By Jeff Balke
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He redeemed that failure two years ago, during an appearance at a nudist colony near Austin. This was the performance for which Yogi is most widely known by other performers. As he tells it, "just to be in the spirit of things," he took the stage in silver boots, a cowboy hat and a G-string. He had not really begun when a member of the naked audience asked the band members to get naked, too. Everyone else in the band was kind of disgusted by this gig, but Yogi says he dropped his G-string "for the goodwill of the community." He shouted with a grin, "Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoy looking at my body half as much as I enjoy looking at yours." Yogi proceeded to go into full contortions, and looking back, he figures the nudists probably got more than they asked for that day.
It was a freaky thing to do, but by then Yogi had come to terms with who he was. "I'm a sideshow, a freak show," he says, and no one was going to let a freak run the circus. Yogi was about to quit showbiz and get a day job when he met Tim Poole.
Poole is a short, stout man who wears tinted glasses and a straw hat. He sells printing for a living and adopts stray dogs as a public service. He describes himself as "a small-time guy" and "a hustler."
When Poole laid eyes on Yogi, he thought, "To have a talent like that has got to be worth something." He made Yogi an offer, and Yogi was flattered and agreed to be managed by Poole for five years.
Poole's diagnosis was that Yogi has undersold himself. He would play a mall in Singapore one week and then he would pass the hat at a honky-tonk the next. There was also the example of Poole himself. He had no experience as a manager, and there was no reason, he admitted, for Yogi to have signed with him, except that no one else had offered.
But Poole was trying to think big now, for both of them. He wanted to get Yogi's music video on television, which he saw as the key to everything. He was talking to doll makers about creating a flexible Yogi doll. And he had arranged a regular Wednesday night gig out in the middle of nowhere at a place called the Yellow Rose.
Just the previous week, Yogi and his manager had run out of gas on the way back from the Yellow Rose. "Thank God he's in good shape," said Poole, who waited in the van. When the time came to go there again, they chose to drive separately.
Yogi often drives with a leg behind his head, just one at a time because "safety is everything, it really is." On this trip, he kept his limbs untangled. He wore sunglasses over his eyeglasses, and on his head, a hat he got in Portugal. He drank beer on ice, which he explained was a yoga thing: "I rehydrate as I dehydrate." Also, it was a redneck thing: "My beer's colder than yours."
Passing the area where he ran out of gas, he said his lessons have never been free. All he has ever wanted to be was a fiddler, and he had hoped the contortions would draw attention to his music. Instead, the contortions drew attention to themselves, and the music became secondary. But he was not ready to give up. His hope now was that American technology would do what yoga could not: merge the music with the contortions. It had always been necessary to put the fiddle down when he pulled his legs over his head; if the video could be spliced so that he flopped around without missing a beat, Yogi thought people would really admire that. As they watched the contortions, they would hear the music. Word would travel about Yogi's music. Someday, according to plan, people wouldn't ask him to contort anymore.
But yoga is something you do until you die, he says. "There is no end to it. You don't get too old." How could he lose except by quitting? Yogi worried this story would make him appear like "some idiot," when the fact was, "I've done what I've done to entertain people."
One hundred and five miles up Interstate 45, The Yellow Rose Cattle Company is a brand-new "Old West tourist attraction." A Boot Hill was there, a Pettin' Zoo, a Country Store, a bar. It was hokey and cheap, but the "trail boss" said, "It's just a Mom's apple pie American dream come true."
Yogi liked that. "You can't have a dream come true if you don't have a dream," he said. It was his third week at the Yellow Rose. He had hoped that 200 people might be waiting for his show, and so what if there there were only 20 when he began standing on his head? There was grace in his contortions and beauty in his violin. By the time Yogi's head was between his legs, he seemed at one with the Universal Self.