Running – April 1982
FROM THE EDITORS
A psychologist who recently paid a visit to the office left us with this interesting observation about running. "We are all addicted to something," he said, zipped comfortably in a brightly colored rain suit. "The trick is to be addicted to the sort of things that can help instead of hurt you."
More and more people are finding truth in that statement. To many, running is just putting one foot in front of the other, breathing hard and getting tired. But to those who do it on a regular basis, it may be the fulfillment of some internal need to move, a way to run those stresses into the ground.
A recent covert to this school of thought is singer/song writer Jerry Jeff Walker, who is profiled beginning on page 34. His notoriety for writing such songs as Mr. Bojangles and LA Freeway was superseded only by his reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-drugging minstrel.
No one suspected Jerry Jeff was trying to overcome that old image
with running. So it came as a surprise to contributor Don Kardong when he
received a telephone call at home from the
The two went for a long run, which sufficiently impressed Kardong
of Jerry Jeff's seriousness. After that night's show, they agreed that Don
should track the wild
"He did a little backsliding into his old ways while I was there," said Kardong. "But most runners backslide, so why can't he? I found him to be a very serious runner."
If walker ever gets racing serious, he might want to take a turn
on the Albert H. Gordon Track at
"It's tuned," said John Jerome, who authored the piece. "It's the perfect running surface designed for the perfect runner."
It isn't bad for the rest of us, either, as Jerome discovered when he did a few laps on the track. He expected to bound along like a kangaroo. Instead, well, read his account beginning on page 26.
"One of these days, tuned playing surfaces will be used in sports like basketball," declared Jerome. "When that happens, we'll see drastic changes in the world of sports." 
Feet on Solid Ground
Country singer Jerry Jeff Walker takes to the road to clean up his act.
by Don Kardong
My life for a while was a party
But then I finally came around
Once again I began to start in
To get my feet on solid ground
Imagine for a moment that you're a performer, a country-and-western singer. You live your life in segments: 2 1/2 weeks on the road, playing towns you've never heard of, entertaining people you don't know; a few days back home, trying to be a husband, a father; then another 2 1/2 weeks on the road.
You pull up into a new hotel every day - wound up from traveling, hounded by the local press, hassled by your agent, irritated by one of the band members, agitated about the upcoming show. What do you do?
"Try some of this," someone says.
Never mind what it is. Never mind whether you eat it, drink it, smoke it, snort it or shoot it. Never mind if it sends you up, down, over, around or out. Mind only that it sends you.
You're up for the show. You reel a bit on stage from a combination of drugs and alcohol, but you get through it. A few people go away angry.
"He could hardly stand up, and he forgot half the lyrics," they say.
"What the hell," others say. "I thought he was great. If you want squeaky-clean, see the Osmonds."
After the show, you're wound even tighter, and it isn't even .
"A few silver bullets at the Night Owl?" one of the roadies asks.
You're in the local cowboy bar. If anyone is keeping score (they're not), you're nearing the end of your second six-pack. Even the fat girls are looking nice on the faded screen in front of you. On your last trip to the john, someone has handed you a pill. It's beginning to work.
"Could you sign an autograph for my sister?" a lady asks.
Then it's , and you're not sure whose bed you're in. You hope it's a female's. The bus is leaving at seven, and you're not sure how far you are from the hotel. You beg a ride, grab a beer, and a couple of hours later it begins again. Travel, drugs, alcohol, performance, more alcohol, different drugs, meaningless encounters,
For years, it seems to work. Youth conquers fatigue. Chemicals work their magic and pass on through. Your fans forgive you, even cherish you, for your bad reputation. Your friends seem to like you the way you are. Your family tolerates you.
Somewhere down the road, though, it gets shaky. You go on stage a little too wasted, and a good share of your fans vow never to see your show again. In the middle of a trip you get sick, and you have to cancel the tour to go home for a rest. You realize at age 35 you can't do what you did at 25. But on the other hand, you can't seem to stop, nor do you really want to.
At home, your wife is cold and your kids are afraid of you. Although drugs and alcohol are part of the problem, you use them as if they're part of the solution. You drink more, party more, try different drugs, stay away from home, wake up exhausted after 14 hours of sleep. Your band divorces you, and your wife seems destined to. For some reason, you owe a lot of people a lot of money, and you consider searching out organized crime for a loan. Your daughter cries when you pick her up.
But more than anything, it's fatigue - physical, mental and spiritual - that haunts you. You search your past for a clue, and somewhere back there, somewhere before 100,000 bottles of beer, millions of miles on the bus, a slag heap of cocaine and a jelly-bean jar of amphetamines, there was an athlete: a basketball player, running up and down the court, puffing, sweating, pivoting, shooting and somehow feeling good about it, energized by the effort, working through fatigue and finding something satisfying on the other side. Somewhere, beneath your skin, that athlete must still be there.
You lace up your sneakers and run to the mail box. Well, most of the way. You walk back. That's the beginning. In a week, you run down and back. In a month, you run a mile. In a year, you're up to five miles.
An that, or reasonable facsimile, is how country-and-western star Jerry Jeff Walker began his long trek back to fitness: too much fatigue, too much dissipation, and a tap on the shoulder from the Grim Reaper.
I'm takin' it as it comes
And you know that comes to everyone
I'm just sittin' back here
Gettin' high and drinkin' beer
And I'm just takin' it as it comes
Well, not exactly. No one's story is that simple. All I really know is that one day I got a call from Jerry Jeff Walker. He was planning to be in town for a concert, and he wanted to go for a run when he arrived.
"Jerry Jeff Walker? A run?" a friend said in disbelief. "Jerry Jeff Walker?"
The friend went on to tell me the first of what would become a litany of Jerry Jeff Walker stories I would hear over the next few months - stories of intoxication and half-hearted concerts and wild living and a progressive downhill slide. Many people were amazed to hear he was still alive.
A few days later, though, there we are - running along dirt roads
"I spent my 35th birthday in the
Looking Jerry Jeff over, one does not immediately think of health. Slouching cowboy-style he is 6'1" tall, with the remains of a once-impressive paunch hanging onto his midsection. His brown hair sprouts gray here and there - and his deep voice often sounds raspy, suggesting one who has breathed more smoke than oxygen over the years. His eyes are cold.
But when he smiles, as he does often, there is a transformation. His face wrinkles in the most amazing array of lines. His eyes become mellow, welcoming the stranger to town. One can't help but like this man.
"My grandmother always figured I was a little too well-liked," he says. "In high school, I'd go out on the town with a friend, stay up all night. The next night, he'd crash and I'd be out with another friend."
But as we run, Jerry Jeff does not really want to talk about his high school days, or his music, or his background. He wants to talk about running.
"Running is a balance to all the bad things I do to my body. The blowout is what I call the run. It blows the pipes out, pumps the heart up, gets you some clear-headed aerobics. That's the part I enjoy. I run to blow out the pipes."
As we run along a plateau overlooking the river, Jerry Jeff turns and notices the view.
"Now that's beautiful. That's the only problem with tryin' to run when you're on the road. It's so hard to find nice places to run like this."
Somehow the river view, or the fresh air, or the sweat on his forehead, brings an idea to mind. It's never easy to tell where and idea comes from on the run, and with Jerry Jeff it's even harder. His mind is inquisitive, but his comments are scattered. Notions seem to surround him like wolves, and he switches repeatedly from attacker to attacker. This time, the notion is purification.
"Running is a way of purifying and rejuvenating the body. So is diet. I've been doing this juice fast for 20 days now, and I'm feeling a little dizzy. But the body tends to build up mucus, and you've got to clean it out now and then."
I listen as he describes a diet of lime juice, cayenne and spirulina algae. The purpose registers only slightly with me. Jerry Jeff suggests I do a little reading on the subject, then he goes on to talk about cleansing and basic proteins and diuretics and working the mucus out of the chest.
"Well, if nothing else," I volunteer weakly, "running is a good excuse for spitting."
Jerry Jeff smiles that smile of his, and we continue plodding down the road ahead.
Eat more possum
God bless John Wayne
Seems like everybody
is a cowboy these days.
Jerry Jeff did not want to talk much about his background that day, but I was able to piece together a bit of information over the next few months to trace his development from wanderer to cowboy-rocker.
Growing up in a typical - though untypically musical - household in upstate New York, he hung out for a while in local dives, sang a little with a group called "The Pizzerinos," drifted back and forth from his hometown to Oneonta and finally decided to make the break. One day, he stuck out his thumb and hit the road.
In the early 1960s, he began a life of drifting, picking, singing
and song-writing that continued for years. He learned to play a few fancy licks
from black guitarists in
He drank a lot, got thrown out of a few towns, hitchhiked his way
around the country ("They used to call us road runners"), met the top
folk-singers of the era, broke a few hearts, ended up in jail now and then. His
smile won him friends, but his hard-living set a standard few could match.
Generally he traveled much as
The success of Mr Bojangles threatened to make an honest man of him for a while. But producing in a studio never suited him, and the music industry had little patience with someone who couldn't play by its rules. He went through several companies and many band members.
More than anything, he enjoyed performing in front of people, combining the best of folk, rock and country into his own style of music: foot-stompin', shit-kickin' cowboy music or sometimes the high drama of a simple country ballad. The transition of his music from folk to cowboy didn't seem at all unnatural.
"Cowboy music or country music," says Jerry Jeff,
"is just folk music for folks in most of
In fact, Jerry Jeff - though he grew up in
"When I used to hitchhike around,
At Jerry Jeff's concert the evening after our run in
Whoever else they were - construction workers, truck drivers, farmers, secretaries, school teachers, lawyers, clerks, doctors, housewives - this crowd was made up solely of cowboys and cowgirls that night. They wore Stetsons and boots and bandanas and jeans, and they had come to leave their everyday lives behind for an evening. They could stomp and shout and love and fight and drink up a storm, with Jerry Jeff on stage as the focus of it all.
This is a popular style of fantasy at the moment. Western gear sells like waffle trainers used to. Country music knows no bounds. The attraction of the cowboy ethic has no fences.
And no wonder. The notion of free living, unrestricted by society, is as old as society itself. The years when America was over a million square miles of wide-open territory are idealized as the country's finest era - years when a man supposedly could head out into limitless space in search of a dream, challenged by the very hazards of life itself (starvation, thirst, enemies) but enobled in surviving. A man could wander for years - accompanied only by his horse, his gun and his wits, with no one to tell him not to get drunk, belch or water the bushes next to him when his bladder was full. No one asked him where the rent payment was or what time he would be home for dinner or why he hadn't mowed the lawn or where his alimony check was.
The real life of a cowboy wasn't so sweet, but the ideal is powerful. When Jerry Jeff is on stage, he represents the modern distillation of "cowboy" - the notion that life should be one large foot-stompin', beer-drinkin', woman-chasin', fist-fightin', free-for-all, with a generous sprinkling of love and tenderness and a hint of melancholy. And as you watch him perform, you are easily convinced.
The world has become crowded and regulated, and Jerry Jeff sings
of freedom. He is irresponsibility that you want for a buddy. He is graffiti on
the walls of the
A brochure from one of his tours says this: "What Jerry Jeff appeals to is the white trash in us all. He's the lovable no-good, the charming rapscallion, the black-sheep-younger-uncle of the family; born for small troubles, a hot check here and there, minor romantic scandals, occasional Sunday mornings in the drunk tank...You know the kind; your daddy is always bailing him out of jails, and your mother secretly loans him money - yet everybody likes him."
Whatever he is and whatever he means, the crowd of would-be
cowboys in the
Ah to be up and leavin' this town
Heading down an open road
With all that you own kinda
thrown on the back seat
Thinkin' about where you'll go
There is a dark side to the modern rendition of the cowboy ethic, and that's where the real trouble starts. The real cowboy, the one who used to follow the herds, lived with a health dose of responsibility. He drove cattle for a week or two at a time - working hard, riding long hours, living simply - until finally the herd was close enough to town for the boys to have an evening off. The ensuing blow-out - a night of whiskey, women and fist-fighting with the locals - was well-deserved. The next day would bring a return to hard work.
For an entertainer like Jerry Jeff, whose show is a night off for urban cowboys, 2 1/2 weeks on the road becomes one long party - an extended evening of craziness. In fact, Jerry Jeff is really less the modern cowboy than he is the modern drifter - the stranger who keeps showing up in town, causing a ruckus and beating cheeks down the road with the sheriff close behind, firing a few warning shots through the stranger's hat to make sure he doesn't slacken his pace. But as the drifter approaches 40, he finds the need for a little balance in his life, a little attention to his health. And that's when Jerry Jeff found running.
"When you go run," he says, "it's your time to be pure and free. All you've got is your sneakers and shorts and your naked body and a chance to blow some air through your lungs."
It's late at night as Jerry Jeff talks about running. We are in
his house outside of
Outside there is a swimming pool, tennis courts, a basketball hoop, a playhouse for Jessie with slides and sandbox, and an eight-foot-high knight in armor overlooking the driveway. We can't see any of this now, though, because darkness has fallen on the armadillos of hill country. We have enjoyed a gourmet spaghetti dinner, we have watched the New York Yankees win their second World Series game (while Jerry Jeff fiddled with every know on the TV set and remote control unit when he wasn't pounding his mitt, adjusting his Yankees cap or going for more beer), and now we have turned off other distractions to talk about Jerry Jeff's latest interest.
"I've done a lot of things. I've been out there getting
battles in the streets of
"I mean I went 15 years without doing anything healthy. I think I stopped one afternoon and shot some baskets with some kids on the corner, and that was it. But the possibility that the cells can be rejuvenated and rebuilt is great, in the sense that it doesn't matter when you want to do it. You can start at any point in paying yourself back."
It is clear as he speaks - as it has been clear since our first run together - that Jerry Jeff is more than willing to describe his vices, to add to the list of Jerry Jeff stories, to out-do the tales of drunkenness and dissipation that others tell about him. Perhaps he tells them now to let his guest know the extent of his rejuvenation.
During our first run in
Afterward Murphey met his agent backstage, and the man had snarled and asked who the hell that guy was who had caused all the ruckus.
"Oh, that was Jerry Jeff Walker," Murphey had responded.
"Who's Jerry Jeff Walker?" the agent had asked in disgust.
"He's the guy who wrote Mr. Bojangles."
"Well I don't care if he wrote Handel's f----- Messiah," the agent had concluded. "I hope I never see the sonovabitch again."
There are others who feel pretty much the same about Jerry Jeff. "I'm not an easy guy to get along with sometimes," he says simply. There is indeed a nasty edge to his personality, a mean streak, that wins him his fair share of enemies. There are those who will never talk to him again. There are those who will never perform with him again. And there are those who will never pay to see one of his concerts again. Jerry Jeff, though, seems unperturbed by this, as he continues to talk about the life-style he once led: both feet on the gas pedal, warp factor six.
"I used to drink a fifth of whiskey, do a quarter ounce of cocaine, plus speed, every day," he says, knowing that his athlete-guest will have trouble understanding. "I never realized how much I was doing back then until I got out of it. As an outsider, it seems like a hell of a lot. Now, though, it's the same with my runnin'. Outsiders can't believe how much I'm doin', but to me it just seems normal."
Jerry Jeff goes to the fridge, and returns with two more beers.
"I don't think at this point I could go back. You either have to dissipate or run. Running and a dissipating life-style don't go together. You can't smoke two packs of cigarettes, drink a fifth of whiskey and run five miles every day."
The interview ends, and Jerry Jeff adjusts a string on his guitar. It is almost , and he is fiddling with the lyrics of a new song.
"Layin' my life on the line," he sings. "That's what I do all the time."
He comes to a line, "Singing is my way of life," and stops. He grabs a pencil, scratches out "singing" and writes "traveling."
"The singin's the easy part," he says. "It's all the travelin' we get paid for, right?"
I head for bed while Jerry Jeff continues singing, attracting only
an armadillo or two to his late-evening concert in the hill country of
Sometimes out here on the road
Too late to call I see the telephone
My mind's a line runnin' straight for home
I think I see her sleeping soft and warm.
One of the problems with the cowboy ethic is that it ends where the family begins. A cowboy is foot-loose, unfettered, heading for the horizon. A family man is the farmer who sits watching the corn grow, or one of the townfolk who dives for cover when the shooting starts. Or so the ethic goes.
But even a cowboy may eventually find family life attractive. When
Jerry Jeff was in
Perhaps this, more than the 45-minute daily run, has helped anchor Jerry Jeff to solid ground as he approaches his 40th birthday.
As we leave his
"I'll just be gone one day, Jessie," he tells her gently, but with the slightest hint of irritation in his voice that a three-year-old can't understand why her daddy leaves all the time. "I'll be back tomorrow."
We make one quick stop at Texas Hatters, where local
Jerry Jeff has stopped to have his hat re-creased. As he walks in the door wearing jeans, pearl-buttoned shirt and boots, someone comments that "this is the first time in six months we've seen you wearing real clothes." Jerry Jeff grins.
"I usually stop here on the way home from running," he says to me as he heads for the back room to check out the newest selection of turkey feathers.
The clerk shakes his head and drawls, "Ninety miles a minute," as he resteams Jerry Jeff's hat and tries yet another crease. It will take almost a dozen tries before it gets looking the way Jerry Jeff wants it.
Later that evening, we end up at a runners' party near the
Somehow, though, in spite of his new-found affinity for running, he does not fit in. It isn't just the boots and hat. It's the intensity, the drive, the overall orientation of the crowd. They are hard-charging, goal-oriented people for the most part - people whose running is a constant challenge, a physical test, a measure of discipline. In the whole time I've been talking to Jerry Jeff, the word "discipline" has never come up.
Frank Shorter is in the room, and Jerry Jeff is anxious to meet him. After doing so, he reports that, "He said I seemed like someone who could be compulsive about running. He used some other big words, too."
Someone convinces Jerry Jeff to play a few songs, and in a minute
the living room is packed with admirers. In
of runners is pleased to have him among them. He plays Mr. Bojangles
, singing, "Silver hair and ragged shirt and baggy pants, and his runnin' shoes," to the crowd's delight. Between songs, he talks about training, tells a few stories, shares a few feelings.
"Running is the only way I know of that a 40-year-old man can run around all day in women's shorts."
"I've had this very strong urge when I'm watching other people run to tell them how bad they pronate. Hell," he says, knowing the cowboy image he projects, "I shouldn't know anything about that shit."
Someone asks him if his energy level has picked up since he started running.
"I don't know," he answers, "'cause before I ran I used to do so much energy stuff."
The crowd loves it. His references to alcohol and drugs are frequent and uninhibited, and no one seems to mind.
"My wife says I gave up drugs, and now I spend all my money on running shoes," he adds.
It is difficult to imagine anyone in the living room living Jerry Jeff's style: free-form. off-the-wall. It is hard to imagine any of them taking drugs, or at least admitting it the way Jerry Jeff does. But they accept him now in their living room because he sings so sweetly, and because he smiles so nicely, and because he's somewhat of a legend in these parts. He represents a life-style that seems as close to freedom as possible in this day and age. Knowing he does so makes it easier for people to work nine to five. And knowing Jerry Jeff runs 45 minutes a day wins him an extra nod of acceptance from this group.
He said I dance now at every chance
in honky tonks for drinks and tips.
But most o' the time I spend behind
these county bars
Hell, I drinks a bit
The next morning, I get up to watch the corporate competition at
The whole issue of back-sliding had come up during our first
discussion back in
"All red meat?" I asked. "Even pepperoni on pizza?"
"Hell," he answered, "pizza's different. And sometimes I might just have a cheeseburger and some greasy fries. I think back-sliding is good. It kind of takes the pressure off. And when you've done it, you usually decide it wasn't all that good anyway. You decide you really didn't need that Twinkie you ate. But at least you didn't eat a whole dozen."
The day before, as we had checked onto the plane, I asked him whether it bothered him to be around cigarette smoke these days. "Nah, I smoke a cigarette now and then," he answered. "But a cigarette and beer are frivolous things now. That's fine. But they look pretty stupid as a way of life."
It's difficult to know if one can back-slide with impunity - if drugs and alcohol and exhaustion can be balanced with 45 minutes of running and periodic fasts, if a substance that destroys the body can be counteracted with a good dose of healthy living. Jerry Jeff certainly believes it.
"As I see it," he says, "Alcoholics Anonymous has got it all wrong. I've just blown a hole right through them and clear to the other side. That whole thing is all negative: You can't do this, and you can't have that. I'm not like that. That's why I like running. It's something I'm doing for myself, not something I'm not doing."
Later that day, as I'm flying back to
Hangover runs are seldom easy. One generally makes apologies to one's body and resolutions about future conduct. It is hard to imagine Jerry Jeff apologizing, though.
"sometimes I imagine that to make up for all my past sins," he had told his living room audience the evening before, "I would put up a big neon 'SORRY' sign on my house. But when I see it in my mind, there's always one 'R' out. And people drive by and say, 'Well, if he was really sorry he'd fix that "R".'"
Sorry or not, running has changed Jerry Jeff's life. It has tilted the balance between health and dissipation in favor of the former. It has made him more the cowboy and less the drifter. Nowadays, on the road - for the entertainer, the cowboy, the runner - it is a time of potential benefit rather than a bumpy ride toward an early death. at the end of each trip, his family is there to greet him. And when he back-slides, there's a way to get back in the saddle.
"I want to be able to run like that old Kelley guy," he said during one of our runs together. "I want to be able to run like him forever. I want to be 75 years old and swing our for a run."
Sitting there on the plane, I imagine that his fans will be
pleased to hear all this. To hear that Jerry Jeff Walker is planning to be
around for a few more years, singin', dancin' and runnin' - and enjoying life
People they tell me take it easy, you're
livin' too fast
Slow down now, Jerry, take it easy,
let some of it pass
But I don't know no other way
Got to live it day by day
But if I die before my time
When I leave I'm leavin' nothin' behind.
'Cause I got a feelin'
Somethin' that I can't explain
Like runnin' naked in the high hill country rain.