Sunday, September 2, 2007
Daughter scripts life of her rockabilly dad
BY CINDY WATTS | THE TENNESSEAN
When rockabilly legend Carl Perkins died in 1998, he left behind a musical legacy rich with hits including "Blue Suede Shoes," "Matchbox" and "Honey Don't." The Beatles, Elvis Presley and the Judds were among those recording songs he wrote.
But it wasn't until Perkins was on his deathbed that he shared what some say is his greatest story of all: "The Thinkin' Place," his view of heaven.
Perkins' daughter Debbie Perkins Swift, his business associate Rick Korn and Nashville songwriter Randy Moore spent the last several years adapting Perkins' account of "The Thinkin' Place" into a screenplay of the same title that reflects the guitarist's life and is expected to be in theaters nationwide no later than 2009.
Swift said the movie wouldn't have been possible if her father hadn't given her the story.
Before he died, Perkins suffered a major stroke followed by a series of 17 more. The family was working in shifts to make sure someone was at his hospital bed at all times.
"He was waxing and waning where the head just falls to the side," she said. I walked over and said, 'I wish I knew where you go when you just drift off.' And I mean he raised his head, he made eye contact with me, and he said, 'I go to the thinking place, and it's a mighty good place to go.' "
Perkins went on to describe what he called heaven in great detail. He talked about seeing his heavenly father and even described what he was wearing. But when the doctor came in the room, Swift said, her father stopped talking and his head went limp. Swift and her brother Steve Perkins went into the hall when the doctor examined Perkins convinced he would return with positive news.
"I said, 'You know, Daddy's been healed,' " she said. "I'm all anxious for the doctor to tell me he's going to be fine, but he pats me on the back and tells me all they can do is keep him comfortable. I said, 'But you don't understand what just happened.' He told me daddy couldn't communicate, that his adrenal cortex had been blown in the stroke and there was nothing left."
Perkins died three weeks later, and Swift is convinced her father told her the story of the thinkin' place so she could share it. Moore said if it weren't for that, the Perkins family wouldn't have allowed his life to be turned into a film.
"When Debbie thought about it, she realized this was something he left for her, so she wrote a manuscript." He said. "When I read it, I said she had to do something with it."
Swift submitted her work to publishers, who told her she had written a screenplay instead of a book.
"I surrounded myself with people I thought could help me complete what I had to do," Swift said. "It was what I had to do for daddy. The story was always there."
The script starts with Perkins at the end of his life. He's sitting in his living room in West Tennessee holding a snow globe encasing a pair of blue suede shoes. When he goes to place the globe back on the table, it shatters, and time travels back to his early years in the cotton fields and follows throughout his life. The screenplay isn't an exact retelling: Facts and situations are accurate, Korn said, but the writers took some creative license in further developing the theme of the thinkin' place into the story.
Korn said negotiations were under way with top talent for the film, but couldn't release names.
"The actor who plays Carl is someone who is an actor first and foremost and a very close second a great musician," he said.
The movie will probably be shot in Middle and West Tennessee as well as California, Korn said. Paul McCartney's MPL Music Publishing administers the rights to part of Perkins' catalog of music, and Korn also said, McCartney has pledged his support to the film as well as a record at the back end of the production.
Business aside, Swift said people have to remember Perkins' story is the ultimate rags-to-riches tale, but that riches don't always equate to fame.
"It's about a little boy who came from nothing," she said. "He had been abused, and I like to say he picked himself out of those cotton fields on the strings of his guitar. He only had an eighth grade education, but he was one of the wisest men I've ever known."