Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE—I am at the Louisiana Book Festival. The downtown is overrun with tents, vendors, and lots of book-people.

Book-people look just like real people, only they aren’t. They have much bigger vocabularies. Many of them have earned doctorates in fields of study like post-Romantic Russian interior plumbing.

These are the kinds of brilliant people who spend two years writing a four-hundred-page dissertation about precolonial usage of the semicolon.

People who use words like “prosaic” in daily conversation.

Prosaic, I just discovered, means plain. Ordinary. Sort of run-of-the-mill. One book festival volunteer (a grad student) used this word—this is the truth—when he was giving me directions to the bathroom.

“It’s just down that hallway,” he said, “to the right, over by that rather prosaic-looking plant.”

He even used the hyphen.

So believe me, these book-people are all very nice, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that some of these well-dressed folks are the kind who—how do I put this?—have never heard of Rusty Wallace.

But it’s a great festival. Baton Rouge really comes alive. It’s not a stuffy literary gig at all. It’s fun. There are live bands playing jazz and Cajun music. The smell of jambalaya is in the air. Many vendors are serving boudin, which is basically Cajun sausage on crack.

I am standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a ride to my presentation downtown. A black SUV pulls to the curb. A chauffeur wearing a suit opens the door and asks me to get in.

“No thanks,” I say. “I’m waiting for my ride.”

“I am your ride, sir.”

“What?”

“That’s right.”

“You mean this stud mobile is for me?”

He makes no facial expression. “Please, sir.”

I have never had a chauffeur before. On the ride over I am cracking all sorts of jokes to lighten the mood, asking where my mimosa is. Come to find out, chauffeurs don’t find mimosa jokes funny.

He drops me at the capitol building and soon I am on a panel with other authors. We’re doing a town-hall discussion before a small audience comprised of other authors, grad students, professors, and people who frequently tell Charles to go saddle their horse.

One person asks the panel how we came up with ideas for our books.

AUTHOR 1: Well, it’s hard to say, I know that I personally felt like I had a real story that needed telling.

AUTHOR 2: I was motivated to write via a desire to communicate the unforeseen symbolism that life can present, and the subversive implications of it all. Realism notwithstanding.

ME: I was at a Willie Nelson concert.

Which is really how it happened. I was at a Willie concert when I first came up with the idea to write a novel. He was singing “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and I’ll bet he did a good job singing. Though I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t hear Willie over the sound of my own singing voice.

I was having a gust of inspiration at that concert. I was going to write a book! A novel! A thick one! A book that was all about… Well… I don’t know! Stuff! Yeah! A book about stuff! That’s it! And this book would also be about… Well… More stuff!

So I didn’t have the details nailed down, but one thing I did know: I was going to do it, by God.

Then all at once, the concert arena started getting very foggy and I got dizzy. Then, I noticed President Abraham Liconln was sitting beside me, along with all four of the Beatles who were holding live alligators in their laps.

Anyway, I forget what I was talking about.

Oh, yes. Willie. Ever since childhood, I dreamed of seeing Willie. Because compared to all the country music stars, he was always the Williest.

Back in my childhood we had lots of pathetic country music stars who wore rhinestone Nudie suits, and boots that cost $1600 bucks. A lot of these guys had never done a hard day’s work in their lives and used more hairspray than all fifty-one Miss USA pageant contestants combined.

But then we had Willie.

I know he’s not exactly a role model for a young kid, but he was a redhead like me. He wasn’t the best singer. He wasn’t the best showman. He wasn’t the best looking. His hindparts weren’t rock solid, and no crazed female fans were throwing their underwear at him on stage. He was just a regular guy.

At that concert, my whole childhood came back to me. I remembered the night my father let me stay up late to see Willie on the Tonight Show. Or the one weekend I sat in my room learning to play “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” on guitar.

When Willie walked onto that stage, he was an old friend. He wore a T-shirt, a cowboy hat, tennis shoes. He didn’t do the theatrics all the other country-pop stars did. He didn’t hurl T-shirts into the audience, or prance around while being followed by backup dancers, no pyrotechnical explosions.

He was an eighty-some-year-old man playing guitar. And it touched me. I knew from that moment on, my life would take a sharp turn, and no matter what I did, no matter where I found myself, no matter what happened, I was going to do my best to write a book. And Ringo’s pet alligator would help me.

And if I were lucky, maybe even my late father would look down from heaven and be proud of the prosaic guy his redheaded son became.

Just maybe.

22 comments

  1. Jannie Bug - November 3, 2019 7:28 am

    This little girl from Florida spent five of the best years of my life in Louisiana…four in Lafayette and one in Baton Rouge. One of the many families I met and who befriended me included the family of Octa Clark and his extended family. Mr. Octa and his wife were the grandparents of one of my students, and I remember the day I met them. My student’s mother had asked me to drop her daughter off at her grandparents after school one afternoon. I was more than happy to oblige, and, as I pulled up in the driveway, Mr. Octa invited me to get down. He and I spoke briefly, and then he told me that his wife was inside, if I wanted to say “hi” to her. I let myself in through the back door and joined Mrs. Benita in the TV room. I’m a talker, and I started rambling about something and Mrs. Benita nodded and smiled and was a great conversationalist. After about ten minutes, Mr. Octa came inside and said something in French to his wife. She responded in French, as well. I looked at Mr. Octa, and I asked him if Mrs. Benita spoke or understood English to which her responded, “My no, Cher, she only speaks the French”. I started laughing uncontrollably and told Mr. Octa about the wonderful conversation she and I were having without any hint to me that she could not understand a thing I was saying! I share this story with a link to Baton Rouge, where I lived and worked as a programmer analyst for the Louisiana Department of Revenue and Taxation. The same capitol building where you made your presentation also houses an area on one of its lowest floors where it honors some of its more noteworthy Louisianans. Mr. Octa Clark has several poster size photos and a variety of memorabilia, along with lists of songs and replicas of the many honors he received over the expanse of his life as one of Louisiana’s most famous and beloved Old Time Cajun musicians. He played the French accordion and sang the Cajun two-step songs that are the very pulse of this rich music culture. So while you were reminiscing about the likes of Willie Nelson, another salt-of-the-Earth musician was being memorialized in that same capitol building. I’m pretty certain there are many young musicians and writers of songs who were likewise inspired by Mr. Octa and you were by Willie Nelson.

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  2. Camille - November 3, 2019 10:11 am

    I enjoyed your comment, Jannie Bug!

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  3. Camille - November 3, 2019 10:13 am

    Proud as a peacock!

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  4. Kelly Ray - November 3, 2019 11:54 am

    Another great story Sean…God Bless You man…

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  5. Robin George - November 3, 2019 12:59 pm

    I have read your novel and there’s nothing prosaic about it at all. Your father would be so proud of his red headed son! And so would Willie, he’d love this story!!!!

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  6. Katherine Young - November 3, 2019 1:00 pm

    You Partay Animal! Being gifted with the wondrous skill of making hoards of us smile upon rising is priceless.

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  7. Linnea Miles - November 3, 2019 1:58 pm

    Well, Sean. I wrote you awhile back about being 62 and brokenhearted that I’d never find a love like you have. Guess what!!?? I have. And where? At a Willie Nelson show!! We’ve known each other since 5th grade, have kept in touch the last few years, but our first date was Willie’s show. Must’ve been magic in the air! We’re so very blessed and excited!! Never too late to find that love of your life! Makes me love Willie even more. Thanks for this awesome story, and I’m so glad that both our lives were changed by the Red Headed Willie! I hope he hears many stories like ours.
    Linnea Miles

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  8. Teresa Tindle - November 3, 2019 2:28 pm

    Yes Sean, I too have had a love affair with Willie for the past 40 or 50 years. The one and only time I ever saw him in person, my teenage son and one of his friends took me. I’ll never forget it. He had on a tee shirt with the Flag emblazoned on the front, jeans, cowboy boots and hat. His hair in pigtails. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. He was great. He was handsome and I fell in love again. And you are right he is the Williest.

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  9. Kathy White - November 3, 2019 2:31 pm

    I loved your post/comment Jannie Bug. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. Ann - November 3, 2019 2:45 pm

    Ohhhhhh…your father would be very very proud….thank you for your insight and “ wonderfulness”…

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  11. Jim Durham - November 3, 2019 2:52 pm

    Everyone loves Willie because he’s willie, willie good

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  12. Linda Moon - November 3, 2019 4:00 pm

    As a child and even young adult I was often called “Bookworm”. My father, however, called me “Snicklefritz”. Much later in life I thought about a doctoral dissertation, but the thought left after about 13 minutes, thank the Good Lord. I’m so glad you attended the Willie Nelson concert and got your novel idea … because now we have Sean Dietrich, Author. Your late father IS PROUD. Yes, he is. I discern that because of my late father and Snicklefritz; but that’s another story for another day (did you notice my use of the semi-colon?). I’ve seen Willie and Family in Orange Beach, Alabama and Sean Dietrich (you!) in various places…two of my favorite redheads!!

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  13. Shelton A. - November 3, 2019 7:27 pm

    No maybes, Sean. Your daddy is looking down and so very pleased with you and what you do. I really like Willie, too.

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  14. MermaidGrammy - November 3, 2019 9:28 pm

    80? How old are you? This was before your dad died, I think you were eight or 12? He’s just now close to 80!

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  15. Liss - November 3, 2019 10:59 pm

    Great Willie article. I also think your *cajun sausage on crack* comment captured the essence of boudin perfectly.

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  16. Kat - November 3, 2019 11:12 pm

    💕Reread Sean’s article and notice Sean is answering the question about what inspires him to write books. He said he attended his first Willie Nelson concert and knew then he would write a novel. According to Amazon, Sean’s first novel was published in 2015. Willie is 86 now in 2019. So in 2013 Willie would have been 80, two years before Seans first novel was published. I think you’re confusing Sean’s idolizing Willie since he was a child with him finally seeing Willie perform as an older Sean. 💕

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  17. Steven Paul Bailey - November 4, 2019 2:36 am

    Good stuff..

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  18. vicariousnomadDa - November 4, 2019 3:42 am

    Wow!!!

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  19. vicariousnomad - November 4, 2019 3:43 am

    Wow!!!

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  20. Emily - November 4, 2019 2:12 pm

    Thank you Sean, I saw Willie once….I was seven, I was so excited! We didn’t have good seats, and I was kinda short…but I did get to listen to Willie and Dolly play that day. It was a great time.

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  21. Anne Trawick - November 4, 2019 5:43 pm

    Without a doubt.

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  22. jack - November 5, 2019 2:37 am

    Now Willie, some of that I don’t believe. Maybe the Alligators or the second authors answer. Maybe because of Prosaic (I couldn’t spell it I had to copy and paste) I’m sorta prosaic I guess.
    Good read, I even enjoyed it but there was something about it, I know Baton Rouge. Got lost there once looking for an RV park.
    Nite
    Sherry & jack

    Reply

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