The ink hadn’t dried on my diploma before I left Las Cruces. I wasn’t rebelling against my family or any expectations they had for me, I just knew that to do what I really wanted to do, I had to get away. I’d been at the auto parts store admiring a souped up early 60’s Ford pickup that pulled in to the parking lot, thinking I wanted some glass packs and chrome rims for my own truck, when I watched the driver and his pregnant wife, dirty baby on her hip, walk in to the store. The couple was maybe fiver years older than me and were beat up and tired, counting out change and some wrinkled ones to buy some fuel additive. You could tell at one time they were the cool people.
They still had a little rock’n’roll in their presence but now they looked really worried and sad. For some reason in those faces I saw my future if I didn’t get out of there. My life would be about cams and headers, a trailer house full of dirty babies and river parties on weekends when we didn’t have to work and could afford a babysitter, and of oh yeah, a guitar that I used to play.
I was full of music and wanderlust. I could not let the trappings of small town life keep me down. I didn’t clearly assess what opportunities were out there though and after leaving with no plan I was subsequently back in Las Cruces within six months. I fell back in with my old crowd. They had made some new friends who were a bit older than us who had a party house. Ramones Mania had just come out on the relatively new CD format and the first night i was there as “The KKK Took My Baby Away” was blasting the disc skipped and jumped back almost imperceptibly to the middle of the song. The drinks and smoke had taken it’s toll on the party goers and no one had seemed to notice the song had been playing for about fifteen minutes when I made eye contact with a kid I vaguely knew from high school. We were looking at each other when the perfectly timed skip hit and we both started cracking up. After about 6 or 7 more room temperature Schaefer beers and two continuous hours of the “The KKK Took My Baby Away”, he and I walked out in to the sunrise. When we’d had math together he was solidly in to Led Zeppelin and Motley Crue but Guns’n’Roses had pulled him in to the sphere of the New York Dolls and the Stooges. We talked about playing some music together and headed our separate ways in to the frosty morning.
My step father got me a job in Anthony about 18 miles south of Las Cruces right on the Texas border. I’d head down there early every weekday morning to sand and paint propane tanks or drive out to a site to set posts around a tank or chop weeds. I had to work my way out of the hometown doldrums. Steve Earle’s Exit 0 was my soundtrack. It was pretty good fun work but hard on my hangovers. Every night we were playing music in the storage sheds and drinking lots of beer. Kenta became my constant guitar playing buddy. We were digging in to Johnny Thunders and the Rolling Stones and also getting into the Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons. We drove to Austin for a weekend and saw Junkyard play with The Black Crowes opening. From working all spring I was able to save enough 1990 dollars to move to Austin. Kenta came along with two other friends and we discovered all kinds of stuff together like Two Hoots and a Holler’s insanely great gigs at the Black Cat Lounge and Alejandro Escovedo’s cool trashy rock band Buick McKane. We’d go see Lou Ann Barton on Mondays at the old Antone’s where one night she began to admonish me for not asking my date to dance. From under the lights Kenta’s soft Japanese features and long silky black hair, and probably the eyeliner, had led Lou Ann to think he was a beautiful girl. We had a little band going that wasn’t much to listen to but had some heart and soul. Our crowning moment was opening up for Hand of Glory at the Hole in the Wall. Eventually all the hard living and youthful lack of direction broke up our crew and we scattered our separate ways.
In 1997 I was in Las Cruces for the year playing in a band with some good musicians who were back home after crashing and burning in Albuquerque and LA. We played a show one night at Wildhare’s in El Paso and Kenta unexpectedly showed up. In the course of putting together a really good psycho-billy punk band called the Johnnycats he had gotten himself very strung out. After catching up at the gig we decided the party wasn’t over and slipped over the border to Juarez. We took seats at a bar I’d never been to and Kenta revealed to me his ulterior motive for wanting to go over. He needed medicine and he needed it bad. He’d been tipped off to a pharmacy and left me and the two girls who followed us over to go score. A few minutes after he left the lights in the crowded bar shut off and bouncers and bartenders were yelling for everyone to put their heads down on the table. I’d had a lot of drinks at Wildhare’s and a couple more since we hit Juarez. It was a surreal moment. It could have been a minute or twenty later when the lights came on and the proprietor was walking around telling everyone it was okay and to keep drinking. Like everyone else we headed as fast as we could for the door and freedom from whatever the hell was going on in there, now met with the challenge of finding our friend on the crowded streets. Luckily there weren’t many six foot tall Japanese punk rockers walking around Juarez and from the line at the torta stand I saw him stumbling through the crowd. I can’t remember if we hit another bar but I doubt it as everyone was pretty shaken. When it came time to cross the bridge I asked the girls to go first, then Kenta a few people back, then myself a few more people back. That way if he got stopped I could at least call his parents to get him out. Somehow we made it back to the safety of the El Paso sidewalk without incident and headed our separate ways in to the night.
In the last few years I saw Kenta in Albuquerque when passing through playing gigs. When I was touring with Zoe Muth he put me up for a couple nights and we had a great adventure in downtown Albuquerque that ended with us push starting his Ford Galaxy in the parking garage while he had a stolen bottle of champagne in the waist of his pants. He also showed me some LP’s he’d managed to hold on to through all the junkie years, some of which he thought may be mine. When I moved away from Las Cruces some of my friends would go over and drink beer on the porch with my dad and listen to records. A few walked off like my copy of the Plugz Electrify Me and a really rare soundtrack album for the independent film Border Radio. Much to my excitement both records were there. When he handed me the soundtrack he said “check it out, I got Dave Alvin to autograph it.” He told me that he’d forgotten he had it until a few months back when Dave was playing in town and he’d dug out some stuff to get signed. He brought it to Low Spirits and in over eager fashion tracked Dave down in the bathroom. When he asked for an autograph Dave barked at him “I’ve already signed it!” Kenta said he was confused, he’d just gotten there. Dave told him to turn it over and look. “I signed it like ten years ago!” There weren’t too many copies of that album around and there were no other people like Kenta. It adds up Dave would remember signing it.
Kenta’s body finally gave out last year after a rocky few years. He was a guy who lived and breathed rock’n’roll whether anyone outside his immediate circle ever knew he played a note or not. We had some great times at the very most formative time in our musical lives. The song posted below is something I came up with to record with my pal Eddy Best for submission for a movie soundtrack. Eddy was looking for something acoustic and I always wanted to do something along the lines of Dave Alvin’s cool work on the Border Radio soundtrack or a Paris,Tx inspired piece. When it got rejected I decided to make this slide show and put it out there to be heard. The pictures are either family photos, photos my wife or I took and one picture our friend Deanna Olivarez took for our engagement.