Wednesday, October 30, 2013

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

(I Love Distortion (a rock & roll novel in 12 chapters) appears monthly in
Growing Old With Rock & Roll; January to December, 2013)

I Love Distortion - chapter ten

"And then October came, and with October came the rain
Falling on that apartment on Beacon Hill Lane"
- Sean Richter, 1979

One unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in October Nicole and I took off for Yellow Springs to work on songs.  (See blog entry I Love Distortion, July 2013)  We were sitting in the soda fountain of Yellow Springs' lone drugstore (iPad kids, ask your grandparents what a drugstore soda fountain was) having french-fries & milkshakes and the little girl in the next booth over started playing with Nicole's hair.  The obviously harried young mom - whom, we noticed, was not sporting a wedding ring - of the two-year old looked like she could use a break, so Nicole played with the little girl all through her mom's meal.  When they left, the little girl stopped at the door, looked out shyly from beneath her blonde tousle of curls and blew Nicole a kiss.  Nicole broke down sobbing the second the little girl was out of sight.

"What's wrong?" I said, my fork frozen in mid-air, halfway to my mouth as I sat truly dumbfounded at Nicole's reaction.  "N-n-nothing," Nicole choked out, "it's nothing."  Somewhere deep down in some part of my heart I knew there was another girl underneath the rocker persona that I loved so dearly, but that's where I kept that knowledge: deep-down and buried.  That was my mistake.

I knew the girl who stood up one dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon in my crummy Lincoln Village apartment and executed a breathtakingly perfect pirouette apropos of nothing except that I was reading an article about ballet in the arts section of the Sunday newspaper.

I knew the girl who could elevate into a Pete Townshend-style scissor kick - with guitar - and, due to her  middle-school cheerleader training, could come down into splits, sometimes in a dress, and not expose anything beyond a little thigh.  I have never seen any other guitarist, male or female, pull off that move.

gig-night sidelight, number one;
Somewhere by a backstage door, after a gig, my arms on Nicole's shoulders, looking into her eyes,
Sean - "Someday you are going to break my heart into a million little pieces."
Nicole - "Silly boy."

I knew the girl whose short auburn hair would fall in perfect slow-motion waves over her lovely face as her head tossed in orgasm when we made love.

I suppose I was aware of the wannabe-wife & mother underneath that rocker girl, but I just blotted it out.  Sometimes blindness and amnesia are the first victims, best friends and mortal enemies of true love. 

gig-night sidelight, number two;
Nicole takes off on a girl’s-night-out excursion to Zachariah’s Red Eye Saloon, a High Street 
country-rock stronghold   She wants to see Spittin’ Image, the little brother band to McGuffey Lane,
 our local scene’s top-drawing band, so she can check out Mimi Rousseau, purportedly
 Columbus’ best female singer, our hometown answer to Linda Ronstadt.
I’m dozing on the couch when she gets home, but rouse myself to ask, “How was Mimi?”
“She was really good," Nicole replies with genuine enthusiasm, “she has such a great voice.”
“How was the band?” I inquire sleepily.  “Oh, they were just balding, fat guys with beards,” Nicole
chirps, and I smile to myself at the not-altogether-positive effect I am having on her musical outlook.

Gigs for TheTwilight Kids gigs were becoming more sporadic that autumn.  There were problems with Jake's drumming - Nicole was making a concerted effort to slow the songs down so she could inject a little more melody into our punk-style proceedings and Jake could really only handle four-on-the-floor hard-rock bashing.  Plus I was spending more time away being a roadie for Billy Ray's band.  Lovely & Sonic was getting really hot, they had a single out and were getting great opening gigs with national acts, most of which I ran lights at.  I was no Marshall Brickman with Bruce Springtseen, but I was pretty damn good.  Nicole and I would spend hours on the telephone when I worked out-of-town shows she couldn't come to.  I can still conjure up that feeling of being ensconced in a tiny phone booth (iPhone kids, ask your grandparents what a phone booth was) talking to Nicole, totally at peace in my warm, dark rock & roll world.

By October, The Twilight Kids and Lovely & Sonic had already run hopelessly askance of the Columbus punk-rock community.  Billy Ray and I had no interest in being tattered punk-rock loser-heroes, we wanted to be rock & roll stars.  We had no interest in being The Sex Pistols - who we saw as a paper-doll dress-up art-project of Malcolm McLaren's - or Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers - who we saw, quite rightly I would assert, as a circus-mirror junkie edition of our beloved New York Dolls.  I wanted to be The Who; Billy Ray wanted to be The Beatles.  (He always did aim higher than I did.)  We had no interest in playing basement parties for punk-rock scenesters, snotty campus record store employees and fanzine editors, we wanted to play for teenagers, for real kids.  To that end, we offered every high school in Columbus and the surrounding area a free show by our two bands.  Only three schools ever took us up on the offer (see blog entry I Love Distortion - January 2013) but that's how committed we were to our Populist Rocker Credo.

Billy Ray and I didn't just play in bands, we lived rock & roll.  We considered it our Holy Mission to save the music that had saved our lives from the likes of Journey, Styx, Foreigner & Kansas. 

Billy Ray really did have it all.  He was a consummate rocker: an incredibly charismatic performer, great rhythm guitarist and an unbelievably prolific songwriter.  Billy Ray turned over Lovely & Sonic's entire set-list at least three times in 1978 alone.  They had to have performed roughly 50 different originals that year.  And those weren't throwaway, tossed-off tunes, they were fully thought-out, fully-formed GREAT rock & roll compositions, not more than 10 filler-songs in the bunch.  Plus the rest of the band was great.  I had my darling girl Nicole as a lead singer, but on his right hand Billy Ray had Glen - a killer bass player and second lead singer who threw the occasional choice original song into the Lovely & Sonic embarrassment of sonic riches.  To Billy Ray's left was John, lead guitarist extraordinaire - an incredibly tasteful guitarist, playing exactly what Billy Ray's tunes called for and never one extraneous or intrusive note more.  And in the backline Doug was just a powerhouse Keith Moon-with-control style drummer, with the added bonus of poster-boy blonde rock star looks to balance Billy Ray's more exotic gypsy-rocker persona.  It was like having Roger Daltrey playin' drums for Bob Marley.

It didn't take long for Lovely & Sonic to rise to the top of the pops as the go-to Columbus New Wave/Punk/Power Pop band.  They got all the plum opening slots at the Columbus Agora: The Ramones, The David Johansen Group, Talking Heads, in addition to their own headlining shows at campus clubs and the Ohio State University student unions. 

I learned so much from Billy Ray that year.  I learned how - after 10 years of playing in bands and 5 years of leading them - to properly rehearse a band.  I learned how to focus my songwriting down to a searing laser-beam precision-point from the somewhat scattered, shambolic, shotgun approach I had previously employed.  I learned stage presence and how to pace a gig; how to take the temperature of an audience and then turn up the heat to leave the crowd wrung-out and wet at the end of the set.

Billy Ray really did have it all.  And then he threw it all away.

gig-night sidelight, number three;
Billy Ray, Nicole & I are in the back seat of a car going somewhere on campus after a
Lovely & Sonic gig when Billy Ray says absently & quietly, while looking out the window,
"Jesus, I just want this band to get a record deal and get three albums out
so I can be done with all this group stuff and get my solo career going."
My heart drops through my stomach.  At that point I viewed Lovely & Sonic as a perfect
rock & roll band; a group of brothers, arms around shoulders, us-against-the-world.
To Billy Ray, they're the means to an end.  I'm crushed, and I'm not even in the band.
When I relate all my disillusionment to Nicole on our ride home to the West Side, she says,
"I can kind of see his point.  Sometimes in this world you've gotta look out for yourself first."

I should have taken that exchange for the red-flag warning that it was.  But I didn't.  Because one dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon Nicole had done a perfect pirouette in my cold living room.

© 2013 Ricki C.

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