This week’s COtW request, for "Bring it Home to Me," comes from one of my old childhood friends, Dan DeBruin. Danny and I, along with some of the other old pals mentioned or pictured in this blog were rock & roll buds, discovering old and new music together, learning guitar, swapping tips on gear, forming bands, and so on. We were joined at the hip during that time of golden friendships, early adolescence. Here’s an oldie we probably discovered together.
Another friend from that time, Chris Campion, just came up last week for a quick visit and a night at Fenway for a Sox v. Mets matchup. After I left town as a kid, Chris went on to drop out of Villanova, move back to New York, and formed the beloved indie NYC/Long Island band the Knockout Drops. They struggled like so many great club bands in the 1990s, just on the verge of making it nationally, getting a label deal and all that golden-goose stuff. In the meantime, Chris went through his own personal struggles. He has written a poignant and funny memoir of this era called Escape from Bellevue, a Dive Bar Odyssey, published by Gotham Books and just recently released. The book was borne out of a successful run off-Broadway at the Wesbeth Theater of his show of the same name. In the show, Chris performed the stories from the book and other vignettes and the Knockout Drops provided a musical counterpoint and anchor, playing some of those songs from the time he explores with his prose. Chris will be an added treat, reading between the opening act, Mean Creek, and Buffalo Tom at the Paradise in Boston June 26
I highly recommend the book. As I have waxed nostalgically here in prior posts, something about having my friends frozen in time in my memory at the age of 16, when I left NY for Boston, has added a bittersweet and seemingly everlasting pang of melancholy and unresolved adolescent loneliness. It does not matter that I have continued to see some of them over the years. To me, these guys will sort of always be trapped in that amber, friends -- boys and girls -- who meant the world to me, from whom I was carried away. So when one of them died, it was not the image of a grown man, married with a child, that I remembered; it was the boy I went to nursery school with, my neighbor and best friend through elementary and junior high school and the sadness was that much more acute, not as painful for me as for the many who were close with him in his more recent years, but a different kind of heartache.
Reading Chris’ book also had a similar resonance for me. First of all, many of the memories, while having a general appeal for readers who do not know him, have specific significance for me – both the early times growing up on Long Island, and the later periods while he struggled trying to make a band work. But it was the young Chris, the kid who made us all laugh, this happy-go-lucky optimistic kid, this was the image of the person I recalled as the adult Chris recounts his travails of beating his own brains with liquor and drugs, as Iggy put it, and getting beat down by the wringer of trying to be the rock star he was so born to be. Disappointment keeps raining down, and it is the head of the sweet kid I was friends with that I picture taking the brunt of the storm.
Chris, I can attest, is still that big-hearted guy. And this is the poignancy of getting older while realizing that, even as responsibilities pile up, marriages form and maybe crumble, career highs and lows are achieved, the inner kid remains in the heart of most of us. Unfortunately, many people’s development and brains also just cease to evolve past that point as well, so we are often faced with decisions made by those with just such a level of development, hence many of the daily micro and macro fugazis in this world.
To illustrate that I have both developed and stagnated, or even regressed in many ways, (depending on your judgment) I offer this anecdote from the very afternoon when Chris came up to the game. It was the Friday before Memorial Day. I left a little earlier than I usually would to go to Fenway, accounting for time in traffic and wanting to spend more time with a buddy in town for only the evening. But traffic was minimal and I made it into the Fenway neighborhood in record time. Pushing my luck, I decided to roll the dice and bypassed my usual parking spot, which is about a 15-minute walk to the park. I was rewarded when I found a sweet legal, non-meter spot next to a B.U. dorm right off of Beacon Street. I was just leaning against my car about to call or text Chris to arrange our meeting when a young college woman (well, she was a girl to me) walked up. There is always a bit of winking and elbowing (and worse -- much, much worse) from men over 35 when the subject of B.U. girls comes up, especially in spring when all of a sudden every man of that vintage in the Boston area is asking each other, “where were all these scantily dressed young hot women when I was 20 and everyone was dressed in shoulder pads and dayglo with their hair all teased into giant hat-like structures?!” We have just aged into sad dirty old men, an inevitable passage. So I was winking inwardly while this skinny young blond in workout shorts and a tank top, a droplet of perspiration (girls don’t sweat) on her forehead, wisp of loose hair in her eye, came up to me and asked me, “do you know anything about cars?”
Now, I am familiar with the classic Penthouse Forum periodical. But I know this girl took one look at my old flabby pale self and was not thinking “hmmm, here is a hot young stud to help me get my car going that I will invite back into my room for lemonade or a beer and whatever happens next.” No. She thought, “I wish my dad was here to help me with my car. Hey, there’s a guy who looks like my dad.”
“Do you know anything about cars?”
There’s a lot I don’t know. Like that other Sam Cooke tune, "don't know much about the middle ages/look at the pictures and I turn the pages." But pretty much anything mechanical needs help, you can be certain I am the worst guy you want around. Things automotive are chief among the list of things I know pathetically little. This is more or less what I told her.
“Is it the battery?”
“Well, the lights work.”
“Hmm, maybe it’s the alternator.” This one was an example of knowing just enough to say something, but not knowing what the hell I’m talking about. “Do you have Triple A?” I asked, sagely, fatherly even.
“Yeah… OK. I will call” she said and walked away back to her car.
I got on the phone to call Chris. After two minutes. she walked back up to me. “Um, I have jumper cables. Would you pull your car back and give me a jump?”
Her car was about 10 back on a street crammed with cars and no more available parking spots. I had seen one or two dudes in Sox caps circling back around looking for open spots, some of them even doing the mimed, arched-eyebrows pointing and mouthing, "you leavin'?". I exhaled some breath in an almost whistle, with that wincing face you make.
“Whewwww….hmmmm…..But I have this really sweet spot and I am supposed to go meet someone. Did you call Triple A?”
Her disappointment was clear in her face. I was not as good a man as her father. But she expected it. I could tell. She was not surprised at the extremely tight limits of my goodwill. Even as I was saying this, my old younger self, that fresh-faced good guy from the past, was kicking me for two reasons. One, before I apparently crossed some sort of invisible threshold into being a cynical selfish prick from Boston, I would have done this for anyone, and two, I would have definitely done this for a pretty young woman with no expectation other than to help someone out. I was in conflict, but the words were said, They had left my mouth. The decision had been rendered. I was actually sort of self conscious, thinking that if I backtracked now, I was going to seem like some greasy old lech after the young chiquita from Omaha.
She started to answer, looking down at her feet, “Well, I was gonna call, but I have to get to work and they take so long and my cell is upstairs…”
“You want to use my cell?” Yes, I am sure that is exactly what she wanted: to use my cell to call Triple A. What a peach of a guy I am, eh?
“No… it’s OK…” she said and walked away.
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I’m just in a hurry, but if you really need me to, I can…”
But she assured me it was no problem, thanks anyway.
So now you know: I’m an asshole. As a friend pointed out later when I was telling the story, “well, you probably could have just taken her spot.” Thank you. That confirms it: I’m a wanker.
Next time, I will do better. I promise. Just like the good guy I used to be. The Boy Scout. The helpful neighbor. Richie Cunningham. The rock & roller who wants everybody to like him.
Please like my version of Sam Cooke’s classic “Bring it Home To Me,” which Sam originally recorded with Lou Rawls on low harmony, almost a dual lead vocal. I am neither as baritone as Lou nor as high tenor as Sam. I’m somewhere down in the middle for both parts.
Bring it Home To Me mp3