(The Life and Legend of Blaze Foley)
Blaze Foley was a genius and a beautiful loser. (Lucinda Williams)
Every once in a blue moon, I'll hear a song I've never heard before and it will not only touch my heart – it will also land a solid punch to my gut. The first time I heard the songs of Blaze Foley it did exactly what I just described. They are songs that jar you out of somnolence and a robotic day to day existence. They are songs for the hard living, hard drinking, hard traveling, and the just hard headed among us. They are songs not easily sung by the current crop of pop tarts. No, it helps to sing these songs with a hard edged, smoky, voice laden with whiskey and cigarettes. To get a feel for Foley's world just listen to the beginning of his song, Clay Pigeons where he lets us know that he's going "to the Greyhound station to buy a ticket to ride, gonna find that lady with two or three kids and sit down by her side, ride 'till the sun comes up… smokin' cigarettes in the last seat." That my friend is the magic of Blaze Foley. He could find poetry at a dirty, grimy, bus station reserved for weary vagabonds, the anguished, poor and destitute relegated to the margins of society. Other songs such as If I Could Only Fly and Cold, Cold, World describe an existential angst reserved for the common man who finds himself in dire straights. Foley's songs were written with a kind of knowledge about human nature not obtainable even at the greatest of universities. He knew a thing or two about surviving desolation row and heartbreak along the lost highway.
Born Michael David Fuller in 1949 in Malvern, Arkansas he would sing as a young child in his family's gospel group known as The Fuller Family. But this being America, where people are known to reinvent themselves at a drop of a big Stetson hat, Michael David Fuller reinvented himself as singer/songwriter, all around misfit and colorful character Blaze Foley. Foley settled into the thriving Austin, Texas music scene in the 80's. And while he may have "settled" into a music community, he would remain perpetually homeless the rest of his poverty stricken life. Friends christened him "The Duct Tape Messiah" due in large part for his affinity and attachment (literally) to duct tape. Foley joked that the ever present BFI dumpsters stood for Blaze Foley Inside. His drinking and bad boy behavior kept him from singing in most of the Austin clubs, so he was relegated to what musicians lovingly/derisively refer to as the "couch" circuit. You're playing for food, drink, and a smoke on your patron's couch and after all the singing's done, you're sleeping on the same couch. One club where he was accepted was appropriately called The Austin Outhouse.
And while Foley endured bad luck, bad record deals, bad management (or lack thereof), and bad choice of associates – his music remained. He was determined to live life on his own terms. His own terms meant living for the sake of the song. Unfortunately the songs and the life of Blaze Foley ended tragically on February 1, 1989. Foley had befriended an elderly veteran and during one of those visits he had a run-in with the friend's son. In the aftermath of this confrontation, Blaze was found shot to death. And just like many aspects of Foley's life, his death is somewhat shrouded in mystery and out and out misinformation. Foley's killer would later be acquitted with a claim of self defense.
Kevin Triplett is an enterprising Austin filmmaker who has spent the better part of ten years documenting the life and legend of Blaze Foley. His nearly finalized work – Blaze Foley, Duct Tape Messiah will sneak peek later this year at the Paso Robles Film Festival and premiere in 2009. The film will take an insightful look into the various aspects of Foley's life and death. Nearly twenty years after his death, Foley's ghost looms large over a crowded and very talented Austin singer/songwriter community. His life and music has engendered many tributes in song including alternative country music queen Lucinda Williams' Drunken Angel and fellow troubled troubadour Townes Van Zandt's Blaze's Blues. In the end, who was Blaze Foley? Bob Dylan's song about another tragic figure named Lenny Bruce could easily pertain to Blaze Foley. Maybe "he was the brother you never had." It's a shame Blaze's beloved duct tape couldn't patch up a gun shot wound. And while bodily resurrection is not possible for this "messiah", his songs and indomitable spirit live on.
It's been almost five years since my original article about Blaze Foley hit these pages. Since then, the late singer-songwriter's legend has continued to grow due in no small part to Kevin Triplett's documentary film Duct Tape Messiah. It's a film I mentioned in the original article – then in its initial screening phase. From Triplett's film web site is an apt description: "Born in a tree house, killed in a friend's living room and 86'd from his own funeral. Blaze Foley is now a bona fide Texas legend." I concur, it's a must see for die hard Blaze fans and those wanting to know more about his brilliance and his propensity to self destruct. Like the subject of the documentary, the film itself has continued to attract a following world wide. Triplett has informed me he has had the greatest success screening the film at singer songwriter venues. For more information, visit http://blazefoleymovie.com