Catfish Squares Off With a Legend
I’ve been fortunate to have placed about 600 talented people with creative agencies. One of my very favorites is Daniel “Catfish” Russ. Daniel has been a finalist on that television show Star Search; he’s been a stand-up comic on the comedy club circuit; he’s played the blues harp in the Texas blues bar scene; he’s a black belt in karate; he’s also been a boxer. Somehow in all that, he’s had time to be a brilliant creative; authoring well-known campaigns for Pennzoil, Wal-Mart, The Air Force and Las Vegas Tourism. There’s nobody quite like Daniel.
On a recent visit to Austin, I connected with him and we sat by the river in Adirondack chairs to enjoy a Cuban cigar and a Single Malt scotch whiskey. What I love most about Daniel is that he’s an incredible storyteller. He never fails to amaze. All I had to do was mention the name Bob Dylan and out flowed this story — which I’ve asked him to re-create for mikepalma.com:
Sparring With Dylan
By Daniel Russ
“April 2008. I am trying to figure out what to do next with my life. I have spare time and head to Richard Lord’s Boxing Gym on Lamar Boulevard in a stinky old warehouse behind a Goodwill. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, the sky is dark and cloudy and no one is there.
I lift the warehouse garage door entrance, sign in on a moribund clipboard on an old nightstand stuffed into the corner. Richard Lord was a fairly successful welterweight boxer who opened this gym many years ago, and like all real boxing gyms, it is never clean, nor is it ever cleaned. Unwashed hand wraps redolent of the years of sweat and grit hang from clothes lines. Ten heavy bags in varying sizes, many with the stuffing literally beat out of them and then duct taped back in hang wherever they fit. There are two twenty by twenty-foot rings, the ropes loose and sloping, the canvas spattered with dried blood and God knows what else.
The walls are covered in Boxing posters. Ali vs Frazier, Foreman vs. Moore, Jesus “El Matador” Chavez vs. Johnson. I head to the speed bag wall, pump a little air into a bag, turn on the electric bell that gives you a signal for the beginning and end of a three minute round and one minute rest. The bell rings and I start bouncing the bag off the top board.
After a few rounds, in comes Richard Lord. Skinny, mustachioed, and kind as the day is long. “Heeeeeey maaaaaaan….whar you been?”
We hug. “Vegas man,” I tell him. “But we’re back.”
“Hey man, glove up.”
“Me? Dude, I’m in my fifties. I don’t fight anymore.”
“Don’t worry,” he says. “This guy don’t have much. In fact, don’t even hit him. I mean not at all… just move around.”
Oh shit, I think. This guy better have nothing because I haven’t sparred in years. When I hung up the gloves and decided never to fight again, I swore I would not become one of those ghost guys I saw in Boxing gyms my whole life. The guys that can’t accept that they aren’t 18 anymore. The guys in their forties who get hit too often — their noses flatter and fatter, their ears begin to change shape, old cuts scar over, and regularly get bested by 18 year olds. Like I did when I was 18.
I wrap my hands. I jump rope to warm up. I dig out my battered caked-with-dust mouthpiece, rinse it off in a bathroom sink that looked like it was stolen from an old country gas station. I shove it in. It feels foreign. I have not had a mouthpiece in almost a decade, it makes me gag.
A few minutes later four people come in, all dressed in loose-fitting workout gear. Two guys and a woman. I look at the guys trying to figure out which one has nothing to hit me with. Frankly, neither of them looked like they could hurt me. A woman comes in. They all chat quietly and start digging out hand wraps.
In comes a diminutive, skinny man. Looks to be a little older than me, has short curly hair. He turns to face me.
OK. I stopped bouncing around. Stop trying to get my heart rate up. I stare out the warehouse door into a now-rainy parking lot. I am trying to process this. I am about to step into a boxing ring with a man who I have idolized as long as I have had ears.
Richard walks over. “See what I mean?” he says.
“Richard,” I tell him. “If you paid me by the shot, I wouldn’t hit this guy….EVER.”
“Good,” he says. “Don’t. Just move around.”
We step in the ring. He does not look at me. There is no conversation. The round bell goes off. He’s old and tiny but he makes his way to the center of the ring, throws a series of jabs that don’t reach. Neither does his right. He throws a hook. I take it on my arm. I dance around, slip left and right. Before I knew it, the round bell rang.
Dylan goes back into his corner. Richard mouths some advice to him. The next round begins. Apparently the advice was to throw more hooks. They all miss or they land on my right arm. I’m just dancing around. Every once in a while, I get into a cat crouch and lean in so he can land shots. He hits me on the forehead with a straight right. Pretty good shot. Bell rings. Second round is over.
“Thanks,” Richard says. “That’s all Catfish. Thanks.”
No Richard. Thank YOU, I think to myself. I finish my workout. I go home and try not to wash my right arm or forehead for the rest of my life. In May of 2008 I succumb and finally wash Bob Dylan off me.
I tell you, Austin makes Vegas look like a booger.“
Thanks Daniel. Stories are all we have. Stories connect us, define us. The world needs more good storytellers. History is a story, it just depends on who gets to tell it.
Here’s good story about a boxer, as told by Bob Dylan: