Rocker Boy/Rocker Girl
It was pure chaos, all day, everyday. Sarah sat on the bed chain smoking, listening miserably to her guitarist/singer boyfriend rant on the phone to the indie label his band was on. Their album release had been put on hold for many months so that they could concentrate on releasing the home studio recordings of the guy from Badfinger. In a cocaine stupor he whined and yelled because the band had been on a hapless tour of rock bars and hotel lounges for the better part of a year. They traveled from town to town on their own dime, playing across the country for paltry advances in order to promote an album that, at this point, still didnt materially exist. The guys name was Larry Rowland a.k.a. Larry Leads and his band was called Stonegroove. Sarah felt hopeless because touring before some unceremonious record release was pretty much the constant situation for Stonegroove ever since she had left highschool to follow and manage them in 1974. It was now 1977, and there didnt seem to be future in this, only a past with its ominous reasons for her criss crossing the nation with Larry. It was an avoidance of the things she didnt want, a house, a mortgage, a real job and all that, and that was perfectly fine. She also felt she had runaway in order to escape the things she wanted very badly, one of which being a man who was much more real than this cocaine and ego reprobate Larry, someone who could do a lot more for her damaged soul than to preen in an adequate fashion and secure her position as some sort of competent denizen in the world of jealous groupies, ambitious guitar slingers and evil, savvy, svengali, rip off managers. When you satisfy your own needs, it always requires a departure from social and personal security. When you walk your own path, the obligated and passive sheep bleep and blurt disapprovingly behind you. Despise these sheep as you may, its scary to put yourself out there on your own. At this ripe age, Sarah watched her boyfriend rant on the payphone, none too pleased that she was still one of the people abiding by fear.
There was one person who would still entertain her thoughts even though she hadnt seen him since highschool. This was the makeup wearing, New York Dolls fanatic Seth Danger, whose real last name was Donofrio. His presence at dour times like this would be such a comfort because, since he had no choice but to be acutely aware of all the dense tragedy looming in the world, he was one of the few people on earth who could cut through and realize all the rich, careless comedy bursting out of the seams of any given moment. He would cut through the obvious and find deep, exploding wells of hilarity at every fuck up. Like the time he totaled his first car while giving her a ride to work. They were not injured, oh no. Sarah was clapping, watching him stand dancing on the hood of the dead car, singing the Beach Boys Little Honda to the top of his lungs while striking the Alice Cooper poses he picked up from Don Kirschners Rock Concert. After the cops towed the wrecked car away, he went inside and apologized to his parents then probably slinked downstairs to drink soda in front of Bugs Bunny cartoons. He wasnt afraid. She had to love that about him.
Thats why Sarah would drop by and hang out after school, and early on she would say all these guises in order to relate to him. He was heard to say he didnt like people who were overtly attractive. She, in turn, would rant on about how she didnt want to be attractive, and how she felt the same way he did in such matters. But lets give 17 year old Sarah an honest look: a face that was always evoking flirty comparisons Ann Margaret and Jane Fonda, a body that was kept well in shape through diet and occasional exercise. She dressed in lava lamp, mall babe chic and the eyes of virginal pen pack geeks, testosterone driven football toughs and confused young girls would pay reverent attention whenever she would sashay in a divine, erotic light down the hallway. Sarah was so driven by fear, the one way she could keep people away was to leave them at the end of the night with blue balls and a fucked up head. Thats it, hike the skirt a little higher, play some vicious mind games on him and leave him with nothing. Theres another person that shed never have to let get to know her. She would never have the courage to confess this to Seth, but being a sexy girl was a huge part of her self esteem. She would just sit there, a radiating beam of demure banter and Farrah-hot looks in the cluttered din of his room. He was, well, unattractive. His was a sullen and prissy face that was splotched with a sickly sheath of acne. Even the sedimentary layers of white foundation he would plaster on while practicing with his band would do little to block those pointy little blemishes. But he would dart around in an erratic dance, his face looking like a San Francisco take on Linda Blairs Exorcist role, brandishing the mic stand to and fro like a meth addled David Johansen ready to fight. And Sarah would always claim to love underground rock n roll just like he did. One day he stumped her by asking her who Iggy Pop was. She said that she didnt know who that was thinking that he didnt know either. When she asked, Do you know? He just sat across from her looking down, the smirking face of anti-social ennui and dead panned, Yes, he was the first guy to ever whip his cock out on stage, before Jim Morrison. Hes the most violent rock star who ever lived. Thered be no David Bowie if it werent for him. What did she know? She only had a few dusty Grand Funk Railroad and Bad Company 8 tracks at home.
Throughout highschool she was one of the few and best friends hed had. His only other friends were the members of his ill-fated New York Dolls type band that he had affectionately named the Teenage Fuck Ups. Paying gigs were always a hard thing for them to get. These were mostly like minded boys from surrounding towns. Sarah was sure she was the only girl to visit him at home when he was in highschool, if not that, then one of the very few. Sarah had plenty of friends, but she always held Seth in such high, if not superior esteem. He was a rocker boy by default, not by ambition. Life had become so dour for her whilst hanging out with musicians, like Larry, with mean to average skills at best, who wanted what every other idiot wanted, to rip out some sacramental, symphonic solo before the inane applause of an arena full of idiots, their macho leads piercing the air, backed by solid armies of amplifiers that were stacked to the heavens. Taking typical stabs at rock immortality until the scant amount of drink tickets per gig proves to be way too disappointing. Ill try to be God until I realize that working at my Dads real estate firm pays the bills better. Sad. None of this stock star posturing was ever found in old Seth. He hated Led Zeppelin with a passion and wanted only to be like the New York Dolls: Famous by accident, stoned on purpose, laid by the hour. He used to take valium and drone for hours about how Johnny Thunders was such a dick, yet quite an angel too, and how he was so crucial to the survival of real rock n roll, and how only he would finally determine how far it would eventually go. How David Johansen was into guys as much as he is girls, but was just too chicken to admit it. How maybe if he were to play the female role in his favorite Errol Flynn movie, then that would give him the impetus to just come clear; to finally become the real New York Doll he was born to be. How rock n roll could be saved by a fey, womanizing rock star melting into Errol Flynns arms. He was just so obsessed and taken with these sort of things.
Despite all the amphetamine driven male/female bonding chatting they did in that basement, it was unspoken but only too obvious that they were as different as night and day, and Sarah was never too happy about that fact. She was the teasy, party loving rocker girl, and he was the catty and introverted drop out, whose only real addiction was to always telling the truth. It was rock n roll they had in common. She loved to hear it blaring on the radio while cruising in a top down convertible ripping drunk. She always knew the lyrics to every hard rock radio staple by heart. He loved to horde all sorts of records and pore through tattered fan magazines while delving into the obscure indiscretions of his glam rock heroes. It was also fear she imagined that they had in common. She could use her comely guile to wound people away into the confounding distance. Not given such an advantage, Seth would hide alone in basement, surrendering his pained fears in the unobtrusive din of loud records. Hed never had a girlfriend the entire time she knew him, his band mates didnt even know his stage name was Danger, let alone what his real last name was. All this catty talk he projected all over the school about Does he like boys? Does he like girls? was the smokescreen for the real issue Does he love himself? Can he love anything or anyone? Upstairs, the living room mantle held no pictures of Seth, only his older siblings who had gone onto college. Once when Seths Mom called him upstairs t help fix the juice blender, Sarah noticed she seemed to have trouble recalling his first name. So Seth would just idle away after school cranking Mott the Hoople, Gary Glitter and the Dolls in his basement, and utter that droll drone of endless truth to anyone unoccupied enough to visit. For all his frank confidence, there was something about himself that he really didnt like at all. And while her knowledge on him and the gaping, fordless empathy it caused certainly never was nor never would be a romantic or sexual fixation, it was a fixation nonetheless. When she was around him, she didnt want to be a hot chick. She wanted so bad to be that gregarious, accepting uncle or older brother who takes him out for a few six packs and gets him laid.
Well, thats in the past, come Sarahs junior year she would leave for good to follow Larry Leads around the country. When she met him backstage at a Raspberries gig and was deluged by that loud, drunken voice proclaiming his messianic lust to storm the airwaves and set rock n roll free, she sensed the sexy liberation of the open road calling her. Hearing his golden arches of rocker boy speech, trying not to make too much eye contact with that delicious, sweating chest, her soul had slipped in seamless seduction to the tour bus, with its endless reserves of beer and hope for utter conquest. The tour bus would turn into a van, then two station wagons, and down the line, descending with how little money they were still getting from the bands parents or their elusive label. By 1980, they might find themselves hauling their equipment around on ten speed bicycles. And she would still be there, watching Larry complain through the air holes in whatever cardboard box they had nestled down in that day. This was a time when she was surprised at how much she started thinking about Seth again. Things had gotten so tedious that she longed to watch him singing Beach Boys songs again, dancing in a joyous smirch over the totaled car that was Stonegrooves career. Mining laughter out of tragedy with that sly, deprecating smirk. And plus, after gigs in the motel rooms smoking pot in bed with Larry, she was seeing a lot of television footage of a band that seemed right up Seths alley. This footage was mostly on late night reruns of the 11:00 PM news.
The Sex Pistols, Larry would sneer, Fuckin fags they are, straight up, I can tell that right away. I mean look at them. And they cant play. Theyre up there on TV every night playing like shit while real players like me are still playing bars. Wheres the justice?!
Stoned, she would counter, Well, it seems like theyre bringing it back to when it was all about the music and the attitude and not stage lights and laser shows and all that bullshit. And, plus, theyre always saying negative and nasty things. The truth is usually something you dont want to hear, so they come across very honest. Maybe thats why all those kids in England are so attracted to them.
Agitated, Larry kept talking, oblivious to what she had just said, This trend pandering bullshit has got to end! All the majors want is garbage like this and then all that disco robot crap. Theyve got to start thinking about something other than money. Think about it, if the next Led Zeppelin were to get started now, would they even get signed? Think about what we could be missing!
Larrys tirade on record company greed wouldnt pan out to be true, as the members of this band would walk away from this deal practically broke due to mismanagement, and their long suffering bass player would die penniless on the day he got out of prison for a murder rap. She would just think about Seth, and how tragic it would be if this obnoxious, uncool band was setting the world on fire and he was away somewhere, possibly missing it.
The very next day Larry and Sarah woke up early and had enough time to kill before the tonights show that they had time to get drunk. Larry sent her off in her car to go out and buy a case of beer. Once she got back and carried the case in her thin, rocker girl arms, she entered the room to find trouble. Larry was very, very upset. His head was buried in his hand and he was sweating and quivering.
Whats wrong? she asked.
The label just called me at the motels front desk and said that we were dropped from the label. You know why?
It was kind of a moot point, but shed bite, Why did they drop you guys?
The reason they kept us on for so long on such low sales and were so slow to put the album out is because...we were never anything but a fucking tax write off!
Sarah should have seen that one coming, but shed been too busy holding my own amongst the smoky lights and stupid tail feather earrings. Well if they can write you guys off, why are you dropped all of a sudden?
Were not even selling enough records to warrant a tax write off! he screamed, The next album isnt even coming out! Theyre replacing us with a fucking Salsa band from Canada!
Sarah really thought this was my opportunity to bail, that it was time to dart out the door in search of a real life. But she consoled him. Its not the end of the world
He leapt from his chair and struck her in the face. As she fell to the floor, he kept ranting and raving, making it abundantly clear that, to him, Stonegroove not being on a record label was very, very much the end of the world. Fuck it, she had fallen out of love with this loser a long time ago and it was time to go. She stormed out of the dingy motel a glowing ray of winsome pride.
Larry cried, Where the fuck do you think youre going?
Im going to track down Seth Danger and turn him on to the Sex Pistols! and she was gone.
But I need PUUUSSSSSYYY! He cried as I left.
She stopped by the payphone and called Seths Moms house; she still knew he number. Mom picked up and she started talking immediately, Is Seth Donofrio there and does he know about the Sex Pistols?
Oh, Seth, that one. Well he ran away to perform some rock concert in his senior year of highschool and never came back. I believe hes in San Francisco, the Haight Ashbury District.
Thanks, and she hung up, bolting for the car.
She stopped by a nearby mall on my way to the main highway and sure enough a cassette of the Sex Pistols new album Never Mind the Bollocks was easily available at the first record store she went into. After years of endless touring, Sarah was sure she could easily find exactly where Haight Ashbury was. If he was there, hed get this Sex Pistols tape. She didnt even know why she was so taken with this extraordinary effort. She was charged, obsessed, not in her right mind, set free. She popped the tape into the car tape deck after fumbling to take the wrapper off. Above all, one thing became clear to her: all that crap youll hear about them not knowing how to play is pure bullshit. The drummer was rock solid; he kept time better than most metronomes you could ever buy. Hed usually play the hi-hat and ride in eighths, but he accented the 1 and the 3 so well that it always sounded like he was playing a quarter beat. The guitarist was no slouch. Hed alternate between uber loud Chuck Berry leads and weighty, randy glam rock riffs. It had the loose sway shed heard on some of Seths old records. But on this record, the Pistols had taken the fey swagger of the Dolls and decimated it with an amped up, testosterone onslaught. The vocals were atypical for the rock style, yet always perfectly in key. The bass was fairly spot on, for the most part. It might just be the tight production of a high profile, major label release that pulled them together this tight, but she got the clear impression that this band had their own talent, and that it wasnt that the punk bands they were spawning in their wake couldnt play, but rather couldnt play this well yet. She just kept driving along the open highway, with this pummeling rock n roll blaring from the speakers, cleansing her fears, turning her on, setting her free.
Seth Danger? She cried.
He turned around, his face worn and confident. Oh yeah, that was him.
Holy shit! Sarah! he laughed and they hugged like long imparted friends do.
Do you like the Sex Pistols? she asked, presenting him with the tape.
Yeah, thanks. Ive heard of them. I dont listen to much music, given that Ive been homeless for many months. What have you been up to?
Ive been following around a failing rock band for the past three years. And you?
Then he sat back down facing her, and he lit his last cigarette. She could tell that she had just asked the question that was dying to answer.
Obviously you know what Payola is, right? Well it was early in my senior year, you had taken off, but my band the Teenage Fuck Ups were still together, but were about to split up if we didnt finally get a gig. So I sold my third car, the only one I never totaled and bought a few grams of high quality coke off that kid Julio Berhman. You remember him, right? Well I traded that with Bill Graham, who I got in contact with through this magazine ad he had placed, in exchange for a gig for my band opening for the Tubes at the Fillmore East here in Frisco. We all get up here, wide streets and burn outs, hundreds of miles from our homes in Ohio. And we hit that stage and theres thousands of people in the crowd. Our first ever gig! Of course we fucking sucked and we couldnt play and I had taken about five hits of acid to ease the stage fright. All of a sudden, I start flipping out. I forgot all the words and Im just screaming gibberish. Between each song Im telling the crowd what our name is real loud. Weeeerrrre ttttthhhhhe Teeeeeenaaaage Fuuuuckuuups! Before long Fee Waybill of the Tubes comes on stage and apologizes for us, grabbing the mic out of my hand and everything. I was pissed off so I beat him really bad, Im not sure he could even go on to headline the show. Then I ripped off all my clothes, threw the heavy monitors into the crowd and stormed off the stage. Its all written down in this press clipping.
He dug into his pocket and drew out a wrinkled and yellowing show review. She read it. It pretty much confirmed everything he said.
Then what happened? She grinned up at him.
After the show, I met this girl back stage who thought that what I had done was the coolest, most rock star shit shed ever seen anyone do. She invited me back to her apartment which was convenient since I was about to be kicked out of the venue pretty soon. She worked at a magazine. She was my first ever girlfriend. I didnt follow the rest of the band back home, I moved in with her and washed dishes to help pay rent. She always said that she was going to find me another band and make me a big star. It never happened and I really couldnt care less. Seeing a crowd of thousands on acid never looked half as good as the me that I saw in her eyes. All my life I thought I was so cool, but I thought it anathema to nature that anyone else could see me the same way. I thought myself above and beneath the others at once. But that girl made me see that I was level, a guy who could speak the truth. She left for the East Coast, but Im still here. I dont live in that apartment so I dont have to wash dishes to pay rent anymore, I quit. Now I just wander the streets. At night I go and sleep by the beach. Its warm at night with all the stars in the sky. I just figured Id drop out of society for the umpteenth time and wait for some obscure force to find me.
This was the Seth she had grown to miss so much. Who else could sit casually, smoking his last cigarette, describing in frank detail the early demise of his rock career and his descent into vagrancy without a hint of sadness in his cool eyes? He poured forth the latest chapter in his lifes tragedy the way one might prattle humorously over a sitcom airing by the office water cooler. And always concluding with some hopeless oblique prospect for the future, no prospect at all, really. A strange confidence had washed over his face. He had already realized his souls potential in finally understanding that life had always been some side splitting cosmic joke. The lone, troll jester had become the messiah of her wandering dreams. The boy who she used to spend hours listening to each week had opened his eyes wide enough to see what she had seen in him. Now freed, his heedless vision was the steady stream sweeping her seamlessly into his soul. This wasnt some girly, now-hes-a-man-now-she-can-love-him-type-of thing. It was simply that the only man she could trust had learned to trust himself, and a distant resolve had vanished, leaving a raging intrigue to glow brightly. His vanity fastened, setting that security and that cleansing laughter to ooze forth, suffusing her tightly. She was just a randy blur of blonde hair and peach lipstick bundled up in a lush pout of endless submission.
And I remember you coming over a lot, when you could have been out partying or doing homework. I saw what was great in myself, but I never dreamt you could see it too. Funny you should show up today.
And they glided together in a hard kiss. She didnt know what the future would bring in the long run, she never did in the first place, anyhow. All she knew was that before the night was through, she would carry Seth Danger, one time fey loner safe in his parents house, into a furnished room and fuck until the wee hours of the morning, like nothing else mattered. And it certainly didnt.