Houston Music

Townes Van Zandt and the Demise of Moe the Rooster

So over the weekend I reconnected with my stepfather Chip Phillips. As a good friend of the late Townes Van Zandt and a decades-long friend (and former long-time roadie for) Steve Earle, Chip's got plenty of good tales from the old days, such as this one from about 1978...

Back then Townes was living in the hills outside of Nashville in an unheated country shack with no running water at the end of two dirt roads. He shared this retreat with his red-haired teenaged bride Cindy, his hyper-intelligent wolf-dog Geraldine, a cat, the hens Eenie, Meenie and Miney and the rooster Moe. Not to mention whatever guests would crash there on any given night.

Often enough it was Steve and Chip, as it was on the night this crazed tale took place. In the wee small hours, Townes made a grave announcement.

"Y'all are gonna have to shoot Moe," he told Chip and Steve. "He crows before dawn. I just can't take it any more."

"Townes, I can't do that man," Chip said. "Plus, I know Cindy loves Moe."

"No, she's cool with it," Townes assured. "She's sick of getting woken up too. Plus, my cat just had kittens and I'm out of cat food. Moe will make a nice meal for her, and she needs one."

Chip and Steve agreed to take part in the murder of Moe, but only if Townes, who had one arm in a sling from a recent truck wreck, would be the actual triggerman.

"Alright, here's what we'll do," Townes said. "Steve, you flush Moe out in the open. I'll prop the shotgun on the porch rail here and shoot him. Chip - you take this hatchet and give him the coup de grace."

Amazingly, the plan went off without a hitch, and soon enough, Moe was plucked and boiling in a pot on the wood-stove.

Which is about when Cindy started to wake up, and Townes's trademark wicked, if hilarious, cruelty kicked in. He picked up one of Moe's claws, carried it over to the groggy Cindy, and said "Hey Cindy, Moe wants to say goodbye." He pulled Moe's tendons to make the gruesome claw look like it was waving.

Cindy shot awake and lunged for the shotgun at the side of the bed and chased the laughing Townes out into the gray dawn. Obviously, she hadn't been in on the plot after all.

Somehow, things calmed down a bit. Chip remembered that later that morning a journalist - he thinks it was Chet Flippo -- had made the pilgrimage out to interview Townes. Townes was showing Flippo around his rural eden - "Here's my morning glories, here's the outhouse," and so on.

And then he comes to the henhouse. "We've got three hens - Eenie, Meenie, and Miney," Townes said.

"Where's Moe?" asked the journalist.

"There ain't no Moe," Townes cracked.

"To this day," Chip insisted to me, "I think Townes concocted that whole horrible scene just to set that one-liner up."

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