I can pinpoint the day I wanted to become an actor… not the actual date, mind you, or the year… but the day. We were living in Roswell, New Mexico… (yeah, Roswell, New Mexico in the 40′s..((aliens))… my dad was actually working at Walker Air Force Base at the time, which might explain more about me than you know… but that’s another story). Anyway, back to acting… when I was a kid I loved Westerns and every Saturday afternoon, if I could scrape together a dime I could go see Gene or Roy or Johnny Mack Brown… or Hopalong. The day in question I went to see a movie called The Treasure of Sierra Madre…. so different from the other movies I had seen. When it got to be dark and I still hadn’t come, my parents finally thought to look in the theater for me… and there I was, sitting mesmerized. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be an actor. Now, you’d think I would’ve become a fan of Humphrey Bogart or Tim Holt or Walter Huston… but for some reason I became a fan of John Huston and from then on immersed myself in every movie he had anything to do with… either as a writer or director or actor. Late in his life, I actually got to meet him and become friends and to play poker with him. John loved poker… he thought you could learn more about the character of a man by playing poker with him than any other way. He loved everything about it, the rituals, the banter … he was a gracious loser and a generous winner.
This was the final year of John’s life.. he was on oxygen and we would go over to his house in the afternoon and play poker for a couple of hours and then he would have a meal brought in for us and we’d eat and shoot the bull and then play for another hour or so, until he got tired. We had some of the most wonderful conversations of my life. For some reason John and I were always drawn to each other… he was the most vital and engaged and engaging man I had ever known. He would ask everyone…. “What do you want?”…. and he wanted an answer, not some wisecrack like younger women or faster horses… he wanted to know! Now, this is a man who was dying… so at some point, someone asked John what he wanted… and he said what I think was a profound thing…. “To be interested”. Not interesting, but interested and it reminded me that when my mom was dying she lost interest long before she died.
When John died… and we all knew he was dying… it hit me like a ton of bricks… it hit me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. My own father and I had had a stormy relationship and he had died before we had really patched things up between us… and everybody realized before I did that John was a sort of surrogate father figure for me. I mourned for John for almost a year and it allowed me to get in touch with the feelings for my own father.
The very night John died was an amazing thing and one which eventually I felt compelled to write a song about. John loved songs of the Mexican Revolution… so at the wake they were playing the corridos. John was in his bedroom with Maracella by his side… drifting in and out of consciousness. At one point he opened his eyes and said to Maracella… “Do we have enough rifles?”…. she said, “Yes John, we have plenty of rifles.” He drifted off…. after a few minutes, he stirred again… “Do we have enough bullets?” “Yes, John,we have lots of bullets.” He drifted off… Finally he opened his eyes and found Maracella’s hand and held it up and said…. “Then give ‘em Hell.” And he died.
When I was writing the song with Don Schlitz, I wanted to put a few bars of a corrido at the beginning of the song… but then I remembered an old Mexican folk song about a village that was so poor they only had one burro for the whole town and when the burro died they gave it a funeral… so I decided to put that song at the beginning… knowing John would love being associated with a funeral song for a Jackass!!!
*** NOTE….. I have put two versions of the song on here… the first one is the full band overproduced version, but it has “El Burro” on at the beginning… the 2nd one (my favorite) is a simpler version, which I like better…. if you click on either, or both of the titles, below, you can listen to the songs.
- The Night John Huston Died Ronny Cox 4:16
- The Night John Huston Died Ronny Cox 3:17