In couch at home. I picked up the receiver

In March 1976,
people had stopped talking to each other on public transport. They would no
longer read the paper at breakfast. They woke up at mid-day to limit their
interaction with the world, left their houses in their slippers and wandered
through the frozen aisle in local supermarkets. People hid in their homes in
bunkers of blankets. Dinner became trays on laps with the TV positioned at the
head of the table, consuming bad news stories in measured doses. They said ‘oh
god that’s awful’ a lot while chewing mash potato and gravy. There was this
feeling that things were starting to slow down, so you started to slow down
too.

In the Autumn
of 1976, I checked into the Spring Valley motel and handed over $26 of my last
$50 in exchange for a room for the night. I was familiar with the inside of a
motel room.

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I closed the
curtains to muffle the passing traffic, emptied my pockets onto the table by my
bed and stretched out on top of the dark red comforter with my shoes still on.
I gazed upwards at the framed oriental art above the motel bed’s headboard as I
lit a spliff. I wondered whether people who design the interior of motel rooms
for a living sleep easy. I couldn’t, knowing my art had become a petri dish of
modern sin, fucked in by strangers. I made a snow angel in wrinkled cotton
comforter. The bed was softer than the couch at home. I picked up the receiver
next to the bed, pressed it to my ear, dialled the number for home and held my
breath. 

It rang, once,
twice, three times. It connected through. A disgruntled murmur. Some bottles
broke in the background of our conversation. I heard every movement of her
languorous clean up attempt. The scraping of glass on ceramic tile. She was
drunk.

A sharp click,
followed by the slow hiss of air escaping. I opened a fourty.

I asked my
mother how Eric was getting on at school. She put him on the other end of the
receiver to avoid admitting that she doesn’t know. I asked Eric about school.
He said it sucks.

My words were
slow, and my mouth was sticky from the spliff. I don’t try and hide it. I told
my mother about my new job. I told her that I’d send her money in the next
couple of weeks. She complained about her new Korean neighbour and the smell of
raw meat in the hallway. She smoked a cigarette down the phone. I hung up the
receiver, turned off the lights, climbed back on top of the comforter and
pretended to sleep, curled up next to walls that pulsed from thudding
headboards in other $26 motel rooms.

I had rung Sam
a week before I joined the tour as a roadie. I’d called him desperate for work.
He’d offered me the gig. Best he had right now unfortunately, he had said. I
was desperate, I didn’t care.

The band had
already been on tour for a week before the bus stopped to pick me up from the
roadside. I tried to sit next to someone who wouldn’t talk to me. I chose the
seat next to the only other female roadie. I watched her tuck washed-out pale
pink hair behind her ears as she stared out onto the road through the streaks
of dried mud that stained the bus windows. The way she dressed told me all I
needed to know about her. Her septum was pierced with an Aztec-inspired gold
nose-ring and she had defined a natural mole, above her lip, with thick black
eyeliner, making a statement with the Marilyn Monroe-inspired beauty mark.
Sitting in silence did not go to plan. I found out her name was Auburn. She
launched into the details of the job. New wave rock band, or something like
that, so a lot of instruments, amps, monitors, heavy metal things needed to
make music. I find out that the contract should last at least six months, but
it could go on for ten, if they decided to extend the tour, and if they liked
me. 

“A little
pretentious. Nothing you can dance to anyway. And the frontman’s an asshole.
He’ll try and fuck you. He likes them young.” I translated the bitterness in
her words to a recoil from the stinging memory that she had tried it with him
before and been rejected. It didn’t unsettle me in the way it was designed to.

The way I had
imagined the winter of ’76 was a lot different. Hypothetically: I would go on
tour for my first six months as a roadie with an amateur rock band who get a
little too sweaty on stage. I would lift amps just to prove that I can and get
really good at fixing things with gaffa tape. The other roadies would put me in
a hotel bathtub when I had drank too much whiskey during a poker game. Like
people stuck in an elevator, we would get to know each other.

Instead, I
meet Dean Murphy, whose cheekbones are a little too sharp, and eyes a little
too sallow. He would go on stage wearing leather jackets with the clothes tag
still attached. Smoothed-back thick brunette hair would be fastened from his
face with his statement red bandana. I never saw him without a cigarette
dangling from his bottom lip, and a brown paper bag clutched in his hand,
concealing off-brand Russian vodka. Later on, I would find men’s clothes in his
hotel room that are too big for him. When the band’s hits came on public radio,
their bassist would turn the volume up. Dean would switch it off.

 

 

The 1970’s
were the years of superstition. After the war, people had become fearful of
angering the Gods. Hotels had refurbished their elevators, installing new
control panels that skipped the number thirteen. People had begun risking their
lives in oncoming traffic to avoid walking under scaffolding. No one was taking
any chances. In the past, women had not been allowed on ships because of
superstition. It was not the same for women on tour buses.

November 1976
and we were in East-leg of the tour. It was the band’s first photoshoot for the
promotion of their new album, Detrimental.
Dean squirmed in the chair he had been told to sit in.

‘If you could
just hold still a little bit longer’, the make-up artist pleaded. Her hands
were angling the brush at his lash-line to conceal the purple watermarks under
his eyes for the camera.

I only
witnessed this because it takes place at the venue the other roadies and I were
preparing for that evening’s performance. I had been handed a sack truck to
wheel amps from the van into the venue. The back and forth meant I only caught
snippets. 

Nicki, the
bassist, had his arms firmly snaked around the waist of Auburn who contently
sat on his lap, the other tightened around the neck of a Budweiser. Dean smoked
a cigarette languidly as the make-up artist applied setting powder to
cheekbones. His face contorted, reacting to something sour.

I remember
wondering if anyone in the audience had noticed the way his hands shake over
the strings of his guitar when he first steps onto the stage.

Nicki asked,
“How does it feel to know that teenage girls will cum to this picture of you?”

Auburn
giggled.   

Dean dropped
the lit cigarette into the glass of whiskey in front of him. Hissing on impact.

“Fucking
fantastic.”

 

 

All people
wanted to do in the seventies was yell the loudest. If you couldn’t yell the
loudest, no one could hear you.

Peace is cheaper.

Drop acid, not bombs.

No Vietnamese ever called me
nigger. 

People yelled
pretty loud and the world reacted by sending them to the meat grinder. They
held their arms above their heads defiantly, hands outstretched into peace
symbols, as they were pulverised, feet first, into clumps of human mincemeat.

We were in
Chicago and the band were scheduled to go on stage. Nicki paced, itching for
the crowd, on the outskirts of the action that was unfolding to the side of the
stage. The unbuttoned tails of his shirt flapped out behind him, exposing the
ashen flesh of his hairless chest. Dean did not give a shit about the same
theatricalities.

“Performing in
a stadium this big is like fucking a stranger.”

The words had
come from Elmo, the band’s drummer. He had fenced his body in front of Dean and
placed his outstretched hands fell comfortingly onto his shoulders, like lead
weights holding him firmly in place. His face was freckled with microbeads of
sweat that had pooled together on his upper lip. His knuckles had turned white
from the grip he had on the whiskey glass in his hands. The ice cubes quivered,
making music on collision with the glass, to the sound of Dean’s trembling. He
was high on adrenaline and prescription painkillers.

They all
gathered around their slightly off-centred leader. Their greasy manager clawed
his way into the middle of the circus with the intention of inspiring Dead onto
the stage. When the plethora of pleading failed, he launched on, tongue lit
with legal fire, about ‘breach of contract’.

“Chew me up
and spit me out.” Dean knocked the brown liquid in his glass back. I remember
feeling the same burning sensation of hard liquor hitting the stomach when he
turned and locked his eyes with mine.

“What?” he
said venomously to me. He seized the neck of the guitar I held in my hands and
followed his bandmates to the stage, entering last. I heard Nicki greet the
crowd. I heard them roar in reply.

 

At some point
in May 1977, I found myself at the release party for the band’s new album Detrimental. It debuted at Studio 54, in
New York City. Elvis Presley would be found dead two months later.

We arrived
late to 254 West 54th Street. The bar was full of people. I had
barely stepped through the door and I already had a drink in my hand and
cocaine coerced into my nostrils. The drugs get better the more famous you
become. I watched a naked woman rollerblade across the dancefloor, revealed
breasts bouncing. I tried to breathe in the hedonism.

I found myself
sipping gin and tonic with John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. We talked for a while
about the damage to an artist’s integrity when they cover music that’s not
theirs. I must’ve looked disinterested, because the next thing he asks is who I
am. Some of the other roadies struggled with getting comfortable, but I didn’t
feel like an imposter. I ventured away from John Bonham, who had started to
bore me with the fallacy that music should only be founded in truth.

I wandered
into the basement. The hot smell of sweat and smoke invaded my nostrils before
my eyes had time to adjust to the dark. The tapestry of naked skin blurred
across my eyes. I blinked excessively from the cocaine, capturing the scene in
quick-fire snapshots of limbs intertwining, hands in hair, teeth on lips. I fled
the room with the final image of David Bowie’s lips welded to an anonymous male
partner imprinted on my mind.

I tried my
luck up, instead of down, and made my way towards the balcony that overlooked
the dancefloor. I stopped before I got there, in fear of rupturing the intimacy
of the moment I had unintentionally found myself occupying.

I watched as
Dean argued with a male roadie. Their bodies pressed together. The argument
muted. Dean’s fist gripped the collar of the roadie’s shirt. The roadie’s face
burned up in anger. The veins on his forearm burst to the surface of the skin
under rising blood pressure. Spit flew between mouths. A fist embedded in plasterboard.
A door slammed. Dean suddenly alone.

He turned
around to look away and sees me instead. His eyes wet and angry.

 

People who
were in their homes watching the evening news on July 15th 1974 in Florida
tuned in to watch a ripple in history. The anchor woman talks about a restaurant
shooting and gestures for the news reel to run. It jams. “In keeping with
channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living
colour, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.” On screen, the
young anchor woman takes out a gun and shoots herself in the back of the head. Her
body twitches on the table it has fallen forward onto. To avoid dead air, the
station switches to a public service announcement.

It was the
first time I had ever seen a dead body.

I drove home
from the album release party on my own. Seconds before I could’ve driven past it,
I noticed a Stutz Blackhawk on the side of the road with its lights off and decided
to pull over. I got out the car and made my way over to the other stationary vehicle.
The smoke from the exhaust of my running engine curled upwards into the darkness.
I went over to the driver’s side and looked through the window.

I recognised
the bandana attached to the forehead that pressed itself to the steering wheel.

Dean got out
of the car, took me into the foliage by the roadside and showed me the mangled
body of a bicycle. He then took me to the spot where he had dragged its owner.  

I looked back
at his car and sized up the human-shaped dent in the hood of his car to the teenage
boy laying in the brush.

I never checked
for a pulse.

The next
morning, when I make myself breakfast, I will put my thumb over a picture of a
missing fourteen-year old girl on the milk cartoon. I will watch the news for
the next six weeks in trepidation. Eventually, I will stop watching the news.