Monday, May 24, 2010

On The Road

Once we got out on the road, distance and motion seemed to lose all meaning. The odometer turned and signs whizzed by. The horizon was always just out of reach, we were riding the snake of American commerce and dreams, the highway, I’d always watched trucks and cars pass on the highway and I’d felt as if life was being transacted, and now I was on that road. But somehow it didn't seem real, it felt like we were standing still, like we were in a simulator or something, but we were having a good time. After all, we were a rock band touring on the road! The radio was blaring, the boys were goofing around, joking, playfully throwing things around. We were about half way to Chicago when the van started to slow down.
"Hey guys! Tom said, "there's a hitchhiker, should we pick him up?" The boys leaned up from the back to look. The hitchhiker looked like he could've been Tom's twin brother in torn jeans, plaid shirt and backpack. The boys all looked at each other, and yelled,
"No, man! That could be the killer on the road, step on it!" We all laughed as Tom hit the accelerator.

The time and distance gave me a lot of time to think. Since Kerouac, America has become convinced that some existential truth about itself can be found on the road. Morrison himself bought into the theme. In his songs, poems, and HWY, the movie he made was about a serial killer as existential metaphor. The randomness of death on the highway of life, the killer on the road we'll all eventually meet. Travel as catharsis and transcendence. When asked what Doors songs were about, Morrison said "sex, travel, and death," they were meant to be a journey. We think there are no worlds to discover, we forget about the monsters that lie just under the surface. What would we find at the end of this road? I didn't know, maybe visions, sex, madness, some great promised adventures in the American wilderness, and maybe we were going to find out some truth about ourselves. Kerouac and Morrison saw it as a search, I thought of this as transformation.

I pushed back in the passenger seat across from Tom, my boot resting on the dashboard. Johnny and Brian got the two seats behind us, while in the back Mitchell and Ian were variously draped over the equipment or sitting braced against it. I guess a new pecking order had been established. My leather pants creaked against the seat whenever I moved. With the money I had leftover from the sale of my trailer, and selling off the last of my collection I bought more leathers and other clothing that had the right look. The boys called it my Morrison uniform. Morrison lived the role. He didn't differentiate between real life and the stage. To him Rock ‘n’ Roll was a stark theatre, a place where life and death are enacted, it wasn’t safe on the edges, it was dangerous and you could die and that’s what makes life real. To Morrison, theater and life weren't separate. Shakespeare said, "all the world's a stage," and Morrison wrote, "this ancient and insane theater," so if I was going to be Morrison, I needed to live the role too. Writers have always been identified with the lifestyles they’ve lead. Hemingway let the man and the myth become inseparable and convoluted until even the man couldn’t remember what was myth and what was truth, and that’s the problem with an image, sooner or later it turns on you and is used against you, Morrison discovered this. But I knew all those pitfalls, I read all the biographies and learned from the mistakes of others who’ve gone down this road, I could see the traps and landmines ahead and avoid them, a real artful dodger.

Chicago was the first stop of the tour. The club was actually in a suburb of Chicago. We veered around the outskirts of the city, as the skyline came into view. "Sweet home Chicago," I sang under my breath. I remembered that L. Frank Baum had used Chicago as the description of Oz in the book The Wizard of Oz. I could kind of see it, a cluster of buildings hiding in the opacity of haze, which seemed to form a bubble around the city. I remembered the line from a song by America, "Oz didn't give anything to the tin man that he didn't all ready have." I felt like I was the man behind the curtain, at the same time controlling everything, but still a fraud. I hoped like hell the boys didn't find out.

Morrison had sung about Chicago, or at least included a reference in the song Peace Frog. "Funny name for a song, huh?" Morrison used to ask in concert. "Because even The Doors, in 1970, couldn't name a song Abortion Stories," Ray answered years later in an interview. I sang a verse from the song, "there's blood in the streets, it's up to my knee, blood in the streets of the town of Chicago," probably one of Morrison's most personal songs, it includes a lot of autobiographical details. There's a reference to New Haven, where he managed to be the first rock star arrested on stage. Also mentioned is Venice, California where he had lived on a friend's rooftop and by all reports ingested an extraordinary amount of LSD while writing the poems that would make up most of the first two albums worth of songs. And there’s the incredible Indians bleeding on dawn’s highway section, which recounts an incident from Morrison’s childhood. So, why in the face of all those autobiographical mentions is there a reference to Chicago? It’s a minor Rock 'n' Roll mystery. A lot of people like to think it's a reference to the police riot at the Democratic convention in '68, but Morrison wasn't there. Why mention places and events that have a deeply personal autobiographical connection, and one that has no personal connection? Morrison, if anything, was the master of his own mythology. So, why the Chicago mention? What people tend to forget is Chicago is where Morrison consciously provoked his audience to riot for the first time.

Besides Swifty buying ads in the local papers, the plan was as we hit each city the boys would run around plastering the local neighborhood with fliers. They would get the artsy, trendy neighborhoods with the coffee shops and bookstores, and then to the club areas, while I would give interviews to the local papers.

The living accommodations for the tour were supposed to be the band would share two rooms, and Tom and I were to share a room. I was the star, and the boys were at the age where they would be sleeping on friends' couches, anyway. I was a little passed that. Since I had the money, I got a room of my own and paid the difference between a single room and a double out of my own pocket. Tom was the inheritor of the unexpected luxury of his own room.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Chapter 25: Illinois Entertainer Interview

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Van

Our first look at the van was underwheleming. It was your standard commercial van a little larger than your average family van, stripped down to its welds and the joists of its skeleton. Swifty was right, there was enough room in the back for the equipment and us, just enough. He was right, again, in that it was used, there were dents and dings everywhere on it, but it was road worthy. I learned to love the van, when you got it up to seventy-five miles an hour or so, it started rattling, we’d take turns driving, when it was my turn to drive, I would get it up passed seventy-five until the band and the equipment were bouncing around like flowers in a storm, yelling at me to slow down.
"Should we paint it like the Partridge Family bus?" Mitchell asked
"Nah, that's kind of lame," I said, "how about Kesey's bus, Furthur. That might be the better reference."
"Well, I think we should christen it something?" Mitchell said.
"It's just a van." I said.
"How about the van-ity?" Ian said.
"The what?" I asked. I wondered if it was one of their smirking inside jokes, I looked around trying to see if any of them was suppressing a smile, but they weren’t.
"The van-ity. It's a van, right? Like in chitty, chitty bang bang, get it?"
“Not really.”

Then there was Tom, the 'roadie' bequeathed to us by Swifty, also underwheleming. He looked like a headbanger who had banged his head one time too many, he had long frizzy hair and his clothes looked dirty, he was a rocker who knew the history and lore of Rock 'n' Roll, but that knowledge mysteriously stopped at 1979 with Pink Floyd’s The Wall. He talked about “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, or some triva about Black Sabbath for no other reason than that’s what he thought was expected. Or maybe he was a little slow, but in the end, I could see he was malleable. I hoped the reason Swifty had put so much trust in him went beyond Tom being his nephew.
"Have you been a roadie before or is this your first time?" I asked.
"Oh, man, no, I've been doing this for a while."
"You tour with anybody we'd know?"
"Sure, Cheap Trick."
"Cheap Trick!" We all said, shocked. Then I asked, "THE Cheap Trick, the band that played Budokan, The Dream Police. That band? And not some band that did something gimmicky like spelled Trick with a y, or something, was it?"
“Or cheap without the A or a umathingy over the e?”
"No, dudes. They’re probably the biggest band I ever toured with."
"How'd you get to roadie for them?"
"Total accident, man. I grew up in Rockford, right? I was out one night, you know, I went to get a burrito and there's this guy in front of me. He had on a jacket with John Lennon on the back of it. I was in a boisterous mood, you know, so I said, 'oh, it's John Lennon, ' and the guy turned around, looked at me and said 'are you a lawyer?' I had no idea what he was talking about, but we started talking and it turned out this guy was Rick Nielson. But not Rick Nielson from like CHEAP TRICK. Just Rick and he kept talking about his band and he asked if I wanted to be a roadie. I figured it would a good way to get into parties and bars for free, so I said ‘sure.’ This was when they were still playing around Rockford and just about to start touring around the Midwest, way before Budokan. I've also toured with Scratch Happy and Thor."
"Never heard of them."
"No one has, dude."
"Do you like being a roadie?" Brian asked.
"All the traveling is fun, there are the chicks who'll do anything to get to the band. The only bummer is a band can leave you any place they want. You can get fired in the middle of nowhere. I've had to hitch home a few times."
"Why'd you have to hitch?"
"One band just ran out of money and it was, sorry dude we can't afford you anymore." Then he turned to Johnny, "what instrument do you play?"
"I thought so, man. You should grow your hair out."
"What for?"
"You need hair to play guitar, man, or it's really boring."
"All right," I laughed, "let's load the van and get going."
"Anyway, I doubt I'll be left behind on this tour." Tom said.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hollywood Today/Jim Morrison Dream

Hollywood Today!
Hollywood Today! was on, it’s one of those shows that thrives on celebrity gossip. It was part of my campaign to keep myself informed of what was going on in Hollywood. Merri Caldwell, a cotton candy blonde plastic confection, a television projection for viewer’s fantasies was the host. I lay in my bed listening to her report.
"Where is Jimmy Stark?" She said, "Once the star of the late 60's TV show 'Family Muse', and known as 'America's little brother.' We all grew up with him. Jimmy's mother noticed his talent early and got him cast in TV commercials." They cut to a very black and white TV commercial, with an almost infant child that, in hindsight, is recognizably little Jimmy Stark. "Then came Family Muse, the late 60's sitcom in which he played the precocious son of a mother trying to make it in the music industry." They showed a clip from the show featuring Jimmy which is now considered a television classic, "after 'Family Muse' his career stalled, hitting the wall a lot of child stars do, not being taken seriously in adult roles. In his late teens, Jimmy got married," they showed still photos of Jimmy and a young girl in a wedding dress, running down the steps of a church through a gauntlet of friends throwing rice. The pictures juxtaposed to create a jerky stop motion sequence ending with a picture of Jimmy, his wife and two children, "but they divorced after five years." They cut back to Merri in the studio, "in his twenties it looked like he was making the transition from child star to actor, starring in several movies, including an Academy Award nomination for ‘Tender Fury‘." They, of course, showed clips from the movie, followed by a still photo of Jimmy and his wife going down the red carpet into the Academy Awards ceremony, "he was also known as Hollywood's enfant terrible, making headlines for a series of police arrests and drug problems." There was a flash of white light that faded to a newspaper photo of Jimmy being lead away in handcuffs by cops on either side of him. A headline read: Former Child Star Arrested. "But he has long since disappeared from movies, TV, personal appearances, the police blotters, and even the tabloids." Then came the big finish to their story, "Jimmy Stark had fame, money, a glamorous career. Why did an actor with such a bright future toss it all away with such ruthless abandon? Well, we here at Hollywood Today! want to know too. Going on the adage, to find out where you are, you should examine where you've been. In future reports we will try to answer those questions."
I fell asleep.

I was at a party, the room was crowded with people. A stranger I knew asked, "hey, want to go to a concert?" Then I was walking the familiar hallways of the school, the light coolly reflected off the waxed marble floors. I heard the sound of faraway music echoing in the halls. I was alone. I followed the sound through the hallways of the labyrinth school. It became louder and louder as I approached the auditorium, I recognized the music, it was The Doors at their peak playing a scorching rendition of Light My Fire, played only as they could have early in their career. It was loud and Morrison's voice was a growl, then the music stopped. I was walking backstage, there were velvet curtains, backdrops from plays, tied off ropes running up to sandbags and wooden catwalks. Suddenly, there was Jim Morrison. Lean in his leather clad glory wearing a white shirt that accentuated the shiny black leather of his pants. He was sitting at a table having a beer. He pushed out the empty chair across from him with a tap of his boot.
"Have a seat man. Want a beer?" Before I could answer he pulled out an open beer from somewhere. "Replenish those precious bodily fluids," he said. "So, I understand you're going to be me."
"I, I don't think I can do it. I can't sing. I can't dance. All I have is this stupid idea."
"It's as easy as falling down, man. Go ahead, fall down and get back up. Make it look like a part of the act. I fell down a lot."
"You think I can do it?"
"Sure, consider this my blessing and just remember, it's all a dream." Then the bearded poetic Jim Morrison was sitting back in the chair smiling benevolently at me. "Well, I gotta be in Kalamazoo by two AM, hahaha." Then he was gone and so was the beer.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Chapter 23: The Van

Monday, May 3, 2010

Johnny's Father/Calling Deidre

Johnny's Father
It wasn't twenty-four hours after we got back from Milwaukee when somebody rang the doorbell at the house, which was unusual. No one had done that since the first week I had rented the house. I would wake up at all hours to find one of the boys watching TV, smoking pot, or having a party with some friends, I'd also heard about a lot of parties that happened while I was gone, but no one rang the bell any more. I answered the door, standing there was a distinguished looking middle-aged man with short gray hair, in a three-piece suit.
"I'm William Rydel." He said, walking in, "Johnny's father." He surveyed the room with a look of disdain on his face.
"I'm glad to meet you." I said, holding out my hand.
"Why do you think I stopped giving my son money for a rehearsal space?" His condescending attitude took me aback momentarily.
"I don't know anything about their previous arrangements." I said.
"It was because I was trying to discourage him from such a risky career choice. I had them on the verge of breaking up. Ian graduated last spring. Without a band he was already looking for another band, or thinking about moving back home to find a job. Even Brian was at a loss as to what to do, and he's the one who usually pulls Johnny back into this fantasy."
"You forgot Mitchell in your little rendition." I said.
"He's useless. He'll do anything to avoid responsibility, just like you."
"Thanks for the recommendation."
"Then," his voice was stern, "you come along and get a tour for them. And the dreams and fly by night ambitions are back. Now, thanks to you I get to take a different tack. I get to be the hero with my son and the band when this all falls apart I get to pick up the pieces, I’m not the villan anymore. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"Other than the band, no."
"I talked to my son about this situation last night."
"What situation would that be?" I asked.
"You’re making more money than my son and the rest of HIS band."
"It's fair," I said, "I'm not the only one who thinks so. The agent..."
"Be assured," he said, in a controlled voice, "that I will be contacting Mr. Leonard in this matter." He stared at me sternly, "but if my son wants to be in the music business he's going to have to learn it the hard way. And you're part of that lesson. Personally, I hope your deceit dissuades him from pursuing this career any further. I don't know where you get your sense of entitlement that you think you can..."
"It's not their band now," I said. "It's OUR band, it was my idea for the cover band. Before I found them they were just local wannabes. Without me they couldn't even get a gig."
"That may be true, but at least they would've succeeded or failed on the merits of their talents or lack thereof, without someone negotiating for them who only has his own self-interest at heart."
"That would make me laugh if I didn't know you were serious. Your son is old enough, he knows what he wants to do. He made a deal and he'll be held to it."
"I'm just letting you know I'm looking into smoothing out the inequities for my son and his band. If you try to take anymore unfair advantage of those boys; I will see to it there will be a day of reckoning for you."
"I know how to handle parents like you." I said.
"We'll see," was all he said as he walked out.

Calling Deidre
I turned the volume down on the TV, and fiddled nervously with the phone cord as the phone on the other end rang.
"Hello?" Deidre said, a little groggily.
"Guess where I am," I said.
"I couldn't guess." I could hear the exasperation in her voice when she recognized my voice.
"I started a band, we're going on tour. I just wanted to talk to you before I left."
"That's cool. I read the review in the paper. What did you want to talk to me about?"
"I miss you."
"Don't be doing this, Michael." She said.
"I'm doing this for you."
"You should be doing it for yourself, not me, and not us. I'm happy with my life and if you remember," her voice got a little harder, "it wasn't my choice, really."
"I'm going to make it big in this band."
"Just listen to yourself Michael, you sound like a gambler looking for the big score and you'll live happily ever after. But it never happens, the big score is always right around the next corner. I just hope you'll be happy with the life you've chosen."
"Aren't you even going to ask me what it's like on tour?"
"Oh." I said, disappointed, "I never knew what you wanted."
"I used to think you were going somewhere, Michael. At first I thought you were..."
"You thought I was your ticket out of town."
"Oh, Michael, all I ever wanted was you. Happy, sad, famous, a farmer, whatever. I think that'll be your downfall."
"I didn't want to hurt you. I was just doing what I thought was best for the both of us." There was a cold silence on the other end. "Well, good-bye." I whispered. I realized this was the end, this was the song, and I knew the finality of good-bye. I hung up.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Chapts 21 & 22: Hollywood Today! & Dream