Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Love Distortion (a rock & roll novel in 12 chapters) - February

(My idea for I Love Distortion (a rock & roll novel in 12 chapters) is a serialized set of
fictional stories; one per month, for all of this coming year, finishing Christmas week 2013.
Chapter one appeared in the blog entry January 24, 2013.)

I Love Distortion - chapter two

Nicole and I met - rather prosaically - in the warehouse of a K-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio.  It was late January, 1978, Nicole was a new hire and she was being shown around the store by a girl named Callie who worked in the toy department.  I was the warehouse manager of that K-Mart store.  It was the day job that allowed me to play original rock & roll songs which nobody wanted to hear in West Side bars - as opposed to lounge bands who played cover tunes at the Ramada Inn and made great money - and still pay my bills.  My warehouse guys and I had adopted Callie as our pet project; to watch over and protect her and to keep her employed.  Callie was an incredibly sweet young girl with not one single clue how to do her job, and very little idea how to function in the real world in general.  If it hadn't been for my warehouse crew Callie would have been fired months earlier.  Callie later became pregnant after having sex with the boyfriend she'd dated since high-school and I'm convinced to this day she never understood the causal link between those two actions.  

I remember the exact first moment I laid eyes on Nicole.  She and Callie were walking down the steps that led from the upper loft of the warehouse and the mere sight of her made me catch my breath.  She was wearing a cornflower-blue skirt printed with tiny white flowers and petticoats underneath.  Later we would laughingly refer to this as her "Holly Hobbie skirt."  Still later - when she became the lead singer of the best band I ever had - we paired that skirt with a Cheap Trick t-shirt of mine into what we considered a class-A rock & roll stage outfit.  She may have been the loveliest girl I had ever seen in my life.  It was, quite literally, love at first sight.  If I had not already been married, love at first sight would not be as problematic as it later became.  Nicole was 18 years old.

I was a beaten man in those early weeks of 1978.  I was in my mid-twenties and had already been in rock & roll bands for almost ten years at that point, with literally no discernible success to show for it.  When my first rock & roll best friend, Dean Blackwell, and I had started out at 16 in 1968 we charted out our entire rock & roll futures and actually wrote it down in a document we called The Legacy.  By 25 - according to The Legacy - Dean and I were already supposed to have conquered the known rock & roll world from London, New York City, Los Angeles & all points in between and returned to Columbus to buy a small apartment building built around a courtyard where all of the band members could live, along with assorted wives and girlfriends.  The building would have a huge basement that we could use for rehearsals & recording but everybody would have their own living spaces.  It was our idea of a hippie commune, only nobody would have to share their personal space if they didn't want to. 

Instead, at 25 I had been working in warehouses for four years after wasting three years in college.  I had gotten married far too young at 21 and was now half of a failing marriage, only my wife didn't seem to realize it was failing, which was, to say the least, not a good situation.  Melanie and I had started dating when I was 18 and she was 17.  I met her the day she graduated from high school.  I made it abundantly clear at that young age that all that mattered to me was rock & roll; that there would never be any money, that there would never be a house & children, there would be only songwriting, gigs & touring, followed by eventual rock stardom and world domination.  That sounded good to Melanie, she was in.  Only now it was seven years later, all of her high school friends were buying houses and having children, their husbands were selling insurance or working for NCR, and the "there will never be any money" side of the equation wasn't looking so good.  Nor was the fact that the "rock stardom and world domination" just had never arrived.

The first time I ever spoke to Nicole the conversation concerned rock & roll.  A warehouse co-worker and I were reprising one of our perennial arguments; he loved Styx and I was trying to explain the benefits of the sacred gospel rama-lama of The Clash to him.  Nicole walked in and the guy said, "She'll settle this.  Nicole, who's better, Styx or The Clash?"  "Styx," she replied, with no hesitation whatsoever, turning up her nose at the mention of my punk-rock saviours.  "How could you possibly think that?" I asked, profoundly disappointed at this turn of events.  "Because The Clash are ugly and they haven't got any hair," she said, smiling a heart-stopping grin into my eyes, "I saw you play in a band one time, all of you had good hair."  She turned on her heels, leaving me open-mouthed, and made an impossibly charming exit.

Later that day I was sitting in the K-Mart cafeteria reading when Nicole came in for her break.  "Where'd you see me play?" I asked, "You can't possibly be old enough to get into a bar."    "I saw you last summer at the Hilltop Bean Dinner," she replied, "my family and I were on the same bill."  It turned out that Nicole sang with her mother, father & younger sister in a close-harmony family country music act.  It further transpired that her mom & dad had a separate honky-tonk country band that played regularly at the Little Nashville Club, a dive-bar near downtown Columbus that I - a veteran of hard-rock and punk bands - wouldn't have set foot in if you paid me.  The Little Nashville Club had chicken-wire strung around the stage, exactly like the bar later immortalized in The Blues Brothers movie.  Nicole related to me that her dad always said that's the way you knew whether the crowd liked you or not; if they liked you they drank the beer before they threw the bottle at the stage, if they didn't like you, they threw the bottle full.

"You played a song that day I've never heard on the radio and have never been able to find on a record." Nicole said.  "It had the lyrics, 'You always wanted to be bad but you never knew how to do it / So you always went to people who could lead you to it.'"  "I wrote that song," I said, a little stunned.  I don't think I had ever had my lyrics quoted back to me, especially by a girl I was struck so shy by that I was having trouble carrying on a coherent conversation.  "You wrote that song?" Nicole said, quietly, "I think that might be the story of my life."  "I wrote all the songs we played that day," I said, trying desperately to press any advantage I could.

"I've never met anybody who wrote their own songs before," Nicole said a little dreamily, looking way too deep into my eyes.  "I write poetry," she said, and I knew I was in desperate, desperate trouble.

The next day The Great Blizzard of 1978 hit Ohio and shut down the state.  Just over a week later, February 3rd, the first time my buddies and I could dig ourselves out of our West Side neighborhood we went to see Billy Ray's earliest and best band - Lovely & Sonic - for the first time at  Drake Union on the Ohio State University campus.  1978 was shaping up to be quite a year.

© 2013 Ricki C.

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