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Monday, October 09, 2006

Sorry Blue Cross, But My Boot in Your Ass is A Pre-Existing Condition

I once went to Austin, Texas with a gal who promptly ran off with a fiddle player. If this sounds suspiciously like a Buck Owens song, then truth is stranger than a Buck Owens song.

He was not a particularly good fiddle player, nor was he a particularly handsome fiddle player, as fiddle players go. He was in fact a Civil War-era tintype that had somehow sprung to life. He might have served at Antietam, I don't know.

She did, however, make one memorable gesture before disappearing into an anonymous white van straight out of "Almost Famous." She introduced me to Jon Dee Graham (pictured above, with his son Willie at the SXSW Music Conference held earlier this year).

We talked guitars and songwriting for five minutes or so, which was beyond generous given that I was probably on my fifth Shiner Bock and making next to no sense. That's Austin. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting four semi-famous guitar slingers who are all perfectly willing to back each other up with dollar store harmonicas if necessary. The brooms, pots and pans aren't safe in this town. If you've got two functional hands and a rubber band, you're in.

But this isn't about me or my brief peek inside the incubator that begat Stevie Ray.

This is about the intersection of love and tragedy and the kind of corporate greed that makes me want to dispatch a task force of icepick-wielding Soviets.

Witness the look on this child's face. Witness the look on his father's face. If it isn't apparent, look closer. Fathers are well acquainted with this exchange, one I can't decode for the uninitiated. Their bond is a given, but realize that they also share the following knowledge:

Jon Dee's son Willie has developed Legg Perthes, a rare childhood form of avascular necrosis of the hip. For reasons unknown, the head of the femur loses its blood circulation and dies. The Graham family lost insurance coverage when their insurance provider filed Chapter 11. Now Willie's condition is considered pre-existing by other companies, making him uninsurable. They may be looking at several years of treatment, physical therapy and surgery.

Jon isn't the first person to get fucked by an insurance company, and I suppose being a regionally renowned musician doesn't make him more special than the guy down the street getting the same treatment. But there is something terribly wrong when an honest working musician, an innovator who plugs away at the margins year in and year out, can't get his kid some help. These are good people. His posse is not going to get into a shootout. And I can pretty much guarantee he won't be caught with a pile of cocaine and an underage girl and go on to write a "hip hopera" about his woeful persecution.

This is a rant without answers, like most everything on the Internet. I could appeal to anyone reading this to head to iTunes and fork over 99 cents, but this is not about a stolen bicycle. Ultimately, it will be love, rage and brotherhood channeled through a six-string--make that several six strings--that will keep this young man out of a wheel chair. Here's hoping I can drop into the Continental Club in ten or fifteen years and catch his solo debut before Bowie steals him for his 50th Anniversary of Ziggy Tour.


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