Friday, May 29, 2009

Cover of the Week 30

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

5 comments:

Randy Reichardt said...

Bill, you wanker! :-) Another great story. Four young chiquitas from Omaha...

Typically your story touched a few raw nerves. I'm 13 years older than you, and desperately trying to hang on to any semblance of my youth. I still play that "electric music" on my Tele when the band actually calls a practice, and when a song starts to cook, I imagine the band somewhere on a stage in a cool club, with hundreds of musically savyy fans listening to us and enjoying the product.

I know the feeling you described of thinking of a dear friend as a much younger person than the grown and aged adult. In Gr 11/12, there was a group of four of us that were close. The other three are gone, the most recent last February in a house fire in Vancouver. The first to pass was Pete, in May 1998, one of my best friends ever. I can only think of them from that time, and it does hurt that I can never reconnect with them again. One of them, Ken, was the biggest Grand Funk fan in high school, so your "chiquita from Omaha comment", well... It was all Mark, Don and Mel for Ken in the early 70s.

I work on a campus with 38,000 students. At this time of the year, all the women - er, girls - are in tank tops, shorts, mostly thin and gut-wrenchingly gorgeous, and many of them studying in the subject areas for which I am responsible will often ask me for help, because that's what I do, so I can't escape them. Sometimes I think it's a curse and a blessing at the same time. Why don't they sweat, btw?

You wrote, "We have just aged into sad dirty old men, an inevitable passage", and there it was, BAM!, and I felt the blow to the stomach, because it's so sadly true.

Today when I left work, a young woman was walking towards me carrying three fire extinguishers. She stopped, put them down, and I noticed there were two more about 20 feet behind her. She would walk a distance with three of them, put those down, and then go back to get the other two!

I asked her, "where are you going with the fire extinguishers", and she said, "oh, to Biological Sciences, it's going to be quite a walk", and I asked her, "would you like some help", and she said no, it was ok. So I moved on to my car, which was in the parking garage just ahead, and I thought, wtf, I should get the car and drive her over, but by the time I came back up, she was too far into campus beyond where I could see her. I felt like a wanker, because if I had have been actually thinking, I could've made the offer when I spoke to her initially. Duh. So I felt bad when I left, even though she said she didn't need my help.

I like your version of Sam Cooke's song. Thanks for thoity CotW top-notch tunes. And I hope my long responses aren't too boring or dull. You continue to inspire me in many ways, and I am grateful for all the opportunities to connect this way.

Danny said...

I've seen it before... "Red Sox Greed..." It's consumed some of the best and virtuous men I've met. There's hope for you, though. This "confession" here shows a guilty conscience. The old saying goes, "A guilty conscience pricks the mind." So no, you're not a "Boston prick." Go out and buy a homeless dude a meal...

"Bring it on Home to Me" left me speechless. Freeeeging awesome, dude. I said it before, but hearing you sing still leaves me scratching my head. THAT'S Bill? The guy I hung out with in the cafeteria and laughed at "Yo" with? When you talk about friends being galvanized, I still can't get over where you got that voice from. You were always a killer guitar player... but the voice sort of snuck up on me.

My confession: When Dennis perished in 9-11, I had the idea of commissioning an artist to create a bronze statue of young Dennis with his first basemen's glove and see about propping it up at Mill Dam park. I made inquiries with my political contacts and others and got the ball rolling. There was one hitch: his wife was so distraught by the loss, I couldn't approach her with the idea. I then waited too long and dropped the ball. It's a good idea, I think... and now that time's passed and she's gotten better, maybe I'll start poking around again.

Why don't you, Nolan and Campion get together and do some stuff? I think the FB Huntington crowd would be thrilled with that.

Neil Jung said...

hey, i consider myself a nice guy who genuinely likes to help people, but fuhh-huu-huck that. that chick is on her own. i don't care if it's a pretty young thing or some creepy townie schlub. parking spots are important. and, anyway, it doesn't sound like there was any guarantee a jump would have helped her. i'm just sayin.

Anonymous said...

Yeah... I suppose this is a borderline case but the sweet young things of the world will always find someone to help them. I wouldn't lose much sleep over it.

And if you want to rationalize it, you DID help her.... by teaching her a lesson in self-reliance! (Ok, lame, but what's the internet for but cheap justifications?)

Kathy said...

I think this is my favorite CotW yet. Absolutely gorgeous.