Ed’s Id and Enis Envy: McClanahan Fans Gather to Remember Little Enis for KET Signature Series on Kentucky Authors
“Elvis alerted America to the fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled…Sexual chaos reigns currently, but out of chaos may flow true understanding and harmony, and either way, Elvis almost singlehandedly opened the floodgates.”
–Lester Bangs, Village Voice, August 29, 1997
There’s no shortage of Ed McClanahan devotees around these parts, but when his segment of KET’s Signature Series airs this Fall, there’s certain to be more converts to the august little group of McClanafans.
At least partially thanks to McClanahan, there’s also no shortage of Little Enis enthusiasts. The author immortalized Lexington’s “All-American Left-Handed Upside-Down Guitar Player in a Playboy article, which later became the centerpiece of his 1985 seriorcomic autbiography, Famous People I Have Known.
When KET producer Guy Mendes and director Paul Wagner invited the general public to the filming of the McClanahan segment, fans gathered at Lynagh’s Music Club for a series of reminiscenes mostly centered around Little Enis (born Carl Toadvine.)
(As Enis related to McClanahan, the now famous moniker was owed to a joke that was “‘going around about Elvis the Pelvis? And his little brother Enis? The Penis? So they just looked at me, I was stocky and all all, and they said ‘Enis…’”)
On hand for the day’s filming were Bucky Sallee; a “wonderful sax honker” from Enis’s band The Fabulous Tabletoppers; Pat Madden (a running mate from those days); Enis’s daughter, Nashville singer Donna Faye and her husband, guitarist Jim Moffatt; and Lexington’s outstanding rockabilly outfit, Crown Electric.
Appropriately enough, music provided a unifying focus for the days events. Sallee jammed with Crown Electric for a few wildly popular instrumentals; Crown Electric performed some rockabilly that would have done Elvis or Enis proud; and Donna Faye and Jim Moffatt joined the band for a medly of some of Enis’s favorite tunes (impressively pulled off in three keys and three tempos without the benefit of rehearsal). McClanahan himself even sang a tune he penned, “All the Roads in the World,” and then joined Donna Faye on the chorus of the Bellamy Brothers’ “Old Hippie,” although he introduced all of his lyric efforts with the disclaimer, “I ain’t no Enis.”
But the highlight of the day was McClanahan reading a chapter from Famous People I Have Known, “Little Enis: An Ode on the Intimidations of Mortality.” He prefaced it by crediting Enis with saving his writing career, musing that “hanging around with Enis is like hanging around with your own id.”
Although McClanahan has a long and illustrious career, boasting a fine novel, The Natural Man, a soon-to-be-released film based on one of his stories, “The Congress of Wonders,” and well-respected essays and criticism, he will be best known by many for the chronicle of his relationship with Little Enis. There were few people gathered at Lynagh’s that day who hadn’t read or heard that story a hundred times, and it’s a tribute to both McClanahan and Enis that it sounds as fresh now as it did the day he wrote it.
But simply reading it will never produce the nostalgic pleasure one gets from hearing the author’s voice as it transports you back to the days of the Zebra Lounge, the Palms, Martin’s, the Southern Girl Beauty Salon — to a world populated by corpulent go-go girls, fried baloney, Oertals ’92, and a man with the golden voice.”
There, in the “unillumined heart of the provinces,” mcClanahan did indeed turn up a “cultural phenomenon worth an enlightened man’s condescension.” From there, the narrative gets droller. Who’s written a better, saltier metaphor than McClanahan’s description of a stripper’s breast, spinning “like the prop on Jimmy Stewart’s plane in one of those old You-can’t-send-that-kid-up-in-a-crate-like-that movies?”
Sallee may have described the phenomenon surrounding his former bandmate best when he said, “Enis is kind of like John Kennedy…They won’t let him die.” Pictures of Enis hang all over Lexington, everywhere from professors’ offices to living rooms to college bars. A late 80s tribute to him at ArtsPlace so overwhelmed the facility that (it is said), “poor old Art had to turn people away in droves.”)
Enis remains widely revered by Lexington’s music community, and at least one local musician named his cat after him.
While the great lament of our generation may be that we never knew an Enis, Enis had just one regret: that he should’ve been a preacher, because, as he put it, “I like fried chicken and pussy as well as anybody.”
Perhaps the best thing about this segment of KET’s Signature Series on Kentucky authors will be if it encourages people to revisit, through McClanahan’s work, a time that’s all but lost: a time that could inspire a man to begin such an audacious master’s thesis as “The Influence of the Celtic Bardic Tradition upon the Work of Carlos Toadvine;” a time of “breathtakingly unsanitary Country-and-Western taverns”… a time when the Drake Hotel’s advertising read “If you duck the Drake, Your [sic] a Goose!” (the modern-day equivalent, “Poke ‘em at Yocum,” being decidedly lacking in such hokey charm); a time that saw the genesis of “ethnosecular music;” and a time when “human frailty seemed endlessly on parade” at Lexington’s old Boots’ Bar.
While human frailties still abound, they’re rarely as sharply observed as those you’ll find in “An Ode on the Intimidations of Immortality.” The piece characterized Enis as banty roster and bodhisattva.
He was both: a chanticleer in a gold satin shirt, and the savior — a literary resurrector. When word came that his friend had died, McClanhan sent flowers and a note that read, “So long, little buddy.”
Little Enis and Ol’ Blue may have passed on beyond us, but somewhere in rock and roll Valhalla, Enis is flailing away on that old electric that looks like “an Oldsmobile in drag,” and Blue is dancing the night away in his “navy bell bottoms and a tiny white swabbie cap cocked low and rakish on his beetled brow.”
I hope they’re saving a place for us. Or to paraphrase Lester Bangs, don’t anybody wave goodbye.
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