People Every Writer (and songwriter, singer and musician) Should Know – Mac Davis

People often say, “When you live in Los Angeles, you never know who you’ll bump into.” Well, I found that out quite literally (and the hard way) one day when I bumped – okay, crashed – into country singer and movie star Mac Davis.

For those of you too young or just unfortunate enough to not know who he is, this is him in his prime –

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I used to watch The Mac Davis Show when I was a kid and was amazed and entranced by his many talents. He was a natural performer. Pure charm. The segment of his show I enjoyed the most was called “Audience Improvisations” when people would give him random song titles and he would write the song to go with it right on the spot. It was incredible to me and one of the things that made me want to be a writer. Here’s an example. Mac’s a bit older now but as sharp and talented as ever. You’ll see my favorite song title improv in this clip. It goes like this –

My girlfriend burned her bra today.
It really was a shame.
Cuz she ain’t exactly Dolly Parton.
That sucker hardly made a flame.

I was driving down Sepulveda Boulevard one day and had just crossed Wilshire going into Westwood when there was suddenly a stopped car in front of me. I went right under it and scooped it up onto my hood. I would find out later that the woman in front of Mac realized she had missed her on-ramp to the 405 freeway and slammed on her brakes. He was able to avoid rear-ending her but because I was glancing left and right in the intersection, I saw Mac’s rear bumper too late. Mac got out – actually, climbed down out of his car – and he was not happy. Because he was one of my heroes, I recognized him immediately. I apologized. He immediately relaxed and said in his Lubbock Texas accent, “It’s okay, kid. It wasn’t your fault.”

As we waited for the police to arrive, he told me a story about how he crashed a Cadillac (I think) he called his “In The Ghetto Car” because he bought it with the money he received after Elvis Presley recorded the song he wrote by the same name. Mac wrote a ton of hits in addition to that one – Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me, It’s Hard To Be Humble, Texas in My Rear-View Mirror, I Believe in Music, etc. He told me he was going to star in a Disney Christmas special at Disneyland the next day and said, “I’ll wave to you.” A pretty damn cool thing to say to someone who just wrecked his rear bumper. 

I tell this story for many reasons – to show that not all celebrities are jerks, particularly those as seasoned as Mac, and those who grew up in Texas, not L.A. Mac is old school not just in terms of writing songs that actually make sense, have a clear beat, and are impossible not to like, but in terms of intelligence, class and charm, too. I was nobody to him. He didn’t say, “Hey, you’re that guy who wrote twenty stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul, aren’t you?” Nobody recognizes writers. He could have easily been unfriendly to me but he wasn’t. In fact, quite the opposite. He smiled and waved at me from Disneyland. Mac Davis is country, in every sense of the word.

So if you ever read this, Mac, thank you for your kindness, especially to someone who messed up your car. It’s easy to be nice when everything is going right, but one’s true character is revealed when things go wrong. You certainly passed that test. I hope to bump into you again someday – when we’re not driving.

Dirt Road King (story poem for Elvis fans)

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I took a long road trip a few years ago,
Just exploring old Route sixty-six,
When I passed through a sleepy town
Somewhere way back in the sticks. 

I stopped at a run-down filling station.
With a run-down old man sitting inside.
He gave me a wave and yelled out to me,
“Hey, man! Now that is a beautiful ride.”

He was admiring my classic Cadillac,
A bright white, 1960 Coupe De Ville.
He said, “I used to have one just like her.
Drivin’ that beauty was a heck of a thrill.”

I had nowhere to go and plenty of time
And the old man’s smile had taken me in
So I said, “Tell you what, lock up for a while
And you and I will take her out for a spin.”

“Hot dang!” he said. “Don’t mind if I do!”
He ran back to the shop and locked the door.
I dusted the seat and said, “Your chariot, sir.”
He said, “Alright! Let’s hear that baby roar.”

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We left a cloud of dust at that old station
And headed out due south on Route 66.
My new friend and I barreling along
To obey the old song and get some kicks.

A scraggly beard covered most of his face,
But I just had to love the crazy, old guy.
There was something in the way he laughed
And the mischievous twinkle in his eye.

His mind seemed to drift back to the past
To when he was young and the car was new.
I got a tape out of the glove compartment
And said, “Here – I’ve got something for you.”

It was an old Elvis tape, one of his best.
The old man looked at me, oddly surprised.
And as If You Could See Me Now played,
I noticed tears start to well in his eyes.

If you could see me now,
The one who said that he would rather roam;
The one who said he’d rather be alone.
If you could only see me now.

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A long time passed as we drove along.
We didn’t talk much or feel the need.
He said, “This really means a lot to me.
I hope you’re rewarded for your good deed.”

We drove for miles along the winding highway.
The tape ended and returned to the start.
If You Could See Me Now came on again.
And I noticed again how it tugged at his heart.

If you could hear me now,
Singin’ somewhere in the lonely night;
Dreaming of the arms that held me tight.
If you could only hear me now.

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Finally, I said, “Is something bothering you?
Is there something you’d like to talk about?
I know I’m a stranger but I’ve found it helps
If you talk to someone and just let it out.”

The old man pulled the car onto the shoulder.
The evening stars were beginning to shine.
He said, “I’ve kept a secret for many years.
There’s so much sadness in this heart of mine.”

“But maybe it’s time that I shared my secret.
My health is failing. I could go any day.
We seem to have a lot in common, you and I,
This road, this old car, the music you play.”

He said, “You see, that’s my music on your radio.”
I said, “I know what you mean. It’s my music, too.”
He smiled and said, “No, son, you don’t understand.
I recorded that song back in seventy-two.”

Oblivious, I said, “Really? Were you in a band?”
He laughed and his upper lip came up on one side.
“You’re not listenin’, man,” he said. “. . . I’m Elvis.”
Then he laughed harder as my eyes opened wide.

He said, “It’s hard to see me under these whiskers.
My hair is gray now and a lot thinner on top.
But I wouldn’t’a been able to stay lost too long
Without hidin’ my face and that big ol’ black mop.”

I said, “Sorry but this is just too hard to believe
Though you do look like Elvis would at seventy-five.
The only reason I’m even accepting it’s possible
Is because so many people think he’s still alive.”

He said, “Well, they’re right. It’s all true, I’m afraid.
I was in a lot of trouble and had to start a new life.
I had nothing left to give so I just started over.
I went back to my roots. I even took a new wife.” 

“She knew my secret and took it with her to the grave.
I haven’t had much to live for since she passed on.
So you’re looking at a man with nothing left to lose.
Life falls away like Autumn leaves till everything’s gone.”

Eventually, I stopped caring about who he really was
And just felt compassion for the poor, crazy old guy.
I decided to surrender to this strange experience
And let him keep talking until the words ran dry.

I was amazed at how much he knew about Elvis,
As if he’d studied his life to the smallest detail.
It didn’t matter to me if he was Elvis or not.
I sat completely enthralled as he spun his tale.

He spoke of how hollow fame and fortune can be.
He spoke of love, heartache and shattered dreams.
His old life had gone from heaven to hell over time.
He said, “Being rich and famous ain’t all it seems.”

Whoever he was, he seemed to need my help
Or for someone to listen to him in his final days.
He was sure he was going to die any minute.
He said, “Only God’s love never dies or decays.”

He looked and sounded so much like Elvis,
I could even see why he believed it himself.
It was easy to imagine him belting out “Hounddog”
Before he became this wizened, old elf.

Hours passed before we went back to the station.
I never really believed him but I never said so.
If I could have cured his madness, I wouldn’t have.
If being Elvis made him happy, who was I to say no?

He made me swear to never reveal that I saw him,
And if I did, at least to never tell anyone where
Because he didn’t know how much time he had left
Before he went to what he called “The Big Up There.”

He got out of the car and said, “Hold on a second.”
He went inside and came out with an old paper bag.
He said, “This is to thank you for listening so well.
I sure went on. I hope I wasn’t too much of a drag.”

I said, “Are you kidding? Man, I got to meet Elvis!
And you chose me to tell your biggest secret to!
I just hope you know how much you’re missed.
Millions of people would still love to meet you.”

This seemed to make him happy for a moment.
He looked down the road as if wanting to return.
Then, just as fast, he snapped back to reality
And said, “Man, it’s true – some fool’s never learn.”

His act sure was convincing, if that’s what it was.
I really started feeling like I was with “The King.”
So I said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking but
Would you mind – I mean, could you . . . sing?”

He smiled and said, “For you, man? Sure I will.”
He walked under a lamp and slowly inhaled,
Then sang Love Me Tender softly and sweetly.
And old as he was, his voice never failed.

Love me tender
Love me sweet
Never let me go
You have made my life complete
And I love you so

He looked up at the night sky as he sang
As if serenading someone waiting up there,
In his voice, I heard joy but also sadness,
A deep passion for life, but also despair.

Love me tender
Love me true
All my dreams, fulfill
For my darling, I love you
And I always will

When he finished, I put my arm around him.
We both stood silently, staring up at the moon.
He said, “I miss my wife so much, and my mama.
I hope I get to see her sweet face again soon.”

No longer caring what the truth was, I said,
“Can you feel them smiling down on us? I can.”
And finally, he broke into tears and we hugged.
The wandering kid and the sad, lonely old man.

He wiped his eyes and said, “You should get goin’.
You’re young and there’s a lot of highway out there.
I wish I was your age again so I could join you
But I’ve lived long enough. I’ve had my share.”

We walked back to my car and he opened the door.
He said, “I need you to do me one last favor, y’hear?”
“Anything, Elvis,” I said, “Just name it, my friend.”
He said, “Don’t look in that bag for at least a year.”

At this point, nothing shocked me much anymore.
His Elvis act, or delusion, was so darn complete.
“And no matter where you go, remember,” he said,
“I’m always beside you, right there in that seat.”

“I’ll remember, Elvis,” I said. “You have my word.”
Then he shook my hand and I drove into the dawn.
I watched him get smaller in my rear view mirror.
He waved one last time and then he was gone.

I would often talk to Elvis, or whoever he was,
As I drove that Cadillac under the same moon.
And I kept my promise and didn’t open the bag,
Though I decided he was just an amazing, old loon.

I had stuffed the bag into the back of my trunk
To make it easier to resist the urge to peek.
At first it was easy but as the year passed,
That old paper bag took on quite a mystique.

The day finally came the following summer.
I rescued the old bag and went for a drive.
I didn’t want to open it just anywhere.
It had to be somewhere great and alive.

Playing Blue Hawaii, I drove to the beach
And parked on a cliff overlooking the sea.
I looked at the empty seat and smiled,
Imagining the old man sitting there next to me.

Then I slowly peeled back the wrinkled paper
And pulled out a white, sequined jumpsuit.
It was an exact replica, complete with tassles!
Crazy or not, his commitment was absolute.

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I laughed at the absurdity of the whole situation
And at the seed of doubt still alive in my mind.
Was he Elvis or just some delusional crackpot?
Whatever the case, he really put me in a bind.

I said to his memory, “You got me good, old man.
And whoever you were, I hope you’re finally free.”
Then, in a pocket, I found a yellowed note that read . . .

“I love you and miss you, daddy.
~ Lisa Marie.”

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