Friday, September 28, 2012

When I Kissed Teresa

a mid-90's song, with the short story that grew out of it.....

(editor's note; This blog and the previous entry, If All My Heroes Are Losers, contain songs.  Readers who subscribe to this blog by e-mail should go to Growing Old With Rock & Roll to hear the tunes.) 


When I Kissed Teresa

Teresa was an actress
Junior Theater Of The Arts
I was a scruffy West Side boy
In from unknown guitar parts
We were both 18 years old, the world was clear and plain
When I kissed Teresa at the corner of Front & Main

Teresa and I started to go out in the winter of 1971.  We had met the previous summer when she was co-starring in a play with my best friend Dave.  I would tag along to help with the music and lights.  It was the summer between senior year of high school and the beginning of college, that summer when anything can happen, when everything seems possible.  Dave and I would hitchhike to the play rehearsals, then walk across a big field to the convent where the outdoor production was being staged.  Teresa would catch sight of us and run across the field to meet me, throw her arms around my neck.  There was a commercial back then, I cannot for the life of me remember for what product, where a young couple would run across a field of flowers in slow motion and embrace in the center.  I thought Teresa was just joking around, spoofing that commercial.  Later, I realized it was no joke to her.  I was a prime recruit in the army of the clueless.

Teresa was a tiny girl
She was just one breath of air
Orphan smile, sad behind her eyes
From another time, Renaissance fair
We were waiting on her bus for home in an on and off drizzling rain
When I kissed Teresa at the corner of Front & Main

I wrote Teresa a letter on a lonely, murky Saturday night sometime the next winter.  The letter wove a convoluted set of circumstances that would result in us getting together the next week on the Oval of the Ohio State University campus, running across the green grass to meet, just like the summer before.  I tended to do things like that back then.  I knew where Teresa lived, I could easily have looked up her telephone number and simply asked her to meet me, but I never did anything simply in those days.  Teresa called me the next week.  She had quit college, was working at a doctor’s office downtown, couldn’t make the romantic rendezvous.  She completely called me out on the over-the-top machinations in my letter, asked me to meet her at the Junior Theater Of The Arts building the next Sunday afternoon.  She was helping with a children’s show there. I hung out at the rehearsal, marveling at Teresa’s smooth grace with the kids.  I walked her to her bus stop.  It was on the corner of Front & Main.  We kissed on that freezing afternoon, in a cold rain that was more like sleet.  Teresa had to put her arms around my neck and pull herself up to kiss me.  She was just shy of five feet tall, weighed maybe 96 pounds.  She should have been a ballerina.  Just as the bus doors opened and the kiss ended, Teresa looked straight up into my eyes, grinned “Thank you,” wheeled, and bounded up the bus steps.  It was a heartbreakingly charming exit.  Teresa was a born actress.

Teresa did a lot of drugs
From hurt too deep in soul
She asked me why I never did any
All I needed back then was rock & roll
We were watching the bad end of the 60’s spiraling down the drain
When I kissed Teresa at the corner of Front & Main

Teresa was possibly the saddest person I have ever met, that kind of deep-seated sadness that music, love and/or drugs just couldn’t touch.  She was the adopted daughter of an incredibly well-to-do family in Bexley, a swank suburb of Columbus.  I could show you the house sometime.  I never actually entered that house, but we drove by it one night on our way to a movie at the Drexel, the local art house theater.  I was a West Side boy from a solid lower-middle class, blue-collar neighborhood.  I don’t think Teresa was in any great hurry to introduce me to her adoptive parents.  I am not in any way suggesting that Teresa was slumming, or that she was ashamed of me, I'm just saying I don’t think she thought the meeting would go well. For my part, I wasn’t that crazy about meeting any parents.  The year before, in high school, a girl I’d had one date with introduced me to her father.  He happened to be the chief of police in the small town west of Columbus where they lived.  He took me aside in the kitchen, showed me his service revolver and told me he’d kill me if he ever saw me with his daughter again.  He told me that he would make it look like an accident and that no one would ever be the wiser.  It was the end of the 1960’s, just after the Manson Family murders.  I had long hair.  I played in a rock & roll band.  I took him at his word.  Those were different times.

I loaned Teresa my Beau Brummels records
I loaned Teresa my Beau Brummels records
To say I miss Teresa, that would just be words
Would just be words

Teresa ached to find the birth mother who had given her away 18 years before.  Given that baggage she was an easy mark for that end-of-the-60’s/early 70’s cocktail of eastern mysticism, nascent new age philosophy, cheap highs, Jesus freaks, phony prophets, Rod McCuen poetry & The Grateful Dead.  Teresa was doing maybe five different kinds of drugs – pot, acid, prescription valium & painkillers she’d purloined from her adoptive mother, plus some speed just to balance the equation.  She was genuinely amazed that I didn’t do any.  At that juncture my viewpoint was that, from everything I could see, drug use led to listening to and actually enjoying the music of Santana, something I just could not abide.  I had my guitar and I had my records, and that was all I needed.  Teresa asked me to loan her one record that was better than drugs.  I gave her my all-time favorite record (of that week, at least), an album called Magic Hollow by The Beau Brummels.  It was folk-rock. It was lovely.  It wove spells.  It worked.  Teresa flushed the pills, for at least a week.  Things were great, for at least five minutes. We were poet/punk/hippie kids running the streets.  We went to arty movies.  She came to my halting solo gigs in church basements.  She would listen to me prattle about being a rock star.  Teresa read me her poetry.  In those moments there was a calm in her eyes I saw at no other time.  It didn’t last.

Teresa wrote me poetry
I keep it in my guitar case
To this day I can read her words
And I can see her lovely upturned face
I have a heart-memory portrait of her burned into my brain
From when I kissed Teresa at the corner of Front & Main

Over the course of those long winter weeks things went gradually, but steadily, downhill.  We were children, both still living in our parents’ homes.  Teresa started back on pills.  Teresa would phone in the middle of the night, mush-mouthed on downs, babbling about the problem of the day.  She took to showing up at my mother’s house on the West Side at all hours of the day and night.  Normally this would have been problematic but my mother, still reeling from the death of my dad the previous year, recognized in Teresa a crazed, kindred spirit and loved her.  Loved her certainly more than I did.  Sometime in March Teresa started talking about running away from home.  Every time something went wrong, big or small, she was going to run away from home.  One night it came up one too many times and I snapped, “Teresa, stop talking about running away and just do it, all right?  Stop talking and do something for a change.”  As she stared at me with tears in her eyes I thought of the way her eyes looked the afternoon of that first bus stop kiss.  How does moon-glow fade to grey, dead dawn?  How does the first morning in May turn become coldest winter midnight?  How fast can three months fly?  Teresa called me from the Greyhound bus station the next morning, crying, asking me to come with her to Boston.  I thought she was bluffing, told her to go home and call me that night, hung up and went to school.  She wasn’t bluffing.  The Bexley police were waiting at my house that evening to question me about her whereabouts.  My mom was not amused.  Have I ever been crueler to anyone who deserved it less than I was to Teresa?  Only once.

Teresa ran away from home
And I put my guitar to bed
I stand on this street corner tonight
And I watch the lights change from green to red

In 1995 a buddy of mine was playing an acoustic gig on a Saturday afternoon at a new cultural arts center in downtown Columbus.  It turned out that the center was in the same building as the old Junior Theater Of The Arts.  I bet I hadn't stood at the corner of Front & Main in the intervening 25 years.  It was still a bus stop.  As I put my hand on the bus stop sign the entire weight of the sky fell on me.  I could see Teresa's eyes glistening after the kiss.  I could taste her.  I could feel the ghosts of our 18 year old selves haunting that corner.  I pushed it all away, shook it all off and went to my friend's show.  It was dusk when I left.  The ghosts were waiting for me.  I stood with them on that corner for close to an hour, watching the traffic light change from green to red, until it was full dark.

song lyrics © 1995 Ricki C.
story © 2007 Ricki C.

© 2012 Ricki C.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If All My Heroes Are Losers

I haven't talked very much in Growing Old With Rock & Roll about my action-packed acoustic rock & roll singer-songwriter persona; partly because I was lazy about getting the technology together to post actual tunes (thank you, SoundCloud) and partly because the blog was a prose activity as opposed to a musical one and, at least in my head, seldom do the twain meet.

My solo career began one night in 1990 when I exceeded my roadie duties and played guitar onstage with Willie Phoenix and his True Soul Rockers during one of Willie’s forays into the audience.  (see Willie Phoenix blog, May 2012)  On those occasions Willie would toss me his guitar at my roadie station on the side of the stage and I would hold my position onstage until he got back for his final solo and The Big Finish.

That particular Friday night I decided to pound out the riff to “Gloria” along with Mike Parks while Willie was shouting & shimmying away, preaching the gospel of the rock & roll rama-lama to the crowd.  It went great; Willie didn’t fire me on the spot and later drummer Jim Johnson said, “That was cool.  I didn’t even know you PLAYED guitar.”  And that’s when it hit me; I had known Jim since 1982 when he started drumming for Willie and he didn’t even know I played an instrument.  The only band I’d formed after Nicole left me (see After The Second Set and that story about yellow springs blogs, January 2012) had broken up earlier in ’82.  It had been EIGHT YEARS since I’d set foot on a stage with a guitar around my neck.  How WOULD Jim know I played guitar?
I went home that night, picked up my Ovation acoustic and started working on material.  That weekend I played through almost every song I’d written since high school, started trying to figure which ones still mattered, which ones had held up, had stood the test of time.  Originally I thought I’d work up a solo acoustic set just to see if I had the energy to start a new band.  But the more I played the more I realized, “What if I just became a solo acoustic rock guy?  What if I didn’t have to care if the bass player has a drug problem or the drummer just broke up with his girlfriend and has thus been rendered homeless?  What if I only had to answer to myself?”  (Years later my good friend & inspiration Hamell On Trial codified those thoughts into his quote/creed: “I played in bands for years but I realized as a solo guy that now we would all show up on time, we’d all be sober, and we’d all agree on the material.”)

It was 1990, the start of a whole new decade, only 10 years left in the 20th century.  MTV Unplugged had just debuted and was really popular.  Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman had hit big with “Luka” and “Fast Car.”  Elliott Murphy had just released 12, his great acoustic-based American-in-Paris double album.  It seemed like the time for a change.   



      © 2012 Ricki C.
 (song © 2000 Ricki C.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Ten Most Memorable Moments As A Watershed Roadie: part two

7) early September 2005; Akron, Ohio, or Mt. Clemens, Michigan  Early one evening before we left for a show I wandered into Colin’s hotel room* where he sat enrapt by a news report detailing Hurricane Katrina wiping New Orleans – a major American city – off the map FULLY FIVE DAYS EARLIER and we hadn’t heard a word about it.  Colin and I both sat staring incredulously at the T.V. screen as I said, around a mouthful of Hostess orange cupcake, “When did this happen?”  “I don’t know,” Colin replied absently, glued to the TV by the sight of thousands of people stranded in the New Orleans Superdome.

It brought into sharp focus the rock & roll bubble we would occasionally find ourselves in on the road: Days and days of van drives, middle-of-the-night-gas-station-meals, soundchecks, dark, loud bars and motel rooms we didn’t occupy long enough to even turn on a television, let alone watch the news.  (By contrast, on our last tour in June 2012, every second member of the band had a laptop, smart phone, or tablet, so everybody was connected to the planet ALL THE TIME.  My, how quickly times change.  I already miss the old days of seven years ago.)

Colin and I sat there for I don’t know how long, watching the misery and devastation play out.  We might’ve even caught the Kanye West “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” incident as it was happening.  I wouldn’t swear to that though, the chronology seems wrong, and I couldn’t find online what date that took place.  We might have just seen it another night as that tour progressed.  Finally Biggie came in, cutting our hurricane disaster reverie short with a “Let’s go, ladies, van call in five minutes,” pronouncement.  “Have you SEEN this, Biggie?” Colin said, pointing at the screen.  “Yeah, it’s New Orleans.  That happened DAYS ago.  Where have you two been?”  He shook his head at us, walked out of the room.  Colin and I got up, grabbed our stuff, walked out to the van and back into our rock & roll bubble.  

*Technically it wasn’t just Colin’s room.  Usually on the road we all camped six to a room.  On nights when we had the luxury of TWO hotel rooms, we divided into The Snoring Room – Biggie, Dave & me – and The Non-Snoring Room – Colin, Joe & Pooch.  It was not lost on anyone that this arrangement meant the frontline of the band – the guitar players – had one room and the backline – drummer & road crew – were relegated to the other.   

8)  Saturday, June 18, 2005, Valdosta, Georgia  We were on our way to Jacksonville, Florida, from Atlanta, Georgia.  Somewhere north of Valdosta, Biggie could no longer keep the van at our normal highway cruising speed of 70 mph.  Twenty minutes later, he couldn’t keep it at 60 mph.  By time we hit the outskirts of Valdosta, we were doing maybe 50 mph, maybe less.  We got off I-75, made it into a Firestone Service Center about 5:45 on a Saturday evening.  The place closed at 6 pm.  No way IN HELL did that Firestone manager want to deal with our sorry rock & roll asses, but he was an extraordinarily nice guy and got one of the mechanics to come out in the lot and look at the van.  (They were not about to take it into their building, thereby taking responsibility for it.) 

Mechanic-guy crawled under the van, determined the catalytic converter was shot, and a long back & forth conversation ensued between Biggie, Colin and manager-guy about how we had to get to Jacksonville, Florida, that night for a gig and couldn’t they please stay late and fix the van.  Manager-guy tried to explain they probably didn’t even HAVE the right catalytic converter in stock at the station, we’d just have to stay over and they’d try to find one and order it Sunday morning.  He was telling us where there was a motel close, just up the street, when I spied a puddle of liquid forming under the front part of the van.  “Is that from the catalytic converter?” I asked.  The mechanic who had been under the van previously crawled back under, put his hand in the liquid, sniffed his fingers and announced, “No, this is brake fluid, you’ve also got a broken brake line.”

That was quite enough for manager-guy. It was then 6:20 pm, I’m sure he just wanted to get home to dinner and his family after a long week, and he said quietly, in a smooth Southern drawl, “I’ll see you in the morning, boys,” and walked away.

He was barely out of the parking lot when Biggie was on his cellphone, calling Dave Cook, the band’s go-to mechanic and miracle worker.  (I’ve often wondered why they had me in that van instead of Dave Cook.  He certainly would’ve been a lot more valuable.)  Biggie sketched out the problems, filled Dave in on what the Firestone guys had said, and asked what we could do on our own, just to get to Jacksonville.  (Which was, to Biggie, just a tantalizingly close 125 miles away.)

To make a long story short, Dave dispatched Biggie and Joe to a WalMart store adjacent to the Firestone to buy a drill, duct tape and some brake fluid: the drill was to be used to make holes in the catalytic converter to allow in more oxygen and the duct tape was gonna be used to shore up the broken brake line just long enough for us to reach Jacksonville.  It was like something out of that movie Apollo 13 where they had to fix a spaceship with just the materials on board the rocket.   As dusk fell on Valdosta I watched Biggie work on that van like a man possessed.  I walked over to Colin where he sat reading on a concrete parking block and said, “He CANNOT fix that brake line with duct tape.  That is not going to work.  I’m not getting back in that van.”   Ever the optimist, Colin replied, “It COULD work.  We’ve had stuff like this happen before,” but I could tell from his tone that even he didn’t believe it himself.

It was almost dark when Biggie finished drilling the holes and taping up the brake line.  He poured the extra brake fluid into the reservoir to replace what was puddled in the parking lot and I tried to figure how I was gonna get to the Valdosta Greyhound Station to get a bus for Columbus without shaming myself in front of the guys.  By divine providence, when he rolled the van a few yards and put the brakes on to test the line it immediately broke apart again and dumped the fluid right back out.  I think he was getting out of the van to give it another try when Colin and/or Joe said, “That’s it, Biggie.  Call the club in Jacksonville, we’re not gonna make it.”

We got the guitars out of the van, walked up the street to a motel (sound familiar? see previous blog) and Colin said, “You’re not coming out with us anymore, are you?”  “I don’t know, Colin, I just don’t know,” was my reply.  There was a dive bar almost right next door to the motel.  I think I stayed behind to mull over my future with the band while the guys went out for drinks.  As always, they made fast friends with the bartenders and patrons.  I think they briefly considered hauling the gear up the street from out of the van and playing at that bar, but it was too small. 

The next morning Biggie and I got up bright and early to get the Firestone guys to write up work orders for the van.  When they put it on the lift one of the mechanics said, “Who drilled holes in the catalytic converter?”  “Uhhh, I think it was already like that,” Biggie replied innocently.  “Not when I looked at it last night, it wasn’t,” said the mechanic who had crawled under Saturday evening.  At any rate it was going to take Firestone a couple of days to get a replacement catalytic converter.  Everybody had to be back in Columbus on Monday for work or, in Joe’s case, for his teaching assistant gig at Ohio State, so Biggie had them just fix the brake line.  The manager of Firestone explicitly warned us not to drive all the way back to Ohio without a functioning catalytic converter and probably made Biggie sign something to that effect, to remove his liability.  He also told us not to shut the van off on the drive, or it probably wouldn’t start up again.  He further advised us to keep all the windows open on the trip home to forestall dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.

We did in fact drive all the way back to Ohio in that van, with all of the windows wide open to try to dissipate some of the carbon monoxide pouring in from the holes in the catalytic converter.  I think I lost a LOT of brain cells on that ride.  About all I remember of that journey was crossing the bridge from Kentucky into Cincinnati and freezing my ass off on that chilly night, as it got colder & colder in the van with the windows open, and I hadn’t brought any warm clothes with me since it was summer and we were gonna be in the South that whole trip.

As I recall we made it home about 5 am Monday morning.  I had a carbon monoxide headache for two days afterward.  The next road trip we had a new van.  More on that later.                 

© 2012 Ricki C.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Ten Most Memorable Moments As A Watershed Roadie: part one

Watershed has a couple of shows coming up this Saturday, September 15th: The Independents’ Day Festival at 6 pm and later that night at Ace Of Cups (2619 North High Street) around 11 pm, so I thought I’d run the next installment of my Watershed series this week. 

The first three Memorable Moments are detailed in blog posts Colin & The Stairwell, Watershed & Kamakaze's (January 2012) and The Strange Case of the Somnabulistic Stickman Streaker (April 2012).  The remaining seven moments, in no particular order.....

4)    April 10, 2005, somewhere north of Ann Arbor, Michigan  It was my first out-of-state road trip with the band, we were coming home from Marquette, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it was just about dusk on a Sunday evening.  The van lost power on Route 23 South, we coasted off a 180-degree freeway exit cloverleaf and came to a stop without even having to put on the brakes IN A GAS STATION PARKING LOT!  Plus the gas station was no more than 100 hundred yards from a little motel.  They were the only two buildings in sight.  It was the most amazing vehicle breakdown I have ever been associated with.  Since it was Sunday, no way were we gonna find anybody to work on (or even look at) the van, but the gas station guys hooked us up with a tow to a local garage for Monday morning.

Michael “Biggie” McDermott wasn’t along on that road trip and as the towing guys were hooking up the van I said, “Don’t you think we should take the guitars with us to the hotel instead of leaving them in plain sight in the van?”  “That’s what we hired you for, Ricki C.,” laughed Colin, “you’re ALWAYS thinking.”  The five of us (me, Colin Gawel, Joe Oestreich, Dave Masica and Mark “Pooch” Borror) each grabbed a couple of guitars and headed off to the motel.  As we checked in, Colin’s first question of the desk clerk was, “Where’s the closest place to get a beer?”  “No bars around here,” the desk clerk answered, “but there’s a bowling alley up that road about a mile or so, they serve alcohol.”  He pointed into the now-inky darkness.  This was my first experience with the lengths Watershed will go to drink; we were going to walk a couple of miles, in a pitch black Michigan night, on a dark country road with no streetlights whatsoever, to a bowling alley, for beers.

Three hours later, after the midnight last call at the bowling alley, we were walking back to the motel.  I wouldn’t say the guys were drunk exactly, but nobody was feeling any pain.  Somehow the conversation swung to divorce and I explained the demise of my first marriage; that falling in love with the pretty 18-year old female lead singer of your band AFTER you’re already married is seldom a good idea.  Everybody got really quiet and turned to look at Pooch out of the corner of their eyes, and Pooch said to me, “Ricki C., you wanna save me a lot of time & trouble and tell me what the next two years of my life are gonna be like?”

It transpired that Pooch had gotten involved with the pretty female lead singer of the band he was in before he joined Watershed and things were fairly tense at home with the wife.  (see page 228 of Joe Oestreich’s Watershed memoir Hitless Wonder.)  Pooch’s story eventually turned out a lot better than mine; he’s still married and has a couple of great kids.  But I’ll never forget the look on his face on the side of that dark road in Michigan as he peered through his Buddy Holly glasses into a decidedly uncertain future.

5)    August 25-26, 2005, Charlotte, N.C.  In the midst of a raving, killer show at some bar in Charlotte the owner of The Capital Grille - another, different local bar/restaurant - had fallen in love with Watershed, as bar owners so often do.  He and his friends were drunk on their asses and the band could do no wrong.  At the end of the night he wrote us out a “$100 gift certificate” on the back of his business card and told us to come in for lunch the next day.  The six of us (see above, plus Biggie) showed up at The Capital Grille the next day after our noon checkout.  We were arrayed in our normal disheveled summer morning/early afternoon ensemble - sunglasses, shorts, rock & roll t-shirts, beat-up tennis shoes & sandals, very likely unshaven & unshowered - and the gorgeous dressed-to-the-nines young blonde girl at the hostess station just stared at us as we asked for owner-guy, our new best buddy from the night before.

Phone calls were placed, pointed words were exchanged, and as it turned out owner-guy was actually only manager-guy of The Capital Grille.  Also, he hadn’t managed to make it to work yet that day, as he was sleeping off last night’s Watershed-induced hangover.  (Amateur.)  He told the hostess to seat us and he’d be in later.  When we walked into the dining room of the restaurant it became brutally apparent why the hostess had been gaping, open-mouthed, at us.    

The entire place was jammed with guys in coats & ties.  It turned out The Capital Grille was a really ritzy, straight-laced businessman’s lunch joint and those of us in Watershed just DID NOT FIT IN.  It was the kinda place lobbyists go to press the flesh with the local politicos.  As we were seated at a table for six in the middle of the restaurant I swear everybody in the place turned to look at us.  At first it got really quiet, then this low buzz of conversation started and it hit me: The lawyers, businessmen and politicians having their power lunches at The Capital Grille THOUGHT WE WERE SOMEBODY FAMOUS, they just couldn’t figure out who.  Because if we weren’t somebody famous, no way were we gonna be allowed in this place dressed the way we were, looking the way we did.  It was the first time in my life I truly felt how it would feel to be famous.  I bet they thought we were The Foo Fighters.    

As we opened the leather-bound menus it became further brutally apparent that our makeshift “$100 gift certificate” wasn’t going to come anywhere close to lunch for any THREE of us, let alone six.   Lunch entrees were at least 20 bucks apiece, beers were seven or eight dollars.  I think we wound up getting two burgers, a couple of salads, five beers, a Coke for me, and we STILL had to kick in money of our own.  I didn’t feel famous, or like a Foo Fighter, for long.  I still have a napkin I stole from The Capital Grille to this day, as a keepsake.

6)    Summer 2006, somewhere on a beach in the South  Sometime right around midnight, Colin grabbed Joe’s hollow-body Gibson six-string and an acoustic guitar we’d brought along on the tour for in-studio radio station interview shows and announced that he and I were gonna go out on the beach and trade new tunes.  Colin was more than a little drunk, he’d always played in a band, didn’t really know the ins & outs of playing solo.  I was my normal sober self, I’d been doing solo acoustic shows since 1990, I was ultra-rehearsed, so I kicked Colin’s musical ass around the beach for awhile.  Colin stumbled through some new material, but didn’t get all the way through a single song for the first half-hour.  I was basically performing my act that I’d honed at Midgard Comics and on the road with Hamell On Trial.  It slowly dawned on Colin that I was not just babbling before I started songs, that I was actually running through fully worked-out intros.  I only gave the illusion that I was making them up on the spot.   

I go along to roadie and sell merch at Colin’s solo acoustic shows now and he has the singer/songwriter process down to a science.  I’d like to think I had a little something to do with that education, that summer night, on that dark beach.

© 2012 Ricki C.