Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The ghost of Leo on the road roams the earth

Lindy Woracheck and Brett Underwood have been out there, running around the Wild West, living inside of a hitchiking poem. The poem in question is Crossing America, by the proto-Beat poet Leo Connellan.

As Brett wrote me when they got back to St. Louis:

"Lindy and I stopped in Cheyenne, Wyoming on the way back from Oregon to seek out the place where Leo Connellan ate steak across the street from the bus station. The bus station is gone, but there is a tourist information center nearby and we located a woman who has been in Cheyenne long enough to remember it having been there. She said the Albany Hotel had to be the place where he dined."

And here is a picture of lovely Lindy posed, somewhat distantly, in front of the place where Leo ate that fabulous steak when he was on the bum.

Back when Brett was doing the late, lamented "No Show" on KDHX, he got very absorbed in the poetry score that Lij and I produced for "Crossing America." The score features any number of local St. Louis luminaries (Pops Farrar, Michael Cooney, Brian Henneman, Fred Friction, Dave Stone) performing musical miniatures around Leo's readings of his epic poem of the road.

Brett evidently remembers "Cheyenne," a segment of the poem that I set to music as a country ballad, backed by Three Fried Men with Fred Friction taking the lead vocal. Here is Leo's poetry:

Now, outside that bus station was Cheyenne, see,
but I didn’t go look. I was young and I’d be
back! What could it be but a city with buildings,
because I was on my way to the Dakotas, where I
never got, and the thing that hurts later is that
I was right there in Cheyenne and didn’t stay
awhile and look around. I never got back there.
The bus we rode into Wyoming that time
when I was young pulled in to the run down part
of town. Even the idea of days-old cellophane
wrapped sandwiches for sale in the dirty old
bus station of cows, revolted us. Somebody hanging
around the station, gawky with a blank face, said
that across the street from the station you could
get a real good steak. I really didn’t believe it,
the place looked gray, but it was one of the best
steaks I ever ate anywhere, right across from the
old Cheyenne, Wyoming bus station.

You can hear Fred's unforgettable vocal performance (and some tasty pedal steel work by Steve Rauner of Nadine) on the Three Fried Men recording of "Cheyenne" posted on the Skuntry Music MySpace page. The CD of Crossing America itself is available here and there around town (the usual indie places) and from the trunk of my car. It was once featured - with me doing the talking about it - on the dang BBC!

Brett's message to me continues with a little history of the Cheyenne urban landscape: "The place where the bus stop stands is now some generic touristy plaza and parking lot with some cutesy cowboy boot sculptures. The woman said that the bus station came down because it was under an old overpass that collapsed when someone crashed into one of its support columns."

A bus stop crushed by an overpass that collapses after a car wreck: the ghost of Leo Connellan on the road continues to roam the earth.


Tony Renner said...

I listened to "Cheyenne" earlier this morning and I didn't recognize Fred's voice.

Nice song and nice post!

-- Tony

Confluence City said...

I think being forced to follow someone else's lyric (Leo's) and melody (mine) jolted Fred out of his usual gruff vocal persona and made him go somewhere tentative and new (and magical).