Several years ago, my cousin told me one of the funniest stories I’d ever heard. It was about Ken Bethea, the guitarist for the Old 97’s, and it involved a romantic encounter interrupted by a bowel movement that went horribly, horribly awry. The story ended with Ken jumping through a bathroom window. My cousin had heard the story from Robert Jenkins, a known scalawag but a close friend of the band. The story was so funny, that I borrowed it and have been retelling it ever since, invariably with great effect.
So when I heard the band was having a listening party May 13 at the Granada for their new CD, Blame It on Gravity, I thought that was as good an excuse as any to ask Ken whether the story was really true — and, if it was true, if he’d stop by the FrontBurner Studios and tell it for posterity’s sake. As it turns out, by the time the story had found its way to me, a few fantastical details had been added. But not many.
As a public service, I bring you the full and accurate account from the man himself:[audio:KenBethea.mp3]
(Update 1/22/14) Dang it. That audio file was lost when we switched servers at some point. Luckily I wrote down Ken’s story, telling it as if he himself had written it, leaving out my questions from the interview. It is not by any means a precise word-for-word transcription. Some of the word choices are mine. But the details of the story are faithful to historical events. Here it is:
This was before we all got married and had kids and turned into family men. It was a simpler time, really. We had a van, and we were headed into Chicago. In those days, we drank a lot. I wish to emphasize and reiterate: we were younger men, unattached, no kids. So we drank a bunch of bourbon on the way to the show. And maybe some beer.
We played the Rhythm Factory, and it was a great show. Despite — not because — we were so drunk. Is the anti-alcohol message clear? Good.
So anyway, this one chick in the front row had been staring at me all night and blowing me kisses, which is a good thing when you’re a rock star or pretending to be one. And I did mention this was before I got married, right? This girl knew all our songs, lip-synched along, the whole bit. And she picked me up at the end of the night. Or, if it pleases the court, I picked her up. Whatever.
Back at her place, we started making out. Maybe more than making out. But that’s not important. What’s important is that at a certain point, a sudden urge overrode my libido. An urge to poop. Of course, that’s not what I said. Off to the bathroom I went. And move my bowels I did — though it was all I could do, honestly, to stay perched on the American Standard, so utterly blasted was I.
I remembered to wipe, flush. But when I turned to say goodbye, the problem became obvious: perhaps because of the time on the road and the time elapsed since my last movement, I’d laid a truly rock-star-caliber turd. I mean, a real monster. A massive thing determined not to go to its watery grave.
I had to give it some thought, but the solution eventually presented itself when I saw on the bathroom floor next to the toilet a kitty litter box. I know what you’re thinking. As you read this, though, you’re likely not drunk. Or at least not as drunk as I was that night. It seemed at the time a perfectly reasonable solution. So I lifted the turd out of the toilet and deposited it into the litter box, at which point, for the first time in my life, I understood how small a cat’s rectum is.
I knew that if I didn’t take swift action, there would always be a woman in Chicago who, after a couple of glasses of wine, would tell her friends about the time she took home the guitarist from the Old 97’s and he took a dump in her cat’s litter box.
I did the only thing a man could do when faced with that situation. I started molding my large, human-sized turd into smaller, kitty-sized turds. The only comfort I take, having typed those words, is that they might serve as a warning about the dangers of binge-drinking to the kids reading this.
You can imagine what happened. Or maybe you can’t. I’ll tell you: it didn’t work. At the time, I had no experience molding cat turds. And now the clock was working against me. Who knows how long I’d been in that bathroom. My date for the night was sure to come knocking soon.
The shower! Not only could I stuff the problem down the drain, but I could clean my hands as I did. Two birds with one stone!
I was hard at work on my most recent strategy when I heard the inevitable knock at the door and had another vision of the future. Now there would always be a woman in Chicago who told her friends about the time she caught the guitarist for the Old 97’s kneeling in her shower, with his own feces — or maybe cat feces — covering his hands, doing … doing what? What was I doing?
She kept knocking, calling my name. “If you’re going to take a shower, let me wash your back! I can help!”
I saw the window. I scrambled through it, leaving the shower running.
I could tell you about the cab ride back to the hotel the band was staying in, but you wouldn’t believe what happened.