Bernie 2 (Part Two): The Trial Begins

by earlkabong on June 14, 2016

So, where were we? Oh, yeah, Austin, at the top-secret all-star blow-your-mind-empty-your-pockets fund raiser for Bernie Tiede’s resentencing trial, featuring appearances from Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater, lots of people with suits and wallets, the dulcet tones of Tenacious D and, looking alternately grateful and out of place, Bernie himself.

Bernie Tiede & Richard Linkilater entering the courtroom.

Bernie Tiede & Richard Linklater entering the courtroom.

Richard Linklater gave a speech that night, a thing which he absolutely hates to do. While Jack Black was a glad-handing machine and Bernie was uncomfortably thanking small clusters of strangers, Linklater stood back in the corner of the Brazos Hall banquet space, speaking when spoken to, but otherwise trying to be the least visible person in the room. This, by the way, is exactly how he is on the set, a presence so low-key that you could easily mistake him for a production assistant. If he didn’t shout “Action!” – and sometimes he doesn’t – you’d never guess he was the director.

But, we digress. The speech was partly an obligatory thank-you to those who’d ponied up cash but mostly a heartfelt explanation of why he’d gotten so deeply involved in Bernie’s case.

He talked about how he’d first been intrigued by the contradictions the case seemed to represent – a murderer who was adored by everyone who knew him, a victim as universally disliked as Bernie was beloved. As premises go, that’s a pretty good place to start. When you add in that Bernie put her body in the freezer, carrying on for 9 months as if she were still alive and that, even after he confessed, most of the townspeople didn’t want him to be punished, well, that’s pretty irresistible stuff.

But then, as tends to happen with Bernie, Linklater got drawn into the case. He met with Bernie several times in prison, once with Jack Black before filming began, and came away convinced that Bernie deserved better than to spend his life as a prisoner. It’s not as if he’d gotten off with a slap on the wrist. Bernie was in the penitentiary for 17 years, beaten up badly on more than one occasion. It felt – to Linklater and to me — like he’d been punished enough. That’s why Linklater had been so receptive to Jodi Cole’s interest in the case, why he volunteered to be Bernie’s guardian.


Aunt Marge

“He really seemed like a nice sensitive guy,” Linklater said, “who had done a very bad thing.” Linklater and Jodi Cole drove Bernie to Austin after the court okayed his release. He spent most of the trip staring out at the countryside, taking in a world he had come to believe he’d never see again. He was amazed by pretty much everything. Digital billboards. Hybrid cars. He’d never seen an IPhone before (because visitors to the penitentiary aren’t allowed to bring them in.) He burst into tears several times during the trip, completely overwhelmed.

And now – after two years of being free – Bernie faced the prospect of going back to prison, not eligible for parole until 2029, when he’ll be 71 years old, 10 years younger than Aunt Marge was on the day that he shot her.

My cousins, The Nugents, mounted an public relations campaign to get Bernie put back behind bars. They hired an Austin public relations guy, Ryan Gravatt, who among other things, set up a demonstration against Bernie’s release at the state Capitol, complete with paid protestors. They set up a website designed to portray Aunt Marge as a shy, kindly old woman, beloved grandmother and innocent victim of an evil con man/murderer. Other than the victim part – I mean, yes, he did shoot her in the back – none of that was true.

Aunt Marge had turned on her family years before she was murdered and was actively working to cut them out of trust funds that had been set up in their name. She had banished them from her life. (Which is part of the reason it took so long for anyone to realize she was missing.) When she died, though, there was an estimated $15 million estate to be had. Aunt Marge had left everything to Bernie and excluded her only son, Rod Nugent Jr., by name. The Nugents’ interest in the case didn’t seem to be motivated by justice or grief. It seemed to be about the money.

nugent huddle

The Nugents huddling with state prosecutor Lisa Tanner

Which they got. Rod Nugent Jr. had scooped up a lot of financial documents on the day Aunt Marge’s body was found and, before anyone else knew what was going on, had probated a 1978 will from Aunt Marge – the last one from which he hadn’t been excluded – and took control of the estate. By the time anyone realized there were other wills – one from 1987 and one from 1991 – that would have left the money to others – including my mother – many of the assets had already been liquidated or otherwise dispersed. In the end my mom, taking some questionable legal advice, signed a settlement agreement giving up her claim to any part of the estate. Once she did that the Nugents got to keep the money, the entire $15 million estate, regardless of how or when they’d acquired it.

I mention all of this because I’m pretty sure it’s why The Nugents were so hostile to me when I first started doing the reporting about Aunt Marge’s murder. For weeks – this is back in 2011 – they refused to take my calls until, finally, Sylvia Nugent, Rod’s wife, picked up the phone just long enough to say, “We’re not going to talk to you about this,” and hung up. I was mystified. Then, a few weeks letter, I received a threatening letter from their attorney, basically saying that if I wrote anything about Aunt Marge or the case that they didn’t like they’d sue me. So I put that in the story. And never heard from them again.

The defense team arrives.

The defense team arrives.

Until the resentencing trial. By then, of course, The Nugents viewed me as an adversary, because I’d written the story they apparently didn’t want me to write. For the first few days in court they’d give me the evil eye whenever they walked by. I responded by grinning like a jackass. After that they wouldn’t look straight at me, except for Sylvia, who made a point of saying “Hello,” which I thought was very nice of her. Her daughter, Shanna, however, kept up the glaring whenever she thought I – or anyone else really – was looking her way. Later on, she’d make a point of sitting in front of potentially hostile witnesses and glowering at them. She also made a show, and not a very good one, of trying to look emotionally distraught whenever she thought the media or the jury was looking at her. She would rub her eyes, trying to tease out a tear. I don’t know whether she’s any good as an attorney, but she’s a terrible actress.

This is why, during the pre-trial motions, way too much time was spent trying to determine if I, as a potential witness, should be allowed in the courtroom. The Nugents had clearly convinced the state prosecutors – Lisa Tanner and Jane Starnes – that I was a problem. Which I wasn’t, really. My testimony was going to be about something that happened in 1968, a small sliver of the defense’s evidence that Aunt Marge was a bully. Still, they tried to get my testimony excluded and then they tried to keep me out of the courtroom.

“You’ve infected the case,” one of my reporter friends said to me while this was going on, while prosecutors were complaining – I swear this is true – that I should not be allowed to Tweet about anything involving the case, whether I was in the courtroom or not. It all seemed pretty silly to me. But not to The Nugents. In the end, I was allowed in the courtroom but not allowed to Tweet about the case or my involvement in it. The Nugents, as considerably more substantive witnesses probably shouldn’t have been able to sit in open court, were also allowed to stay. Which allowed them to not only give witnesses the oogie-boogie stares but to tailor their testimony based on who had gone on before them. It gave them a chance to get their stories straight. So, yeah, it was all kind of messed up before it even started.

Jury selection began – and I am absolutely not making this up – on April Fool’s Day. Because the case was so well-known, because there’d been a movie and people were wondering if Matthew McConaughey might show up (spoiler: he didn’t) the judge decided that 1,000 people would be summoned as potential jurors (the initial jury pool for the O.J. Simpson trial was only 250 people. ) The entire population of Rusk County is only 50,000. And chances were pretty high that most of them knew about the case, had seen the movie and probably had a pretty firm opinion as to whether Bernie ought to be locked up or not.

Matthew McConaughey: Not In Building

Matthew McConaughey: Not In Building

It was, I would venture to say, the most exciting thing to happen in Henderson since the oldest surviving Dairy Queen in Texas opened there in 1950. They had to move things to the Henderson Civic Center, because it was just too big an event for the county courthouse to hold. It looked like every pick-up truck in Texas was there. The parking lots overflowed (fortunately the wastewater treatment plant, just across the street, did not.) There were portable security gates and a thousand folding chairs set up in the main banquet hall. The judge, the defense team, the prosecution and, of course, Bernie, were at a raised dais overlooking it all. It looked like an American Idol audition, but without all the screaming or Ryan Seacrest making an ass out of himself.


The Henderson Civic Center

There were deputies in straw cowboy hats, six-shooters prominently displayed on their hips. There were orange and white-striped What-A-Burger cups, lots of guys chewing toothpicks and clearly jonesing for the chewing tobacco parked in their back pockets. Some them obviously didn’t want to be there (the guy who showed up in scrubs, for instance, making the point that he had a job in which LIVES WERE AT STAKE, DAMMIT!). But a lot of them, the majority I’d say, really did want to be a part of this, even though, officially they weren’t supposed to know which case they would be considering.

“You’ve probably figured out why you’re here,” the Judge, Diane DeVasto, said when she took her place at the dais and you could sense a thousand people thinking “Well, duh” The prosecutors and the defense attorneys introduced themselves, trying to look serious and important. Bernie just sat there, trying to look innocent.

The prospective jurors were given their instructions, told they couldn’t discuss the case with anyone, not even their families and that the trial was likely to take at least two weeks. Judge DeVasto asked if anyone felt there was a reason – such as knowing anyone associated with the case – why they couldn’t serve. At least 20 people raised their hands.

By the end of the day 186 potential jurors were left and they showed up on the following Monday at the Rusk County Courthouse for, basically, the elimination rounds

They were all given paddles with numbers and assigned seats in the courtroom pews. They were warned that anyone caught using a cell phone would have it confiscated and there would be a $10 fee for its return at the end of the day.

I tried to keep track of the jurors but there were just too many of them. I started identifying them with names like “Dandruff Guy” and “Too Much Hairspray Lady.”.

It took all day to whittle things down to the actual jury – 12 jurors and 2 alternates. It felt like a weird game show. If you answered a question wrong (“Do you have any problems with homosexuality?” “Did the movie, “Bernie,” convince you that Marjorie Nugent was a horrible person?” “Do you want to have sex with Matthew McConaughey?”) Okay, I made that last one up. I think. It was a very long day.


Mike DeGeurin

The prosecutors, as they would be for the entire trial, were a smooth-running machine, armed with slide presentations and well-practiced jokes about how they knew all the prospective jurors would rather be elsewhere. (Fact Check: False!) Lisa Tanner, whose courtroom demeanor trends toward “Mean P.E. Teacher,” smiled more when the jury was around. She wore earrings. And a skirt. She looked them in the eye. She remembered their names, not once calling them “Toothpick Guy” or “Mardi Gras Beads” or “Big Bow On Her Head Woman.” It was impressive.

The defense, on the other hand, seemed to be winging it. Mike DeGeurin spent so much time getting around to his actual questions that I became convinced he was pulling some kind of “Columbo” scam, stammering and getting things wrong (I’m pretty sure he never correctly got a single date or name right) just enough to throw off the prosecution and draw sympathy from the jury, who clearly wanted to finish his meandering drawn-out sentences for him. It was a brilliant strategy. Or so I hoped.

And Jodi Cole, who I’d come to truly admire, seemed completely out of her depth. She’d never tried a case in front of a jury before and had rarely been in court at all. Her specialty was appeals and settlements. She had invested so much time and emotional energy in Bernie’s case that she seemed to take every setback and adverse ruling personally. Instead of observing the fairly rigid courtroom rules of when and how to object, she’d occasionally just blurt out “But That’s Not Right, Your Honor!!” The judge did not seem to find this amusing. The prosecutors did, rolling their eyes every time Jodi breached protocol. Which was often.

Towards the end of the jury selection day, I started to realize that DeGeurin’s Columbo act wasn’t an act at all. He was just being himself, a folksy, self-deprecating guy who often has a hard time getting to the point. It can be, in person, an endearing quality. He spent hours – and I mean 5, 6 hours at a time – swapping tales with my mom, talking more about side-issues – flowers, the weather, what it’s like to grow up in East Texas – than anything related to the case. She found him charming as all get-out. The jury found him maddening.


Judge Diane DeVasto giving Jodi Cole “the look.”

“You’re wasting our time,” one of the prospective jurors shouted out , shocking everyone in the courtroom.

“You could stand to talk a little faster,” shouted another. They were HECKLING him! The prospective jurors were actually heckling a defense attorney! This was not a good sign.

Still by the end of the day they had their 14 jurors and, from the looks of them, it was a younger, more sophisticated, more diverse jury than the one that had convicted Bernie 16 years ago in San Augustine. That jury pretty much fell off a turnip truck. This one seemed more likely to at least listen to Bernie’s case.

Which, as DeGeurin laid out in his opening arguments, was that it wasn’t their job to decide whether or not Bernie was a murderer. He was. They were there to decide only on appropriate punishment, considering all the evidence they were about to see and hear. They’d find out how Bernie had been sexually abused, how Aunt Marge had bullied and taunted him, how parts of his original confession which seemed to indicate pre-meditation were misleading if not outright false. There would be doubts raised about certain pieces of evidence, psychiatrists testifying that Bernie had in fact suffered from a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that he’d reacted to Aunt Marge’s particular abuses in a way that was inexcusable but not quite First Degree Murder.


Jodi Cole and her client, Bernie Tiede.

They were being asked to decide whether Bernie had been punished enough. They could give him anywhere from five years probation to life. If they sentenced him to 20 years or less, then his temporary release would be made permanent. Justice would best be served, the attorneys argued, by giving Bernie a chance to live as a free man, making amends for the mistakes he’d made, supported by friends who cared about him, who trusted him, who saw him as a good man.

The prosecutors, on the other hand, wanted to re-create the murder trial, to convince the jury that Bernie had committed a crime so heinous, so calculated that a life sentence was the only appropriate response. Forget that adorable Jack Black character from the movie, they argued. Forget the Hollywood version. Punish him.

So those were the stakes. The next two weeks would play out as much like a political campaign as a murder trial, both sides questioning the integrity and motives of the other. The Nugents would go after me. Richard Linklater would go after the Nugents. There would be evidence of missing documents, secret sex tapes and stolen money hidden away. My mother would testify. Linklater would testify. And I would testify, too.

But that’s the next part of the story. Coming soon.


Richard Linklater and the cast of “Bernie,” 2012








Bernie 2 (Part One)

by earlkabong on May 19, 2016

So where were we? Oh, yeah, Atlanta. In the summer of 2014, right after the kidney-stone-in-the-parking -lot incident but before I spent the bulk of the next six months hanging around with the Alabama Shakes, who succeeded in spite of me and have not yet banned me from their shows.

And, uh, well, that gets us up to 2015 during which I did many things very similar to things that I had done in 2014. And then 2016, where I did pretty much what I did in 2015. I went east one year, west the next. There were coffee shops. There were bars. There were Anytime Fitnesses. There were wrong turns and happy accidents. There were elk herds and blizzards, oceanside cliffs and big city back alleys. The giant North American loop that is my life wound its way through places where , for the most part, I’d been before. (Hello Cleveland, my old friend.) There were nights when I wasn’t entirely sure where I was and completely unsure of where I might be going. It was fun. Is still is. But I’ve written plenty about those places, those roads, those long stretches of not knowing or caring about what might be around the next curve.


Bernie Tiede Gets Resentenced

So enough of this rear view mirror stuff. For now anyway. There are plenty of dispatches from the Traipsathon’s first five years. Go back and read them at your leisure. But me, I’ve got other shit to do.

By which I mean that I’ve spent most of the last month back in East Texas for another “Bernie” trial.

I’ve been a lot more involved this time around, not just as an observer but as a somewhat reluctant participant, a witness called on Bernie’s behalf to testify that, yeah, Aunt Marge had a history of controlling and abusive behavior and that, when crossed, she was prone to losing her shit. This would be the infamous garden shears incident that was in my New York Times magazine story , the one about me getting locked up in Aunt Marge’s house for two days because I refused to follow her commands.

(If you need to play catch-up on the “Bernie” case and my connection to it, here are some previous dispatches: Cold, Cold Heart , Weekend (Almost) At Bernie’s and The Bernie World Premiere.)

movieposterHere’s what happened after the movie (and my story about the case) came out in 2012: An Austin attorney named Jodi Cole called me up and said she’d already spoken to Richard Linklater (the director of the “Bernie” film) about looking through the case files to see if she could find anything that might help Bernie appeal his conviction or at least reduce his life sentence. Rick said, “Sure, knock yourself out,” or words to that effect, and gave her access to the files he’d kept from the original trial.

And I’ll be damned if Jodi didn’t find something. A list of books, four of them, that had been taken from Bernie’s house on the night of his arrest in 1997.They were all about dealing with the after-effects of childhood sexual abuse. So, Jodi wondered, had Bernie been abused as a child? Had this come up in the trial? And, if not, why not?

It didn’t. Because Bernie had never mentioned his being sexually abused by an uncle when he was 12 years old to anyone. And at first he denied it to Jodi. He told her that the stack of books was just a coincidence, random arrivals from a book of the month club that all just happened to deal with recovering from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.


Uncle Elmer

He was lying. Bernie’s lied a lot in his life and not just during those months when he pretended Aunt Marge was alive when she was actually dead in the freezer in the hallway off the garage. He was a closeted gay man in a small east Texas town, never acknowledging his homosexuality in public or private, not even to the men he slept with. Bernie was desperate to be liked, to be accepted, to be thought of as everybody’s best friend. You can’t do that without lying . Mostly to yourself.

So of course he lied to Jodi about being sexually abused. He finally admitted that yes, his Uncle Elmer had lured him to his house, shown him pornographic videos and eventually fondled and had sex with him. This went on from the time Bernie was 12 until the time he was 17. But it hadn’t been sexual abuse, Bernie told Jodi, because he’d enjoyed it.

Jodi Cole, who has a personal history with abuse and addiction, didn’t buy it. And she wouldn’t let Bernie continue to sell it to himself. When you are 12 years old sex can NOT be consensual, whether you enjoy it or not. And when the person doing the abusing is your uncle – at that point the closest thing to a male authority figure that Bernie had in his life – there’s no way it isn’t harmful. Jodi was adamant that Bernie needed to recognize this. And, she decided, so did the court.


Jodi Cole with Bernie in pre-trial hearing

He finally admitted his history of childhood abuse and Jodi promptly hired a couple of psychiatrists to interview him in prison and render judgment as to whether any of this might explain the very odd tale of how and why he murdered Aunt Marge.

Most people, when they heard him talk about how abusive Aunt Marge had become, — how she’d demanded to know where he was every minute of the day, how he expected her to cut her toenails and pluck her chin hairs, how she insulted his friends and treated him like a worthless peon – wonder why he didn’t just leave. And then, after he killed her, why on earth did he leave her in the freezer? He had to know – didn’t he? – that sooner or later she was going to be found. He could have disposed of the body in any number of ways. He was a mortician with a pilot’s license. But he didn’t. He left her there.

The psychiatrists confirmed what Jodi had guessed – that Bernie’s irrational actions before, after and, most importantly DURING the murder were directly tied to his history with Uncle Elmer. He was, on a certain brainwave level, incapable of walking away from Aunt Marge, no matter how badly she treated him. And equally incapable of walking away AFTER he murdered her. The murder itself, they said, was most likely a dissociative episode, a brain wiring malfunction where he lost control, however briefly, of the rage and turmoil that he’d probably been suppressing for years. That didn’t absolve him of responsibility for the murder, they said, but it was a likely explanation for why he did it.

Based on this new evidence Jodi filed a motion for a reduced sentence. If the dissociative episode could be treated as a form of “sudden passion” under Texas law then Bernie’s sentence would have been no more than 20 years. He’d already served 17. So Jodi went to the Panola County district, Danny Buck Davidson (played by Matthew McConaughey in the movie) and said, basically, “Look what I found. You ought to let him out.”

I thought the chances of this working were somewhere in the vicinity of No Fucking Way. This was the biggest case of Danny Buck’s prosecutorial life, the one he’d risked his reputation to pursue, the one that made him – for at least a few minutes – famous. Why in the world would he overrule himself? Do prosecutors ever say, “You know what, you’re right. We screwed up.” No! Of course they don’t.


Danny Buck Davidson

Except that he did.

Danny Buck looked at Jodi’s evidence and agreed that if it had been admitted in Bernie’s original trial he would have gotten 20 years instead of life, that it would have been classified second degree murder instead of first. Which would have meant Bernie would be out by now. So Danny Buck, in what strikes me as an act of genuine moral courage, let him out.

There were conditions. Officially Bernie was out on bond, pending a new sentencing, which everyone thought was a mere formality, a procedural necessity in which Bernie’s new sentence – agreed to by the defense, the prosecutor and the presiding judge — would pass through the Texas appellate courts and then be finalized. That might take a year or so.

In the interim, Bernie was subject to certain restrictions. He couldn’t have any contact with either the media or the victim’s family (which meant he REALLY couldn’t talk to me). He couldn’t travel outside a few counties without getting permission from a parole officer. He had to have a job. And he had to have a guardian, someone who could vouch for his whereabouts. Richard Linklater volunteered.

Which is how a convicted murderer ended up living in an Oscar-nominated director’s back yard. Linklater set him up in a garage apartment behind his house in Austin, where Bernie took care of the pets – chickens and a particularly affectionate pot-bellied pig among them – and occasionally Linklater’s youngest kids. They adored him. Everyone did.

So a weird story got even weirder. Bernie had gone from a penitentiary inmate to a happily-out gay man in Austin, Texas, a singer in the Austin Gay Men’s Chorus, not to mention his new life surrounded by Linklater’s family and friends. So, yeah, he was hanging out with Ethan Hawke and Jack Black and God knows who else. It looked like a fairy tale ending.

Well, no. When my cousin, Rod Nugent Jr., Aunt Marge’s only child, learned that Bernie had gotten out early, he was livid. The Nugents – Rod, his wife Sylvia, daughters Shanna, Susan and Victoria and adopted son Matthew – had inherited Marge’s millions but were still pressing for additional theft charges against Bernie, convinced he’d hidden away money somewhere, maybe in a Swiss bank account, before and after he shot her.It turns out that the Nugents – and I didn’t know this before I started researching the case – have a reputation for being a particularly venal and litigious lot, a trait they inherited from Aunt Marge. It was part of the reason Marge had refused to see them for the last three years of her life. She’d tried to cut them out of her will. There were lawsuits. It was ugly.

And now they were hell-bent on putting Bernie back in prison and punishing Danny Buck for letting him out. Poor Danny Buck, who’d had his fill of their constant demands regarding the theft case, didn’t even bother to tell them Bernie had been released. They did not take this well.


My cousins, Rod Nugent Jr. and his daughter, Shanna.

The Nugents, it turns out, are very active in Republican Party politics in the state of Texas. They’d organized fund-raisers, contributed a fair amount of money themselves. They had connections. And they used them.

They got the attorney general to pressure Danny Buck into recusing himself from the case. They got the appeals process stopped in its tracks. And they got the Attorney General’s office to take over the case.

And, just like that, the deal disappeared. Instead of a pro forma hearing to finalize Bernie’s freedom there would be a sentencing retrial, in which the state prosecutors would argue that Bernie deserved the life sentence he got the first time around. They would try to convince a jury that Bernie should go back to prison.

There were months of motions and hearings and attempts to avoid the spectacle that would surely accompany any new trial. This was now a Hollywood murder, after all. A nationally-known case made famous by a film. Bernie’s original trial had been news in Texas but this would be a whole other beast. Nancy Grace fodder. A full blown shit show. From the first day there were producers in the courtroom from “Good Morning America” and “48 Hours” and, yes, a field producer representing Nancy Grace.

The prosecutors would have been thrilled to have the trial in Carthage, where public sentiment had turned in the years since “Bernie” the movie was released. The citizenry decided they’d been made a laughing stock “by Hollywood” and were about to be mocked again. They blamed Linklater. They blamed Danny Buck. And most of all they blamed Bernie.


Mike DeGeurin

So the trial was moved 30 miles east to Henderson, Texas, as if those 30 miles would make some kind of difference. The defense team would be led by Mike DeGeurin, whose brother Dick you might remember from the “Jinxed” HBO documentary, the one where Robert Durst got away with cutting up his elderly next door neighbor in Galveston. Dick DeGeurin was Robert Durst’s lawyer. His brother, Mike, was less well-known but a pretty high profile criminal attorney in his own right. And now he was Bernie’s attorney. (cue the song).

He didn’t come cheap. Which is why, in January, there was a supposedly top-secret fundraiser in Austin to help with Bernie’s legal expenses. Because of the gag order, Rick and Jodi didn’t want public word to get out. It did, of course. Resulting in the kind of knee-jerk condemnation you might expect, especially from the Nugents, who’d hired their own public relations expert to help demonize Bernie and soften Aunt Marge’s image. But this fit perfectly into their “Hollywood vs. Justice” meme, a room fully of big-money Austinites, sipping champagne and hobnobbing with celebrities to keep a killer out of jail.

And, let’s face it, it was an incredibly surreal night. Here was Bernie, who is still very much a small-town Jesus-loving guy, looking incredibly out of place surrounded by all these trust fund hipsters. They all wanted to meet him, of course. So he gingerly moved from one cluster of strangers to another, smiling and shaking their hands, just the way he used to do after services at the First Methodist Church in Carthage. It was weird as shit.tenaciouslive

And then it got weirder. Rick Linklater gave a little speech, thanking everyone. Then Bernie sang a couple of songs and then Jack Black, who’d been working the room like he was running for office, got up and delivered a speech and sang a few songs of himself. They did a duet on “Love Lifted Me” from the movie. I know.

But it got weirder still. Because Jack Black had brought along his Tenacious D buddy, Kyle Gass and they did an entire Tenacious D set, obscenity-laden, loud raucous and meant for arena-sized crowds. There were maybe 50 people in the room. Bernie smiled but in a way that made it clear he was at least semi-horrified. Then they invited him on stage, at which point he was completely horrified.

Jack Black asked Bernie if he knew any Beatles songs and Bernie, said that, yes, he did, clearly expecting that they were going to sing “Yesterday” or “All My Loving” or something like that. Instead, Tenacious D launched into the Side 2 medley from Abbey Road which Bernie, quite clearly, had never heard in his life. He smiled, he nodded. He sang not a word.

When it was over, I asked Kyle Gass if this was the weirdest gig Tenacious D had ever played. At first he laughed it off. “We played some pretty strange places when we were starting out,” he said. He went back to packing his guitar and then came back over. “No, you’re right,” he said. “This was pretty bizarre.”


(Next week: The trial begins)






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