One Way Out


First Person


In the refulgent early seventies, I owned, but was never fully occupied by, the Allman Brothers Band’s double album Eat a Peach. More than the hit “Melissa,” it was that soon-to-be-iconic cover, featuring a truck with a giant peach (Roald Dahl eat your heart out) that made the greatest inroads into my admittedly wobbly consciousness. I bought into the myth circulating at the time: that Duane Allman, who had died on his motorcycle, had been struck by a flatbed truck transporting Georgia peaches through Macon on their way to some orchard in the sky. The grisly truth regarding the crash was less inspiring, and a less-interesting conversation starter for visitors to my off-campus cottage, where the album held pride of place on the mantelpiece above my fireplace. Later I learned that the elegiac cover took off either from Duane’s admiration for T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or his euphemistic turn of phrase “Every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace,” which apparently referred to his on-and-off-the-road activities with local women who were hotter than Georgia asphalt.

Years—no, decades—passed. Sometime in the summer of 1996 my fourteen-year-old son acquired two tickets to an Allman Brothers concert at Great Woods in Mansfield, Massachusetts, a forty-minute drive from our home. He’d arranged to bring along a friend, a girl but not a girlfriend, and for some reason everyone involved, i.e., both sets of parents, were cool with letting them attend without a full-time chaperone. I would drive them to the concert, wait in the lot, and pick them up on their way out, the sounds of the last stupendous encore still ringing in their juvenile ears. 

There were numerous delays en route, and by the time we hit the drop-off area robust tailgating had already begun, lending the arena’s environs an aura I could only associate with Walpurgisnacht. The parking lot abounded with bikers and bonfires. My young passengers were not bothered at all by this, but as the late June sun dipped in the sky I took in the panorama and, instead of bringing my car to a halt, guided it slowly past a line of parked hogs and made for the exit. My son could not fucking believe it. It took him years to forgive me, and perhaps he never has.

In 1973, a year after the release of Eat a Peach, I was standing outside Blackwell’s Children’s Bookstore on Broad Street in Oxford. A good-sized crowd had gathered to “meet” the Wombles (theme song: “The Wombles of Wimbledon”)—adult-sized, costumed avatars of the animated characters in a popular TV show for kids. When the music started and the Wombles appeared a man close to me—shabbily dressed, disturbed, possibly inebriated. He began to shout with great conviction, “THE BOURGEOISIE HAVE HAD IT.” I never felt the sting of his Marxian analysis until the night I drove away from the Allmans at Great Woods. The bourgeoisie c’etait moi. I deserved all that I had coming to me.

The truest American and the biggest Allman Brothers fan I know is Phil C., who was the mailman on my street for twenty-five years until a recent promotion sent him indoors. In 2001, after Bruce Ivins, a nutcase scientist, sent anthrax to congressmen by the U.S. mail, killing five unintended targets including two postal workers, the post office issued latex gloves to all its delivery operatives. Phil never wore his. The first post-anthrax day I saw him coming down the path, I said, “Phil, why aren’t you wearing your gloves?” He made a come-hither gesture with his open hands and replied, “Bring it on!” Phil, an ex-Marine by the way, was going to kick anthrax’s ass. Once, after he’d been offering me some constructively critical assessments of certain managerial colleagues of his, I gave him a copy of Charles Bukowski’s maverick novel Post Office. A few weeks later, after a puckish classmate had grabbed and thrown my younger son’s schoolwork folder into the mailbox at the end of our street, the post office called Phil in to retrieve the situation. He quoted Bukowski directly at the miscreant as part of an exigent and colorful warning not to touch the United States mails. In exchange for the book, Phil gave me two Allman Brothers CDs that he’d burned himself. I blasted them in the car, music wild and raw as ever.

In the fall of 2014, there was a knock on my door. It was Phil, and no, I didn’t have to sign for anything from Zappos. Instead, he brought extraordinary news: as the second caller in the second hour, or something like that, he had won two tickets from the Chuck Nowlin show on WZLX to the Allman Brothers farewell concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. “The whole day before,” he said later, “I knew I was supposed to win.”

Phil went down with his wife to the final show on October 28, their train ride, hotel room, and prominent seats all comped. When he got back, he told me that when Gregg sang “goodbye, baby” during “Trouble No More,” the band’s last song, tears welled up in his eyes. “Thank God I was there,” he said. “I needed to see that show.”

As for me, on the day Gregg Allman died I did a predictable thing and listened to an endless loop of him singing “Ain’t but one way out, baby … ”—a sentiment that’s hard to argue with.


Jonathan Wilson’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, and Best American Short Stories, among other publications. He is the author of eight books, including Kick and Run: Memoir with Soccer Ball. He lives in Massachusetts.