Memory Motel: A Rock And Roll Fantasy 7- Ron And Dog
Part One: The Crash (Continued)
Chapter Two: Elijah Muhammad Jones
Three months after we returned from the funeral, Keisha got the call that would end our lives. She was told the Stones would be recording in Cannes and wanted her to come over for a couple of weeks to add on backing vocals. Nobody had to tell us this was a big deal and also a big deal with no way for me to join her. She didn’t invite me and I didn’t go.
Keisha ended up spending six months in the South of France, and I hardly heard from her. Apparently, the French thought she was Josephine Baker and adored her and the work for the Stones? 90% of it was being available. I stayed at home, even had a girlfriend for awhile, a college girl (I know), very different than Keisha, but really sweet in her own way. I wasn’t the only guy she was sleeping with but she did claim I was the best. A coupla months in, I received an anonymous tip that she was working at a very high end gentlemen’s club, but I didn’t bother to confront her with it, to quote Jay I just put the rubber on tighter. I mean, in LA everybody is on the make: much more than New York, in New York they were all gangsters but in LA they were all on the hustler. It’s like everybody just escaped from a Brett Easton Ellis novel, but I’d lived there ten years and I just assumed it. Plus, unless you wanted to get into “Adio” for free, what could they hustle me for? Anyway, I did nothing about it, I didn’t really care and slowly she drifted away.
I didn’t push Keisha either, I just have learnt from life that some things need to work themselves out, and needy? Needy doesn’t play anywhere even at the best of times. It would never ever play with Keisha and so I was never needy, never calling or asking or even reacting to the stuff that was going on with her: I held myself back and what I had done with Keisha all my life I did with everyone. Women liked me because they thought I had hidden depths and they were right, so far hidden they’d never get to see them.
By the time Keisha returned I was getting used to be being alone, that was around a year ago, so maybe I was even quieter than usual and Keisha was a touch more gentle than she used to be. She told me about life in Cannes (never Nice, right? Who lives in Nice?), the place was color blind and expensive and cool, the rich and famous never left the area –they stayed in their own $150 glass of rose world. Keisha was sleeping with this rich kid and he wanted to manage her but she refused though he did introduce her to a woman who got her session gigs where her wide range light yet husky gave everything something it never had.
She didn’t pal around with the Stones though she met them often enough. There were layers and layers, you don’t just walk up to Jagger or Richards –you waited your turn. Mostly she only worked with the rest of the back-up singers till slowly she was given more and more solos… well, not a SOLO solo, if Jagger just wanted one voice to go with his, it would be hers. Keisha said “I learnt from you, E, keep your head down, do your job, it will come to you.” Perhaps if Jagger had been 35 years old and not more than double that, he’d have wanted a more youthful singer. But he wanted somebody with character, timber, but looseness, mutated power.
“It was a strange scene,” Keisha said, explaining why she had nothing from the sessions to share. “It was like somebody was doing this giant jigsaw puzzle and some of it was done and some of it wasn’t, but only the part that was being worked on was showing. So even when I sang, I hadn’t heard the entire song, only the small piece I was needed for.”
The next question was a little on the obvious side, “So why didn’t you record it here and email it to them?”
“Security, plus the Stones can be old fashioned. Even though there was only Mick and I singing, the Stones were around. One night, may 3am, and I am done for the day, and I could see Keith getting settled in for the night, listening to the songs I guess, it was like producing, really engineering as a high wire act. I sorta half waved as I left,” Keisha told me. “And he waved me in. Cigarette lodged between his lips and his face so craggily and tired. He looked his age and so did Mick, but in a different way. Keith was so much like the way you’d imagine him, it is really… like later, when I was out with friends, they’d want to know about the Stones and the remarkable thing was how they’d become their press release. How they acted the way you thought only more insulated, more like royalty. You couldn’t just speak to a Stone… so to get called into to Keith was a surprise. But it was the sort of story that isn’t a story. I knock on the door of the studio and go in and the room, a lot of cigarette smoke, some weed in there as well, a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels and Keith leaned further down in his chair, “I like it here… huh huh huh” he said. “Maybe I should buy it… Exile…”
The album hasn’t been released yet though once everybody discovers they are all dead, there will be a rush releasing. Every bit of sound they recorded in those six months will see the light of day which means that all 14 of the songs Keisha worked on will be released.
Everybody, with the exception of a roadie hitching a ride with his “girlfriend” the singer, will be immediately immortalized with this album, I wonder if they will call it A Really Bigger Bang. My seat on the 747, I am miles away from the band so I can’t see em or guess how they are handling it, though if it is anything like the hired help on this terrifying trip, the answer might be not too well. If you’ve ever been in any kinda crash, you know that sense of “well, now, this should do it…” and then the second long assessment, the one of your life, either “not bad” or “that fucking sucked” and then the sheer terror.
In the year before the crash, Keisha was so much in demand she hired her own vocal producer and engineer, she was even in discussion to take over her own top line on some new tracks. Me? I was working in local clubs as a sound engineer: a good living but it was like being a freelance anything, a little tricky you know. Plus, when you freelance like that you can’t turn down a gig unless you’re double booked, you need to be very reliable. It was a tough life for a 39 year old man, soundcheck at 5pm, and then hang around till the doors at seven and work straight through till like 2am in the morning.
I enjoyed the work though the bands could be a bit much, always turn up the vocals, no turn up the guitar, no turn up the monitors… when you are failing to connect with the audience, hey, the sound is too low. Easier then slogging equipment as well.
So when Keisha got the call to start rehearsals on the Stones tour, flying to Paris for rehearsals (“a lot of sitting around… we don’t get paid for the time we don’t sing”), I was alone again… well alone, I make it sound like I was hermit. I have friends, the roadie world in LA is like a mafia and I knew a lot of them. It was all war stories , all asshole rappers with guns and coke, all a step way from prison and this huge road and these guys crisscrossing the States in vans filled with weed, sitting in the back like it was the 60s in the South. I wasn’t gonna join in. Sound engineer doesn’t pay great but it is a good job and I get to go home and sleep at the end of the day? What else did I want?
I knew why I was there, I knew, for all the things I could have done my life, why I did this. As I readied myself to die, it feels a little ridiculous. To spend my life chasing a woman who didn’t care for me, that was why, and now that she finally realized I was the one, guess what? We die. Keisha told me she had got me hired as a roadie for the Stones tour and the money was very good, plus, we were flying in their 747 with the crew so that was great. Not among the upper echelon of Stonesdom, but so what? It was close enough.
I’d never been on a private plane before and it is, trust me, at least the Stones 747 was (“leased” Keisha whispered), surreal. You know first class, right? Forget first class. It is like a flying house. The Stones logo, the giant tongue, was everywhere, like on the napkins, and the atmosphere was business yet casual. It was thrilling in the way real money is thrilling if you’ve never had it. And the star sightings! Well, only the Stones, but it was them and I sighted them. Plus Mick Taylor who had decided to join them. In two days the Stones would be performing a free show at Central Park’s Great lawn for an estimated 500K plus audience and worldwide an audience around the billion mark. Then a quick sprint to LA and retirement. “This is it”, Ron had told us in a warehouse in LA. “Are you ready? It is the beginning of the end, our farewell tour.”
Gavin, a UK old timer coughed up a “I believe that… never”.
Ron laughed, coughed himself, stroked his dog, a mutt called Blue Eyes, amazingly enough it really did have blue eyes, and coughed again. “I think this is it Gavin, really.” I’d never met Ron before and I was surprised at how small he was, even the most approachable Stone you’d figure would be tall, but there was something so fragile about the man –I bet he won’t even be alive at impact, his toughness has an ethereal quality. Everything seems a little off about him close up though not in a bad way. Ron has been on the scene forever, and survived it all, but now he looks the same as he did when he was in his teens only crumpled up like a dear john letter. Unlike the rest of the band (a four piece now, still a little strange to think of the Stones without a full time bassist, even if just for personality reasons. Well, Bill can count his blessings, he’ll be the Stone Alone indeed, Ron stood and spoke to us, made us feel a part of it all. “A band like the Stones”, he said. “This band is moved by you. It’s a big project and a big deal. It is a business but the business is an art and without you… well, it is like me painting without a canvas… don’t work, does it? So now, what we’re doing you’re doing, we are just the band. Even the Stones are just a band and if you don’t give us everything you have we are dead.” He laughed that deep rheumy laugh again. “Dead”.
It went on and if it wasn’t the most rousing speech ever, at least it made us think we mattered a little more than we actually did, didn’t it? It is not like the money was bad, I’ll be making around $50,000 for the tour, plus food and accommodation and all that stuff. A good tech guy could make more than a band member (not a band member of the Stones of course!). Anyway, I never need motivation to work, sometimes I think I have a form of autism, it is like I’m so introverted and concentrated at the same time. I just go very deep into my own brain and I never get out, I just stay there and stay there, never leaving the sound. When I work, I have no distractions. I just do my job forever.
I tuned him out, living in LA and definitely being around Keisha’s peers taught me something and this sounds weird, but you know how very poor people, homeless people and like that in New York come up to you and you feel repulsed. You might not saying anything but your defenses go up and you look away. It is really sad but one thing to keep in mind is it is a form of self-preservation, certainly in New York some of these homeless people were seriously deranged. They might ask for money and they might cut you up the moment you say yes.
The same is true of the very rich. I don’t think they’ll ask for money but what they want from you is a sort of blind obedience, and an admission you are not worthy, you aren’t as good as them. Normalness, being a normal person, is beneath them. They hate you far it and they are crazy, there is every chance they will cut you to pieces for it, you aren’t good enough even socially or whatever.
Keisha felt it, and at last as far as singers are concerned, she was a big deal, and yet the entire helicopter to the estate and then limo to your room stuff made her very ill at ease. Me? I didn’t exist in their world. A six foot three muscle guy? I was either a bodyguard or a football player or I was completely dead to them… No, wait, if I was distributing drugs I might exist for a while. It’s like the drug dealer at Mick’s marriage to Bianca, getting better treatment than Paul McCartney.. Anyway, I didn’t exist for these guys and to be clear, they didn’t exist for me. There was nothing the very rich, nothing Mick’s attorneys, had that I wanted in any way.
For all of Ron’s sweetness, he was from another planet. With a bodyguard on either side he tried to be one of the boys but if Wood ever had been, it was so long ago he just was like from another species. I think maybe, in the future I will never see, or maybe in the immediate past soon to be far past, the rich will be segregated from the middle class and the poor and the middle class will battle it out to a standstill.
Ron walked through the warehouse, actually more like a huge airplane hangar big enough to fit four 747s, ten 747s… it was so big… imagine the ultimate Brooklyn loft, covering two city blocks, like that. And Ron and dog and bodyguards wandered around like a visiting dignitary, trying to make small talk with us but none of us knew what to say and if we did, well, how did we know how he might react. Maybe we would get fired. Personally, I hoped he’d bring his wife around but no, I wanted to ask him where she was but wiser minds prevailed.
This morning, Keisha was jumpy and so was I, mostly because she was. Nothing could go wrong with me, I knew my stuff, all my papers were signed, assigned to do mantling and dismantling the stage screens, it was big without being incredible difficult. I was on a team of five, but they’d left earlier and would read about our deaths and sneer at our loss, the few, the dead. As Keisha’s plus one I had perks the others didn’t. I think they thought we were a couple and I didn’t really answer their inquiries. Indeed, I went out of my way to ignore them.
Walking into the 747 a couple of hours ago I didn’t feel like I’d mad it, there was no ego gratification for me, all leather and tinted packaged air, and huge seats, but it wasn’t my success. I had won nothing. Still, the sun was shining bright on my back and I had plans to see the folks once we hit JFK before setting up. It was going to be a great couple of days, the one time on the tour when I was both at home and away from home. I was excited and lucky to be starting here. I hadn’t been home since dad died and I missed my family in my own way.
I never much liked plane travel, or driving, I liked trains and I don’t mean the subway, I mean train trains. I preferred the view from the seat, like when I was a child and we would go to Washington DC to visit my Uncle I would stare out the window all the way there. But if I had to travel by plane this was the way to do it. it was like a house in the air: it had the comfort and feel of really big money and also the nervousness of the same. Keisha looked at me and smiled. She had gone transatlantic on the sucker and she lead me to her favorite spot and we sat together. I had a coffee, she had a glass of champagne. And then half an hour later we got warned of turbulence, and then again more turbulence, and it was too much. It wasn’t a shake and bake, it was baby crib rattle. Then we steadied and I looked out the window and I knew a wing would drop off and I knew it was over and Keisha looked at my face and knew it was over as well and she told me she was in love with me.
Now, when it came to Keisha I couldn’t deal with rejection, not even the thought of it but really, how much time did I have to think about it? If I tried to kiss her and she slapped me, well, it wouldn’t affect our friendship for very well would it. But, but, but… I didn’t know whether to scream in terror OR to kiss her, so I kissed her, and she kissed me back and we held each other all the way to the last moments of our lives.
-END OF CHAPTER TWO-