28 May 2012

Love Song (part 2)

(Read part 1)

The great singer's throat was dry, so we headed out to explore the local wildlife. I recommended a nice saloon not far from where we were staying (according to the plan), and he nodded as he chewed a piece of Wrigley's. We found the place and glanced around. I saw the brunette sitting at a table for two next to the bar. We got there at the same time as a whisky rocks, and the great man sat down. The brunette looked wonderful sitting there, her hair waving in every direction, her cute gingham get-up unbuttoned in all the right places. She introduced herself with glistening lips, the big fan of him she was. He just nodded and coughed “hi” in reply. She sipped her daiquiri through her straw while looking up at him, and I needed to excuse myself. As I stood, the singer shot me a look with wide eyes, but I assured them they didn't need me to bog down their evening. I left.

Boy, was he mad. He fumed at me before the next show as he tuned his guitar and sucked on a mint leaf. His rage was never pointed or direct; it sort of rolled over you like a fog or a bad smell. It just got worse the longer you were in it. This time, this one time, he looked me in the eye and ordered me never to leave him “hanging” like that. “Ever.” The seriousness of his tone hit me like a dart, leaving its mark on my mind for time to come. Yet the great musician kept turning that peg up a few bits, down a few, grinding that mint leaf until it was mush and he had to swallow it. A tall glass of water waited for him to wash it down, gargling a bit, before he took all his gack to the stage for the show. I stayed behind.

There was no helping him after that. The same routine guided us each and every show, wherever he was playing: play the show, find a bar, sleep. I followed; I enjoyed his company, as much as I suppose he enjoyed mine, and every now and again I could reap the benefits of his friendship. I was with “the band,” and the girls loved it. What made me so successful and him not? I don't know. It stopped bothering me, since I told myself to forget it, and his every look reminded me to keep it forgotten.

Then we were at the end of the tour, just a few more cities then done. The great singer was working on new material to take to the studio. Where did it come from? Each song was better, more heart-breaking or uplifting than the last. He could weave the story of two young lovers in a dusty town with ease and finesse. He had complete control over the heartstrings of every apple-pie-eating, flag-waving, son-of-a-gun American out there. He told their stories, their true, honest-to-Gospel stories, and they loved it. They couldn't get enough. He wasn't doing it for the money. He liked it and he was good at it. He was damn good at it. That's all.

Then we entered our last hotel bar. He had a few more shows in this town, but it would be over, we'd have our celebration then go home to our usual lives. His whisky rocks, my gin and tonic. We clinked glasses and wished each other the best. Feeling strong, I also added that I wished my friend would find someone who really touches him, who really gets him, and he can be happy with. The singer stared at me unsmiling, but he didn't frown either. Then he grabbed my shoulder heartily, the first time I think we ever made physical contact, and thanked me before swigging at his drink. I smiled. We had a great time reminiscing about the tour, drinking with controlled abandon as we laughed—and even laughed over the failed date set-up, back in Peoria or Pecos or wherever it was. The bar was full and lively that night, but not many folks took interest in the great singer, which was fine by him. The lady next to him only took notice after he got a bit wild with his swigging and swung his drink onto the bar in front of her. He laughed and apologized, for the first time talking freely to a girl without bashfulness or self-distraction. She was a bit younger than the singer, pretty but plain, with blonde hair and blue eyes, a living cliché. She didn't know who he was, I could tell right away. And when he realized, when the singer realized, he started having a mighty fine conversation with her. The singer, the musician seemed taken with her, though, and I know when to keep my mouth shut. I drank alone watching the game on TV.

At the show the next day, it was “situation normal.” The crowd loved it, the girls cheered and swooned, and the singer gave his usual performance. A bit under-spirited, maybe, but still a good show. Backstage, afterwards, while everything was being packed, he sat on the sofa picking his teeth. I sat across from him. I had to ask about the woman last night, but he just sighed and kept on picking, mumbled something about knowing “when to show 'em and when to fold 'em,” which made me scoff and roll my eyes. He didn't seem to care.

We drank again, as usual, and the lady from yesterday was there. I wished them both well and found some young loveliness of my own to cotton up to, which met with great success.

That was the moment when things changed. His manager complained about it while rolling coins in the coach van. “That son-of-a's losing his touch,” he oozed. The great singer stopped writing good songs, love songs, any songs, and his performances were dragging, lacking energy, even though the crowd was his, ready to hang on every vibration in his voice. His heart wasn't in it any more. After the last show, he approached me and shook my hand. I asked him where he was going, what he would be doing. He said he'd be “around.” I asked him if he'd be finishing the new album, flying to wherever they produce those things, laying the tracks down. He looked around then leaned into me. “I can't do that anymore.”

Here he was, the greatest writer, the greatest singer of love songs on the planet in this age, and he lost his power. “I found my love, my soulmate,” he declared as he took her hand. She blushed and begged him to stop, it made her feel so good to hear.

It wasn't a matter of choice. The great musician had tried to keep his music writing going, but there was nothing to be done for it. As some said, the muse left him because he gave his heart to another. Others thought the devil left him because he agreed not to fall in love himself in exchange for the gift. Whatever the cause, for the first time in his life, the singer was happy. Truly, truly happy. The rest of the world, myself included, could never get over the break-up, and we still play his love songs to remind us and make us cry.

27 May 2012

Spilt Wine

It was the time I spilt wine all over my grandpa's Bible. I was alone (I'm always alone), eating pizza with a glass of wine, and I carelessly knocked into it, sending a recent vintage meritage all over the dining room table. And there was my grandpa's Bible, sitting there because I had cracked it open the other day out of curiosity.

He had given me the Bible as a passing thought. I was in his basement looking at old photos, and he asked if I wanted it. I said sure, because it was his, not because it was a Bible. He had written his name and address in it in case it ever went missing. It hadn't.

But now it was stained. “How will I explain this to my grandchildren?” I said out loud. It was a stupid thought. What grandchildren? From what children?

My next thought was, “Well, at least it's cheap wine,” as I mopped up the mess and poured myself the last of it. Good thing it was cheap; it only lasted a day.

And I was only just reading about that wedding at Cana. I didn't know much about it before, except that Jesus had apparently turned water into wine. They ran out of wine at this wedding, Jesus's mother complained (she must've been some drinker), and Jesus said he'd take care of it. But rather than run to the nearest liquor store, he just zapped some jars of water. It was an instant hit. I poured a glass of water, but no matter how long I stared at it, it just kept on being water. It was warm.

So I guess I could tell my theoretical grandkids about that if they asked. But there aren't going to be grandkids. Not at this rate.

25 May 2012

Love Song (part 1)

by Kevin Story

He was a singer of great renown, and when he sang the women sank into their sighs and longing. Long into the night, he'd sing for them his songs of love and loss, but mostly love. Of all the singers of love songs in the world, he was most assuredly the best as I watched him there, and the girls all around, sighing and longing and waiting for him to look their way, which he never did, since his eyes were usually closed or looking at the neck of his guitar or staring far off into another world. Even when he thanked them he closed his eyes and said it with a small bow of his head, then walked off to rest in whatever room was provided for his resting.

It was there I found him, sprawled on some chaise or sofa that seemed to be unfit for his western look, with a wet towel on his face. When I asked him if I could join him, he didn't seem to hear at first. Then he slowly lifted the towel so as to get a glimpse of me, and when he did he gestured to another chair in the room and went back to his towel and lounge. I sat down.

And there we sat for some time in silence, until the great singer began to hum something soft, which in his rich baritone was like rich chocolate flowing around my head. I relaxed. It was an old tune he chose, one of the old hymns. Something like “Wondrous Love” or “Holy Manna,” I couldn't tell; maybe a mix of the two. It rolled from his muffled lips wonderfully soft and connected to some deeper emotion that withstood identification. The warm chocolate enveloped my head, smothering me with its sweet, sweet sound. At last, when the song was over, he pulled the towel off and slowly sat up, wiping his face a final time before putting it (the towel, not his face) on the coffee table in front of him. He looked at me, and I wasn't sure what to say, so I smiled slightly.

He asked how the show went. The question surprised me. I answered that it went great, that the crowd loved it—especially the girls in front, whose show of love to him still rang brightly in my ears. He said something that sounded like “naww” and leaned back into the sofa, but not before scooping a handful of almonds. He flicked one into his mouth and chewed like molasses as his mind chewed and ticked and thought and processed. After another long while he sighed staring at the ceiling and said, “Missed a few changes here and there.”

I was profuse in my defense of him, but he raised his unoccupied hand to counter. This wasn't his “first rodeo, kid,” and he didn't expect people to “sugar-coat” their opinions of his performance, especially some “youngster” like myself. Another almond popped into his mouth.

Here was the man who toured all fifty states in the same year; who wrote love songs that got women old and young to swoon with delight; whose ingenious chord progressions and innovative melodies got musical academics nearly as excited as the women. Here was a true music man, a true folk artist, a true hero to so many boys who would grow up pretending to emit his soothing baritone and woo some lady fair.

Only, this last bit was not the case. Not that he was a loner by choice or on principle. This great singer, great musician, great man, simply would not, could not pick up a woman to save his life.

Three or four almonds flew into his mouth, and this time he chewed them quickly, forcefully. Somehow he needed to make a connection between the romantic musical genius inside and the speech center in his brain. I wanted to help.

At the bar, he drank his bourbon rocks and ordered my gin and tonic. In his head he was working out some new song, perhaps, or mulling over a new way to play an old tune. I squeezed my lime and stirred slowly, looking around the bar. The young bartender was nice enough; she poured fast and heavy, and winked as she walked away. She wore a tight white top tied on with shoestrings, and a large cowboy hat with upturned sides on her straight, dirty blonde hair. I stared at her when I could, but the great singer kept to his liquor and his thoughts.

She'd come over when we first sat down and recognized him right away (who wouldn't?), offering him a free drink while leaning her bosom over the counter. They were mounted perfectly in their proper places. He said he preferred to pay for his own drinks, but thanks just the same. It was me she winked at as she walked away, but I didn't hold her attention without the fame of my friend.

He swirled and stared at his whisky. I leaned into him and asked in a low voice what he thought of the bartender. He glanced at her then quickly back. “She's a fine lookin' woman,” he said softly, then drank and went back to his staring and swirling.

At that moment, a mother and her twenty-something daughter came up to the bar. The daughter sat right next to me. She wore tight blue jean shorts and a pink tee-shirt with a neckline that pointed handily to the middle of her perky chest. They chattered about the concert. The bartender came 'round and took their drink orders: a glass of white wine for Mom and a Long Island iced tea for Miss Cute 'n' Perky. Her glass was so full, when she slid it closer some spilt on my arm. She apologized, looking into my eyes. She had these great big bright brown eyes full of life and fun. She took her napkin and wiped the liquor from my arm. Then she smiled at me and said “There, all better,” before turning back to her mother, who leaned over and apologized for her daughter's “rude behavior.”

The mother wasn't all that bad looking, either, if you're into that sort of thing. She'd sashayed in with her fake blonde curls and familiar brown eyes, in many respects the older version of the young beauty sitting next to me. The same life was in the older woman's eyes, but the wisdom of her age clung to her face like spikemoss to a rock.

The great singer just sat there sipping, disregarding the beauty around him, shelled in his world of music. That's the way it was with him. As for me, I met up with the girl later on that night. She snuck out of her hotel room after her mother passed out drunk from one too many glasses of white. This isn't about me, though. It's about him.

It was like him to sit and stare off, despite the distractions around him. Maybe it's what made him the musical genius he was. “Beauty is everywhere,” his manager would say, counting fistfuls of twenties in the coach van as it slid along the highway into the desert. Still the songwriter absorbed himself in his musical fantasies. When the thought of having even just one drink with a lady was brought up, he'd fidget and flick his fingernails under each other, mumble something like “yeah, we'll see,” and go back to his inner sanctum.

Another show, another crowd of adoring women, another bar, another night wondering what was really going on in that head of his. Sometimes it seemed like a spirit wanted to jump out of him and grab the first gal it could, wrapping her with its spirit arms and wooing her with its spirit words, but a great force kept it back, made it abide. The great wall stood, seemingly impenetrable. Female fans flocked to him, and he nodded and signed in silence, making those girls want him so much more. He finished with a flick of his hat and stomped off with his hands wringing in front of him. I shook my head.

Across the desert in another town, I decided to give a little more of a push. This was a time for action; there seemed to be no other way. During the show, I scanned the crowd for a young lady who the great singer might take a liking to. There were plenty to choose from, but after chatting some of them up, I decided on one pretty-looking girl in particular. She was brunette, leggy, and sported a great pair of glasses, the true sign of an intelligent woman. I thought maybe the great musician might be attracted to a little more than just perfection of form. She and I talked for a bit after the final set, and I explained my plan to her. She was thrilled, to say the least, and she offered a time and place, a nice saloon not far from where we were staying. I said we'd see her there.

to be continued