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Blast from the Past

He saw a motorcycle parked by the front porch near the washing on the line.  Tony knew he had come to the right place.  He just knew.  With instinct, a little bit of luck and a hard neck, he'd get just what he wanted...   An interview with Don Webster!  And his career was made!

Who was Don Webster?  You don’t know who is the great Don Webster?  Only one of the greatest singer-songwriters of modern times.  His haunting melodies and simple but powerful lyrics are being appreciated even today, and are being recorded by today’s crop of singers.  As a performer, he was highly rated also.  Dressed simply in jeans and a plain shirt, holding a guitar, he could hold an audience of thousands spellbound!  Yes, that’s the word.  Spellbound!   In the late sixties, he brought out five albums of recorded music, one of  them of a live performance.  They were all bestsellers.  He was a singer who sold albums, not singles.  His songs like ‘Rebel Woman’ and ‘Sold Out’ are evergreen classics.  But right at the height of his success, when he was at his peak, he took some time out, ostensibly to write some new material, disappeared from the public view, and was never seen again.

Almost thirty years later, his legend lives on, his disappearance adding to the enigma.  Every so often, some curious journalist writes an article speculating on the reasons for the disappearance of  ‘The Don’.  The most diverse ideas come up.  Some say he was murdered by some gangsters to whom he owed money and the body was added to the foundations of some building going up at the time.  Some say he died in a shelter for homeless men and was buried in a pauper’s grave.  Others say he lives in Australia under an assumed name.  But no one has been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation.  Until now.  Now Tony Fitzmaurice would tell the world the story.  It would certainly be a feather in his cap, and another step along the way in his quest to become a famous rock journalist!  But first, he had to find his way into the house.  Through that line of colorful washing.

Suddenly, out of the blue, he was attacked by something, someone!  A large German shepherd dog, barking it’s lungs out, lunged at him, almost knocking him over!

“Hey!” he yelled!  “Help! I’m being attacked!”  A sharp command rang out, in an unmistakable U.S. accent.

“Shep?  Come here.  Yes!  Good dog.  That’s right!”

“It’s him!” thought Tony, excitedly, what with the adrenaline rush of the dog’s attack having him all wound up. Shep fell back, and into step with his master.  A tall, thin man, with a sense of authority about him.  He was your typical ageing hippy, clad in jeans and a tee, with his graying hair tied back.  Tony had studied enough photos of Don Webster to recognize that this is probably how he would look had he been thirty years older than the last known picture taken.  Probably. He realized that the man was waiting for some explanation as to what he was doing there   What was his business here?  He’d better introduce himself.

“Erm…..Tony Fitzmaurice,” he said.  “I’m a journalist.  I freelance with various publications.”  The man looked grim.

“Which ones?”  he asked, abruptly.  “Music publications mostly!” Tony replied, and named two of them.  The man’s face lit up with a smile as the light dawned.

“Oh, I see!” he answered.  “And how can I help you?” Tony was stumped for a reply.  He pressed on.

“I’m looking for a Mr. Don Webster!”  he began.  The man laughed, long and loud.

“Him again!  If I had a dollar for every time someone came to me looking for a Mr. Don Webster……..”  Tony felt his heart sinking just a little.  It wasn’t him?  Oh, no……  He began again.

“And your name is…? ...”

“King.  Danny King!” came the reply.  Danny King!  Who was Danny King?  Well, not Don Webster anyway. Tony looked again.  Thirty years had passed.  Is this how Don Webster would have looked?  Maybe.  It was hard to tell.

“Well, sorry to waste your time,” he said.  Actually, I am a huge fan of Webster.  A friend of mine told me that a man lived in this vicinity who bears a striking resemblance to ‘the Don’ and I couldn’t resist coming over to see if it could possibly be true that he was alive and well and living here in Ireland.”

“Yeah!  Not forgetting the fact that an exclusive interview with Don Webster, the first in thirty years, would be one hell of a career break!”  replied Danny King.

“Well, yeah, that’s true,” replied Tony.  In addition to disappointment, he was feeling extremely foolish in front of this man.  It probably showed.  The man seemed to feel sorry for him for some reason.

“Well!” said Danny.  “You could always try a write up on the man who constantly gets mistaken for Don Webster!  I tell you, not less than three times a month people approach me, here, in this godforsaken wilderness, and ask me if I’m Don Webster.  Don’t  ask me how they find me, ‘cos I don’t know.  My girlfriend is getting sick of it, I’m telling you!  We came out here for peace and quiet, but wherever we go, people track us down looking for Don.  Well, wherever he is I sure hope he’s happy.  His ghost seems to be haunting me.”  Tony found himself warming to the man somehow.  He was likeable, and hospitable.

Danny tied up his dog and called to someone inside the cottage.  An oriental woman came out.  Her dressing style showed her as the wearer of the colourful clothes on the washing line.

“Lee, can you bring out two cups of coffee and something to eat?  The ghost of Don Webster has come back to haunt us!”  The woman smiled and went back inside the small house.  Danny pulled out two plastic garden chairs lined up against the wall of the cottage and gestured to Tony to sit down.  Tony noticed a Spanish guitar leaning against the wall of the cottage, by the door.

“You play?” he asked, fascinated.

“Yeah!  I play!  Been strumming since my youth!” replied Danny.  “And would you believe it, I’m fascinated by singer-songwriters.  My favourites are Bob Dylan……and ‘The Don’.  Don Webster!”

“Really?” Tony was incredulous.

“The truth is,” said Danny, picking up his guitar, “I owe a lot to Don Webster.  More than I care to admit.  I loved his music.  And to tell you the truth, he paid my bills a couple of times.”  Tony was finding it difficult to take this in.

“You knew him?”

“No!” laughed Danny.  “It’s just that I paid my way around the States a couple of times giving music performances impersonating him.  I know all the songs and his style of playing.  Called myself ‘Dan Webster’.  Can you believe it?”  he laughed again.

It is true that some singers and musicians make their living impersonating superstars.  Many a singer got by impersonating Elvis Presley for a living instead of making their own music.  There was a group some years back which impersonated Abba.  They even brought out covers of other artists’ songs sung in Abba style.  They were amazingly successful.  If they could do it, why couldn’t this man?  It was plausible enough.

“Another thing!” Danny continued, “I interpret Don pretty well because I hail from the same neck of the woods.  Don makes more sense to me than he probably did to anyone.  Now tell me, kid, if I had been ‘the Don’, what would you have wanted to ask me? Tony, thought about it for a minute.

“I would love to ask Don Webster why exactly did he choose to disappear when he was at the height of his career?”  Danny thought about it for a minute.  Meanwhile Lee arrived with the coffee.  Two cups of steaming coffee and a small plate of what seemed like homemade biscuits.  The two men took their coffee and biscuits, gave some attention to the snack as Danny continued to meditate. Coffee finished, he looked at Tony.

“You familiar with Don’s last album?”

“Midnight  Song?  Why, yes!”  replied Tony.

“Remember the song ‘Graveyard Shift’?”  asked Danny, after a long pause.

“Yes!”   

“Well, that was written in the midst of a huge depression Don was going through, right after Gloria Livingstone dumped him for his best friend.  Study the words of that song, it’ll tell you everything,” said Danny.  “And I might as well tell  you, the answer to every question you’ll ever want to know about Don Webster is contained in the lyrics of his songs!  That’s where he left his testimony.  Don was a simple guy.  His songs are popular because they are simple.  People relate to them.  The whole superstar thing just wasn’t him.  He saw Hendrix and Morrison going down.  He knew it was going nowhere.   And he knew that if he didn’t get out of the music business fast, it would have eaten him alive.  Listen to “Merry-Go-Round” again on the “Ruminations” album.  It’s all there!”

“Do you think it is possible that he is still alive?” asked Tony.

“Who knows?” came the reply.  “And who cares?”

“Millions of people care!” said Tony, vehemently.  “There are people going around today who are hard core fans of Don Webster, who have never, ever given up hope that he’ll come back one day.  Those people would give an arm and a leg to get their hands on some new material of his!  I swear, if he came back , he’d make a million on appearances alone….”

“Well, you know what I’d say to those people?  I’d say, they should go do what ‘The Don’ did.  They should get a life.  They should write their own song.  They should see what Don left behind, which was basically a bunch of nice songs, and move on!”   The man spoke quietly, as if to no-one in particular.  “People who make idols out of human beings are not doing any favours, not to themselves and not to the people they’re idolizing.  The worst possible thing is, you’re being adored by millions, you start to believe your own publicity.  And the higher you go, the harder you fall….”

Dan strummed on the guitar and started singing a little, more to himself than to Tony.  The song was a Don Webster standard "Movin' On" and Tony had to admit that although the voice was that of a fifty something man who had lived his life, it sounded a lot like the youthful Don Webster had done....

"Time to move on, nuthin' more to say, time to move on, start a brand new day"......Tony listened spellbound to this impromptu performance.  When it was over, Danny smiled, acknowledging Tony's appreciation.

The sunlight had turned a little cooler.  There was this feeling that this interview, such as it was, was at an end.  Lee came out and asked if more coffee was required.  Danny said that it was not.  Tony decided to take his leave.  When it’s time to go, you go.  They shook hands.

“I hope some of the stuff we talked about today will help you in your interpretation of what Webster was about.  I give you full permission to write about it, and you can attribute the inspiration to yourself if you want.”

“Thanks!” said Tony.

“One condition, though!” added Danny.

“Yeah?”  Danny stared into his eyes long and hard.

“Respect my privacy!” he said. Then he turned and went into the house.  Gone.  Tony walked away.

The interview turned out to be quite lucky for Tony.  He was able to sell two features to two different magazines based on this encounter.  The first, for a current affairs magazine, was entitled “Everybody Thinks I’m The Don” .  Tony wrote the  piece describing his encounter with Danny King, without identifying the place where he was located, in deference to Danny’s wishes.  The second was for a music magazine, and was entitled “Interpreting Don Webster – The Messages In His Lyrics” .  This one got Tony noticed, and he was often called for interview on television and radio shows to speak about the legendary singer-songwriter  whenever a Don Webster expert was required.

Tony still keeps in touch with Danny King.  By respecting his privacy, he hopes to build up his trust to such a level that perhaps Danny will ask him to be his official biographer one day.  Because Tony still has hopes of breaking the news to a surprised world that Don Webster is alive and well, and living in a cottage in Ireland!


This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 20/10/2009

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