I see the ad in the newspaper – Eddie Rabbitt is playing live at the Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon in Santa Ana. In the past I’ve thumbed by announcements for bigger, iconic country stars like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and even the cool man in black, Johnny Cash with hardly a thought. But this singer is different. From clunky eight tracks, to cassette tapes I had to reel in with my fingernail to razor thin CD’s and now iPod’s, I’ve grown up listening to Eddie Rabbitt’s mostly upbeat music in the car with my entire family and then later with just my father.
Without asking if he wants to go hear Rabbitt play, I suffer through rush hour traffic on the 55 freeway to get to the ticket office at the Crazy Horse. My father and I haven’t seen much of each other even though we still live under the same roof. He is a defense lawyer and spends most of his time in court or at a prison visiting a murderer or rapist. I’m in my second year of college. This is a year or so after my parents’ drawn out divorce is finalized and she moved with my younger brother and older sister literally to the country, to Tennessee where we own a second home.
My father is genuinely surprised in a good way when I show him the tickets even looking up from the family slides he pours over and over again, getting drunk with emotion and alcohol. My father is a Greek so instead of a tall beer it’s a short glass of ouzo. He doesn’t expect his daughter to want to spend time with him not heartbroken like this. It seems my father is caught up in his own bad country song, in love with a woman who no longer loves him, reliving a life that is no longer his.
But for a couple hours at the Crazy Horse my father will have no other choice but to sing a different tune. The sign is what I see first on our approach the night of the concert. Built in 1977 the Crazy Horse must’ve once stood alone in the dark with its trademark sign visible from the freeway, a bucking horse lit yellow through a loop of red lasso. My father’s old diesel Mercedes doesn’t fit in a parking lot full of Ford and Chevy pick-ups, some even attached to empty horse trailers.
The line getting into the venue is long and my father, usually impatient, tonight waits without complaint. He’s in a suit having just come from court. Once we get closer to the doors, I begin to panic at the warning in bold lettering, barring anybody under 21.
“Dad,” I say as if my father needs reminding. “I’m only twenty.”
I had assumed that because the Crazy Horse had a restaurant section that served everyone the concert wouldn’t be restricted.
Now my father looks impatient. “Don’t worry, Paula Girl. They won’t even notice.”
And they don’t. Not after he says our last name is no longer Priamos, it’s Franklin and he distracts the ticket taker with a c-note.
We are led to our table in the concert room that resembles a real life saloon with swinging doors and hardwood floors. There are wooden tables and sawed-off chairs, too. Thanks to my father’s tip we are seated smack center in the front mere feet from the slightly elevated stage and bar stool where Eddie Rabbitt will sit and play. Next to us at the table is a middle aged man with a diamond studded horse shoe pinky ring. He’s wearing a Stetson and a suit with western style stitching with his date, a busty blonde who is about to bust out of her fringe suede vest. My father must truly be beyond the pale for my mother because he doesn’t give this woman or her tanned breasts a second glance.
Shortly after my father’s beer and my virgin strawberry daiquiri are served, Eddie Rabbitt comes out on stage with his band Hare Trigger. He’s in jeans, cowboy boots and a simple button down shirt. No ten gallon hat that swallows half his head and his beard is neatly trimmed. He’s not your typical country singer. Eddie Rabbitt is from New Jersey.
When Rabbitt performs I see the change in my father’s face that he’s for once not thinking of losing my mother. He’s simply listening to the music. My father’s favorite song is “Driving my Life Away” and while he’s never been coordinated enough to dance, not even at his own wedding, he manages to drum his fingers to the beat. At one point when there is canned thunder, horses whinnying and lightning with strobe lights for Rabbitt’s song “I Love a Rainy Night,” my father catches my eye. We both think it’s tacky. It is in this intimate setting with complete strangers that at least for the duration of a three and a half minute song I get my father back.
At the end of the decade, not long after my father passes, the Crazy Horse will shut its doors in Santa Ana and reopen at the Irvine Spectrum. The owners wanted a place that could hold more fans, adding a balcony, flanking the sides of the stage with video screens. For a while the new Crazy Horse is wildly popular. Yet the lease is not renewed. It is, after all, not so far away from Fashion Island. Eventually an Old Navy clothing store will take its place.