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Sunday, January 08, 2006
2006 begins, without Curt
Listening to:eyes of your mind, curt purtlebaugh (in my head)
Reading:not much
Weather:34, mostly sunny
Inauspicious start of the year for cat's weblog, since it's already the 8th of January and this is my first post. But excuses are like assholes, so on with the show.

Every once in a while someone from my past pops into my head, and since I'm in front of this screen so much (too much?), my instinct is to google. This time it was Curt Purtlebaugh.

I met Curt at the Peanut Barrel bar in Bloomington, IN in 1988 while I was in graduate school at IU. I sought out an open mic, and found one listed in the local paper just a few blocks from my apartment. Tuesday nights, regular open mic at the Peanut Barrel. I had just moved to Bloomington and had no friends and it kinda sucked, so I figured I'd play a few songs at an open mic to see if there were any takers. The first night I didn't play, I just listened. Several folks played, Curt, Chris (wish I could remember his last name), Don Hawkins, and that old drunk (did we call him the Captain?) who sang a cappella. Don blew my mind, he was so good. Very clean guitar playing, mostly fingerstyle, luscious smooth voice, awesome songs. He was cute, too, in his late 30's, nice smile. We had a drinks together. Actually, I had some drinks, I think Don might have been on the wagon at that point, one of many attempts to beat his alcoholism. Don is the one I set my sites on, and we would later date and play music together.

But this is about Curt. Curt made an impression on me that night, too, though not so easy to describe. Curt was strummer, not a picker, and he didn't have the greatest voice, and his songs didn't instantly grab me. But his uninhibited performance style did, and so did that je ne sais quois.

Curt was short, wide in the middle, not like he had a big belly but he was barrel-chested. He had short blond hair and a mustache, one earring, and I think he might have been sporting a tail (it was the 80's, dont forget). He was a cop, I was told, and that is like wearing Cat repellant. He was also cocky (is that redundant?). So lots of reasons for him to not ever be my cup of tea, but there was something about him.

So the Peanut Barrel became my Tuesday night hangout, and pretty soon Tuesday nights became the highlight of my weeks. Curt's wife Fraya also joined in the fun (she sang backups for Curt), as did several other interesting characters like Bobby Earl Conway, Jay Montana, Eric and Sam. All us musicians were friendly with each other, and started actually hanging out outside of the bar and open mic context.

Curt and Fraya had a pile of kids between them. 3 little girls, ages 5 5 and 3, and a boy, 7, I think. All kids from their previous marriages. I was a bit fascinated by these folks. A cop who had an earring and who was a songwriter and who worked nights and was Mr. Mom during the day while Fraya worked. They were both natives (probably from the Cutters side, if you saw Breaking Away) and were midwest highschool graduate philosophers who drank large quantities of Wild Turkey 101. Not every day, just weekends and occasional Tuesday nights, but when they pulled out the bottle and the Pepsi, you better expect you won't be driving.

They were also swingers. All these characteristics: midwestern, cop, Wild Turkey, swingers, meeting people in bars, were pretty new to me, and I was a wide-eyed 22 year old in an unfamiliar town. Quite a mind-expanding time for me.

I hung around with them a lot, learned a bunch of Curt's tunes and Fraya and I sang a lot of nice backups. I babysat there wonderful little kids sometimes. There's an amazing story in that, too, for another day, perhaps.

One of Curt's memorable songs was called Portable Child. It was a country-flavored acoustic song about his little girls getting shuffled back and forth between their parents, who were still friendly with each other. It was about the sad spectacle of these little kids carrying their toys and extra shoes and stuff they needed for the day here and the night there. Sweet song. Another of his tunes I really liked was called Eyes of Your Mind. More of a Moody Blues style tune, more abstractly philosophical, nice interesting chord changes gave Fraya and I some nice backup vocals.

Anyway, several few years after I left I tried to get back in touch with those guys and had no luck. I periodically wondered about them. I also had wanted to play and/or record a few of both Curt's and Don's tunes. Actually my old band Angel Patrol did play a couple of Don's tunes, though I never could find him to get his permission.

This story does not have a happy ending. A year or two ago I googled them. Fraya still working as support staff at IU, she was just starting there during that time I was around, so she's been there over 15 years now. Curt appeared to have a computer repair business, he had a website about it. Curt's twin brother (another crazy story) had recently died, I gleaned from a strange post or two on some fiction websites. I couldn't tell how old Curt's business website was, or if it was still happening, but I emailed him at that address and I can't remember if I didn't get any response or if it bounced. Anyway, I didn't succeed in getting hold of either Curt or Fraya.

This morning I googled Curt and it appears that he died in 2004. Not much definitive, but a short reference in someone's blog about him having a heart attack, and the Social Security index shows a Curt Purtlebaugh from Indiana as dead. Not likely a different Curt Purtlebaugh, since there were only like 14 Purtlebaughs total in the Social Security death index.

Bummer. It's like another Chico, an old friend I should have made more effort to hook back up with who died young.

Well, I think I'll pull out some old tapes from my last goodbye night at the Peanut Barrel and relearn of few of Curt's tunes.


permalink posted by cat 10:16 AM

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