Ricki and Me

All the early influences on my writing were musicians. Singer/songwriters. I wanted to be one but I didn’t have the voice. I wrote bad poetry, I played guitar, I could sing a tiny bit, but I knew I didn’t have that magic. So I wrote other things and listened to the great music of the 50s, 60s and beyond. We all felt lucky that these bands came up with us. Their lyrics inspired me. Being from Detroit, I loved Motown as well as Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. I loved the folkies and the country rockers. I listened to Dylan like he was a prophet, which of course, in his own way, he is.

“Last Chance Texaco” is my favorite Ricki Lee Jones song, although you might only know “Chuck E’s in Love” which was a monster hit for her in the early 80s. I never pre-order books but I did hers (titled “Last Chance Texaco”) because I adore her music and also years after her boyfriend was Tom Waits, who wrote his own memoir a few years ago and all he said about Ricki and their breakup was “She scared me.” I think he didn’t like she was a bigger star than he was, but whatever. She doesn’t say that, but she has a lot to say about her love affair with Tom. She was so in love and it took her so long to get over him. Now I get the bigger picture of that story, from both sides. I admire Waits as a musician but writing her off in one line of his book was such a guy thing to do.

I love rock memoirs, but I had started to notice that male rockers were much more numerous when it came to writing their stories. Must be because for every female singer/songwriter there are many many male rock gods. I decided I wouldn’t read any more male musician memoirs (unless Dylan ever writes “Chronicles Part Two”). Why? I can’t relate. I hate how they almost all brag about groupies and we all know many of these girls are underage. I used to love Graham Nash, his singing and songwriting, but at the end of his book, he says he tells his new wife, the love of his life, she’s just going to have to put up with him and his groupies and what they do together. They are part of the road, he says. No wonder Paul put Linda in his band.

Women songwriters tend to write better memoirs than the men with their predictable trajectories. I have read a few great male rock stories, like when I was desperate for a new book and I read David Grohl’s. I was so glad I did. I hated him for getting a band together, being lead singer, and playing guitar. Seems like he just wanted to take Kurt’s place. But I found out he didn’t. He had the same feeling about it all at first as I did. He knew the fans would. Many told him he’d never be Kurt. But his story was really good and he was a musician before he ever knew Kurt and had been in all the teenage boy bands that the artists cut their teeth on. He already played guitar. He’d already been a lead singer. And music was in his blood. I ended up not hating him anymore and really appreciating him, if not his music.

But Ricki Lee did more than tell a great story. She set something loose in me, something I’ve carried around way too long. We’re the same age and went through very similar childhoods and teenage years. Her parents were always breaking up and getting back together. Her mother kicked her out of the house at age 14. (I was 15 when my mom did the same). She lived rough and was often hungry, just like me. Both of us hitchhiked as a way to be somewhere different and maybe find a good meal at the end of the ride. Neither of us could legally drive or get a job. We both continually, when things got really bad, called our moms. Who inevitably sent the plane ticket. She wasn’t writing songs yet but she was singing and gathering material. I wasn’t writing stories yet, but I did have a notebook of (bad) poetry that I left in Key West.

To this day (and I’m 66) I feel it’s a miracle I survived those years unhurt. And I’ve never known anyone who existed like I did, sleeping on couches and in cars with my little bundle of clothes. Scared, cold, hungry. I had some lucky times, when a friend’s mom would let me stay for a few weeks or months. That’s really where Ricki’s story and mine diverge. But it freed me in a way. I was NOT such a freak after all. My parents were NOT the only couple who kept doing the break up/get back together dance. And while Ricki Lee went on to singer/songwriter fame and fortune, I became a not-famous fiction writer.

Also, Bob Dylan told Ricki Lee her album “Pirates” (with the Tom Waits break up song “Lucky Guy”) is real poetry. Bob Dylan! Her lyrics are that good and her voice is sublime. If you want to hear Ricki Lee, she’s on You Tube playing the guitar in her living room in New Orleans, kind of a cool marketing thing for the book. I’m not doing much marketing for my most recent book, Jane in St Pete. I had a whole thing planned but Covid kinda ruined it. But I just thought of something! I can leave you a link; there it is.

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