"As a punishment of myself and as a lesson to others," wrote Ivan Turgenev after witnessing a public execution in Paris, "I should now like to tell everything I saw."
Well now, I haven't been nearly as obsessed as the countless number of gawkers worldwide absolutely transfixed; nay, glued to the media coverage surrounding this rather sordid saga of Johnny Depp's attempt to clear his good name from his rather recent public execution by a UK court in support of Amber Heard's, shall we say, gratuitously nasty and ambitious smackdown.
I could care less about this stuff, frankly -- I mean, don't people have better things to do with their lives than speculate on the lives of others? -- and am amazed how so many friends have recently plied me for my opinion as to Johnny Depp or Amber Heard's relative guilt or innocence. But hey, I was a Watergate junkie, and later an O.J. Simpson Trial Addict ("If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit" -- less true words were never spoken), so I've been there…I get it.
But this trial so far has generated not very much real heat and light (to date), considering the amount of media coverage and frenzied nonstop speculation from a panoply of pop psychologists, certified clinically insane mental health professionals, and the usual poindexter lawyers -- a whole cottage industry of village explainers.
Why this rather toxic miasma about nuthin' has encircled the globe when there's SO much more important and worthy of your attention sideshow going down in Eastern Ukraine right now speaks volumes about our rather infantile and retarded decadent culture o' celebrity, Here at the Western World (good title for a Steely Dan song…hey, it is the title of a great Steely Dan song, an out-take all about, what else, ex-Nazis -- real ones, too, unlike phantom Russian-labelled Ukrainian supposed Nazis -- a Dan song about actual German Nazis on the loose and resettled in Latin America via various rat-lines, now enjoying the high life in Bolivian brothels. You can find this catchy tune on YouTube without too much difficulty, here ya go:
So JD vs. AH, to me, is a puppet show about Nothing.
But as I do have a sweet spot for Mr. Depp -- and no other dog in this fight, shall we say -- I thought to recount a little story for you:
About 10 years ago I was hanging at Matty Umanov's Guitar Store on Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. I'd gone in there for some new strings -- I favor Ernie Ball regular slinky electric guitar variety, which is about all I ever spent my money on there once I'd acquired my 1941 Gibson J-45 acoustic from them in 1989.
I always preferred Gibson acoustics for playing da blooze since I was a little shaver. This beauty was sold to me by the late John Campbell as a 1946 J-45, but some years later a scholarly book came out asserting that the banner headstock which it boasted emblazoned with their then motto "Only a Gibson is Good Enough" was discontinued after 1941…so it was back-dated to 1941, fine by me. In any case I have no plans to sell it, ever. It will be buried with me. Or immolated along with my cadaver.
Anyway I was in Matt Umanov's shooting the shit with Zeke Schein -- a nice guy and a good acoustic blues guitarist and Robert Johnson scholar who came up with the second or third only extant photograph of the mysterious RJ for a pittance at some auction, a photo which is still being contested as "real" by the Johnson Estate -- when in strolled this tall mustachioed guy all duded up in a fine suit and sporting a big floppy hat, accompanied by a couple of hard men who I took to be his bodyguards.
Instantly a hush came over the store as this dude was warmly greeted like an old friend by various employees -- including store owner legendary Matt U.
They sat the guy down in the front of the store on a stool surrounded by his minders and a few casually browsing onlookers, and a couple of the store sales guys proceeded to run up and down the stairs to the cellar, retrieving one incredible vintage guitar after another for this mystery dude to play. And play he did -- and he was no slouch on acoustic bottleneck blues either, let me tell ya.
"Who the fuck IS this guy?" I thought to myself, observing this spectacle from my all-seeing vantage point in the back of the store. I mean he LOOKED like Johnny Depp…but then again, he also looked like Kid Rock, circa the same era.
Zeke drifted by, and I asked him the same question in a low voice.
His eyes bugged out of his head at my impertinent question and then he looked daggers at me, like: "Shut the fuck up! Voices carry…"
I mean, he didn't want to embarrass this be-seated celebrity git-picker with the fact that there might be someone in his hallowed vicinity who did not recognize him!!
Then Matt himself came by and whispered to me: "Gary, stick around, and I'll introduce you."
To WHO?? I couldn't make a final judgement call here -- mighta been Johnny Depp (who I like), mighta been Kid Rock (who I do not) -- the fact remains that these fellers kinda had the same look going at the same time.
Kinda like Snoopy's brother Spike.
Anyway after about 20 minutes of watching the employees toady around Johnny with various expensive vintage guitars for him to try out, I got bored with this scene and grabbed my coat and made to leave.
Matt stopped me at the door:
"Gary let me introduce you."
I wheel around and there is this tall dude reeking of expensive men's cologne standing a'fore me and smiling expectantly.
"This is GARY LUCAS. Great guitarist, played with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley."
The guy thrusts his right hand out towards me, waiting for a clasp and a shake.
As I still wasn't positive who it was, I tentatively stuck my right hand out about 3/4's of the way only, without actually grabbing his mitt to shake it, and said:
"And YOU are…?"
The guys eyes bugged out at me like Zeke's had when I asked him who it was.
I could hear his internal mental machinery (Pride Sector) clicking away like crazy:
"Goddammit! I'm one of the most famous people on the fucking planet!! And this guy doesn't know who I am??”
"And YOU are…??"
He swallowed hard, looked imploringly at me, and managed to get out:
That's as far as he got before I cut him off and jumped right in:
"Oh!! Johnny!! JOHNNY DEPP!! Sorry man, I wasn't totally sure it was you, and I didn't want to be an asshole in case it wasn't you! I love your work man!! I loved you in PIRATES…and I really loved you in THE NINTH GATE!"
He relaxed, smiled broadly, and looked dreamily off in the distance:
The ice had been broken.
He went on:
"Hey, speaking of Beefheart! My buddy Tom Waits and I really dig him -- and we wanted to know how you guys got that sound!"
Now it was my turn to relax.
“Well, the truth is Johnny -- he hollered at us. A lot. Especially right before a show or a recording session. He wanted to instill what he called 'that tension' in our playing. He wanted us alert and on our toes! That accounts for some of the manic, herky-jerky quality of the Beefheart Sound."
I segued then right into:
"Hey, come over here and let me show you something from my younger days…"
I brought him over to one of Matt's glass showcases, which housed various vintage guitars as well as autographed photos of some of the store's regular customers, most recognizable to most guitar lovers passing through, and also some of the casual passerby's who drifted in and out of the shop -- a good place to be showcased, in other words.
I showed him an autographed photo of me playing in the Mojave Desert with Beefheart and company taken on location during the 1982 "Ice Cream for Crow" video shoot, and framed by Matt for this display case.
He beamed at me:
"That's really cool!"
I liked this guy. We kind of took a shine to each other and bonded, to tell you the truth. I then told him I'd spotted him "doing" Keith Richards's act within seven seconds of his first appearance onscreen in the original PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.
"Yeah, fucking Keith!" he chortled.
Keith was my first major guitar hero! What a cool catch for Johnny.
I asked him what he was in town for, and he told me it was to go on David Letterman to promote his new film about AI, Transcendence, which was just opening up. (It tanked. Never saw it myself).
It was time for both of us to leave, and as I walked out of the store with him, I gave him my card, with an "If you ever need any guitar…"
That was it.
I walked out of there with a warm glow. I dug Johnny. He was super-friendly, intelligent, and sensitive, plus he could play a mean guitar.
For weeks after this encounter though, every time I walked into Matt Umanov's, one of the deadbeat guitar salesmen who worked there would razz me mercilessly:
"Oh, you did so too know that that was Johnny Depp, Gary! You just wanted to bust his balls!"
No, I protested, I really wasn't sure who it was… I knew it was somebody…but I didn't want to be a jerk by getting it wrong.
Anyway, it's not my style to lead with snide, cutting remarks -- or dumbshow gestures like pretending I don't know who somebody is, when I do know.
I think it was Norman Mailer who once said apropos of his unscripted battle royale / old fashioned wrasslin' match with Rip Torn at the end of Maidstone:
"Everybody knows that the guy leading with the insults is the guy eating the shit."
So, I like to take the high road…and am generally (usually) (sometimes) very nice and polite to everyone I meet for the first time -- and I let the other person make the first move and show their true colors of nastiness first before I lash out in kind.
But back to my original topic, vis a vis Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard?
Well, having met Johnny, who was a total mensch to me in our one encounter, and to whom I give very high marks indeed… and having paid just a little bit of attention to Amber Heard's sob-story…
THEY BOTH DESERVE EACH OTHER!!