Friday, March 9, 2012

The Apartment (Bonus Video Friday)

The Apartment is installment six of A Life Of Rock & Roll. Refer to The Bathtub, The Transistor Radio, and the three-in-one The Guitar, The Band & Dave Blackburn earlier in this blog for installments one through five…..


I joined my bandmate and best friend Dave Blackburn for awhile in Boston, our band couldn't make a go of it, I didn’t like starving, so I came back home broke to Columbus and got my first apartment.  My total earthly possessions at that time consisted of a borrowed sleeping bag, a Sears & Roebuck record player, and my sacred books & records.  It was the greatest time of my life.  I got a job at a parking lot at Doctor's North Hospital making $60 a week.  My rent was $120 a month.  There was a 24-hour-a-day donut shop on the corner and, for atmosphere, an active train track running barely fifty feet from my bedroom window.  I was in heaven.  I was underage to sign a lease and was in no way making enough money to qualify for the apartment.  God bless the landlady who took a chance and rented to me, I thank her to this day.

I hunkered down in my little one bedroom rock & roll bunker and began the arduous task of teaching myself to write music for my lyrics, something Dave had always handled in the past.  I had no idea how to even start that process.  I was a decent guitarist & lyricist, but had never written a note of music.  The breakthrough came when I found a German import double-record set of the best of The Velvet Underground in a campus record store’s secondhand bin.  As "Waiting For The Man" boomed out of my cheap speakers, all the light bulbs in the universe came on at once, the heavens opened and the angels spoke unto me, saying, "Ric, you don't have to be King Crimson, Pink Floyd, or even Rod Stewart.  You can just bash out two or three chords, fine-tune the lyrics to a laser pinpoint and come up with little twists & turns to serve as hooks."  Lou Reed became my teacher, my mentor, my savior.

The songs didn't come quickly, but since there was barely enough money for even food and guitar strings, my little apartment at 68 North Sylvan Avenue became a songwriting womb.  I set out to write a ten-song set from scratch, with a definitive set-opener (like Lou's "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together") and a dedicated set-ender (a la "After Hours").  As I was writing those first songs, three 1973 releases became my touchstones: the Mott album by Mott The Hoople, the first New York Dolls record and, pivotally, Elliott Murphy's masterpiece debut album Aquashow.  The first verse of the opening song on that record contains the lines, "I've got a feeling on my back like an old brown jacket / I'd like to stay in school but I just can't hack it."  Finances being what they were, college and I were never to cross paths again.  I was now enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks and Rock & Roll University.

My next course after Songwriting 101 was Becoming a Band Leader 203.  Finding musicians to play with proved to be a nightmare.  When I emerged from my six-string laboratory with my killer set of new songs I discovered that nobody wanted to play them.  Musicians I had known since I was 16 in 1968 were now 21 to 23 years old and were either selling insurance or playing James Taylor covers and were aghast at the idea of playing originals.  "You wanna play original songs?" I was asked more times than I care to remember, by former friends now sporting shag haircuts and spangled bell-bottoms.  "Why do you wanna play originals when we could do covers at the Ramada Inn and make some really cool cash?"  The younger kids that had come up after me seemed more interested in the pharmaceutical aspects of rock & roll than in the actual playing of music.  Everybody I auditioned seemed too drugged out to master even ten new songs.

A lead singer was the most immediate problem.  Until punk hit later in the decade and rendered the concept of pitch moot, I just was not a good enough or strong enough singer to put my own songs across.  And since all of my standards of rock & roll professionalism were (and still are) based on the 1969 Who, I needed to find a Roger Daltrey to complement my Pete Townshend stylings.  Danny Summers was my first thought and best bet.  He had been the 14-year-old freshman wunderkind of my old high school drama department when Dave and I were in our first year at Ohio State.  He sang great and had unbelievable stage presence.  You couldn't take your eyes off him, he had genuine charisma.  He was David Bowie on a Midwest level.  The fact that Danny's best friend in high school, Greg, was a bass player also added to his allure.  I had already lined up a solid drummer, if I could get Danny and Greg to come in I could complete my dream band in one fell swoop.

It took me more than a month to track Danny down.  My thought that I would have to talk him and Greg out of whatever big-money band they were currently involved in, that I would have to dazzle them with the obviously superior quality of my new material, was immediately dashed.  I found that Danny was mopping floors at a West Side hospital and hadn't played music in more than two years.  The person I talked to in that hospital corridor was literally a pale shadow of the golden-boy rock star that I had watched blaze across stages just four years earlier.  I'll never forget the wistful look in his eyes as I made my pitch for rock stardom for him and Greg.  "Uh, Greg doesn't play anymore," Danny said quietly, leaning on his mop, "he got really heavy into drugs and became just a really sad guy."  I'm not sure he was talking only about Greg.

I left Danny with tapes of the music and lyrics to the songs and made him promise we'd get together to work on them.  I tried my hardest to make my case for rock stardom, I really did.  We rehearsed a couple of times but never even came close to getting that band to a stage.  I've since read in my high school alumni newsletters that Danny died young, I don't even want to know from what.  Today in 2012 I have a song in my set dedicated to him.  Danny, I miss you. We should have been great.

Possibly the greatest lesson I learned from my teachers - Lou Reed, Elliott Murphy & Ian Hunter - was to take a memory and make it into poetry, as Hunter does here in "Irene Wilde."  inspirational verse; "In my mother's Sunday room / I composed so many tunes / They was all the same, just a frame / For her name, and just the same / I'm gonna be somebody someday."  - Ian Hunter, 1976

© 2012 Ricki C.

No comments:

Post a Comment