Memory Motel: A Rock And Roll Fantasy 5- Kicked Off the Tour Bus
Part One: The Crash (Continued)
Chapter Two: Elijah Muhammad Jones
How is this for a trick? The worst moment in my entire life and the best moment in my entire life are happening at the same time…
“I love you”. That’s Kaisha Williamson to me, Kaisha, the 50 feet from stardom superstar, being trucked on expensive private planes from one city to another to wail “it’s just a kiss away”, and me, the best friend all her life, who loved her THAT WAY, sitting next to her, a privilege most roadies never get and also a privilege that is moments away from costing me my life.
“You love me?”
“I am in love with you.”
We are being tossed around like kites in a hurricane, the level of hysteria is as scary as the last drop in altitude was and I am so happy and so dead. I’ve known Kaisha as long as I can remember, we are both children of the 1980s, raised as next door neighbors in Sunnyside, and we went to the same school and when Kaisha followed her muse and couldn’t become that singer, that Beyonce, and I couldn’t get at all into the music scene, I became a roadie, my twelve years a bricklayer’s son body all brawn, and engineer surplus intelligence, leading me to Kaisha’s life through any door I could enter. And still, wanting and never getting her, and now, as the plane begins a descent into oblivion and away we go to nowhere and the last words I will ever hear are the three words I’ve ever wanted to hear. Just great.
Sunnyside wasn’t such a bad place to live, a pleasant enough middle class, cross pollinated ‘hood. In my house? It was all r&b all the time, in Kaisha’s home? Her Mom is white and so when we’d sit together studying in the living room, Kaisha would be as likely to put the Stones on as the Temptations. Me? I was born in 1980, and it was all rap all the time. A little too young for Sugarhill, I loved Public Enemy boooy. We would argue, sometime really argue, for a singer, Kaisha was all about the singing and she couldn’t hear how Salt N Peppa had singer’s voices. Me? I’m like my daddy, I am all bolts and nuts and I loved the bolts of bass, the screws of sounds. I was East Coast, of course, Biggie was the man but to be honest, NWA, Dre, Snoop –those guys were terrific. My parents hated them as well, which helped. So not only my notmygirl but also my Mom and Pop, hated rap. It was me, the oldest of three boys, who lead the way through hip hop.
Anyway, rap was the only place I argued with Kaisha to any real degree; three years older than I am, Kaisha was always that strong black woman you read about, and she treated me like a kid brother she had to keep in line. When she was mad at me, she’d push me away, and raise her finger pointing it my face, which me, tall in a tall family, cowed backwards tripping, “Listen, fool…” she’d say when I offered a contrarian to her socialist bent white man is the devil (except for her Mom of course) tirades. Then she’d giggle at me. And now she was gonna die with me.
It isn’t that neither of us had anybody else, I slept with my own fair share of women, even married one, though it lasted less than a year, and Kaisha lived with Ahmad for five years before her failure to break through, broke them. I was living on the other side of LA, around 2002, and I would see Kaisha from time to time, those years we were furthest apart, but she’d call and like a mantra she’d say it: “if he would just write me a hit, everything else would fall into place. One lousy hit, anything to break through. Do I sound shallow?”
Well, she looked fantastic, all heels and tank top, her hair its natural straight down, not the super black she went for. What could I say? “It isn’t about money”, is what I claimed. “It is all about art. It is your art. A great singer needs to sing great songs…”
“And there weren’t any on Love Needs?” That was Kaisha’s monumental career destroying first and final album.
“Yes, with the right songs you’d have…”
But it wasn’t the songs.
It was the voice, Kaisha had the range and maybe the tone, but she didn’t have the character for a lead singing. I wanted to tell her that but it was needless cruelty, how would it help her? And I did want to help her, all I wanted was her happiness. She wasn’t happy then. Between jealousy of Ahmed and just the endless inability, the rejection and rejection and rejection. It was how she became a back up singer, touring with Ahmed so she could keep her eye on him, she sang back up, and, as for me? So I could keep an ear to the ground as well, I was hired as head roadie and we spent 2003 travelling the country and the world.
It ended just about how you could guess it would, right? Kaisha got bored and slept with the bass player, Lazarus. What a fool, what a stupid, stupid thing to do. I mean, if she was gonna fuck somebody why this meatball, brooding bassist. Yeah, he was good, and yeah being a bassist in a funk band wasn’t nothing but all the beats were manufactured any way and I knew the guy and he was an asshole. I was there and she’d confided in me and I was like, “if you’re gonna do this, be careful as fuck. Nothing in writing, not a smile. Not a wink, not a cell call and not a text.
She completely ignored me and they got caught with their pants down. I mean that literally, in the dead of night, behind the tour bus, her pants down, him pressing up against her against the bus, and Ahmed walking with the tour manager talking business. The gig was over an hour ago and I guess they thought they were alone though even so, I guess she was looking to get caught though she denied it later. The first thing I heard about it was when a violent looking Kaisha told me to pack my things and come with her right that second. We were in downtown Austin, Laz had already left and while I wasn’t fired, I was gonna go with her. Ahmed’s retribution was swift, he fired his bass player and divorced his wife on the spot.
We should have gone to the airport, but we didn’t. I think we needed more time to just move alone. Time to think. It was nearly two days by bus, and we didn’t save any more, we got first class, and we sat side by side and Kaisha went from going really really quiet, to speaking mid thought “and it was me who wanted kids, I did, my suggestion, a woman needs to have children, I wanted a full house and that was the deal, first the hit single then the children and I wanted them and when we married, I should’ve put it in the prenup, but he promised me we’d have children. He never kept his word to…” Then Kaisha trailed off, never looking at me, staring ahead, her finger nails clicking on the back of the seat, really annoying but I wasn’t gonna say anything. All I did was sit and listen. “Piece of shit guy, he fucking bolted. It was his fault. Why wouldn’t he even wait for us? What sort of a man does that. He isn’t a man, he’s nothing. Why is every man I’ve ever met a complete piece of shit…” I could have said something here, of course, but chose not to.
We stopped in Santa Fe and decided to spend the night and pick up the bus for the rest of the trip the following day. We got connecting room and I opened the door between us and I could see her wandering about her room singing and singing, all her worries gone, in just her underwear and she looked so gorgeous, I didn’t say anything, just listened to her “Breathlessly and eager, submission isn’t easy for me…” It was at times like this my stupid life seemed to make sense, it wasn’t just obsession, or desire, or weirdness, it was a fate where we could be together when we needed to be together. You know, when Keisha was married to Ahmed for five years we still spoke ten times a day every day. It didn’t change anything in her life, I didn’t help, just her life didn’t happen unless Kaisha told me it was happening. That’s how central I was too her. She left her parents in Sunnyside, but she insisted I uproot my life and go with her to L.A. When she recorded Love Needs, she hired me to be her personal assistant. It was so strange how close we were but she didn’t, or didn’t use to, or didn’t know, she loved me that way.
Ahmed gave her a cool million to get lost and so we got lost, and if Kaisha cared she didn’t show it. It was around this time, she was 33 that she gave up on her dreams and settled for what she could do: sing back up. Yes, it was voice, but it was something else, something at the heart of who Kaisha was (is, is about not to be), her mother was a little the same way. Both our parents stayed together, are still together, and if they had affairs in the 1970s, when everybody was having affairs, we never heard about it. And I don’t doubt her parents loved each other to some degree, what I doubt is they loved each other the way I loved Kaisha. I think they settled but I can’t judge it. When so many of my friends came from single family homes, with interchangeable baby daddies, both Kaisha and I were essentially different from those families: we had a father and a mother, and yeah, they both worked, and it was lower middle class, but Sunnyside wasn’t Bensonhurst or Newark or anything.
There is this whole gangsta either selling rock or you gotta a wicked jumpstart theory of advanced blackness, and it isn’t real because there is a real middleclass (not to mention rich) black society and that is the one Keisha and I are a part of, and that was how we were raised; back when we first moved to LA I considered becoming a part of the tougher, harsher, black underbelly. I was strong enough, I could’ve bully boyed myself into it if I wanted to, but it wasn’t for me and Keisha didn’t like those guys either. “They aren’t smart enough,” she’d complain. “And it is all Madonna or Whore with them, at first you’re a saint and they hound you to fuck them, but once you do you move directly into the whore category. “ Kaisha had dated a rap star for a few months when she was in her 20s but she hadn’t enjoyed it at all. “he was always fucked her on cough drops and weed. He was so fucking boring….”
One evening she invited him home to meet her parents, and the guy, Razorblade Killah, was pretty well known, though he eventually got religion and released God Is Gangsta, before giving up. He now works with Reverend Run. Anyway, she invited him to dinner and it was a real shit show. Razor Blade showed up with his posse, and he knew Kaisha’s parents were all Nation Of Islam, so he was “Salaam Aleikum” ing everything that moved. I was there as well and I found it kind of funny. Kaisha was squirming her life away, and her parents were in uninterrupted horror. Meanwhile, Kaisha’s three younger brother’s were in idol worship heaven. Then he noticed her Mom was white, it was like he saw it and it didn’t register and then it registered…
We returned to L.A. We moved in together and one afternoon Kaisha was on the phone with her Mom and I was watching some ninja movie with the volume muted and I wasn’t really paying attention then I heard her say
“… Yes of course Eli is here, where would he be if not here, you’re being weird Mom.” And then a pause. “No but he will always be here because he is my Eli so what do I care about Ahmed? You and papa is there and I am never really alone, am I?”
Kaisha’s Mom, Maria, wasn’t given to histrionics, she was American not English, but she had an English reserve that played off like understatement. Kaisha’s dad, Joseph, was raised Christian, but in the mid 1970s joined nation Of Islam, and went the fire brigade for a time, but lost interest when he met Maria. Maria was too white, she was like ultra White Bread Protestant Church of England, and, since she was a borderline atheist, and didn’t bother her husband, or the kids, about their faith, they got on well as two secular believers but not really. one way or the other. I’ve known Maria all my life and she was the one adult completely untouched by black culture. She didn’t speak ebonics and she didn’t reply to it either, and, when the kids were with her, and later, even when they were alone, they held their middle class otherness from black American culture like a shield, and their knowledge of, just having a white Mom, nothing else, made them more in touch with the other side of the that specific rainbow. For Kaisha, and I always thought that as well, Maria claimed if she had gone pop instead of r&b, she just had that crossover teena Marie stuff going down.
I guess that distance that people felt about Kaisha she got from her Mom and when she spoke to her dad she softened up, but with her Mom and with me, she was more her own self, or a different self. I’d seen her with guys of course, and she acted the girlfriend role but she didn’t care about the girlfriend role. It didn’t complete her.
I turned my head and looked at Kaisha as she spoke to her Mom but she wasn’t paying me the slightest attention. It is just that every single day we were part of each other’s lives, when people see Kaisha she is so beautiful she doesn’t look black or white, she has like parts of each but the parts you might think would be blackish, the lips hair, butt, even her complexion, were white. Her skin texture was smooth black but the shading was more like a deep tan. When people saw her, they lost their minds. It really is a surprise she didn’t become a star just based upon the way she looked… maybe the camera didn’t love her, maybe her voice, in play it had a richness but on record it lacked character, and when people met her, they couldn’t get past her.
I mean, when Kaisha was seen, people couldn’t look into her, she was shielded, like a chameleon fitting inwards, and also because they just assumed a woman who looked that beautiful had to have hidden depths, had to reward your feelings for her with the realization of who she really was. But as Ahmed discovered, behind her was first nothing at all but self-interest and only when and if you got that, did you begin to get close to Kaisha. Sitting in our living room in LA, kicked off the tour, broke (at least until she got her settlement), alone in a city we never felt at home in, I don’t think either of us were particularly worried.