Memory Motel: A Rock And Roll Fantasy, Part One Section 12: September Grass
Part One: The Crash (Continued)
Chapter Three: Blue Eyes
In my dream I begin to cry and cry and cry and my daughter took my hand and we walked away from the camp, away from the battle we were going to lose and she was going to die in, and to the future, to the world, to the place where everything lives forever and ever and I cried and when I woke up I was yelping and Ron stirred and stroked me, “Shhh, Baby Blue Eyes, it is just a dream go back to sleep”. The children of an idle mind.
The morning of September 26th came, autumn was an idea the weather was beginning to seriously consider and then, for this one day thought to itself, screw it, a little more summer, right? We’d arrived at the Regis the day before, a pre-birthday outing for Karolina, but really to get her out of the house so a team of experts could transform the mansion into tens, stages, rooms and bloom for a 1000 plus guests. The coupla had gone to the theatre the night before and while the sun was being tastefully guzzled by New Yorkers, no light had the slightest chance of invading the bedroom where we slept past eight, past nine, and finally woke up around 11 and had to vacate quickly or forfeit another $15,000. Pally, the chauffeur, took us back to the ‘burbs before pulling up near a pub around 1230 with a flat tire. While he went to fix it, I stretched my legs and Ron and Karolina got out the car and were greated by ten members of her closest family. Father, mother, two sisters a coupla brothers, nieces and nephews and a few cousins to boot. Karolina screamed and hugged and creamed again and they started speaking in Czech, and it sounded very strange indeed to Ron, as her Mon crushed him every couple of minutes, then from behind her more of her extended family appeared, her priest, members of the congregation, dad’s work buddies, on and on, and from being joyful reunion it became a huge practical joke, but a very happy, and Karolina untangled Ron and hugged him hard
All the Prague crew got in buses and we got in the Limo with Mom and Dad and drove to the mansion where… all their American and English friends were waiting. James was in hiding as the final surprise of the day but Sir Paul and Natalie were there, with three of his kids, Eric, Rod and family, Mick and Keith and families, Ron’s kids and their families, Kenny Jones and family, Pete and Roger, then a younger generation of rock stars, Paul weller, Elvis Costello, Tracey Ullman on and on and on -500 of their closest friends. Two very different cultures but like I said, 62 mutations from wheat., there was like a grand meeting of places and cultures. Most of the rock stars had performed in Prague and most of the Karolina’s had, if not seen them, certainly been aware of them.
Even with all the decision making, James performed his set like business as usual: Forty minutes into the first set, James would’ve been heard discussing a time he’d return to a couple more times before the night was over, London in 1968. Where, after years in and out of institutions, and a wicked heroin addiction in abeyance for a little while, he got his big break when he met Peter Asher, sang “Something In The Way She Moves” to Paul and George, and got signed to Apple Records. But it was James’ first extended absence and he was suffering from homesickness (he’d return two years later and write a song for his namesake nephew born in his absence and that was that) and wrote a song about it, “Carolina In My Mind”. Last night he played it slow as molasses, a remembrance of a past remembrance of a further past, the distance between one and the other like the slow drawl nostalgia, as Taylor weaved a magical spell in the midsummer night dream world. We longed for the days when we longed for the days. He followed it with “Your Smiling Face”, off JT -Taylor’s middle of punk rock countermeasure, and yet another artist we punks dismissed in self-righteous fury at the addled indifference of the rock aristocrazy. Here, it is like Taylor took the spell and he flipped it into the happiest moment of the evening: a track James doesn’t always perform but one he might want to play often. Punctuated by horns, it has the jump of swing, and a melodic singer songwriter smartness, Tay scats and sings with an infectious happiness. And then, because music is a mood, he quietens the proceedings to a heart aching pulse for one of the most intense performances of “Fire And Rain” you’ll ever hear.
Karolina had been pleased and proud but a little diffident earlier as Sir Paul sang “Get Back” and “Let It Be” and more, Eric was slow handed, performing, a sleepy acoustic couple of songs from 461 Ocean Boulevard, then Rod joined Ron and guest drummer Charlie for some raucous faces songs and an epic singalong but none of it transported her the way James did. Outside, inside,anywhere within range of the voice was transported, and the evening doesn’t reach this moment of blissful community again. The first set is close to perfect but the second set has one too many missteps -a “Sweet Baby James” with the singer adding words here and there for no reason: “he sings out a song which is soft but it’s clear just as if maybe someone could hear” The addition of that one word kills the flow (and it is something he does all song long). It sure stops people from singing along. So many songs are missing from the setlist but like Tay says: “I don’t have time to play them all”. However, skimping on “You’ve Got A Friend” is pretty much inexcusable, and on a personal level I have yet to hear “September Grass” live. Instead and oddly, his encore of “knock On Wood” and two whatevers was not a great concept from a great crowd pleaser.
The two hour plus intermission had a beat and a brain behind it even if I didn’t agree with it all the time. The opening “Wandering” seguing into “Secret O’ Life” should have disappointed in some way, but they were such an intensely and becoming statement, like the preface to a memoir, they completely clicked. WIth background singers soaring behind him, and a backing band that deserved the “All Star” monicker he gave them, it was the perfect match of arrogance and self-effacement. The band itself moved from jazz inflections to blues to pop rockers and to James calling card, singer songwriter bummers, with complete ease. Taylor was a very supportive leader, introducing each member of the band, and that is Steve Gadd -who has played with James on and off since the 1980s, and who can be heard on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, and on Steely Dan’s “Aja”. Let me introduce to one more member of the band, “Blue” Lou Marini on horns. His resume: “Woody Herman Orchestra, Doc Severinsen, Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Band, Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars, Dr. John, Frank Zappa, Saturday Night Live (SNL) Band, The Blues Brothers, Maureen McGovern, Lew Soloff Quintet, Blue Beck with Joe Beck, Eric Clapton, Red House, and the Magic City Jazz Orchestra.” Yup. All Stars indeed, here is the rest of the band:
Kate Markowitz – Vocals
Andrea Zonn – Vocals/Fiddle
David Lasley – Vocals
Arnold McCuller – Vocals
Walt Fowler – Horns/Keyboard
Mike Landau – Electric Guitar
Jimmy Johnson – Bass Guitar
Larry Goldings – Piano/Keyboard
Luis Conte – Percussion
With a band this good, Taylor was completely assured, through the two hours. The second half didn’t drag, it just seemed a little misplaced. We got four songs off his new album, but we didn’t get “Jolly Springtime” or the most James-y song on the album, “Stretch Of The Highway”. James spent the 20 minute intermission signing autographs and really, this is a new and improved James. Gone is the caustic veering on cruel humor he used to pepper his show with. I saw him, fourth row at Theatre At MSG, in the 1990s, play a rote set with a nasty attitude. Good vibes bring good vibes and Taylor has such a great kind vibes at the moment, you are willing to go along anywhere. He encored with “How Sweet It Is To Loved By You” and “You’ve Got A Friend”.
This was in September of last year and at the end of the night, Ron and Karolina were making love, not well but thoughtfully enough, as though it matters and more importantly afterwards Ron held her close and stroked her hair, with a sort of intense spooning, as though he wanted to protect her and sort of knew he couldn’t quite do it. Or maybe that was hindsight, but whatever is, Ron was both calm and tense, and as Karolina mumbled her appreciation for the wonderful day. More like the birthday party during “You Wear It Well”
“I’m gonna write about the birthday gown that I bought in town
when you sat down and cried on the stairs
You knew it did not cost the earth, but for what it’s worth
You made me feel a millionaire and you wear it well”
Well, it cost the earth but it was the same feeling and Karolina understood what it took. And you was almost in tears with happiness, with just the years that had passed yet for no reason at all it really worked. It was a real marriage, and they were really in love. “Ronnie,” she whispered to him. “The money is nice, the party is nice, you being a big rock star is nice, James taylor is nice but really, if I had known you I would have married you with none of that. You are a good man, Ronnie. You show me love and that’s what I care about.” Eight years after they were married, things couldn’t have been better for them, couldn’t have been happier but we all knew what was missing and Ron knew what he had to do. “You know what, isn’t it time Blue Eyes had a sibling?” Ron asked.
“You want to get another dog?”
“I mean a human sibling, isn’t it time for a human sibling?”
“I don’t understand…”
“For fuck’s sake K,” Ron snapped. “Let’s have a baby…”
Which more or less saved Karolina’s life, By December Karolina was pregnant and by May, she was in no condition or mood to go on tour with the Stones, so she packed me off wth Ron “To take care of my man” she whispered and kissed my floppy ears and hugged me.
It was obvious to me that Ron would be dead soon, though what I would be doing was more of a blur and as Ron travelled back and forth between London, New York and LA, the three months leading to the May crash saw him around less and less. Karolina, overjoyed to be pregnant, mattered much less than she would have and seemed to become a mix of Dora Spenlow and Martha Stewart in a haze off going –over me quite often, and given everybody their marching orders.
Sometimes I went with Ron, most times I stayed home, and watched with some merriment and a little bemusement at the huge changes that were going to take over her life soon.
Rehearsals were a bore and also fascinating. I would have asked for “Rough Justice” accept, well I can’t do much more than bark =”ruff justice” if you like. The actual music was pretty much well-oiled by now, all they had to do was start em up,. Boby Keys was missed. Bill Wyman was always missed. So was Mick Taylor, but give em this, they could still sound good. They weren’t quite phoning it in. The boring stuff was every thing else, lights, camera, action, effects, backing tapes, all that, everything needed to be in sync before they even thought of hitting the road for an operation this huge and that’s what the band did, 100s of hours over and over and over again.
The boys weren’t irritated, weren’t irritable, they knew what to do and they knew how to do it, but the rest of the production was a nerve wracking rush to get everything in place for a tour that wouldn’t see the light of day. That would crash and burn and take nearly everybody with it. All this work, for insurance companies if nothing else.
A stadium tour, starting on the East Coast with indoor arenas and moving South with larger and larger outdoor bins. A huge enterprise. The tee shirt concession alone was a logistic nightmare. Not one manager, not two managers, dozens of the suckers arguing. It was hysterical and it gave me a headache just listening to them and Ron didn’t even listen for a second, he just took his cut at the end and signed wherever they told him to.
Time ticked by and I was more aware of it than usual, a visit with the stagehands the day before we left to New York filled me with a sense of extreme moment: I never get this, rarely so rarely but I was for once anticipating something and I was for once being fed information. I had an idea of what the future would hold and not the foresight that comes from experience but the foresight that comes from a sort of miracle where the powers that be are bending and bending and breaking and changing their own rules and, and this is what thrills me most, just for the hell of it: just for fun.
So as the hours ticked by to the end of the Rolling Stones, I was almost sick with anxiety and excited beyond belief, for the first time in the Universe, something was gonna to work in opposition to the rules it placed upon itself by us which is it… etc… if you know what I mean.
And now the end is near, I am sitting on top of unconscious black men’s head howling and everything is rushing past us. Mick, Ron, Charlie –all these manager and musicians, are all screaming and I am crouching on the man’s head but I won’t die, no, I will be more alive than anything ever has and the After Math can begin.
End Of Part One