"God, Forgive These Bastards" Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner (2012)

by The Taxpayers

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"God Forgive These Bastards" Songs from the Forgotten Life of Henry Turner by The Taxpayers (2012)

The first time I met Henry Turner I feared for my life. I remember the exact date – February 18th, 2007 – because the day before, a close friend of mine had unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide in his studio apartment and I'd spent the entire night at the hospital. It was one of those terrible and typical Pacific Northwest winter nights where the rain seemed relentless and the gloom was contagious, and as I waited at a sheltered bus stop on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for the # 6 to arrive, a man approached me for a cigarette.

I shook my head and gave him a half-smile.

“Sorry. I quit a few years back.”

I stuck my head back into the newspaper I was reading, and he took a few steps closer.

“How about a buck and a quarter then? All I need is a dollar and a quarter and I'll have enough for bus fair.”

I shrugged and fumbled around in my pocket.

“I'm using an expired bus transfer myself, but I might have a few extra dimes. It ain't much, but if it helps, it's yours.”

I passed him the change, and when he grabbed it, he ducked down to my level and looked me straight in the eyes.

“Look at me. Does it look like a few extra dimes would help? You think a few extra dimes would do any good to anybody? Take a look at me. I got a rotten heart and a bad shoulder and I ain't slept a good night's sleep in the past ten years, and you wanna know the kicker? I get fuckers like you tossing me their condescending extra dimes.”

He was tall and intimidating, with wild gray hair and deep wrinkle lines all across his face, and his eyes would occasionally roll up into his head, quiver, and then refocus. His thick, wet coat and his tangled beard had bits of crumpled leaves stuck to them, and he carried himself with the strange confidence of an angry and confused lion.

“And the best part about all of this is that I know you're cheating me. And you know what I did to the last bastard that cheated me? “

He paused for a few silent, terrifying seconds.

“I bit his ear off.”

I almost pissed my pants. My brain was telling me, “get up and run”, but my body was frozen in fear, and I sat there shaking in excruciating silence. Sure, maybe he was harmless, but something about the look in his eyes terrified me. I could see the bus approaching from about a quarter of a mile away. I did the math. From that distance, it would be another minute or so before the bus arrived, saving me from certain death. I could try to fight back. But while he was an old man, he was an enormous old man, and anyways, you just can't fight a crazy person. I could run. That was it. I was going to have to get up and run before he sunk his teeth into me, or pulled out a knife, or worse.

Suddenly, he burst into laughter. Not a maniacal laughter, but a booming, good-natured laughter, and his angry eyes became kind and warm. His snarl turned into a crooked smile, and he slapped me on the back like an old friend.

“Aw, I'm just fucking with you, kid. Ain't much for laughs around here. You'll have to forgive me.”

He held out his massive hand for me to shake.

“Henry Turner. Friends call me Hank. How ya doin'?”

I was still petrified. Was this some sort of a trick? Was he going to grab my hand and then snap it off like a tree branch? He looked me over and laughed again, reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out a bus pass.

“Here. This one ain't expired. Go on, take it, I got a whole stack of 'em.”

And with that, the bus pulled up to our stop in the rain, the doors opened with a loud mechanical sigh, and Henry held out both his arms, outstretched, in the direction of the doors.

“After you, kid.”

I didn't realize it at the time, but he was a semi-celebrity around town, although most people wrote him off as just another one of the crazy folks that told rambling, drunken tales - amusing for a few minutes, but best largely avoided. It was true, he had his demons, but he also had a magical brilliant quality to him, and whenever I ran into him around town, I'd end up spending a few hours with him, if for no other reason than to listen to his unbelievable stories. It didn't really matter whether they were true or not, it was the way he told them, with absolute clarity and confidence, no matter how crazy they sounded. Some of it even checked out. He'd often talk about his years playing baseball with Georgia Tech, and the famous play-off game where he pitched a two-hitter in 1979. When I got home, I went on the internet and looked up the Georgia Tech roster from 1979, and there he was. Henry Turner. I'll be damned.

The years went by. I'd leave town for months at a time, but when I came home I could always expect to run into Henry for the latest news and a ridiculous tale. Businesses closed and new ones opened, houses changed ownership, new faces arrived and old ones disappeared, but he was like an ancient marble pillar – unaffected by the changes around him. Or so it seemed. In the winter of 2010, three years after we first met, I ran into Henry on one of the downtown park blocks. He was disheveled and had these crazy eyes, and when he recognized me, he touched me on the shoulder and said something to the effect of, “Gonna go away for a while. You'll hold onto something for me, yeah?”. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a huge stack of unused bus passes, thrust them into my hands, and walked away. It was the last time I would see him.

Henry Turner died on March 25th, 2010, a product of years of substance abuse and tough living. If a funeral was held I wasn't aware of it. The news of his death hit me harder than expected, and it sparked an obsession: I began compulsively writing down every outlandish and unbelievable story he'd ever told me, as a sort of tribute. My band started working on an album of songs pertaining to Henry's life. My nights were spent researching everything I could find about the Turner family. I would rant on and on to complete strangers about the whole ordeal. Then slowly, it began to subside. Life went back to normal. Though I never quite forgot about it, my utter entrancement with the Turners faded.

What follows is an amalgamation of the stories Henry told me, as best as I can remember them. I hope I did him justice. There are some embellishments and I took quite a few liberties, but like all good narrators, Henry knew that any story worth telling should be grand, significant, and a little bit false. It's important to note that Henry was no hero, and I'm not trying to romanticize or defend him – as you'll find out, he was a murderer, an abusive husband, an unapologetic addict, and a crook who was haunted by his most awful moments. But he was also at times a tender, loving father, a brave adventurer, and an amazing pitcher, who was surprisingly candid and an absolute charm to listen to. No person can be summed up by their worst actions. And despite his insistence that “forgiveness ain't an inherent human quality”, that's what this whole thing's been about for me: the capacity to forgive someone's most wretched moments.

Ultimately, I think that when Henry was at his best, he was something simple: a kind, strange friend.

Rob Taxpayer
September 17th
12:44 a.m.
Portland, Oregon

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thetaxpayers.net
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credits

released 23 June 2012

Alex Taxpayer - baritone and tenor saxophones
Andrew Taxpayer - banjo and lead guitar
Danielle Taxpayer - accordion, keys, and vocals
Kevin Taxpayer - trumpet and piano
Noah Taxpayer - percussion
Phil Taxpayer - bass
Rob Taxpayer - rhythm guitars, harmonica, vocals

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The Taxpayers Portland, Oregon

The Taxpayers originated in 2007 in Portland, Oregon. Originally a three-piece guitar/bass/drum combination, there are now 7 of them. Rob Taxpayer sings and plays guitar, Noah Taxpayer plays drums, Danielle Taxpayer sings and plays accordion, Phil Gobstopper plays bass, Kevin Lurkins plays trumpet, Alex Saxplayer plays Baritone Saxophone, and Andrew Link plays Banjo. ... more

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Track Name: As the Sun Beat Down
When the fight broke on Brighton Road, traffic stopped. Some
old man hit the pavement and they ushered in the cops, and
the camera crews arrived, and people gathered all around - as
the sun beat down. Picked up the phone: “It's no emergency,
but come on over quick.” Ricky drove his old Ford truck over
to give us both a lift. Headed for the hospital, that big
one downtown – as the sun beat down. It was a day that broke
records, melting tar on every block. People dropping from
the climate in the streets. Something died inside the
sweltering garage – a sacrificial lamb in honor of the heat.
As the sun beat down. August 23rd, 1959: got word from the
hospital that there hadn't been much time. A screaming baby
boy now slept without a sound – as the sun beat down.
Track Name: Atlanta's Own
“Turner on the mound, 120 pitches in: right now it's 2 to 1 for
Georgia Tech with runners in between. 1,000 in the bleachers
and 1,000 on the side; right from the stretch...”
“Here comes the pitch!”
“Looks like a hit!”
“Go hit the lights!”
“Go get the phone!”
“Go tell the press!”
“And baby, kiss that ball goodbye!”
“Now, I've called Turner the left-handed NCAA Cy Young before,
Atlanta's own, but this is just absurd: A change-up on the 3 and
2, two-hitter on the line, deep in the 9th, with a runner
hugging third.”
“Weltzer in left field quickly closing on the wall; somehow
squinting through the blinding light, he snags it on the fall!”
“That's the game!”
“But all attention turns now to the pitcher's mound, Turner's
clutching his left shoulder and he's writhing on the mound.”
“Looks like he's hurt!”
“Alert the press!”
“Go get the phone!”
“Go hit the lights!”
“God, what a game!”
“But what a shame!'“What a way to end the night.”
“Georgia Tech must be upset, they can't be happy with this win.
They've got a play-off spot secured, but not a starter that can
pitch.”
“Now, I've called Turner the left-handed NCAA Cy Young before,
Atlanta's own, but this is just absurd: A change-up on the 3 and
2, two-hitter on the line, deep in the 9th, with a runner
hugging third. No word yet from the trainer. I can't bear to
see the savior of the Yellow Jackets carried off the field.
That could have been enough to tear his left rotator cuff – I
can't imagine if or when that will heal.”
“A moment away from a perfect game, but hey: some records were
never meant to be broken. Right?”
“A shaky close to a shaky win, shackled by a crippled team.
Improvement? Retention? LEft on the defensive. When everybody
leaves so completely resigned, it's apparent that a dream that
once was shared must have died.”
Track Name: Who the Hell Are You
When the days get long, I remember Atlanta. I can taste the
summer on my tongue when I think of the city where I was young.
I remember Atlanta; I coulda been a big deal. Coulda been a top
pick, but I threw out my arm, so I went into steel. When I
moved up to Cleveland, I got a house in Linndale. Worked in the
steel mill for a bit, but my ambitions died and life went to
shit. I remember the weather there – it was like a war zone. I
fell behind in rent and I bounced some checks, so they kicked me
out.
Who the hell are you? Did you put me here? Can you spare a
blanket or a cigarette? See, I lost my coat in a football bet.
You know, I used to be a pitcher back in the Georgia summer.
Did I tell you about how I threw out my arm? I remember
Atlanta. I coulda been a big deal back in '79.
Track Name: Goddamn These Hands of Mine
Linndale '85. Broken bottles on the floor. Some sad, dark man
at the unopened door. Cold air comes through the cracks in the
windows; 15 below in the house when the wind blows. Haven't
made rent in a month, maybe two. Got scum in the drains and
dead birds in the flue. Some scumbag swings by four times a
week selling bathtub crank that he scored on the street. Gonna
get clean, gonna get these devils all out, gonna leave this
hell, gonna get back down south. So goddamn these people.
Goddamn city. Goddamn this weather. And goddamn these broken
down hands of mine.
Track Name: Drinking With Mickey Mantle
When I was five I was king of the yard, and my grandfather said
I had one hell of an arm. I remember learning his split-finger
fastball, and all the tales he would stretch with that famous
Turner charm. And by the fire pit in my old backyard, I used to
sit transfixed by his stories. About the time him and Mickey
Mantle drank all night long, spinning yarns of all their former
glories.
And I remember Christmas eve when I was ten and Ma told Grandpa
he was wasting my time. She sent him packing in the pouring
rain; things were never quite the same after that night. But in
the package he left under the tree was a new silver wristwatch
addressed to his favorite grandson, Henry.
Track Name: Raised in the Shadows
Raised in the shadows, formed in the shape of a dog in the
night. Interview with Jason Barnett.
Track Name: Weapon of God
Dead black meadows, crimson waves, these broken nightmares on
your plate; believe me, I am a weapon of god too. Crumbled
bones inside a sock, the ticking of a busted watch. The
storm is a thunderous, dark applause, and my love is locked
in a pitbull's jaws. Believe me, I am a weapon of god too.
Bridges burn and children scream – their faith is shaken so
easily. But not mine. I'm made of concrete beams, you'll
see. Believe me, I am a weapon of god too. Cats are
screaming out in back; they've all been stuffed into gunny
sacks. The Johnson boy started selling crank. This
neighborhood has gone to shit. But believe me, I am a weapon
of god too.
Track Name: Jimmy Bartlett's Teeth
There was this kid I used to know and he was born with the
wrong name and I would walk with him to school every day. On
a cold October morning he was jumped by a gang of local high
school kids with pipes and rusty chains. When the ambulance
arrived all his teeth were broken out and Jimmy Bartlett
never walked quite the same. Turns out the house that he grew
up in had been stolen by a man 100 years before who shared
his last name.
And while we're talking about houses we grew up in, lemme
tell you about mine: it was an honest little one story place.
But when my mother died it became abandoned for a while, and
was quickly repossessed by the bank. But then in 1985 a
couple neighborhood kids broke into the house through the
back door. When the fire trucks arrived, it was burnt to the
ground. There ain't a sign of that house there any more.
But that's alright.
When I was nine years old I watched a kid get his legs broken
because of his last name. 17 years later, an arson fire
burned down the house where I was born. There ain't no moral
to any of that and there ain't nobody to blame. It was just
one of those things.
Track Name: Hungry Dog in the Street
My brain, my fingers bought bottles in a package place. Got
caught up on a park bench. Everybody tried to get a taste.
When the sun goes down, I swear to God, they'll try to run
you out of this town, and they will beat you down. The will
beat you down if you stay around. You're gonna get shot down
if you stay around, and you'll feel like a hungry dog in the
street on a very short leash.
My heart is a cancer; radiation wouldn't help a thing. My
God doesn't answer; I pray nightly, every single week. When
the liquor runs low, my friends run low. Got nowhere to go,
no religion could ever save my soul. Nowhere to go, and I
feel like a hungry dog in the street on a very short leash.
Track Name: The Business Man
God, it never got easy, but it sure got good when the
business man came to my adopted neighborhood. There was a
bird I named Frank, a chapel, a steeple, and a pile of
blankets outside of Trinity Cathedral. Every weekday morning
he would walk right by with a three piece suit, new shoes,
and a tie. And this dead face, real hate in his eyes. In
such a devilish way he would materialize. He was put there
to rob from men like me – from the broken down scoundrels
that live on the street. So I prepared for his initial
attack; I said to myself, “Henry, you gotta watch your own
back. You wanna make it outta here alive, you better learn
to improvise.” So there we were: one morning at dawn, he
appeared at the church with the cold autumn fog, briefcase in
hand, walking towards me. So I jumped from my blankets and
sunk my teeth right into his ear and ripped it right off.
Blood poured down onto his luxury watch. He ran away and I
went back to sleep, and when the cops arrived, man, I was
relieved.
I said, “Thank god ya'll are here. This bastard in a
business suit just tried to rob me. And you know what? I
think he might have been the devil.”
Track Name: The Carriage Town Clinic
Wet paint, cold tiles, white bed, bright fluorescent lights like
diamonds. Like scalpels. Like the doctors in the hallway
there. My keeper in his white coat at the doorway. My little
clear plastic cup.
Look at the faces. Look at the faces as they walk down the hall
to the small common room. Look at Alex in his bathrobe, crying
and rocking back and forth on the ground. He's crazy. Fucking
batshit. But he's alright in small doses. My fingers now
trembling like earthquakes.
Now the people start appearing and the room starts filling with
flies that blot out the diamonds on the ceiling. And the walls
all breaking. Their mouths now gnashing, biting, and screaming.
Thick flesh in their mouths coming out without a sound.
My keeper in his white coat at the doorway. My little clear
plastic cup. He asks me with a smile, “What's the score today,
champ?” before the lights go out at night. My people are coming
to get me. My people will come to release me.
Track Name: I Love You Like an Alcoholic
Heavy humid night. Corner of Park and Main. Cast that first
glance: your smile, my veins at maximum capacity, blood pumping
so fast. My girl, if looks gave heart attacks. The dangerous
men in the shadows were like an audience, and even the meanest
among them had a little shine in their eyes when they saw us
walk by. Walked about twenty blocks talking about good bars and
better towns than this one. Kissed that first night, and then
the rain opened up the sky to get one last kiss – I love you
like an alcoholic. I love you like a statuette. I need you
like I need a broken leg.
I was getting off the late shift, attempting to recover.
Crumpled up the bus pass and tossed it into the gutter. Some
handsome dark stranger, you were standing there on the corner.
You had those compelling magnetized eyes that you must have lost
when you got older. Seven blocks in, my fingers brushed your
hand; I blushed and you laughed, but you seemed a little sad. I
ain't one to jump a ship, but I absolutely knew – I was six
steps in when I fell into you. One last kiss, I love you like a
broken pot. I love you like a pack of dogs. I need you like I
need a gaping head wound.
Track Name: Some Rotten Man
They stuck you in the dirt while I was still away
But nobody had the decency to tell me about it anyways.
Well, I guess it's for the best that they laid you down to rest
without some wreck like me to ruin things and turn into a mess.
But I remember when we ran away and the car we stole broke down
along some dusty highway with nobody else around.
So we hitched a ride to Reno, but the ring I got you wouldn't
fit. And the minister got drunk before, and we laughed 'til we
got sick.
And of course, I know you could have done much better, and I
know that I must have been your bad habit.
Some rotten man.
Nobody's savior.
Your oldest friend.
I haven't slept the same since you been gone, and when I do
sleep, the nightmares come.
This hell I live in hasn't been the same without you here.
Our daughter still won't speak to me. My letters aren't
returned at all.
I can't believe the mess I've made of everybody's lives.
And of course, I know you could have done much better
And I know that I must have been a real fucking nightmare.
Some rotten man.
Nobody's savior.
Your oldest friend.
Track Name: Let the Seconds Do Their Worst
Interview with Patricia Lee Kempke