Mini – When a Little is a Lot

I swore I wouldn’t do the music thing on this blog. Too late now. The device in the picture above saved, and changed my life in 1973. Mine was Mini Moog Model D #1273. I can remember that, but the rest of the mid 70s? Regardless, it’s now $4.99 on the app store. From Moog Music.

Enormous debate rages among purists over whether old is better than new, if software emulations are really any good. Dr. Bob took Arturia to task when they brought him their software version, showed them what a real one looked like on a scope, told them when they had that to come back and he’d sign off on it. They did. I have their app as well. And Moog’s Model 15 Modular. But, as anyone who ever owned one will tell you, ain’t nothin’ a Mini but a Mini.

Here’s the deal on that debate. I spent an afternoon a thousand years ago with Dr. Tom Rhea, the man who wrote the original Mini Moog manual. The book I was unable to understand when I bought my Mini. Oscillators? Modifiers? Huh?Who cares, when I do this it sounds like seagulls, and, dig this, now they’re tympani! Add an echo? Gone, baby gone.

What I learned from Dr. Tom was that no two instruments are ever the same, whether they’re made out of dead wood and wire or transistors and wire. He proved that to me by the two of us playing a dozen different Moogs in three product categories. Wetter, warmer, grittier, brighter, buzzier, tighter, sloppier. No two instruments were the same, no two pitch wheels or ribbons behaved the same way. All musical instruments are like snowflakes and fingerprints that way. But without all the side by side they were very similar, and with a little tweak one could be the other. Almost. An Earth Wind and Fire funk bass or an ELP lead could be had, though, without differentiating between is it “real or is it Memorex.” Old or new. Mini is Mini.

And the other noises this thing makes? Some may be similar and/or predictable, but never the same. Unless you save the program, something we couldn’t do in ’73. I often wonder about that. A couple of days down the road even now, you reload a patch and think, “Hmmm, that’s not quite what I thought it was…” Probably because your head is in a different place, or the humidity is up, or…

After 45 years of hearing them, I find the arguments pointless. An instrument is an instrument. I plugged a USB controller into my iPhone, loaded up this $4.99 app and went down Alice’s magic rabbit hole until the battery died. Does “my” new Mini sound any different than everybody else who will download one? I don’t know. How tight are Apple’s tolerance specs? Do I care? No. Because this app behaves like the real deal, isn’t $3,500 like a “new” one, or $7,000 like a “vintage” one, or even the $1,491 in 1973 dollars I paid for my original. Or the roughly $400 for a “boutique” clone or the damn single oscillator Moog Mother 32 I own that drifts worse than a circa 1970’s model.

Why do I mention this? Because as soon as my phone is charged I’m gone down the rabbit hole. Again. If I don’t come back I’m the guy under the bridge with headphones, a solar phone charging hat and a “Wil Mak Space Noyzs 4 Fud” sign. It may not be real, but it’s all that for me. I’d say maybe if I stay under the ‘phones long enough the mid 70’s will come back to me. Nah. And I wouldn’t want them to. “I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”

 

Chesterfield’s Woman

“You sure about this place, Lamar?” Upjohn’s squint through the windshield wipers only deepened the furrow between his bushy gray eyebrows.

“Sure as it’s rainin’. Problem?”

“Little ol’ Texas town like this? Like women’s nylons, Lamar. They either black, brown, or suntan. Ain’t up to no mix your own toffee color goin’ on.”

“You’ve been black since it was illegal, Upjohn. The county courthouse is across the street, and we’re close enough to civilization you can sit where you want. I’ve been plenty of places with you I shouldn’t have been. Come on. The peach pie with glazed walnuts will give you diabetes.”

“You told me they had themselves a chicken-fried steak sandwich worth the drive.”

“That they do. Worth bein’ thrown in shackles for. You bein’ Old Black Blues Upjohn and me bein’ seen with you. We make a fine pair of old jailbirds.” Upjohn could see Lamar’s smile reflected in the GPS screen.

“You understand, Lamar, I put enough gas in my car to run the air conditioner and carry me some cash money when Sonic brings steak sandwiches back every so often. They’re getting’ rare as hen’s teeth, everybody livin’ so damn healthy.”

“This place’ll put some serious hurt on Sonic.”

“That I can believe. This place bein’ all smiles for black folks, not so much. And I’m about to get wet, and I hate to get wet, so you’d best not be lyin’ about the sandwich or the pie.”

***

“Two, gentlemen? Little early for lunch, little late for breakfast.” She was petite, fifty something, still going on twenty. Tight t-shirt, tight jeans and all. “Table or a booth?” Lamar deferred, Upjohn took a table close to the noisy lunch counter that stretched across the back.

“Feelin’ any better?”

“There’s a black fella looks a lot like me back there cookin’ with those skinny tattooed kids, don’t know if I trust him or not. But these folks out here mix it up like we were in a real town.” He nodded toward a booth by the window. “Sixty years gone those two overalls boys mighta come to see me play and tried to lynch me after. They way too old to be dangerous now, so other’n that we’re okay. You like that waitress?”

“Could have been a cheerleader who never got over it that I went to school with.  Her jeans get any tighter we can text 911 for a fire truck on that iPhone in her back pocket, next time she walks by. Cool you off a little.”

“I knew I taught you somethin’. I tell you I had Chesterfield stayin’ with me for a while?” They held up the menus, waited while the coffee slid in with the dinner rolls and butter.

“Nope. Chesterfield’s one from yesterday. He have a real name?”

“I never heard it if he did. Chesterfield was all there was. Chain smokin’ sax man. Orange fingers and orange reeds. Can’t believe he’s not dead and gone and buried in an ashtray.”

“He still keepin’ his clothes in the case with his sax?”

“Damn straight.” Upjohn chuckled, pulled a dinner roll apart. “Two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, a shirt and a cheap backup suit. Man lived his entire life like he was on the road.” He smoothed a knife full of butter on half the roll, tried it, talked through it. “Which he was. Road goin’ to nowhere when he called me.”

“I thought his kids left him a house somewhere. St. Louis, maybe.”

“No, that’s Clifton, the harelipped trumpet player with the crooked mustache, that’s who you’re thinkin’ about. But St. Louis, now, it was one of the places I recall had a real chicken-fried steak sandwich. Back then we had to wait for the white folks to go home to get one, but it was worth the wait. Other one worth eatin’ I remember was a little place on the barely legal side outside Altus, Oklahoma. Looked like a counterfeit Dairy Queen with a metal barn behind it. Gravel and grass and rust. The flyboys from that airbase would come in and drink, throw some dice, listen to us blow and talk up the hookers they rotated in out of Biloxi and N’Awlins. Kept those girls in the woods out back in an old Airstream set up on cinder blocks.” Upjohn spaced and Lamar could see a young Upjohn sitting in that Airstream, drinking cheap bourbon, smoking a cigar, playing cards and talking shit with the ladies till the sun came up. Upjohn drifted back, stuffed the remains of the half a dinner roll in his mouth. “Anyway, Chesterfield pulled up at my place for a couple of weeks. He moped a while, tightened up his money situation and got gone to Florida.”

“He have a story on how he got to where he was?”

“Nothin’ much to it. Told me someone stole – Good God amighty, Lamar.” Upjohn looked at the fried steak sandwich that had just landed, flashed his snap-in smile at the waitress. “Could you be as sweet as you are pretty and bring this old man a knife? A sharp knife?”

“My pleasure.” She smiled, big, walked away like she was on a mission.

“Upjohn, you’re gonna throw your neck out following that business.”

“Just seein’ if your goggles were on straight about the iPhone.” He waited for the waitress to smile again when she set his knife down, on a fresh napkin. “You’re an angel.” He watched her second retreat as closely as the first. “Jesus, Lamar. Only way to eat this damn thing is cut it in half.”

“I told you.”

“Didn’t tell me it was a goddam cow on a loaf of bread.” Lamar took the knife from Upjohn, split his own sandwich while they listened to the bus boy bang a couple of gray trash buckets of ice into the drink machine, watched a couple of furtive young waitresses hold their phones low behind the counter and try to text on the sly like the noise distracted everybody.

“You were sayin’ somebody stole somethin’ from Chesterfield. That why he was stayin’ with you?”

“Shit, Lamar. Nobody stole nothin’. Man’s too old to be shook up about how somebody stole his woman.”

“You told me once that any age is too old to be shook up about that.”

“True. Nobody never stole anybody’s woman that the woman didn’t want herself to be stole in the first place. They park themselves downtown on the front seat of an unlocked car with the windows down, dressed up and lookin’ for all the world like a handbag full of money or the only surviving bootleg tape of the Beatles reunion. I told Chesterfield it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d gone on and rolled up the windows, locked the doors and bought himself an alarm. Woman wants to be stolen, she’ll get stolen.” He used his thumb to stuff a thick tomato slice that was trying to escape back where it belonged between a lettuce leaf and the bun, stuck the gravy covered thumb in his mouth. “Now a man loses his guitar or his saxophone to leavin’ it out of his control, that’s stupid and larceny. Ain’t no man ever got a woman under control, no matter what he thinks. Time comes she gets herself stolen, ain’t no need to call the po-lice, either, ‘cause she was gone ‘fore she come off the front seat. Man needs to understand that as natural fact.”

“Good thing about bein’ a piano player. Nobody’s stupid enough to try and steal one.”

“No one with a lick of sense would steal a woman, either. She’s sittin’ there all lipsticked up, man should know it ain’t the first or last time. What looks like treasure just gonna find a new home it comes time to be stolen again.”

“Pie, gentleman?” She smiled, leaned into the back of an empty chair on the heels of hands, wrists out. “Oh my. You have a ways to go with that sandwich.” She put a hand on Upjohn’s arm. “Now, if you promise you won’t short my tip for not eatin’ all of it here, I’ll bring a to-go box. But you have to think about me when you have it for supper.”

Upjohn flashed his own store-bought smile again. “I have to tip you extra and ahead of time for that?”

“Don’t be silly. You only have to tip when you come see me. Which I know will be regular from now on, right? Pie?”

“Two. You got a scoop of butter pecan with my name on it in this place?”

“See what I can do.” She winked, squeezed his shoulder when she walked off.

“Upjohn? Damn man. You can’t ever eat pie without ice cream? And turn around. You’re gonna need a chiropractor when we get out of here.”

“Ice cream’s a requirement for restaurant pie. And that girl could sell ice to Eskimos, Lamar. Bet she’s been stolen more than a time or three. Back when? She could have played me like the radio while she was sittin’ there with the windows down, waitin’ to be snatched away.”

“Well, she’d have to. She couldn’t play you like the only Beatles Reunion bootleg tape.”

“How you figure?”

“There was never a Beatles reunion.”

“Maybe not.” He moved his napkin for the warm pie with a huge scoop of ice cream to land, turned around again. He turned back, wagged his fork at Lamar. “And maybe?” He nodded in the direction of their waitress who was off working the old overalls guys. “Maybe there was and it’s like that little waitress of ours and Chesterfield’s woman. It’s only a fact that tape ain’t available ‘till it turns up sittin’ on the front seat waitin’ to be stolen. Again.”

Strays

If you’ve read any of this blog, you’ve met Deanna Collings. Meet Jackson, the other star of The Hot Girl.

Long Beach, CA. Summer 1981

“Sky? Whoa. S’up, kid? You’re a ways from San Diego County. Your mom know you’re here?” Jackson backed away from the door of his apartment to let his ex-neighbor by. He recognized the electric guitar case almost as big as the girl, took in the dirty converses along with the red eyes, pink nose and windblown hair. “Hey, hey. Whoa for real to you.” He put out his hand and tried to stop the giant, filthy gray dog right on her heels who ignored him, followed her inside, sniffed up his small living room and flopped on the old hardwood under the open living room window.

“S’up yourself, Jackson. No. Mom doesn’t…I took the bus. I hate San Diego. Fucking hate it. And I, well not me, some total jerkface broke my guitar and it’s all mom’s fault because this jerkface she was dating has this kid, he’s the first jerkface I said, and he twisted the tuning keys too much and some other stuff and the whammy bar is all loose and now my guitar is all messed up and will never be okay.”

“Broken axe is no reason to bail on home. You know you can call me, we’ll deal. What else you got makes a bus ride from SD worth it?”

“Mom said I was stupid for wanting to play softball. With you. But everybody says I’m good. And I really need help with my summer school English teacher, Jackson, ‘cause she hates me. Everybody messes with me all the time down there and everybody hates me…” She leaned her electric guitar case on the couch, sat down next to it and started to snuffle. Jackson didn’t like to deal with women in their twenties to nineties crying. Almost thirteen broke his heart.

“Coke? I have the brownies you hipped me to from Stenson’s, some stale cinnamon rolls Logan brought from the good Lucky’s in Brentwood, and Oreos.”

“Coke. Please. And an Oreo?” She huge snuffled. He set a box of Kleenex next to her on the way to the fridge, dropped the storyboard for the commercial he’d been working on in the kitchen. Like him, it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

“I like your new couches, Jackson. And clean pillows and stuff. Dash’s stuff was gross. I’m sorry I’m here, but I couldn’t do it anymore, and you’re like the only real runaway I ever met. So…” The tears came again, big and round, without noise.

“I’m not a real runaway, Sky. I guess I was, in a way. I waited so long to leave I had to run and I did do a pretty bunk job of it.” He squeezed her shoulder, handed her a Coke with ice and a straw in a tall, real glass, set the Oreos on the end table. He’d helped her through enough homework afternoons when she’d lived next door to know Sky and one Oreo wasn’t going to happen.

She snuffled again. “Cool! Real glass? For me?” She looked at him, big red eyes and a little bit of snotty nose. She started to wipe it all on her sleeve, he caught it, gave her a dish towel with a damp corner he’d brought with the Cokes, nudged the Kleenex box toward her.

“Not much longer on the glass, kid. Twelve is done and you’re done. I save the plastic ones for grownups.”

“Then I won’t have another birthday.”

“Yeah you will. You can lie and tell me you’re twelve when you’re not. I forget about birthdays and how many of them. Stupid, huh?”

“Yeah, kinda. ‘Cause everybody has one. Mom says hers have stopped but that’s BS. Don’t tell, but she has gray hairs now. She has to dye them.”

“Call her for me? You might be responsible for some of those gray hairs.”

“‘Kay. In a minute.” They sat in silence with their Cokes, interrupted by occasional snuffle recovery nose blowing.

“Where’d you get the dog?”

“From around the corner by the bus stop. Like it was waiting for me.”

“He stinks.”

“Yeah, but she’s really nice, and she scared off the Deja Vu parking lot pervs.” Sky tossed a twisted off Oreo top to the dog who caught and inhaled it.

“Jesus.” Jackson leaned onto his knees, put his hand on top of the case. “Show me your guitar?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry he broke it. Jerkface. I haven’t been to my lesson in two whole weeks.”

She popped the case latches, lifted the lid. He was expecting a hanging headstock, splinters, guitar guts. What he got were three broken strings, a bent tuning key and a loose whammy bar from the missing strings.

“Nothing major, but it’s still a pisser, huh? Only a head case would mess with your axe that way. What’d your mom say?”

“She said one day I’d understand that girls need some attention certain kinds of ways and she, well, she was sorry and she’d wait till I was older. For men and stuff to be in the house again and everything, and she was sorry, too, ‘cause anybody who’d break my guitar was stupid and maybe dangerous and I didn’t need to be around people like that.”

“Good for her.” He waited, let her snuffle a couple of times.

“Mom said I was the only thing she ever did right, not letting me be her ‘nother abortion, and nothing better ever happen to me ‘cause I was her gift. Her one little ray of hope that someday being a girl wouldn’t be so screwed up, even if I cuss too much and I get mad at people for acting stupid.” She snuffled, smaller this time. “Can you believe she said that?”

“Yeah. Truth? It took serious mom guts to tell you how much she really does love you all rolled up in that. Don’t worry about the cussing and getting mad. I know a couple of girls a lot like you, didn’t seem to stop them.”

“Did they grow up okay?”

He thought about that one for a few ticks. “I think growin’ up is something we do forever.” He sipped his Coke while he waited for that to hit. “Your mom doesn’t want you to play softball?”

“Only at the park with the little league mixed team. Not with you. She says I’m too young and too much trouble and shouldn’t bother you with all my junk and the only reason is ‘cause I want to hang out with the TV people I saw you with in the paper. And that’s BS, too. ‘Cause I can play okay for a girl and your team’s all girls mostly and I’m not too much trouble. Except for mom. And summer school. Since we moved my English grades suck again and my teachers all hate me ‘cause I’m flippant. That’s what they all say. Flippant.”

“You look it up?”

“It means smart ass when you can’t say smart ass.”

“There you go. It’s like skin, kinda. Get used to it, ‘cause it stays with you, trust me. And look, people make excuses for you not being able to do stuff without really getting to it. Your mom works some Saturdays and it’s a haul in all the traffic up to Long Beach or Santa Monica from SD. Ask her about that, see if there’s something you can work out. Better grades and sitting on flippant might net you a ride.”

“You think?”

“Duh.” He grinned, clinked her glass. “You get square with your mom and summer school. You show, you can play.” He’d never thought of charity softball being used as academic performance leverage, but here it was. “You know why we play softball?”

“For some charity, mom said.”

“That’s right. It’s the ‘somebody always has time to help girls with troubles’ charity. Call your mom, tell her where you are. I’ll talk her down and you go wash your face. We’ll get right with your mom first, then we can go get your guitar fixed, grab an In ‘n Out. We can hit that English workbook in your case if you want. I can even run you back down there later if your mom needs me to.”

“Like right now? My guitar and everything? We can do all that?”

“Yep.” He dropped the lid and latched her case. “From here you look a lot like one of those girls with troubles. And I look like the somebody who needs to have some time.” He took her empty glass, left an Oreo on the table, tossed one to the dog. “Go call your mom.” He checked the stinky mess of gray dog again. “Before all her hair turns gray.”

***

Jackson slid Sky’s guitar case in and down, eased the hatch closed on the new Corolla hatchback that had replaced her mom’s gasping Pinto. Watched in silence while Sky tugged on her mom’s arm, showed her the one hour photos. “No shit, Mom! Look! Honey Muffin from Skanque! She helped fix my guitar! Mine! Can you believe it? She used to live here, ‘member?” He walked around the car, got a big hug from Sky and a one-armed upset but thank you mom-ish hug from Star.

“Thanks. Again.” Star tilted her head toward the passenger side of the car.

“You’re welcome.” He closed the car door, leaned down into the window. “You two cut each other some slack, okay? You’re all you’ve got for family, and lonesome sucks.”

“We got you, too, Mr. Jackson. And now you got us and that big, stinky dog.”

“I come out ahead on that deal, even with the dog. Sky?” He put his finger on his temple. “Hit record, print this. Call me before you ever get on a bus again.” He waited until the Corolla made the left toward the ocean in the Long Beach twilight before he turned around, looked at the tall, matted, gray haired dumpster stank with four feet standing in front of him.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” The Wolfhound put its front paws on his shoulders, licked his nose. He glanced down, did a gender check. Sky had been right about he being a she. “Just what I need in my life. One more female runaway.”

Photo Credit- Gresham Guitars

Check this out

Evan Who?

“Evan who?” The gray haired black man of indeterminate “old” age looked up  from his plate of Southern fried shrimp and across the table at Lamar.

“Not a who, Mr. Upjohn. Evanescent. It’s a word. Like ‘poof.’ You know, here it is and ‘poof,’ it’s gone?”

“Damn, Lamar. You was a kid I woulda never heard nothin’ like that come outta your mouth.”

“True.” Lamar pushed the basket of large cut pub fries that had come with his club sandwich toward Upjohn. “I was too busy sittin’ on the floor watchin’ you make grown men cry and grown women sweat with that fat boy guitar.”

Upjohn pushed the basket back. “I didn’t get this old eatin’ compliments or shit like them greasy ‘tatoes.”

“How the hell you got as old as you are is a miracle. Other men’s women all over the place. Fried chicken straight from the skillet drippin’ fat and bootleg whiskey that tasted like lighter fluid. Shit liked to killed me and I was only sixteen.”

“You were fourteen, boy.” Upjohn flashed his snap-in dental work and his eyes sparkled. “Lyin’ to your momma about libraries and such. Stayin’ out late in the bars with bad black men and hookers, tryin’ to get you a taste of the blues. What was that five-dollar word again?”

“Evanescent.”

“Shit.” Upjohn pulled the tail of a fried shrimp out from between his teeth. “I ‘spose you wanna go on and explain it?”

“Tone. Simple as that.”

“We had us some talks about tone, now, and there ain’t nothin’ simple about that. This Evan Essant fella, he’s down with tone?”

Lamar grinned, drank some lemonade. “He is tone, Mr. Upjohn.”

“You pushin’ sixty yourself now, Lamar. You drop the Mister, hang it on this man you met claims to be tone personified.”

“You used to say tone was everything. Finding it, looking for it, getting’ it. ‘Harder to find good tone than a good woman,’ you told me.”

“‘Deed it is. Hard to find as a good one, lasts ‘bout a long as a bad one.” He chuckled with his whole body. “You look for it all the time, you reach out, hit that note and you can feel it vibrate in your bones…” He closed his eyes and air played a magic note with his middle finger, thumb up off an invisible neck, rocked a big, slow vibrato. “That’s tone…” His eyes and hand popped open. “An then it’s gone. And it’s such a high you know you gotta go find it again. Big tone is the drug of players. We just used that nasty whiskey and women and some other things to take the pain away from tone bein’ a bitch of a mistress.”

“That’s evanescent, Upjohn. Tone. Poof. I think it’s a great word. Rare to find a really good one, you know? Say ‘great tone’ to a ballet dancer, or a painter, or a writer or any artist doin’ anything, and you’ll get that ‘what the fuck, weirdo?’ look. But evanescent? Yeah. Dancers know the instant it’s danced, it’s gone. You know they’re looking for tone in every move they make. I stood in the art museum last week, three feet from genius. Tone? Man, I could feel it coming off the canvas. Every time the brush went down you know that man was lookin’ for big tone. Evanescent is the best word for all that stuff we think is invisible. All I’m sayin’.”

“That instant you feel a hug from someone who means it. When you hear God callin’. When your heart jumps. You sayin’ all that is this down to this Evan cat?”

“You could say that.” Lamar tightened his lips, shook his head before he let out a quick smile. “Evan? He knows all about that magic, invisible instant in everything where tone happens. How it feels when all those hours of practice disappear and for a split second your entire soul is free. All those fleeting moments are Evan. Evanescent.”

Upjohn set his fork down, looked Lamar in the eye. “You getting’ damn near poetic about this Evan fella, Lamar. Look here. Add ‘em up. All the time we spend lookin’ for tone and those rare times we find it? Those all be the fleeting moment of life itself.” He gave that time to weigh in, picked his fork back up, shoveled a bite of coleslaw. “You know the woman makes this slaw?”

“I do.”

“She single?”

“Never asked. You should try her onion rings sometime.”

“She old and black and got an opinion like me? Them rings got the taste of Evan in every bite?”

“Just like you, and every bite is evanescent. Perfection and gone. Poof.”

“You need to introduce me. Maybe she needs to know a hungry old gi-tar player with perfect teeth.”

“I don’t know, Upjohn. She thinks the whole NASA thing was a lie and all that moon business happened in the desert out by Vegas. Hate to hook you up with crazy.”

“Woman’s crazy after my own heart ’cause it sure ‘nuff did happen just like she said.” He picked up his napkin, winked. “You can see the wires where they’re flyin’ ‘em around.”

“Bullshit. Plus, you still liked to killed me on purpose when I was –”

“Fourteen. Tryin’ to run your scrawny young ass off. We been down that road. How ‘bout I tell you I do believe you’ve found a five-dollar word for the blues? That push you right some in the introduction direction?”

“Tone is tone, and love is love but I’m not havin’ you go to lyin’ for coleslaw on my conscience.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, boy. I’ve thought on it all through this fine shrimp lunch you bought me, and maybe there is a five-dollar word for the blues. Evan.” He twisted his mouth up, worked it out. “Evanescant.” He looked across the table, flashed his dental work again. “Goddam, Lamar. That’s one big assed ol’ mouthful a word for tone, ain’t it?”

Photo Credit – Gypsy Tea Room, Deep Ellum, 1930s. The Dallas Public Library digital archives.

Christmas Liszt

People are starting to panic. “Oh my God, did I get little whozit or big whozit or old whozit or the child whozit a Christmas present worthy of the sampled celestial choir going ‘AHHHHHHHH’ like baby Jesus just dropped in for brunch?” And then the tag. “You won’t tell me what you want so I’ll just go buy you some stuff.”

Please. I don’t want stuff. No more tools, I have enough to do any job around the house four different ways. I have shirts. And shoes and pants and sleep pants and no more jackets and I don’t wear ties. I might like a replacement for the bedroom Logitech remote that I want to throw against the wall as hard as I can. But I’ll do that off-holiday time. No more stuff. Nothing cute or warm or functional or useful or even fun. What I want for Christmas isn’t on Amazon or Jet or L.L Bean’s or Neiman’s (that’s a joke for all the rich people who troll this blog). Nope. Because what I want for Christmas? I want me some of that Rock Star Hair!

Really! I mean look around. Regular dudes, where does our hair go? Some guys get to keep theirs, but most of us? Adios. This year I want to replace all the fa-la-la-la-las with follicle-la-la-las. Now there are some considerations, and a gazillion choices. Take the Pekingese on Sir Elton John’s head. No way. The Keith Richards look I can get in a day after Halloween half-price sale in the Frankenstein costume bag. The same with Alice Cooper. The other day I saw an interview with Robbie Robertson of The Band fame and I swear I could have taken that Teflon thing off his head and cleaned a nasty three-day old college dorm room sloppy joes skillet with it. That may be Dylan’s hair, but still. When rigor sets in I’ll see if I can borrow him to clean my chimney. I was driving down the tollway the other day, big ol’ billboard for Styx at a casino. Look at all that hair! And the color! How does a guy get a gray goatee and oxblood shoe polish color hair? And lots of it? One of them, his hair is the exact same style and color not found in nature as this woman I know who is a “spunky” seventy. Which is about right for Styx. Because they had greatest hits records out when I was twenty and I’m, well, old enough to remember “Light Up” and what they were talking about.

Most of the country guys all get hats until the plugs grow in and to keep the weaves in line. Probably a good idea, because that unnatural hairline looks a lot like a green onion garden. I remember seeing Al Di Meola right after some plug work and he kept that hat on until he started talking about it. Springsteen was working my skin skull cap back in the Nineties, and all of a sudden after a year of hats, hair! And Opie still wears a ball cap. Check out Franz’s hair in the header picture. Some kind of unnatural symmetry in that hairline.

Some don’t even bother to make sure their hair matches the graying stuff around their ears, like Billy Ray Cyrus and that earlier deal with Robertson. I mean you’d think Hanna Montana’s dad would do her proud, right?

I am a seriously big Jeff Beck fan. The guy’s guitar playing and support of female artists and causes makes all old guys look good. But the same hair since ’65? It’s starting to look like a furry hipster’s beanie.

Others go full on black like Gene Simmons or some other solid color like Chuck Norris. But that’s one guy I will never tell how messed up his hair is. Because an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” changed my life. Not really. Because Chuck may be old and his hair maybe looks stupid, but he’s a badass. I won’t give Paul McCartney any grief, either, but not because I’m scared of him. My wife still remembers him fondly as the “cute” Beatle. Which goes right to Ringo. All that jet-black hair and beard. The guy is how old? And Steven Tyler? Jeez. What sort of system is that? Do the feather ear rings come with the weave or help anchor it? Does he wear it to the grocery store? With the spandex and leather? All he needs is an overcoat and he’s the cover of Aqualung.

The TV and movie guys really have it wired. Probably because they have a line on the make-up and prop people. Captain Kirk has been wearing nylon hair and man Spanx since the first Star Trek TV show so I won’t go into Affleck and Travolta and Sheen ad nauseum. And women complain about airbrushed cellulite and the photoshop squeeze and facial close-ups that would made a fresh peach feel ugly. Hey! Dudes get dissed everyday for not having underwear model abs and hair that would rival Daniel Boone’s coonskin cap.

hair-rentalHow can I be old and old rock star cool without the hair? Not that it would make me cooler or thinner or hit the Bowflex to get old guy buff more often, but I’d have it. Hair! No funny color, just what is, only more of it.

Well, that’s a lie. When I really get down to it and take a long, hard look I realize the truth that Patti Smith and Grace Slick have shown us all. When you still have a lot of your own hair and are over a certain age, regardless of gender, we all start to look like Jerry Garcia. I mean before he was dead. Or was Gratefully Dead, but not…Anyway.

I think if I can’t get Rock Star Hair for Christmas and grow old with a big ol’ stash of vanity, I’ll have to admire the cats like Billy Joel and Garth Brooks and Sting and James Taylor and the others who just give it up and shave it or live with it like it is. Be one of the ones who “Let It Be.” And you know, it’s still cool if it’s gone, I guess. Because sexist cliché persona that he is, Dapper Dancin’ Fool Dave is one smooth, horse smiling, Vaudeville grade, old school rockin’ dude. Forget the screams and high notes (they’re long gone), forget the old hair (because it’s gone) and the fur coats. Now it might be the wrong color, but with what’s left of his own hair, let DLR and some rock stars with (maybe) their own gray hair hook you up with those Christmas sugar plum fairies in your head and “Dance the Night Away.”

 

Who needs hair or your old voice when you know a good guitar player? Nose Band Aids optional. Gift cards for rock star hair are now being accepted.

If amidst all this recent mandolin driven melancholy Emo lyric Americana and children pretending to play retro psychedelia you’ve forgotten what electric guitar sounds like?

Merry Christmas. And for the New Year? Turn it up to 11 whether you can dance or Santa brings you rock star hair or not. And all you old guys, remember; even rock stars are smart enough to wear pants with a skosh more room.

 

 

 

A Short Prayer

For a short Old Friend

She’s old enough to
Have heard her babies cry
Heard her Mother cry, now
She’s forced to watch
The man who’s been beside
Her
Die
For whoever answers prayers today
Listen…

Show her someplace quiet
Sunny and cool
Where the grass is
Green and
Soft
Sit with her on the bank of the
Magic stream
So wide, so
Slow
Where the water
Is clear and
Clean
Let her be ankle deep for awhile
In all of what is
Everything

Let the very best of their
Yesterdays
Fold her gently in their arms
Take a moment
Show her a tomorrow
Real and bright
Hold her through the night
Give her something to
Believe
Show her a glimpse of what is
Everything
Help her while she grieves

Dry her tears
Calm her fears
Show her how a love
That lasted a lifetime
Means more than pictures
On a wall
Show her what she needs to see
Listen if she calls
Show her what she’s made of
How who and where she’s been
Is still that girl
She thought she
Was
So strong, so
Long ago

Show her someplace quiet
Hold her heart inside your hand
Keep it still and
Calm
Wrap her in
Compassion
Give her dreams that are
Sweet
When she needs
Relief
As she’s forced to watch
The man who’s been beside
Her
Die

I won’t ask for easy
I know it doesn’t work that way
From whoever answers prayers today
I ask only for some simple Grace and
A touch of Mercy
For an old friend

Painting: “Norham Castle, Sunrise” by JMW Turner, The Tate, London

Sold Out

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Early October, 1976

Harper knew he was already a little too close to getting fired to tell the father of someone he’d dated a while back that requesting “If You Leave Me Now” just made him look stupid because the woman in the booth with him wasn’t interested in how up to date he was on shlock ballads. A girl not much older than his daughter was interested in what he could do for her, what she’d do for him if he did and anything else he tried to play into the arrangement, including improving his cool factor, was misguided. The man, oblivious to anything besides not breaking that tenuous might-be-getting-laid spell failed to even recognize him and dropped a five in the jar, so Harper kept his mouth shut and gave Chicago a pass. It was early, he’d get over it. He banked the man, though, so if he ever saw his daughter again he could tell her he once romanced her dad while her mom busted ass at home.

His eyes followed ‘dad’ back to the booth and as soon as he looked away in disgust from the visage of sex jacking an old guy as a promotional tool he was transported into the worn-out paperback detective novels one of the old drunks at the Kerr-McGee station down the street was always reading.

“She walked in and pointed a pair of thirty-eights at me. Then she pulled a gun.” Jesus, that bunk was real. It wouldn’t have mattered how dark the bar was or if he’d been blind, he wouldn’t have missed her. The red dress that almost hit the floor, slit up the side to beyond where heaven probably started, red sequins everywhere. One of those ladies with her own spotlight. Probably had an invisible orchestra that followed her around like Rita Hayworth, in case she decided to bust out a ballad dripping with dumb lyrics and sexy boom-boom hips in a gown that stayed up by a miracle, not straps. Even the men deeply ensconced in their perimeter booths turned to look. Harper grinned a little because he knew checking out the red dress babe would put a dent in their somebody else’s wife’s friendliness accounts. He’d seen married women get bent about that even when they were cuddling with another woman’s man.

Red dress weaved her way through the darkness spotted with tabletop candles right up to the piano bar with the ratty old Baldwin baby grand under a piano shaped table. She dropped her red sequined evening purse on top before she slid the back side of her slit dress onto the bar stool closest to him. She wiggled side to side a couple of times to find the stool’s sweet spot and sighed. Long black hair cascaded across half of her face and down the front of her dress, curled right under, and almost around, a perfect, red sequin covered breast. The dress itself wasn’t risqué at all. The neck was high, sleeves to the middle of her forearms, hem to the floor, but it fit like someone sprayed her with red sequined paint. The whole package, including the sequined evening clutch, screamed high-class hooker. Maybe. He’d seen a lot of those purses downtown. Just enough room for a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, I.D., three condoms and some cash. High-class this high was way too high for Daddy’s Hideaway, though. The Hide was convenient, suburban, close to home and where uninventive upper middle-class husbands met their other-people’s-wives mistresses to set up where and when they’d hook up in a less public venue, write off the check as a “business meeting.” And to sneak in a little sly “watch the lipstick and don’t wrinkle my clothes, darling” romance before moving on to report in with the “loved ones” at home. The place was full of illicit sex, but it wasn’t a “real” hooker haven or pick up bar.

“You could play something,” she said.

Harper tried a light smile. “I am.”

“You could play something I might like to hear.”

Harper nodded toward the far wall. “The guy in the booth over there, having dinner with his daughter? He asked for this one. I don’t like it either, but he dropped a five for it.”

She shot a glance at the wall while she ran two fingers down the edge of the hair in her face, made no attempt to move it. “She’s not his daughter. Sticky sweet love songs should net you a twenty from fountain of youth seekers like Robert, or a ‘no.’”

Her voice was woodfired and charcoally. Gravel and honey. Like she’d smoked Camels and drunk Jim Beam since she was born. If sexy ever needed a voice, here she was. And she knew the Chicago request guy, too. Small world.

“I’d offer to buy you a drink but I’ve already pissed you off with this tune. Two strikes this early would shut me down waiting for the third.”

“Piano players make enough money to flirt it away these days?”

“Lonely piano players will throw money at classy company all night long if they think any of it might stick.” He watched her do all of those lady things. The hair shake, little shoulder rolls stretching her upper back out, flexing her fingers, touching the dress, her sleeves, pushing the clutch around trying to find where it belonged. Small movements, big presentation.

“And you?” She still was looking down, side to side, like a cat had jumped in her lap or the stool was playing lightweight grabass.

“I’m lonely and I’m drinking lemonade with a half a shot of tequila in it. I can’t drink very much or I start to play Carpenter’s tunes. And I do a bad job of it because they make me cry. Old heartbreaks die hard.”

“A flirty, cornball, heartbroken crybaby. My lucky night. Flag the waitress and I’ll join you. Lemonade and half a shot. What a great idea. You make that up?”

“Yep. It’s a Harper.”

“I like Lynzey better. From now on they’re Lynzeys.”

“I tell her that and the bartender won’t know what to do, so she’ll pee in a glass full of ice and stick an umbrella in it. Your name Lynzey?”

“Yes,” she spelled it for him after she rolled her eyes. “I had to work it in, you weren’t going to ask. You’re not much of a flirt.” She glanced back at the wall where he’d said the request had come from, wiggled a little and pulled on her dress. “Now you can play something I might like. Daddy-o over there has a lip lock going and a hand in his lap that’s not his own. And you’ve beat that chorus into tomorrow just like Chicago did. He got his five buck’s worth.”

Whoever she was, she had a good eye and a sense of humor drier than July. “You a ‘Popular Hits for Piano,’ ‘Easy Listening,’ ‘Peaceful Easy Feelings’ or a Standards girl?”

She gave him a dirty look with the half of her face that wasn’t covered with hair, picked at the chipped Formica on the piano bar top with a red fingernail. “These piano cover things are always the shittiest piece of furniture in a bar. What do you think? About me.”

“I think you’re an old fashioned Standards girl. And the piano underneath this piece of shit isn’t any prize, either.”

“Story of my life.”

Harper tried not to laugh but couldn’t stop himself. “Being under a piece of shit or not being a prize?”

“I was starting to like you. I’m always the prize, no matter what piece of shit I’m under.” She threw some of the hair over her shoulder but not out of her face and watched him while he flipped through the fake book and hit on “The Man I Love.”

“I wasn’t giving the waitress the peace sign,” he said. “She’ll bring us both a Harper here in a minute.”

“They’re Lynzeys now, remember?” She smiled, leaned up off her stool onto the piano bar top trying to look at his hands. “You have a fake book down there? You aren’t even a real piano player?”

PH Rockin Cal 1981 a“I’m a between bands rock n roll keyboard player. I was washing dishes in here for free food and some cash when the old drunk who usually does this fell off the bench. Alcohol poisoning. They used to light his breath, drag him around to light all these candles.”

“Flirty, cornball, heartbroken crybaby comedian. You keep raising the bar. Between bands? Why?”

“Creative differences. I don’t like light-footed drummers, especially a dumbass who gets the clap every weekend screwing shit he should leave alone, but he and the other two guys were all brothers. And I just can’t do the platform shoes guitar band thing anymore.”

“Really high heels make my back hurt. Men walk like they have a broomstick in their ass in those things anyway, so it’s good you saw the light. Did you at least go to piano player school long enough to find ‘All the Things You Are’ in that book?”

Harper played his way out of where he was and flipped to the index, and back to the page with her request. “This is two.” He nudged the tip jar and grinned. “’Man I Love’ was on the house.” She gave him a tight-lipped eff-you smile, stepped off the stool, walked like sex with feet all the way around behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Slow down a little, Harper. Let a lady make love to a song.”

He slowed down, and what she did with a song, several songs, Harper figured was probably illegal in forty-seven states, including the one they were in. She’d left her hand on his shoulder, bent over and put her head right next to his, let all that perfumed hair fall all over him while she flipped through the fake book one handed. When she’d find one, she’d tap the tempo on his shoulder, then squeeze him a little when she wanted him to let it drag, tap him with her index finger when she wanted him to pick it back up. He played wide and close to the ground, left her a lot of room. She filled it like blue smoke in a giant bubble. After five songs Lynzey slid back on her stool to light applause from the darkness. When that calmed down he noticed through the hair that she was flushed.

“Nice job of being there and staying out of the way, Harper. That was unexpectedly perfect.” She picked up the red candle holder wrapped in plastic netting, tilted it to get the wax away from the wick so it lit up the top of the piano, and him, then finished her Harper. Or Lynzey.

“You know when it’s that good? It’s better than sex. All that room you made for me, my God. I felt like I was rolling around on a huge bed in loose satin sheets. Enough room to be coy, enough to fall a little bit in love…” He watched as she drifted off somewhere and stayed.

He almost agreed. Almost. Maybe she’d been having sex with the wrong people, or needed to fall a little bit in love with whoever it was. She wasn’t all that old to be bumming on it. Harper was almost twenty-four and only last week a dishwasher turned lounge piano player, once again, this time by having a particular skill set in the proximity of need. He put Lynzey at just over thirty. Eyes and skin and smile or laugh lines were how he guessed women’s ages. And women telegraphed it if you tuned in. But he wasn’t concerned with how old she was because when she sang it really was almost as good as sex. Almost.

He was stuck on that sex with a side order of being in love thought when she came back from wherever she’d gone and said, “I was thinking about you in platform shoes.” She tossed her hair and he saw her face before it fell again. “I think you’re lying.”

“Gospel. I have pictures. I was thinking about you as the Phantom of the Opera. I thought there was a reason for the hair, like you were halfway ugly. Now I think you’re hiding.”

“Don’t play shrink, play the piano and be nice. I’m just another girl in a red dress.” She pinched the fabric of a sleeve with her thumb and forefinger. “Put this on half the housewives in a square mile of here, take the crap out of their hair. There I am. Or here they are.”

“Unless it’s magic, that dress doesn’t help you sing. I’m almost a half bad guitar player, too, if you’d like to try this in the park with me tomorrow.” That one made her laugh out loud but she caught it quick.

“Was I going to wake up in your bed before we skipped off holding hands to play troubadour and muse? Did you just leapfrog the big question and go straight to an ‘after we’ve slept together’ suggestion?” She snarkled a choked laugh again. “God, if you did, that’s new and very good. Intuitive assumption. When you get tired of playing miserable songs for miserable people, you have a future in sales. Don’t ask them if they want whatever it is, just ask them how they’d like to pay for it.”

“I hadn’t really thought of any of that. It was an honest proposition.”

“An honest man?” She looked at him again through her phantom mask made of hair. “Don’t take this personally, but I could never do what you asked, even if I were tempted. Since we’re being honest with each other, I’ll tell you what you’re wondering about me. I’m not a hooker, I’m a singer. I have a two-year-old son at home, with a sitter.” She barely lifted her hand from the wrist, made a small movement from left to right with it. “My husband is one of these men, in a bar a lot like this probably, only halfway across the country. More than likely sitting with another man’s wife or a starry-eyed intern and paying too much for drinks while someone quite unlike you entertains them. He’s ‘important,’ and gone a lot of the time. I see the receipts, the places on his expense reports, the guest golf club memberships. The matchbooks and keys to hotel rooms he was never registered in. I smell his shirts sitting in the passenger seat of my car before I drop them at the cleaners. I come in here occasionally and sing to forget, just like people who come in here and drink and replace their emptiness with a little alcohol and stolen romance. I heard about Kingsley passing out and was curious who they’d found to replace him. And I needed to sing.”

“So why just occasionally? You’re a slammin’ singer.”

“I just told you, Harper. I’m a sell-out. From the walls in, this little cavern of moral treason is a sell-out. I used to sing opera, on a scholarship. And I’m a better pianist than you are. Or I was. Well, you have those hands that make it so wide, harmonically, but…Anyway, we don’t have a piano in our house, and when I argue he just walks away. He says the noise is distracting. I made a huge mistake in college and here I sit.”

Harper was having trouble getting behind “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and listening so he went back in time a little and found some four chord classics, caught her eye a gave her half a nod.

She picked up the cue that he was really listening and smiled behind her hair while she made rays of water come from the condensation ring her glass had left behind. “You’re listening. I’m not used to that, other than about who and where and when and how much did it cost. Do you find me fascinating?”

“Yes.” Shit. There was a better answer, a cooler answer. He knew there was.

“That’s marvelous! I haven’t been fascinating to anyone in the longest. ‘Specially with my clothes on!” Harper had already gone to imaginary no clothes Lynzey in his head and had to force himself to come back. Fully clothed she was still fascinating. And she’d quit making the watery abstract sunshine and wiped it all away with a paper napkin.

“In college I smoked pot at a party with my future husband. I mean I’d done some mescaline a couple of times and Quaaludes once and all the required college party drugs, but I’d never trashed my throat smoking anything. I told him ‘no,’ he knew I never smoked anything because of the heat and ash and junk in my throat. He said this bong thing of his roommate’s was full of water and cooled it off, it would be okay. I’d always wanted to see what the big whoop was so I smoked it. A lot of it. I decided to show off and tried to be Janis Joplin as loud as I could and woke up with a shredded throat. It’s a muscle like a football knee or a tennis elbow and I blew it out, just like one of those. So I messed my everything all up being a one-time pot party girl. I wouldn’t have married him if it wasn’t for the money and his master plan ‘we’ discussed for my life after I couldn’t do what I wanted. And I doubt he would have proposed if he hadn’t felt guilty.”

“Drop that shit right on down a deep hole, Lynzey. He’d have proposed. He wasn’t guilty. You had to be the hottest chick he knew, or will ever know. The guy may be an asshole but he’s not stupid. Or Blind. Just lucky. That’s not an ass kiss. You can believe it or leave it, but you need to see it from this side before you start backing up on yourself.” He was surprised how pissed off he’d gotten about her selling herself short like some sort of bar-fly loser. More surprised that in his instantaneous deep infatuation he’d used her name and barked at her.

“Thank you. Not for the sweet bullshit or the sermon, but for listening. And caring.” She shot him a small smile full of irony. “This has all been…different tonight. To be heard. I told you, I’m a sell-out. Everyone in here is a sell-out. Get the bartender’s story. Go ask the man over there with his ‘daughter.’ I know half of these people and none of them is with who they should be. Junior League, Charity presidents, chairperson of the board of this and that. Parading their misery and sadness with themselves like badges of success. I want you to listen to me. When Kingsley comes back, even if he dies and doesn’t ever come back, get out of here. No matter what happens, don’t learn to drink, don’t learn to hide, don’t buy into it. Don’t sell-out.”

He let her words hang in the air between them, raised his eyebrows. “Trading sermons?”

“Shut up. I’m only home inside myself when I sing, Harper. What happens in here or out there doesn’t matter when I sing. It doesn’t matter that I hurt myself being stupid for a man and traded who I could have been or who I thought I was for a pretty hostess with some good looking kids gig. I’m a ‘wife,’ I’m a ‘mom.’ I’ll be a ‘mom’ again soon and he’ll be gone again and I’ll keep coming in here or somewhere and singing to keep my head from exploding until I can’t sing anymore and then I’ll learn to drink or play golf or chit chat like a pro, like I care about my fucking ‘civic responsibilities’ and really be one of them.” She paused, almost out of breath, looked at him through the hair again, and then pulled it all away so he could see her.

“I’m sorry. I…I made the mistake of feeling how it felt when someone listened.” The hair stayed back, her eyes angry, tired, the blue gone gray. She looked defiant for a moment and then let it go. “The lemonade cuts phlegm and that’s just enough tequila. Thanks for that one, Harper. I’ll always remember you for naming a useful drink after me and being the last man who listened. Isn’t it nice to make lasting memories together, fully clothed? To know you won’t be forgotten like a one-night stand with a wakeup song in the park?”

“I’ll never forget the Phantom of Daddy’s that renamed my drink, or wore that dress.” Shit. He wanted to say something else, something with substance, something poetic, not just some lame crap, and he couldn’t find it. He did find the simplest, most open version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” he’d ever played.

She sang it from the stool, softly, like she owned it and was giving it to him as an ephemeral gift, as if she’d ridden that rainbow to the dreams she’d dared to dream and wanted to share them. He found himself wishing even one of whatever they were would come true for her. When they finished she checked the delicate, diamond crusted watch on her wrist.

“Harper, do you remember what I said about when it’s good?” She took his Harper-Lynzey from in front of him and drained it. “I’ve had more good sex tonight than I ever had to make a baby. With my clothes on. With someone handsome in an unkempt, youngish and easily impressionable way who appreciated the simplest me. Remember what I said about getting out.”

She slid off her stool, nodded slightly towards the bar. “Do both of you favor. Take that little waitress who can’t keep her eyes off of us with you when you go home tonight. She needs a ‘good guy’ break.”

“Not going to happen. She and the manager –”

“Manager?” She snorted, said it like the lemon she’d bitten had stuck in her throat. “You must not have asked. Yet. Just be like the best music, Harper. Slow down. Give a lady a chance to make love. To a song. To you. You might be surprised.” She pulled herself up perfectly straight and smoothed her red second skin across her abdomen to her hips with the palms of her hands. “See you, between gigs piano player. Not in the morning, and not in the park.” She smiled the small irony smile again, the hair fell back in her face when she picked up her purse. She turned away and weaved her sex with feet walk toward the door.

For the first time, all evening, he knew what he wanted to say, and why words always seemed to fail him where music didn’t. “Unforgettable” followed her through the candle stars dotting the darkness of Daddy’s Hideaway. She stopped under the fake arch over the doorway with every eye in the place on her, tossed her hair, blew him a kiss. Mouthed “get out” as she let go of the door.