The sight of a drunkard is a better sermon against that vice than the best that was ever preached on the subject.
-- John Faucit Saville
I got a letter the other day from a musician I haven't seen in months, a pretty fair guitar player who used to be a semi-regular at all the jam sessions and open-mike nights around town. He's had some, shall we say, legal problems, which resulted in his involuntarily spending time at a government-owned temporary housing facility whose amenities include shotgun-toting guards and an alligator-infested moat.
In his letter he mentions a night when, after receiving what he considered to be less-than-hospitable treatment from musical director Doc Wiley on a Monday at Washington Square, "...someone relieved me of my 1954 Guild acoustic [guitar] on the way to my car. All I know is I came to on the sidewalk, guitar gone, black eye, etc., and the police were saying `Get up. You can't stay here.'"
He's understandably bitter. A '54 Guild is a fine instrument. One doesn't part with a guitar like that easily.
The sad thing is, I remember that night pretty clearly, and I can fill in a few blanks for the dude. I remember seeing him storm out of the Square, enraged, and, if I had to guess, inebriated. Wiley also was under the impression the guy was a drink or two over the line. "I think he was wasted before he even got on-stage," says Wiley. "He started playing a cover tune, even forgetting some of the lyrics. I told him through the monitors, as discreetly as I could, that we don't play covers on acoustic night, only originals. He ignored me. I warned him again. He ignored me again. So I cut off his microphone."
I was walking toward the Square from the Cactina when I saw the guitarist emerge from the club, one or more bulky guitar cases under his arms, screaming obscenities at the night. He stamped down Washington Avenue toward his car. One of his guitar cases popped open and his cherished instrument crashed to the ground. This agitated him even further. "Fuck it!" he screamed. "Just fuck it!" He left the Guild where it landed and continued on down the sidewalk clutching the now-empty case with the lid hanging wide open, flapping against his leg with each step. I called out his name, but he didn't stop. He screamed back an epithet that involved me having sex with myself, so I returned the salutation in kind and went on about my business.
Inside the Square, the Mavericks were tearing it up. Raul Malo and company were in rare form, loose and spirited. The Nukes' Fro Sosa sat in for a couple of songs. A sweaty good time was had by all. Two hours later, on my way to my car, I see the angry guy from earlier. He's sprawled, half in the street, half on the sidewalk, next to his car. I start to walk over to make sure he's okay. He repeats his earlier greeting to me, and I repeat mine to him. One of Miami Beach's finest comes over to check everything out. I go home and forget about it, preferring to dwell on the good time I had inside the Square rather than the pathetic scene I witnessed outside.
Until now, that is, nearly a year later, when I get this letter from the guy, and he's all mystified about what happened to his guitar. The truth is he got off lightly. Imagine the damage he could have done if he'd made it into the car and managed to start the ignition.
Friends don't let friends drive drunk, but what if the drunk is more an acquaintance than a friend, and an openly belligerent and potentially violent one at that? At what point do we cease being our brother's keeper?
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That's a question the folks over at the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms feel they have at least a partial answer for. An enterprising company that markets a product called Black Death vodka came up with an advertising campaign featuring Slash, the Guns N' Roses guitarist who has inherited Keith Richards's title of Musician Most Likely to Need an Emergency Transfusion. I have little trouble accepting Mr. Slash as a credible authority on the subject of vodka consumption, and were it not for those intrepid souls at ATF, I might never have given the unholy alliance a second thought.
But the folks at ATF, intent upon making multi-millionaires out of Black Death's owners in much the same fashion that Nick Navarro and Jack Thompson made a very wealthy man out of an eternally grateful Luther Campbell, have decided to block the Black Death/Slash ad campaign on the grounds that it mocks federal health warnings. Hey, the fact that Slash is still alive is the real mockery. Black Death's label (which features a skull wearing a top hat) and the print ads (which feature Slash in what appears to be an extremely contemplative state) also do not meet the Bureau's minimum requirements for blatant sexual innuendo. Personally, we would have figured an unretouched photo of Slash would be all the warning anyone would ever need about the dangers of alcohol. If you can look at that face and not be frightened off by the prospect of one day resembling it, then you are beyond the reach of a government warning.
But that's not good enough for ATF, and they're trying to scotch the campaign. These are the same guys whose law enforcement division is our best defense against international gun running, arson, and bombings. ATF investigated the serial church burnings in northern Florida. Seems a trifle ridiculous for them to be wasting valuable time niggling over the Black Death ad campaign. What they ought to be doing is helping my buddy find his '54 Guild.