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.

Jesse (1954-2014)

peace.imagesAn old friend from my past died a few weeks ago, and he’s been on my mind a lot since then. Jesse and I knew each other as teen and new adults. Friendships in those years meant more than family to me, and it was the same for my friends. We were family to each other, because our families of origin didn’t work.

Many of our gang, dubbed the Pranksters by the slyly intelligent Doug Beeler years before I read Ken Kesey, had fathers who drank, parents who were divorced, mothers who hit us, and so on. Some of us had been forcefully evicted from the family home. Jesse, in this merry band of long-haired freaks, was the coolest.

Jesse’s family seemed fine to me, but he fit right in with the rest of us misfits. Jesse wasn’t much taller than me, and I’m 5’3. He had shoulder length black hair and a tidy mustache that didn’t ever grow over onto his lips. He had black framed glasses when wire rimmed specs were the rage. He was damn smart, and those glasses suited him. He was unique. A character. A charmer with braces and an easy smile. He was a peacekeeper and a positive force in our band of gypsies.

One of the things I really loved about him was his vocabulary. He spoke with ease and assurance in long sentences designed to provoke laughter. We always wanted to laugh back then. Laugh and listen to music. And if we could, get high.

Jesse called weed things like sweet leaf and smoke. He called cigarettes “tubes.” When he had to leave, he’d say “Gotta book” and when he loved something, it was “cool” it was “far fucking out.” We all loved the F word as adjective, but Jesse said it first.

He wore plaid flannel shirts and jeans with holes, not patches. He had a style about him, a bandana around his forehead and crown, with the rest of that dark hair in disarray to his shoulders, no farther. Worn boots that looked like Doc Martens before there were Doc Martens.

Jesse taught me to beg with class. He had a loose-limbed stance and a totally relaxed walk. He was relaxed when he pan-handled, too. The world was a different place then. We were too young to work and too old for an allowance. Some of us didn’t have addresses, most of us walked or hitched by way of transportation. On rare occasions, Jesse’s dad would let him drive the ‘Cuda.

On those days when we wanted to be high, which was every minute of every day, and needed money for beer or weed, Jesse taught me to stand casually outside the party store at the Crossroads (also named by Beeler, Jesse’s best friend) and instead of holding out a hand and saying “please can you buy me some beer and also can you pay for it?” look a person in the eye to get a feel if they would give me their loose change.

Then, still not holding out my hand, say two words: “Spare change?” Only when I heard the jingle of silver coming out of pocket or purse, did I hold out my hand for the offered coins and say thank you. Jesse always added “peace” so I did, too. So this job of pan-handling for substance abuse purposes had two parts: part one, gather “bread” part two: find a buyer for beer or a seller of pot.

Later, when I was on the road and hungry, I didn’t panhandle much. I’d rather go hungry and only felt comfortable begging with Jesse safely tucked somewhere close but out of sight. Also, I did not like the taste of beer, but drank it only for the buzz. Jesse taught me how to do that, too. Drink as much as possible in one swallow, then pass the GIQ.

Jesse could roll a joint with one hand, hanging from the limbs  of a tree in the “Living Room” (another DB coinage) deep in the woods at the state park where we sometimes hung out. He’d spark a match and inhale with aplomb, that sweet smile on his face as he held the smoke as long as possible.

When I got the news of Jesse’s death, I hadn’t seen him in forty years. Our paths diverged as I got straight and started a family. I have heard through mutual friends, though, that he went out the way he was then. Still seeking the next high, still smiling.

The Creep Factor

Funny what comes up in discussion when people talk to me about “Sarah’s Survival Guide.” Early in the story Sarah refers to “an old guy” who’s ten years older than her. When I was Sarah’s age (19) I thought anybody over 30 was old. That was the age line I drew in the sand for dating. If a guy over 30 tried to ask me out, it felt creepy.

Until John. He was the lead singer and lead guitarist in a band that played at a bar I frequented after my waitress shift was over. I didn’t think about John’s age. Any guy with a guitar was auto-hot to me back then. And he didn’t seem old, not a bit. So we started dating. By the time I learned he was 30, I was already in love. I realized my line in the sand was silly. The same thing happens to Sarah.

John and I eventually moved in together. He had a house. He was a real grown up. And he had a dream to move to California, with or without me. We lived together for a year or so and in that time all of our differences, none of them age-related, came out. I wanted children; he did not. I wanted a conventional life; he still dreamed of making it big as a musician.

I liked a cocktail now and then. John didn’t drink or party at all. A bad experience with LSD made him straight, while I was still a little bit bent. He tried to talk to me about drinking, and why I shouldn’t, but it felt like lectures. Now I see the wisdom in his words. (Although I still drink wine and the very occasional vodka martini.) He wanted complete clarity in his life. He also wanted to become a vegetarian at a time when my usual dinner was either from Taco Bell or McDonald’s.

I tried to enter into the spirit of healthy living by making veggie burgers one night. Wow, what work! Way more work than forming some ground beef into a patty. But I did it for John, because I loved him. It’s ironic than I’m a vegetarian now. I like to think John would approve.

The real sticking point for us was family. I approved of his idea about moving to California, but I knew he was not “the one” because we wanted such different things. In the end, he moved to California with another girl. When you’re a singer in a rock and roll band, there is always another girl.

By then I was dating the guy who would become the father of my children. He ticked all the boxes, home, family, conventional life. Plus he was only five years older than me. Not that I think ten years is too big a gap. That was not even part of the problem with John and me. But it’s a bit of a problem for David, the “old guy” Sarah starts to like a little too much for his comfort.