subaru, no parking ticket even though the meter expired. I crank the engine and Sun Radio is playing another Guy Clark song: "Our lives were like some old Western Movie." You could do worse.
Roll On, Guy Clark. Roll On, Carter and Kathleen.
Postscript: The Texas Chili Parlor is now celebrating its 40th birthday.