(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.
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