Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Love Song For Grayson Capps by Kevin Lynn Helmick

I first met Kevin Lynn Helmick at a Noir at the Bar event where he read from his then latest novel Heartland Gothic. This week, Kevin's latest book The Rain King dropped and you, the hell, should pick it up.

I asked Kevin to contribute a piece to the Narrative Music series and this here... this is it.



A Love Song for Grayson Capps by Kevin Lynn Helmick

It was around 2005, I think when I was scanning the shelves at Blockbuster for a good movie. That was back when they actually had stores, with carpet, and people working, and you would drive there and pick out a few DVD’s and rent them, very similar to a library, only for movies. Most of you probably remember those days.

I found there, a film I’d never heard of called, A Love Song for Bobby Long, starring John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson and Gabriel Macht. I like all those actors, and I liked the description on the back so I took it home, threw a bag of popcorn in the micro and got settled in to take a chance on some film I knew nothing about. I also had no idea at the time that it would last a lot longer than the hour and a half or so that it took to view it.

Just real quick, because this column is not about the film but deserves a little mention. The setting is present day New Orleans, or close enough, where we meet an exiled literary professor from Alabama, Bobby Long (John Travolta) and his young writing protege, Lawson Pines, (Gabriel Macht) as they’ve transplanted themselves in a small run down house owned by an unseen friend/jazz singer named Loraine, and set upon a romantic quest in the tradition Capote and Fitzgerald (and many other classic writers) of drinking themselves and their haunted pasts to death.

Loraine dies at some point (not in the film) and leaves the house not only to these two educated drunkards but also her estranged daughter, Percy (In walks Scarlett Johansson.) Now they are forced to live together for a specific amount of time, (reasons for which are revealed at the end) and they don’t exactly get along, at first.

I love the film, think it’s great, one of Travolta’s best performances in my opinion and Johansson earned herself a Golden Globe Nomination. And as a lover of Southern writing it has remarkable dialogue with more than a few quotes from classic literature peppered in the conversations between Long and Pines as they constantly play the game of, name the author and book.

Now, that’s the film. But the soundtrack is just as good, and one artist in particular, (also in the film, there in the background as a house band) kept getting my attention. He sang several songs, including the one that bears the same title as the film. It plays during the end credits and I kept rewinding to hear it again and again. He sang the story, the somewhat tragic history of this man, Bobby Long, in this deep whisky soaked bluesy back alley growl and accompanied with some most interesting acoustic guitar chords and arrangements I’d ever heard.

MCE Photography, Chad Edwards
I like to think I know good writing when I see it, in this case, heard it. I knew this guy was and has the real deal, and I wanted more of it. So I ran to google and looked him up. His name is Grayson Capps and while I’d never heard of him before that, he’s is no stranger to the, New Orleans, or even the Nashville music scene.

Now if I’ve bored you enough, hang on, this is where it’s gets interesting, for me anyway. I discovered that this guy had been around more than a few blocks, at least in Deep South and has a devoted fan base there and other pockets around the country as well as, the Netherlands. Yes, the Netherlands, and Europe. I thought that was interesting too. Although, it would be great to see him get up to Chicago more, we do like our blues here.

But what’s even more interesting I learned, is that somewhere in his travels he’d taken up a conversation with writer and director Shainee Gabel, who was looking to do film set in New Orleans but had nothing solid. Turns out, not only is Grayson Capps an amazingly talented singer, songwriter, but his dad, Ronald Everett Capps is a novelist. So Grayson slaps down his fathers, then unpublished manuscript, Off Magazine Street, and says’ (I’m paraphrasing of course) “make a movie of this, and I’ll hook ya up with music.”

So she did. It’s a good book too. Not a lot like the film as adaptation go, but I’m not the type to compare film and book. I just don’t see it as the same. 1st cousins maybe, but that’s about it. And that’s one for another conversation altogether. Ronald Everett Capps’ Off Magazine Street, is a fine novel and worth checking out, but don’t expect to be reading the movie.

Anyway, I wanted to see Grayson Capps perform so I started scanning his tour dates and all was in the Deep South or far from Chicago, except 2, twenty miles from my house. Two different venues, way up here and that was all, my only shot without traveling a thousand miles deep into the heart of Dixie. So my wife and I marked the calendar and made it a mission.

It was fucking freezing that night, but we set out anyway for this place called Lovell’s in Lake Forest Illinois. Now, it had not occurred to me what an odd venue Lovell’s would be for a band like Grayson Capps and the, then, Stump Knockers. The place is upscale, way upscale, and not known for having bands at all. Lovell’s is owned by Jim Lovell, an astronaut, a guy who went to the moon and back, presumably. I’ve never met him, so I guess he’s back, he has a restaurant that caters to the very, very, rich.

So here we are, 20 below and we brave out to this place with its $12.00 watered down jack n cokes, where everybody talks like Thurston Howell the 3rd, (no, really, those people really do exist) and there he was, Capps tuning up on a stool, wearing a Canadian tuke kinda hat and a cowboy shirt with a ripped sleeve. I had ordered his CD, If You Knew My Mind, which includes the song, A Love Song for Bobby Long, but it didn’t come before the show, and still hasn’t.

I walked up and introduced myself, and told him how much my wife and I enjoyed his music and my frustration with not having his CD in hand to sign. He shook my hand, and apologized for the missing CD thing, although I’m sure he had nothing to do with it, and offered up a box of his own he brought. I gave him twenty bucks for one, he shoved it in his pocket, and looked up and said, “man, nobody here, knows who I am?” I put a question mark there because it sounded like a question.

“Well, I do,” I said and looked around at the leather and polished oak. “It is kinda weird,” I said, or at least, thought it, at the time.

Either way, there was a big fire roaring to the right of the band and Capps invited us to come up front in these big cushy couches that I’m sure cost more than my truck and we all settled in for what was probably a tamed down performance, but an amazing and memorable music experience just the same.

The guy can craft and sing a fucking song with the best of ‘em, and we were in a little bit of heaven there as they raunch n rolled through the set list.

Set break: Grayson, my wife and I, and few others all piled in a car in the parking lot (to partake in what most musicians might partake in on set break) and talked a bit about the music, books, the movie, and the man, Bobby Long, who is, or was, a real dude, and friend of his and his fathers, just like the song says. I told him, how visual his songs were to me. They’re like stories I could see and feel, stories with interesting characters, flawed characters, dealing with conflicts of life, love and pain, loss and redemption. The good shit.

He said, “yeah, good, that’s what I want.”

One of the last songs of his first set was a comical piece called, Big OlĂ© Woman, that I said reminded me a little of David Allen Coe, and I think he took offense to that and I’m still sorry I said it. I’ve bought all his records since then and Capps, music isn’t anything like Coe’s. It’s a beautiful blend of blues, jazz, rock and folk, and has not only become a favorite listening pastime for me, but my wife and my 14 year aspiring musician son, Sam, as well. Sam plays Grayson’s If You Knew My Mind, CD all the time. I hear it coming from his room often, and he loves the song, Graveyard.

Fast forward 2012: I had wrote a novella the year before, Driving Alone, a Southern Gothic and a tip of the hat to some of my favorite writing, that of the Southern writer, the Faulkner’s and O’Conner’s and Tennessee Williams’. My then publisher wanted to do a book trailer and had asked what music we might use. Well, I thought since the story was set in the Deep South and wreaked of Spanish moss and humidity it should be something swampy, bluesy, and dark. And I thought of Grayson’s music and sent some to that publisher, not even thinking really it was an option. They got a hold of Grayson’s management and through a very reasonable negotiation; one of his songs was put to images for my book trailer.

I sure never saw that coming back in 04.

I would share that book trailer with you, but don’t think I can, contractual shit. Lets’ just say it was best part of the whole experience for me.

Anyway, Capps and I have talked on social media about it a bit, where I’ve thanked him probably an annoying too many times.

But this column, in killing several birds with one stone, is about, a song about a poet/writer, a film, about that poet writer, adapted from a novel, about all the above, and delivered by an artist/poet/writer and troubadour fitting in his own right to bring these multiple vehicles and mediums together, all from a little 3 minutes or so song that I’m sure once you have a listen will be obvious why I’ve chosen this as the subject for this series.

We have music, lyric, literature, and book to film. And I’ve probably exhausted my word count so I won’t post the lyrics for A Love Song for Bobby Long.



I play it for you though. Have a listen at the musical brilliance of Grayson Capps. Buy, Off Magazine Street, by his dad, Ronald Everett Capps. It’s a damn good book. And watch the movie, A Love Song for Bobby Long. It’s a damn good movie too.

Thanks for stopping by.

Kevin Lynn Helmick is the novelist of, Clovis Point, Sebastian Cross, Heartland Gothic, and Driving Alone.  He was born in Fort Madison IA and now lives in the Chain O Lakes, near Chicago IL.
His writing has appeared in Noir at the Bar Volume 2, and The Booked Anthology, and been known to guest blog for emags like, Spintingler, Manarchy, Pornokitch, and Pulp Metal. His award nominated novella, Driving Alone, was re-released with a collection of short stories in the spring of 2014, and in July of the same year, Helmick released his fifth novel, a dark western tale of justice, The Rain King.

All are available anywhere books are sold.

3 comments:

vacaro said...

Nice piece.I had a similar experience discovering Grayson.Including a comfortable couch at Dos Jeffes in NO.Seen him around twelve time now.Nobody sounds,or writes like him

Kevin Helmick said...

Yesir, It's the good stuff.

Belinda Hiscox said...

One of my favorite movies. When I discovered it I watched it over and over and now own it so I can watch on a whim. Love, love, love Grayson and am constantly looking for him to come to Arizona and play. Wish I was a promoter, I'd book him here for sure.