I’d wanted to meet Tony for many years. I’d always admired him—his words, his defiant spirit, his work. His oeuvre had gotten me through bouts of road mania—flight delays, nights in bad dive bars, long bus rides, hangovers, jerks, busted backstage dressing rooms, general weirdness—and often rescued me from my internal dialogue.
His work made me excited about where I was headed next, inspired me to give old places new chances, and—ultimately when I needed it the most—injected truth and new life into the Ride that is life.
Somehow he validated my experience as an artist, searcher, and traveler. Being everywhere all the time, bringing people together, stirring and enticing the human condition, boiling the water as fast as you can despite the pan, striving to learn, to know, to teach, inspire …
Then BOOM, you’re on a plane to somewhere else.
We talked about these things—this yo-yo existence—when we met for the first time in a parking lot in Nashville. Then we went for a ride in a fast car.
I understood by the look on his face after he’d traveled the globe—returning just long enough to flip a suitcase over and fill it up again—the kind of man he was, his strength of character, the depths he’d gone to and would always go. He was obsessively curious and had an autobahn-speed brain. For missing things and questions hanging in the air, he searched with a kind of energy and charge most people do not possess.
He was nothing if not a poet, a romantic, a f***ing astronaut of a man. I only knew Tony a little over two years, but I knew this much to be true.
He shot an episode in Nashville, and the show we made together was a whirlwind and the beginning of a real friendship. We kept in touch and wrote to one another often, both of us moving around the earth—I on tour and he somewhere filming or giving talks. We gassed about our rootless existences, which we both loved and loathed, the highs and the blues, and all the extremely hilarious, smack-your-leg-’til-it-bleeds s*** we’d run into out on the road. We talked music and bands, writers and painters, seafood and s****y failures. We discussed guts. The nocturnal soul. We wondered where “home” was.
He was in London filming when his 60th birthday rolled around. I happened to be there working, and so I promised him a 60th birthday that wouldn’t suck. We had drinks the night before, and I told him to be at my house the next day at noon. That evening I made some calls and the next morning got up early and went to the fish market.
I bought two kinds of caviar, blini, smoked salmon, booze, and sour cream. I went to my favorite stationery shop and found for him a blank black-leather book and had “Road Dog” stamped in gold on the front cover. Finally, I got out some ink and drew some Ralph Steadman–esque drawings—many of them. He loved Steadman. I’d promised him I’d take him to get a tattoo for his birthday. I wanted to give him options.
He arrived the next afternoon delighted and giddy. We ate breakfast and laughed and drank. He loved his book, and he studied the stack of crazy drawings. Once he had chosen and the caviar was sunk, we went to a tattoo parlor in East London.
An hour later he had a wild face with three eyes on his right shoulder, and I, a little tattoo that he’d drawn—a heart with a chef’s knife going through the center like an arrow.
His welting shoulder looked like Ralph had jabbed him, and mine looked like R. Crumb had dropped by. It was a genuinely perfect afternoon.