Part 23: "He Enjoyed Tricking People," She said.
After publishing the last blog (part 22) I was contacted by Kevin Coffey, a writer who focuses on hillbilly and early country western music. Kevin wanted to let me know that there's a part of my father's journal entry that's not accurate. Dad claimed in his notes that he recorded "Silver Dew On The Bluegrass Tonight" before Bob Wills. (If you saw "Country Music" a documentary film by Ken Burns on PBS, it's hard to forget Bob Wills, he was a tornado of a man. Like my father, he smoked cigars like a chimney and was married multiple times--- six times in five years or something like that. Makes my Dad look like a monogamist.)
"Silver Dew on The BlueGrass Tonight" was recorded by Wills on April 20, 1945, according to one website. That same site notes that Riley Shepard recorded the song in March of 1946. Also, Kevin mentioned in his email that he was pretty sure the version Bob Wills released was a big hit by the time Riley covered it.
I have all the time in the world to think about this conflicting information. It's Saturday, May 2nd, 2020. As of yesterday, the pandemic in the United States has claimed more than 65,000 lives and infected more than 1 million people. Here in Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee has extended the Covid-19/Corona Virus stay at home orders through the end of this month. The days rolling past are jumbled in my head.
"Wait...Is today Tuesday?" I blurted out to my husband a few days ago. If it weren't for this blog, I'd be confused about the passing weeks, flowing by with no structure. And yet, we are the lucky ones.
What Riley says about "Silver Dew on The Bluegrass Tonight" might be a simple slip up, some might be tempted to give my father the benefit of the doubt. He began his journal later in life, perhaps he simply forgot. Maybe so much time had passed since 1945 that his memory was confused.
Last year, when I first began to go through my father's detailed journal, I thought, wow, here's the one place where my father was completely honest and candid. At least, I reasoned, he'd had an outlet where he could write down the truth. As I've mentioned, he listed his regrets about the way he treated some of his girlfriends and wives in his journal. Other times, though, he just wrote "went home pregnant" and never brought it up again. He couldn't remember the names of two of the women who he got pregnant.
In the case of "Silver Dew", the more I think about it–– that he wrote that recorded the song before Wills–– I wonder if he believed it? It's confusing because the rest of the journal is straightforward facts, not so much boasting as he did in his memoirs
Bob Wills was a huge star well before my father began his short-lived recording career. According to one website, Bob Wills recorded the song a whole year before Riley covered it. This is the rabbit hole I've spent time in since realizing that Dad's recollection about this song is false, and now that most of us have computers, easily refuted.
Kevin Coffey wrote, "Bob Wills is what got me into all this when I was a kid, so I know his discography like the back of my hand. Wills' version was recorded in April '45 and there's an earlier demo of it that's from a couple of months before. Riley's dates from some months later, at the end of '45."
Here's what I grapple with. Did my father believe his lies sometimes, or lie so often that he became confused about reality? It doesn't square with his attention to historical details in his other entries, he was a meticulous gatherer of facts, so it doesn't seem that he was a person who couldn't keep track of his own lies. Some articles try to distinguish between "compulsive" liars and "pathological" liars. What kind of a liar was he, and what motivated him to lie?
Most of my young life, I'd managed to pretzel my rational thought to give my dad the benefit of the doubt. As I grew older, I learned to recognize (not all the time, though) when he was lying, and I also learned never to confront him about it. He'd just dig in his heels and keep lying, which made me feel as though I was losing my mind.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, pathological lying is rolled into other aspects of personality disorders. It isn't a "stand alone" mental illness, and pathological lying is tethered to narcissistic personality disorders or other mental issues, like bipolar disorder.
Sometimes I'll ask people if they've ever known a pathological or compulsive liar. It's surprising how many people will say "No. I don't think so."
I bet they have, and just didn't realize it. Have you?
There are so many instances throughout my life where I found out my father was lying about something. Sometimes I couldn't figure out why he'd bother to lie about such silly and obviously untrue things, like the time he told me that the chocolate dessert he'd made had no sugar in it. Other times, Dad told lies so that he could gain something, or impress people. I've also come to understand that Riley simply enjoyed tricking people. There's a study that shows that these pathological liars actually have more "white matter" in their brains. Here's a Forbes Article and a podcast.
By the time Riley had recorded "Silver Dew" he had a least one child. Back in Chicago, when he was married to Winifred, he'd had an affair with a young actress. He told her that he was sterile, and not to worry about anything, and she believed him. When she contacted him to tell him she was pregnant, he was back on the road. Riley said they could be together if he could borrow $3,000 from her to fix up an apartment building he owned. She sent the money, her family probably scraped that together. After that, she never saw him again and had no idea where to find him.
The baby girl, Marion was born on October 14, 1944 at Swedish Covenant Hospital on Foster Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. She was adopted by a couple who lived in about 30 minutes west of Elgin, Illinois and was raised on a 120 acres farm.
I often wonder how many children my father had, but as far as I know, Marion was the first. Look at that cute baby. I hope she'll tell her story in this blog, soon.
While Riley was starting a new family in New York with Alix Taran, he'd left behind a little girl, Marion, below.
Here's Marion, below with her daughter. A young mother in Chicago. She was already searching for her birth parents by the time this photo was taken. She searched for decades to find my father, until finally she stumbled across the detailed obituary I wrote with Kevin Sechak.
© copyright 2019-2022 Stacya Silverman. All rights reserved.
Some of Riley's lies were meaningful, and some were meaningless.When I was a kid, I had a horrible sweet tooth, just like my father. My mother was 20 years younger than Dad, into the health food movement, and wanted to limit sugar in our diet. Whenever I went to someone else's house, I cheated like crazy; pop tarts, sugary cold cereals, Hostess snack cakes, whatever was being offered. When I came home I simply didn't mention what I'd devoured at the other household. A lie of omission.
People lie. Sometimes because we're embarrassed, other times to spare someone's feelings. I get that.
I had a text exchange with my friend Vicki yesterday. Together, we gave up sugar, as well as added sugar in January of 2015. I had a pact with Vicki, and we promised never to lie to each other. We'd worked it up into a monumental blood sisterhood, the pressure was enormous. We would meet every week and talk about how it went. If we were "good" we'd each put $10.00 in an envelope, which, at the end of a few months of success on both our parts, could be spent. Sometimes we went shopping with the money, sometimes we went to lunch. That pact went on for a year or two, but for the most part, we've both kept it up.
I have to say, I would've understood if Vicki had lied about sneaking a piece of dark chocolate. I wouldn't have held it against her. She didn't lie, though, because one day, she had a bite of ice cream, and she told me all about it.
I texted her that if one of us had lied during that pact, it would've been in a "different category of lying," especially if she fessed up later. Many people lie to cover up failures because they feel ashamed.
Vicki texted back, "No, I think that's as culpable as any lie."
Then she added, "except when you're 18 and you need a job as a waitress and you said you've waited tables before. Ha ha. I did that."
I'm so grateful she texted that last part! I was beginning to feel poorly about my truth-o-meter.
And now, a little taste of how Dad lied about stupid shit. An example, on a smaller scale, of what wears the human mind (mine) down to a nub. These meaningless lies were often an everyday thing.
As my father got older, I tried on many occasions to get him to quit smoking cigars. As time wore on, I found out that he'd never be accepted to a senior living community with his horrible habit of smoking indoors, so I tried even harder. Although he was in Porterville, and I was in Seattle, I continued to call him and encourage him to quit.
One Day, he called to tell me he had quit smoking. I was thrilled.
About a week later, we had a long, relaxed conversation about what he was writing, and how he was doing. I could hear, in the pauses, that he was puffing on a cigar. There is always a familiar rhythm when you speak to a smoker, you know, even if you can’t see them.
“Are you still...not smoking cigars, Dad?” I asked.
After an exhale he said, “Yep. Still not smoking.”
“So, you’re not smoking right now?”
“I just said, didn’t I? I’m not smoking anymore. I gave up cigars. I told you,” he paused and I waited, listening to his breathing. I could hear him spit something out, like he would if a bit of the cigar was on his tongue.
“Ok. Well, that's good,” I said, still listening intently to the rhythm of his breathing.
We kept chatting, and every now and then I could hear him puffing and exhaling.
I decided to just let it go. If I had kept challenging him, if I'd made it into a big argument, it would've ended up making me feel as though I was causing myself permanent brain damage. Dad would've kept saying he wasn't smoking, while he was smoking.
When I was a kid, my father's lies had a deeper impact, they were more meaningful. He said we'd never have to worry about money because someday his "Encyclopedia of Folk Music" would be published, and the money would take care of all our financial problems. He kept up that story even when he'd taken way too much money from investors to ever make a profit. He said that his other children were totally taken care of financially, because they received royalties for the songs he wrote. (Not true.) He told me about three of his other children, but not Marion, and not the new half-sibling I've just discovered. How many more are there?
Dad also wrote a will for me and my half-sister, Lisa, that stated he had a substantial amount of money stashed away for us in The Bank of England. We were onto him by the time he wrote that will, though. I wish I had some of my conversations with Lisa on tape from that time. I saved Dad's last will and testament, because there's something funny and charming about it. I wonder if he thought we wouldn't love him if we knew he was broke, and that he was probably going to stay that way? Well, I did know he would stay broke, and I did love my dad. More about that, later.
The amount of bullshit my father could come up with-- when I think about all of it, my brain feels wobbly. Why didn't he brag about the songs he did write, and all the recordings he actually made? At the Wilson Library in North Carolina, they have an extensive collection of Riley's music. Songs such as "Conversations with a Mule", "Honey Be My Honey Bee", "Papa I'll Be Good", "Blue Tail Fly", "I've Got A Girl in Laramie", "Postman Doesn't Call", "Wear a Little Sunshine in Your Smile", "Hoosier Baby (Who's Your Baby)", "Train Whistle Blues", This one is on Spotify: "Take That Tombstone Off My Grave", "I Can't Give You Back Your Heart."
I'll leave you with one of my favorite Riley Shepard recordings. It's a funny song, and Dad's delivery is fantastic.
Check out "Who? Me?" with the Thomas Family. Here's another recording of the song on Internet Archives.
Next up, blog 24: Riley at his peak. HIs gorgeous wife, Alix, is an aspiring actress, Riley has a job with Leeds and loads of other opportunities in the music business. His devoted younger brother, Victor is in NYC working for Lou Levy, the manager of The Andrew Sisters. Things seemed to be going well...
© copyright 2019-2022 Stacya Silverman. All rights reserved.