A Little Bit of Whiskey in a Little Cup of Tea

Bill Morrissey – November 25, 1951 – July 23, 2011

A few days ago we marked the one year anniversary of Bill Morrissey’s passing. He died on a Saturday and I heard about it that Sunday morning. I was on air playing old country records when someone called to ask if I had heard. I hadn’t. I didn’t even know he’d been sick and was taken by surprise. I used to listen to Bill Morrissey more than I do these days. Though that’s more of a time issue than anything else. I stumbled across him sometime in the early 90s while living in Albuquerque and didn’t care that much for him at first. That doesn’t explain why his albums kept finding their way back into my player. It was almost as if I was willing myself to like him. That’s not it though, it’s more like I knew in my gut that I was the problem, not him.

It’s really tough some days to be married, to be a father. We have a two and half year old and I think we haven’t completely relaxed in that entire time. I look at parents with older children and am not sure that day comes again. Instead of making the obligatory and apologetic comment now about how, even though we struggle, we still adore the little guy, I’ll simply say, if you have to question that, you don’t have kids. If you don’t have kids, you don’t have kids. I don’t not have kids. This is not about my life being better or worse, it’s loads better. It’s about a before and an after. Life was that and now it is this.

Now here’s the thing: every time I’ve had to change a diaper or a sock this past week, every time I’ve had to crook an elbow through a shirt sleeve, every time I’ve had to push on a shoe, give a bath, thrust into a crib, car seat, grocery cart, or high chair he’s hollered. Every time. Loudly. Longly. I believe my neighbors think I beat him. I believe he believes I beat him. A person can’t be yelled at repeatedly and not feel crazed. That’s where we are, too. He’s crazed, I’m crazed, my wife is crazed. If we were all trapped on a snowy mountain top, oh Lord, one of us would be eating the other two. I’m not sure which one and which two.

Of course it’s not always like this. It changes about every five minutes. Flip. The crazy is on. Flip. The crazy is off. Flip. Now, do you see? That’s the problem. It’s not about having a bad day or a good day, it’s about having a bad day-good day-bad day-good day.

My wife is in a book club. She’s been in it for years, so many years in fact that seemingly everyone in it has at some point gotten married and given miraculous birth. I call it the baby club. They still meet and they still read a book every month. They just haven’t discussed one in years. That’s okay though, because for me what it means is once a month, on a Saturday or Sunday no less, mother and child run off and silence descends upon the homestead like a 19th century prairie evening. Well, 39th is still nosier than hell, but if I close my eyes tight enough it sounds like the rustle of tall prairie grasses in blowing wind.

We parted today on rocky terms. She having just wrastled the child into super cute shorts until they were both wild animals with teeth gnashing and much wailing and me being useless for not, for not, well, for, for…

I believe our neighbors believe we beat him on the way to the car. I believe he believes we beat him on the way to the car. Fifteen minutes after he’s gone his hollers haunt the hallway still.

The 39th street prairie wind was particularly loud today, so I found myself slipping on a pair of headphones while aimlessly looking at old playlists of radio past. That’s when I noticed from a year ago Bill Morrissey’s name at the end of a show. It’s a country show and Bill Morrissey was many things, but he was not a country singer. So, seeing his name on the playlist I knew then it had been a year.

Time flies like a crow. I would have guessed six months, tops. The past twelve months have seen many deaths, Kitty Wells, Doc Watson, Levon Helm, Billie Jo Spears to name just a few. In some ways it’s the price to be paid for spinning classic country records in 2012. I think Bill’s death was perhaps the saddest for me. He was younger, I was surprised by it, he was emotionally linked to a sad and searching time in my life. I also had no outward musical outlet for him. When Doc and Kitty and Levon passed I could play their music on the radio and talk with people who would also miss them and their music. With Bill, I felt largely alone. He didn’t fit the shuffles and weepers and two-steps of Walkin’ the Floor, his passing didn’t create a large public outpouring on blogs like Levon and Doc and Kitty’s did. So, for me, my feelings about his death were largely left unsaid and then lost in the daily routine.

Today he seemed the right choice to quiet the world. This New Englander, this folk singer with that graveled voice that sounds like every American backroad there ever was. I shuffled his music and let him time travel through a career, what would in turn be a lifetime’s work. He sang for me a mournful duet with Greg Brown about Tom Dula, a sad, knowing piece, but phonetically incorrect, charmingly mispronouncing the southern Dooley. I listened to his beautiful tribute to Mississippi John Hurt, his Blood on the Tracks-esqueFix Your Hair Like You Used To”, the odd and funny little rollicking fantasy Letter From Heaven where he imagines himself dead and dating Patsy Cline in heaven, a place where Elvis ducks out for the occasional earthly visit and Abe finally gets to see the end of the play. Then we shuffled back to his first album and a song I haven’t heard in what must be years came on called Little Bit of Whiskey. It’s the perfect Bill Morrissey vignette. Two minutes and nine seconds of snowy metaphor. A man stands in a New Hampshire snow who’s, “got my shovel, got my gloves and got my problems with my own true love. The snows been falling, falling all day, the weather report says more’s coming our way.”

Then the key turns in the lock, the little one’s happy voice breaks the moment, my wife smiles at me and a new moment begins. Flip. For a short while I’m able to hold both moments in me at once: The child and wife who pull me down to play trains with them and the melodic, bluesy bounce of Bill Morrissey’s shinning guitar. I can hear him sing, “I want to go inside. I want to warm up. Drink a little bit of whiskey from a little tea cup,” as yellow and red and blue train cars leave their station powered by little clapping hands and begin their ever circular route over wooden tracks and across bridges and trestles until once again they find themselves right back where they started from.

Bill Morrissey, Little Bit of Whiskey


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Country, Fatherhood, Folk, Music, Radio and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A Little Bit of Whiskey in a Little Cup of Tea

  1. Very awesome blog you have here! We definitely had to follow this 🙂 If you enjoy new music stop by and check out our site!

  2. Tony G says:

    …and that, my friends, is a fine piece of writing. Thank you!

  3. Doug Latta says:

    Oddly enough, I miss those terrible twos. Most of my kids waited until they were three to push those buttons. Yell back when they go into a tangent. Probably bad parenting but I always felt better afterwards.

  4. Ellen Karas says:

    I usually write a private email to someone who writes something like this about Bill, but, I couldn’t find your email address. So, a public thank you to you.

  5. jon svetkey says:

    Bill was a mentor of mine and many of my friends. I can’t believe it’s been a year either. Thanks for writing this lovely piece Iaan.

  6. Charlie Ray says:

    That was nice, I liked it. Bill woulda’ liked it too.

  7. Valerie Bedford Warren says:

    Gorgeous piece of writing…I know for a fact Bill would have loved it…I was there when Bill said…”I wanna be a writer…and maybe even a famous folksinger…Yeah…I wanna be a famous folksinger.”Bill lived his life his way…For those who understand this…it is very very sad…but has to be okay…A great loss…many gifts left behind…

  8. Bruce says:

    Spectacular piece of writing. How wonderful to step into someones soul for a few paragraphs.

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