Monthly Archives: February 2002

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Nashville Rebel: Waylon Jennings, 1937-2002.

Waylon Jennings was addicted, no question about it. Skipping meals and going for days without a bath, Jennings spent hours wallowing in self-absorbed, hedonistic pleasure as bells rang and colors flashed before his eyes. Life was getting out of hand. He’d drive all night after a show in Louisiana just so he could wrap his fingers around his favorite Nashville pinball machine. His habit eventually reached $35,000 a year — in quarters.

Jennings’ childhood in Texas epitomized the drama of country songs. He picked cotton from dusk to dawn, his mother openly wept every time she heard Roy Acuff sing “Wreck on the Highway,” and an alcoholic uncle regularly consumed grapefruit juice with brake fluid. Jennings was an outlaw long before his music was literally marketed as such. Refusing to conform to ideals defined by the Nashville music establishment, Jennings grew his hair long and boycotted the Grand Ole Opry for 10 years because the show did not allow performers to use a full set of drums. His disdain for the music industry took root in his teens when he played with his Texas pal Buddy Holly. Jennings gave up his seat on the doomed airplane that killed Holly, J. P. Richardson [the Big Bopper], and Richie Valens. Holly had teased Jennings about being afraid to fly to the next show 400 miles away, laughing that he hoped the bus Jennings and others were traveling on would freeze. Jennings replied, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Guilt and remorse about the remark haunted him for years.

The promoter found a local teen who had won a talent show to fill in for Buddy Holly the night of his death. Jennings was convinced to play the show with assurance that he would be flown home to Texas the next day for Holly’s funeral. The flight home never materialized, and the tour proceeded for another three months across the Midwest. At tour’s end, Jennings received only half of what he had agreed to play for; promoters had short-changed the musicians since the stars had been unable to appear.

Jennings revolutionized music, creating an irreverent blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll that introduced a generation of drug-addled hippies to a warped version of 1950s cowboy singers Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. Music critics branded the sound “Outlaw.” A string of duets with Willie Nelson, including “Good-Hearted Woman,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” drew an audience that Nashville had failed to snare with its marketing of “folk-country.” In truth, Jennings had never set foot in Luckenbach, and absolutely detested the song because he thought it sounded too much like “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.”

“I left all my ex-wives. They didn’t leave me,” Jennings bragged in his autobiography. “I went through my marriages like Grant went through Richmond.” The singer boasted that all of Hank Williams, Sr.’s, ex-wives had hit on him, and claimed to have often had several women in one night, hiding them on different floors of the same hotel. Jennings even tried to pick up newscaster Jane Pauley when she interviewed him on NBC’s “Today Show.”

Getting high became a way of life for Waylon Jennings. The Telecaster Cowboy, as he often referred to himself, ate a couple dozen amphetamines a day for 15 years, citing Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, and himself as “world champion pill-takers.” Loretta Lynn used to walk Jennings around the dressing room when he got too high before a show. A friend finally convinced him to take up cocaine to kick the pills. Over the next decade, Jennings spent $1,500 a day feeding his cocaine habit. He ignored a White House meeting with President Jimmy Carter to do drugs with a Washington Redskins football hero, and he shared his cocaine with members of the Oakland Raiders at halftime while the Raiders were trailing the Chiefs 6-0 during the Kenny Stabler years. The Raiders scored 54 points in the second half to win. Jennings played poker and drank beer with Mother Maybelle Carter, introduced Nashville to the 12-string electric guitar, narrated The Dukes of Hazzard (“I aimed the narration at children and it made it work”), and once had a run-in with Grace Slick while filming a television special, calling her a communist for her criticism of America.

In 1984, he took his fourth wife, Jessi Colter, to Arizona, where the couple leased a house in the desert so that Jennings could end his years of cocaine addiction. Jennings, forever the outlaw, kicked the drug his own unique way. Stashing $20,000 worth of coke on his tour bus parked in the driveway of his temporary desert home in case the cocaine urge got too strong, Jennings quit cold turkey. One of his favorite anti-drug quotes was from former boss Chet Atkins at RCA, Jennings’ record company for over 20 years. “You’ve only got so many beats in your heart. Why shorten the number?” &

City Hall — Council overrides Kincaid’s judicial preference

City Hall

Council overrides Kincaid’s judicial preference

After voting for Agnes Chappell to replace controversial Judge Carnella Greene Norman as Municipal Court judge, Councilor Valerie Abbott said her choice was “the most difficult decision I’ve had to make since I’ve been on this council because we had such highly qualified candidates.” In a 5-4 vote that surprised City Hall observers, Chappell beat Community Development head Etta Dunning, Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s choice to follow Norman. Chappell had 18 years experience as a Family Court senior referee, where she heard 250 cases a week in her role making recommendations to the presiding judge. “In the end it came down to the person who had experience as a judge already,” said Abbott, who called the decision “agonizing.”

Councilor Carol Reynolds, who supported Dunning, also struggled to make up her mind. “I listened to the people within our community as to their recommendations,” Reynolds said, noting that she kept a tally sheet by her home telephone to keep up with constituents’ suggestions. Councilor Roderick Royal, who voted for Chappell, was bothered that none of the seven finalists for the judicial post live in Birmingham. Councilors Lee Loder, Carole Smitherman, and Elias Hendricks also voted for Chappell.

After the vote, Kincaid said that the Council’s choice was their prerogative. “If they’ll stay out of my business, I’ll stay out of theirs,” the Mayor laughed at the narrow defeat. Kincaid preferred Dunning because she had been director of Community Development and is very aware of community issues. Kincaid added that Dunning’s community development experience would make her the “ideal person” for presiding over the Environmental Court. The Mayor admitted he would be curious to know how Family Court would function after replacing Chappell.

Council approves controversial $5 million to UAB

UAB’s proposed $90 million, 12-story biomedical research center has caused some councilors to question the city’s priorities. Citing UAB as the leading employer in the city, Mayor Kincaid has defended the research center due to expected gains in occupational tax coffers through the research facility’s creation of 1,400 jobs. The economic impact should flourish in other areas as well, according to Kincaid. “It replicates itself in terms of economic benefit,” the Mayor explained, pointing to an increase in license fees and job opportunities at restaurants and other businesses affected by the opening of the center.

On February 19, the Birmingham City Council voted to approve appropriating $5 million for the project, with the first of five $1 million installments due in September. Councilor Joel Montgomery had voiced support for a February 12 resolution of intent, [the resolution aids the university's solicitation of other funding sources] but requested from the Mayor’s office projections of revenue benefits to the city against the $5 million investment before making up his mind to approve the money. A week later Montgomery had decided to oppose the funding until neighborhoods and schools got their share of the financial pie. Montgomery called UAB a “vital partner,” but quickly added, “We also have another vital partner in this city, and it’s the people of the city of Birmingham.” The councilor is concerned about diminishing population numbers, stressing that the city must invest in its neighborhoods to halt the flight from the city. “You do not start building a house with the roof. You start with the foundation.”

Councilor Gwen Sykes requested an audience with UAB officials so that the Council could “become even more of a partner in this venture.” Sykes’ request for more discussion irritated Councilor Hendricks, who noted that UAB officials had met with councilors at both Finance Committee and Economic Development Committee meetings. Chastising fellow councilors, Hendricks railed about the unfairness of councilors’ suggestions to the public that no dialogue has taken place. Sykes angrily voiced displeasure regarding implications that there is “lying” on the Council. Declaring that it was impossible for her to attend the meetings Hendricks referenced, Sykes maintained that she is “not a liar” and remains “in touch” with the public regardless of her attendance record at committee meetings. Sykes stated that the Council needs to examine every way that UAB “spreads its money as it relates to contracts and services throughout the city of Birmingham.”

Insisting that he is neither “a financial wizard nor a genius,” Councilor Royal reiterated his support for the resolution of intent supporting UAB funding, but points out that on January 18, the city could not “ante up” a million dollars for Huffman High to complete its construction of a gymnasium. If the city could not find a million dollars a month ago, why could the city find a million for UAB now, Royal asked. He added that the funding of the biomedical research center is “a little dishonest” as it relates to the schools. The councilor preferred that the UAB funding be included in the July 2002-2003 budget. Royal defended certain councilors’ refusal to fund the research center with a philosophical one-liner: “If all of us are thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” Royal also expressed displeasure with Hendricks’ scolding. “I take special exception to chastising of the council people.”

Councilor Reynolds wanted to see a list of the subcontractors employed by the top 20 white-owned businesses dealing with UAB. “We need to know if they are getting work to minorities or if these dollars are leaving town,” Reynolds inquired before yielding the remainder of her time to Kamau Afrika, a critic of UAB’s minority contracts practices.

“We must not have a continuation of ‘Uncle Tom’ politics as we had with your predecessors,” objected Afrika to councilors. “That’s why we put you in office.” Afrika continued: “The Summit had $12 million in land preparation but no minority participation at all. You had Mexicans doing the work.” Afrika repeated that it is wrong for UAB to hire “illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America” instead of local black residents. &


Bonding At City Hall

Bonding At City Hall

By Ed Reynolds

Mayor Bernard Kincaid threw a curve ball at the City Council January 29 when he notified councilors that a proposed April 9 bond referendum needed preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department. Because the Justice Department must receive the ordinance detailing categories and spending of the bond referendum no less than 60 days before the scheduled vote, the Council was forced to act on the ordinance by February 5. Councilors made little attempt to hide their irritation with the rush. Councilor Smitherman was “very disturbed” by the sudden haste to finalize bond categories and amounts to be spent in each. When pressed by Smitherman for an explanation of why he did not know about the deadline sooner, Kincaid said that previous bond referendums did not require Justice Department preclearance. The city knew that the school board election needed preclearance because it is a new issue, but was reportedly caught off-guard by the bond referendum notification. [Because the bond vote is being held as a special election, preclearance is needed.]

Both Councilors Smitherman and Abbott were concerned about the status of the remaining town hall meetings, which allow residents to provide input on bond money spending. Kincaid noted that each district will have had one town hall meeting before the council finalizes the bond’s spending categories. Abbott’s first meeting, though, was held the night before the Council had to confirm the ordinance, and she is concerned that her constituents might feel betrayed. “We’re always being rushed to do something without much time to consider what we’re doing.”

A rare Sunday meeting was called for the Council to determine where bond money should be allocated. The starting time of the meeting flip-flopped, with Council President Loder desiring a mid-afternoon meeting so he could catch up on his sleep, while Councilor Bert Miller wanted to begin early so he wouldn’t miss the Super Bowl. Miller won.

Though the potential of a Mayor-Council showdown seemed high, the Sunday session went smoothly. Mayor Kincaid agreed to include funding for education in the bond referendum, pleasing Councilor Roderick Royal, who wants money for schools until the $260 million from the Birmingham Water Works currently tied up in litigation becomes available. Royal and the majority of the Council also lobbied heavily for street and sewer improvement. Councilor Hendricks preferred that the focus be on long-term investment, stressing economic development and cultural needs. Councilor Smitherman disagreed, saying that sewer problems, which have led to flooding in her district, were her priority. The councilor suggested that improvements to streets and sewers are the type of projects that will encourage voters to get behind the referendum.

Streets, sewers, and schools were the big winners, receiving the largest boosts following the Sunday meeting. The entire $125 million bond fund is drawn incrementally to avoid paying interest. An amount that can be floated without raising taxes — $50 million — is borrowed first. The city can then borrow the balance in the future as the debt is reduced.