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