This little weekly bit of journalistic goofing-off has been my attempt at a humor/faux advice/anti-commentary column. Yes, I’ve attempted to be funny, and I’ll leave you to judge if, or when I’ve succeeded.
This week, though, I’m not feeling all that funny. One of my dearest friends, in fact one of our dearest friends, Miss Dixie Hall has passed away. When I say “our,” I’m not just referring to my wife and daughter who are mourning this loss alongside me; I mean “our” as in those countless souls within the bluegrass music and wider country music community for whom Dixie felt like close family.
I could relate numerous personal stories, like how ours was a friendship originally built on pancakes (I’ll elaborate sometime and maybe serve you some), or tell how touched we were when they named a baby peacock after our daughter, in the way that the Halls’ close friend Jimmy Martin named more than one hunting dog after Miss Dixie. I shy away from this kind of anecdote, though, because it tends to sound like a lot of the self-serving testimonials we read when celebrities die: “So sad about The Possum. I spent two hours on his bus once and he said to me . . .” As a band mate of mine aptly put it, it’s like “I Was a Friend of His,” instead of “He Was a Friend of Mine.”
The thing about Miss Dixie, though, is that hundreds of people can relate stories like this of how close they felt to her and how she welcomed them into her life like family. That was her way. She has children all over the world right now shedding tears.
It’s ironic in a way that I don’t feel very funny right now; that would be disappointing to Dixie, in fact, because she had one of the most finely-tuned and active senses of humor to be found anywhere. Cracking a joke or two would please her, I’m sure.
I was reminded of this when listening to Lisa Jacobi’s interview of her, posted here yesterday. It was heartbreaking and yet you had to smile too.
She also knew and could execute the fine art of the practical joke. Her long time assistant, and one of the closest members of her adopted family, Becky Lawrence reminded me of this gem: Becky and Miss Dixie were frequenters of flea markets, and one day Dixie had picked up a wooden toilet (wouldn’t you?), and she decided to put flowers in it and send it to Terry Eldridge’s mom and dad after Terry had been in a serious car accident. It sat in the middle of their living room, until it eventually had a second life as decor for Mike and Meredith Bub’s wedding at the Hall’s Fox Hollow home.
Even Miss Dixie’s U.S. citizenship interview was fair game for this kind of caper. She secretly put the interviewing agent up to asking Tom T. a question about a fellow country music star that would force him into giving an awkward answer. Tom T. said afterwards, “Miss Dixie’s at one of the most important interviews of her life, and she’s trying to get me to lie to a federal agent!”
If you’ve attended The IBMA World of Bluegrass over the last decade or two, you’ll be familiar with the signature Good Home Grown Music mural, and it’s hard to forget the painting of a nude (and flying) Don Rigsby (for the song Let Me Fly Low), using only his mandolin for a fig leaf.
She had a wonderful sense of the macabre, too, like the time she had a coffin sent to her friend Tom Collins’ publishing company offices on Music Row (complete with a flower arrangement) when one of his staff members had left.
This dark humor crept into song promotion too, when a likeness of me was placed in a coffin at IBMA to promote A Hero in Harlan, or when she mailed out toy severed fingers to DJs to advertise Larry Stephenson’s recording of Clinch Mountain Mystery, adding cooked rice in the package to look like maggots!
Much has already been written this week about Miss Dixie’s generosity and her love of people and animals, all of it true, but we’ll miss the laughs too. Miss Dixie, we love you, we miss you, and we’ll laugh with you again.
To quote Miss Dixie’s signature words (or word) or parting: “Later.”