California is crippled by a three-year “mega-drought”. The rivers are withering, the landscape a scratchy brown, and woe betide those who break the hosepipe ban.
Perfect weather, then, for a gravelly performance from Harry Dean Stanton: a man with a face like dust bowl, dessicated further by 70 odd years of cigarettes.
Stanton has appeared in more than 200 movies including Paris, Texas, Wild At Heart and as cat loving Brett in Alien. I first saw him as the dad in Pretty in Pink. Laconic, beaten-down, accepting, I thought he was the coolest thing since Molly Ringwald’s prom frock.
His backstory was explored Sophie Huber’s brilliant documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (released in 2012, now available on Netflix).
This Swiss-born film-maker first meets her subject in his regular drinking haunt, Dan Tanas in Santa Monica, and uses music as her route in to this intensely private man. She follows him as he potters about his day-to-day routine, splicing the footage with pared down renditions of his favourite songs, such as Danny Boy and Blue Bayou, which are performed from the safety of his living room.
Late last month, the film was screened at the Grammy Museum in downtown LA, and both Stanton and Huber took part in a charming Q&A afterwards. Followed by some tunes: Stanton singing and on harmonica, accompanied by guitar and bass.
As he took to the stage, fragile as a larch, the audience moved to the edge of their seats. Stanton fumbled first for his reading glasses, then for one of his many harmonicas, all tuned to different keys. Would he make it through the first bar? He would; albeit from the comfort of an overstuffed armchair (as he said - he is 12 years off 100).
His exit was quicker: Stanton scarpered immediately after the three tracks were over; his guitarist, Jamie, revealed to the crowd that he’d called the night before to try and wriggle out of the performance.
Stanton was one of those rare beasts: exactly in the flesh as you’d suspect from the screen. Introspective, and mischievous; a loner, and old-fashioned with it. In an age of white noise and celebrity hysteria, this was a reminder of a previous time; refreshing courtesy in the drought. He’d never married, he said in the film - and only once proposed because it seemed the civil thing to do. He’s wiser now he’s older, he said. After all, “what’s wrong with silence?”