Page Two: Leaving It Up to Her
On Margaret Moser: Happy together, then, now, and forever
Sweetly and appropriately the celebration of the extraordinary life of Margaret Moser continues full speed ahead. Without disputing even one of the touching, meaningful, resonant, and near mythic stories about her, I do have some concern that in the process, where unavoidably the stories drift toward the positive, we are losing some of the wonder and force of nature that is Margaret Moser. She is magnificent but a whirlwind, larger than life, capable of being the red queen demanding "Off with their heads!" She is everything they say she is and so much more. (I say this knowing full well that I chance to incur the wrath of E.A. Srere, the head of Margaret's secret police, who is capable of anything while knowing everything. I say it anyway!)
She loves the music and she loves the life, without limits but with knowledge, passion, abandon, and purpose. A writer, promoter, performer, producer, Moser most of all is a champion, of musicians, writers, clubs, and renegades, of young performers, women, swamp rockers, and old bluesmen.
Over the years I've probably been as mad at only a few people as I've been at Margaret on occasion ... been as frustrated, impressed, excited to work with and annoyed beyond reason. Entertained, rescued, buoyed, manipulated, thwarted, enriched, and always entertained. The good ship Margaret Moser is a fleet unto itself. She isn't and has never been one person, one thing.
Margaret was on board from the beginning, when the Chronicle began publishing in September 1981. Sometime around the spring of 1982 Nick was to have a one-on-one with Margaret about something – I don't remember exactly what but it was to be a scolding of some sort. Nick being Nick and Margaret being Margaret it ended with her having a regularly paying job as the Chronicle's receptionist.
Essentially my take was that somehow instead of being disciplined Margaret had scored a coup. No surprise.
Around this time I was in California visiting friends. They had only nice things to say about the Chronicle. In particular they loved Margaret's weekly column, "In One Ear."
Once again, there was Margaret!! Sputtering, I said, sure the column was great but you should know the real Moser, she had worked her evil ways on Nick and was now making $35 a week as the Chronicle receptionist. As the words came out of my mouth, even as demented as I was in those days, I did realize that outrage over somebody making $35 a week, especially a publication's star writer, in no way demeaned said writer, as I had intended, but did clearly label the one expressing such feelings as just a remarkably petty jerk.
Back to Austin, Margaret had a new outlaw/writer boyfriend, who insisted on writing under the name Tex Zaire (in May 1982 he wrote a very sweet cover story on the Fabulous Thunderbirds). One afternoon hanging out at some point Margaret and Tex said they were going to the convenience store and did anybody want anything. They were given money for at least one pack of cigarettes by someone. They left.
As memory serves it was three days later, though it could have been only two, when we again heard from Margaret. She was calling to offer that she would be back in the office probably in the next day or so. I'm not sure the cigarette purchaser ever got either the pack or their money back. Nor was this the only time she went out for a short run only for us to hear from her in some distant place. Once I recall her calling from poolside at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. sitting alongside Deerfrance, a member of John Cale's band.
Used to be we'd all go to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, in the early days sleeping four or five to a cheap motel room. Once when we were staying in a hotel blocks and blocks away from the French Quarter, Margaret asked if I wanted to go to lunch. Sounded great to me. She suggested we go down to the Quarter. I was not going to go that far. After lunch she wanted to find Marie Laveau's grave. I was definitely not interested.
We started out. There was no good place the first block, or the next. Lunch in the Quarter was fine, and it really wasn't that hard to find the grave.
I'm not sure how the Turtles' "Happy Together" became our song – probably the line "How is the weather" had a lot to do with it. But it is. Some years later, when we had more money, I was in Margaret's room in a French Quarter hotel, late at night after a day at the festival and a night carousing. Lucinda Williams was playing the festival so we were hanging with her and Clyde. In a never-forgotten surreal dream I remember dancing back and forth across Margaret's room, singing "Happy Together."
For years in every bathroom in every club in Austin, Margaret had writ large "Margaret Moser Loves John Cale." Being Margaret, when some of those clubs were torn down she took that chunk of bathroom wall home.
John Cale was playing at the Ritz. Margaret and I entered through the back door. It was dark and gloomy the way clubs are during the day. Cale was on the far end of the stage. Turning, he saw Margaret. He lit up like light itself. The absolute joy he felt at seeing her was so apparent.
Thus it must be noted: "John Cale Loves Margaret Moser."
Now this may seem an incongruous segue, but the trip to the Quarter and the grave were more par for the course than unique. Always beginning by insisting "No," I ended up doing what she wanted. Including the Bunny Hop. Margaret would say, "Let's all go outside and hop like bunnies." We'd do spit takes and say no way, be serious. We'd be outraged.
Then, and I was never sure how it happened, any number of us would be outside the office, in a line, being led by Margaret, hopping like bunnies.
And not just once or twice but actually whenever Margaret felt like it.
Yes, we chanted the Church of the SubGenius' "Bleeding Head Good, Healed Head Bad" but the bunny hop was special. One Music Awards show – well, let Margaret tell it: "We even did it in public, sort of. When John Cale played the Austin Music Awards in March 2000, Louis and I stood by the side of the stage holding our collective breath. Getting Cale to pay tribute to Velvet Underground bandmate (and ex-Austinite) Sterling Morrison by performing with Alejandro Escovedo had been a wild hare idea of mine, and after months of negotiating it was about to happen.
"Louis and I were wide-eyed, literally gripping the stage. Cale came onstage and began playing 'Waiting for the Man,' the quintessential VU theme. Slowly we turned to one another with the biggest grins we could muster sliding across our faces. I nudged Louis, turning my back to Cale as Louis did the same. Ever so deliberately, I raised my hands into bunny paws, and right there, to that paean of drug addiction being performed by one of our favorite musicians, hopped. Louis did too."
It was glorious and insane, it all rushed past so loaded, love, music, writing, talking, singing, hopping, driving, sprawling over and all about. Too much fun through every kind of emotion and adventure over the decades. There is no way to catalog the Margaret Moser run (and Rollo is a book, not a chapter). Some random highlights: Putting Roky Erickson with Okkervil River, leading to them recording an album together. Hanging with Quentin Tarantino, Rick Linklater, and Mike Judge. Getting Christopher Cross to do a reunion set. Pete Townshend playing with Ian McLagan to honor Ronnie Lane. Ronnie Lane, the True Believers, and Richard Lloyd playing together. In the Cadillac Bar in Nuevo Laredo, Margaret convincing them that Michael Corcoran was reviewing it for Texas Monthly so our meal was comped, then going to Boy's Town. The second Awards show with the Fabulous Thunderbirds on the bill, when Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble previewed Couldn't Stand the Weather. Stevie and Jimmie playing together. Doug Sahm!! Clifford Antone!! The night Doug Sahm died, ending up with Ernie Durawa and Margaret talking about Doug with Larry Monroe at KUT. New Orleans on the river boat listening to the Staple Family and the Neville Brothers, deciding I was never going to do mushrooms again. Running across Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz backstage at the Music Awards. Monte Warden at 15, Charlie Sexton at 15. Townes Van Zandt, Nanci Griffith, and James McMurtry acoustic at the Awards with the show still stolen by Daniel Johnston. At another AMA, featuring Gibby Haynes, Bill Carter, Johnny Depp, and Sal Jenco, his Donnie Brasco co-star. Bringing in and championing new writer after new writer, so proud of their work, so thrilled when they took off. Surprised that the Resentments agreed to play an AMA show, less surprised at their 15-minute jam on Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business." Honoring Brent Grulke at the 2013 AMAs with Alejandro Escovedo, Britt Daniel, Grupo Fantasma jamming with the Wild Seeds. And reading piece after piece Margaret wrote, getting better and better all the time: Freddie Steady Krc, Lucinda Williams, Sue Foley, Sterling Morrison, Keith Ferguson, Rosie Flores and Janis Martin, Carolyn Hester, Suzanna Choffel, Paul Ray & the Cobras, Doug, Shandon, and Shawn Sahm, Mavis Staples, Janis Joplin, and on, and on, and on.
So yes, John Cale loves Margaret Moser, but so do I, so do we all!
Read more stories about Margaret Moser in our special section, "The Importance of Being Margaret Moser."