Fiction: '60's Garage Rock
by Jim Rader
Excerpt from the (unpublished) book As We Go Through The Years (a semi-autographical novel).
None of us had driver's licenses yet so Richie and Junior scared up rides to the Trumbull gig, Junior convincing his Old Man Larry, Richie snagging aging bachelor neighbor Matty. Matty was cool, but I didn't relish being in a car driven by Larry. who was usually drunk.
We had to drop The Epics name after Junior's sister Dawn told us the New Haven Epics had a record out. I came up with The Jades and that sat well with the other guys. Richie even cut out black felt "Chinese-looking" letters and Scotch-taped our new name to his bass drum.
We treated our second gig more seriously. Junior borrowed a huge Doric amp for my guitar and his voice and rented a white tuxedo shirt with frilly cuffs; Richie wore a black vest and a red shirt; Clark wore a black shirt with yellow stripes and a light green blazer; I wore a dark green shirt with white stripes and cream "stove-pipe" (quasi-bellbottom) pants; Frankie stuck with his all-black look except for new grey suede boots.
The Jades and Matty met at Clark's house at 5:30, a pleasant April Saturday, only Larry missing.
"I know where he is," sighed Junior. "Clark, Jimmy--you wanna go with me? I'm gonna need some help."
Just great, I thought, Larry will be too fucked-up to drive and there goes the gig.
"Christ, June," said Clark. "He's been hitting it way too early lately. Why?"
"So, I noticed," said Junior. "You know, my mom's living with her sister now."
"Fuckin' Larry," said Matty, shaking his head.
Clark gave Frankie his housekeys so he, Richie, and Matty could do some loading while the other Jades tracked down Larry. We soon found him drinking red port, alone, in a small dive near his house. Larry was shorter than his son, and his wavy pomaded hair made him look like a 1940s movie star.
"Dad, please, let's get outta here. You gotta drive us to Trumbull, remember?"
"Fuckin' Trumbull? Oh yeah, I almost forgot." Scowling, he touched Junior's frilly shirt. "What's this, silk? Has my son gone queer on me?"
I snickered and Larry glared at me.
"Who the hell is this kid, June? Your queer boyfriend?"
Larry nearly fell off the revolving barstool, Junior and Clark catching him then guiding him to his car. Clark smiled throughout the ordeal. I was just a fifth wheel. Back at Clark's house Matty and Richie had left with most of our gear. Frankie gave Clark back his housekeys then we crammed the three guitars into Larry's trunk. Junior rode shotgun. Clark, Frankie, and I squeezed into the back.
"Who's this fuckin' hillbilly?" Larry meant Frankie. "What's with the fuckin' hair, kid? You come from fuckin' Miss-isis-isippi or somethin'?"
Only Junior didn't laugh. Larry drove the light blue Chevy to East Main Street.
"June, June," he said. "Where the fuck are we goin'?"
"Trumbull, dad. Remember? I got instructions from Harvey Trojanowski. You gotta go on the thruway first."
Larry drove through East Main Street's barrio to the thruway ramp. "Ahh shit, the chew-way. I hate drivin' on the fuckin' chew-way."
The radio played The Turtles' big hit, "Happy Together."
"What a beautiful song," said Larry. "Hey, you, Mr. Queer with the glasses--why did some guy write this beautiful song?"
"To make money," I said.
"Whaa?" The Chevy swerved as he changed lanes. "Ahh, you don't know shit, you goddamn queer. How 'bout you, Clarky--why do you think the guy wrote this beautiful song?"
"Because he loves his girl and wants the whole world to know it." Clark stifled laughter.
"You hear that, Mr. Queer? He loves his girl and they're happy together. And when he's not with her--- well, then they ain't together."
Everyone laughed except Junior. Except for Larry's sloppy lane switching, he drove amazingly well. Once off the chew-way, Junior gave him more directions.
"Okay dad, make the next left, go two blocks then make another left, and you should see a big water tower. The building is right behind it."
Larry found the water tower then soon pulled into a dirt parking lot before a one-story wooden edifice, a wooden sign above its front door: LADIES HOME IMPROVEMENT CENTER.
"This is it?" Clark asked Junior. "This dipshit place?"
"Don't worry, man," said Junior. "This place holds up to a hundred people."
"I hope so," said Frankie. "I hope some important show business people show up."
"Yes, Frankie," I smirked. "We're expecting Brian Epstein tonight."
"Will you two assholes shut up and help me with the fuckin' guitars?" demanded Clark.
Clark, Frankie and I exited the Chevy. Larry curled into a fetal position and passed out. Junior carefully reached over the rumpled figure to pull out the car keys, Larry snoring like fuckin' Rip Van Winkle. Clark crouched down before Junior's open window: "June, I need the fuckin' trunk key. Look, just leave Larry be, let him sleep it off."
We brought the guitars into the wooden building. The guests yet to arrive, a uniformed catering crew laid silverware, napkins, and water glasses onto three long tables with white tablecloths. In the back, another long table with cold cuts, Wonder bread, and potato salad.
"Food," said Clark, who made a sandwich with ham and white American cheese.
"What do you think you're doing, kid?" a crew staffer demanded.
"We're playing here tonight," said Clark.
The crew staffer frowned, then went into the kitchen. Frankie and I made sandwiches. I looked the room over while eating: a small inset stage inside the left sidewall, about fifteen feet from the long dining tables; near the entrance, two tall amps on wheels, a mic stand, two guitar cases, no drums.
"Clark, check out that snazzy equipment," I said. "There's another band coming."
"Brilliant deduction. C'mon, let's put our guitars on that dinky-ass stage to claim it."
"What's the other band called?"
"Shermy and The Shitheads," he laughed.
We put our guitars on the stage then went outside. Still no Richie or Matty, but it was still early. Clark and I lit up cigarettes. Frankie didn't smoke. We explored a woodsy area near the parking lot. When we came upon a knoll, Clark proclaimed, "The Jades are here!" and we three jumped in the air, posing for an imaginary photographer.
Richie and Matty pulled in just as we returned to the lot, the other band unloading drums from a white van that bore the purple legend THE VISCOUNTS. The Viscounts sported long shiny hair, matching mod suits and pointy boots. With them was a tall willowy girl, long straight shiny hair, flowered minidress. We looked at them, they looked at us, nobody said anything.
"Made it!" smiled Richie as he unloaded his bass drum.
Larry still snoring, Junior helped with the drums, Frankie grabbed his mic stand, Clark and I carried the amps, The Viscounts right behind us with their drums and PA column.
A Viscount approached us while we set up on the small stage. "Hi, guys," he smoothed his shiny hair. "Are you gonna share this stage tonight?"
Clark glowered at the Viscount, clenched his fists by his sides.
"Well, man," said Junior, "thing is, if we hassle taking down and setting up over and over we could lose the crowd's attention."
The Viscount caught Clark's pugilistic posturing.
"Okay, we'll stay on the dance floor then." The Viscount reached into his pocket and took out a quarter. "Let's do a coin toss to see who plays first."
Clark won the coin toss, one of those rare occasions when he did something right.
The Jades waited about an hour for the place to fill up. An inordinate number of guests, especially the guys, came off drunk: loud raucous laughter, precarious gaits, disheveled formal attire, mostly adults pushing forty.
"Junior, man, what's the story here?" I asked. "Where's the happy couple? These jerks look already plastered and it's only ten after seven."
"They're coming from the reception," he explained. "This is, like, the post-reception."
Clark removed my glasses and put them in his blazer vest pocket.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked.
He smiled as he took out his "Bob Dylan shades" and placed them on my face.
"There. Now you look cool, Jimmy."
I excused myself to the Men's Room, looked at myself in the mirror. The shades looked cool, all right, but on the way out I bumped into a trash can.
The catering crew removed the cold cuts and brought out hot food. Chicken, roast beef, baked potatoes, carrots. They also brought out three kegs of beer.
"I wanna get some real food in me," I said.
"It's too late, man," said Richie. "You guys gotta tune up and then we gotta start."
"Richie's right," Frankie chimed in.
"I wanna get in on that beer." Clark licked his lips.
We kicked off with "Midnight Hour." The fifty guests ignored us, a bigger drag than the dozen who'd ignored us at the first gig. A handful of teenagers came in but also ignored us. Two big men lugged in three more kegs. I looked down at my borrowed Japanese guitar, got through the set, our our last song, "96 Tears" sounding flat and dull without the hit record's infectious organ riffs.
"This crowd really blows," I said to Clark.
"Yeah, well, fuck all, man, let's get in on that beer."
We picked up tapered seven-ounce glasses then waited in the keg line.
"Drink fast, Jimmy, so no one will notice."
We drank fast then had a second beer. The Viscounts started to play, a clean, balanced sound. Professional. The Viscounts' lead singer--the kid who'd lost the coin toss--knew how to work a room. We sullenly watched them blow us away. Their superior version of "I Feel Good" got some guests dancing, the worst dancers a burly crew-cut husband and his rotund redhaired wife. The Jades broke their silent humiliation when The Viscounts covered The Royal Guardsmen's cutesy "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron."
"Oh, brother," said Junior.
"What a buncha faggots," laughed Clark.
Richie: "Yeah, they're better than us, but what a bunch of faggots, playing that shit."
But the guests loved "Snoopy." Several even clapped. Drunk as skunks, they danced like spastic marionettes, cheering, whooping, and clapping.
We opened our second set with "Good Lovin'," followed by Frankie's "Baby, It's You." One grey male guest waved us down dismissively then stood in the keg line. But several drunker guests, including Crewcut and Redhead, now drunkenly caroused before The Jades.
I'd always hated "Baby, It's You." At one of the song's stops I bent a high string into a sour whine. Frankie didn't hear it but after a ragged ending Clark took me to task.
"What was that shit, Jimmy? That bad note."
"Clark, save it for later," said Richie.
I recognized some crowd faces from Bridgeport's streets or perhaps just recognized their plebian vibe. Richie's hype about a sedate Trumbull audience hadn't panned out, a hard reality that contributed to the clean, suburban-bred Viscounts' allure. They not only played tighter than us but also looked like stars, providing live escapism for the Bridgeporters.
Although still undiscovered, Frankie delighted in his first star turn. Clark pissed me off, grousing over my deliberate sour note as if there were something to save. Junior looked pissed-off in general. Richie suggested we do one more song then hang it up.
"All right, guys, let's do 'Money'," Junior seethed; he used the funky R&B standard to vent his frustration, singing the "dirty" version: "See that girl all dressed in black/ She makes a living on her back," etc. We played "Money" for ourselves, achieving a saturnine transcendence over the "nothing" gig. The dirty song over, the crowd looked drunker, the catering staff looked half-drunk, Clark and I slightly drunk, The Viscounts sober, cool as cucumbers. Despite our earlier ill will toward their singer, they had listened to us and even clapped at the end.
Matty, in loosened tie, got on the stage.
"Lemme sing a number, boys," he smiled benignly, feeling no pain. "Jimmy, you know 'That Old Black Magic'?"
"Of course, I do, Matty, it's one of my all-time favorites."
The other Jades left the stage. I didn't really know "Black Magic" but I'd heard it sung by Mel Torme or somebody like that, and bullshitted my way through it.
"Yeah, Jimmy, you got it." Matty snapped his fingers, danced a little. "'That old black magic/ That I know so well'..."
Larry was now before the stage. Drunk all over again, he laughed good-naturedly at his old friend. "Ahh, get off the stage, ya bum!"
The very drunk crewcut guy punched Larry in the face. A catering staffer tapped Crewcut on the shoulder from behind.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to leave now."
Crewcut spun around like a top and decked the staffer. Matty jumped off the stage and karate-chopped Crewcut in the neck. Stunned, the big man zig-zagged, howled, crashed into the buffet table. I stayed on the stage, put my borrowed guitar in its case.
More fights broke out, a rip-roaring scene right out of Hollywood Western saloon brawls, only with real blood. One guy got thrown across a long table, knocking over food and beer; another guy landed on Frankie's patch cord, snapping it in two. Spilled beer, blood, and food everywhere, a woman sat in a chair crying, holding her glasses, Junior near the stage, his rented white silk shirt splattered with blood. I jumped off the stage and held Larry by the shoulders, blood pouring from his left eye socket.
"Larry, what the hell happened?"
"I dunno, I dunno."
Crewcut's wifey, the redheaded butterball, yelled at Junior:
"You son of a bitch! You were saying dirty things to me through the microphone!"
"Listen, bitch, I didn't say nothin' to you!"
A revived Crewcut staggered angrily but the slugfest abruptly abated like a flash thunderstorm, most of the guests gone or going. Now, Crewcut clenched his fists and trudged toward Matty, keeping his balance by shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Three staffers subdued Crewcut, then removed him from The Ladies Home Improvement Center by shoving him out the door.
Richie emerged from the men's Room with a strip of bloody toilet paper in his nose.
"C'mon Jimmy, let's get our shit outta here."
Frankie ran over to his broken cord.
"Oh, shit! Shit! My old man will kill me!"
Matty phoned an ambulance for Larry. Junior and Clark guided Larry outside, Larry covering his bleeding eye with a paper towel. "You know what, guys," said Frankie. "I just got my learner's permit. Let me drive." Everyone said okay.
After loading up, Richie and I went back in to make sure we had everything. The Viscounts had vanished with their pricey equipment. Richie and I stood near the open door, sounds of car doors slamming, boozy laughter, swearing, engines revving. A cool spring breeze.
A smiling staffer, holding an ornate silvery tray of fancy cookies, approached Richie and me.
"Want a cookie, boys?"
Richie and I laughed, took one cookie each. Enter Clark, who also ate a cookie. A tall bald guy got on our case: "You know, to each his own, but the way you guys dress, I wish I had a reason to pop you one." "Have a wonderful evening, sir," said Clark.
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