Perfect Sound Forever

PIECE OF MY HEART


Fiction by Jim Rader
(February 2022)


      Her dinky studio apartment was right across from mine, the first floor of a kind of sub-building, the main building on East 10th Street between Avenues A and B, a courtyard between the two buildings. The landlord had claimed the sub-building had never been broken into because no one knew it was there. The sub-building had four floors, two studios to each floor. The windows didn't have the usual security gates, rather prison bars.

      One hot afternoon I played my electric guitar too loudly, my new neighbor retaliating by blasting a Janis Joplin record. "All right, all right!" I yelled through the thin wall. "I'll turn it down if you will."

      "So, do it, dude!" she yelled back, sounding like Janis Joplin.

      The following evening we crossed paths in our postage-stamp hallway, nodding at each other neutrally. She didn't look like Janis, maybe five feet tall, her boyish face evoking a rock star I couldn't place. She wore a trashy blonde wig and looked hungover.

      Two hours later, a knock on my door.

      "Who is it?" I yelled from my mattress, soaked in sweat.

      "It's me, dude. Open up, I gotta ask you about something."

      I opened the door. The trashy wig gone. She had short brown hair and looked a bit like '60s rock star Mickey Dolenz.

      "I'm Share, by the way," she said. br>
      "Jim. So, what's up? Was I reading too loud for you?"

      "Jim, dude, you got anything to drink? This hangover's killing me."

      "Well, there's no Southern Comfort," I joked, alluding to the late Janis's favorite booze. "Vodka okay?"

      "Yeah, dude." Share looked around my hovel disapprovingly. "Only one wooden chair and a mattress."

      "Are you taking inventory?"

      "Yeah, and it sure didn't take long. Dude, let's have that drink in my place."

      Her hovel's dark blue curtains hid the prison bars. A real bed, an old but comfy easy chair. I sat on the bed. On her wall, two big posters, one the Golden Gate Bridge, the other Janis Joplin holding a mic, her eyes closed, the poster's caption, "Get off your butt and feel things!"

      "You're really into Janis, aren't you," I said.

      "Greatest white blues singer ever. Dude, I heard you doing that Mott the Hoople song the other day, 'Won't you roll away the stone?'" She mimicked my flat voice, mixing us screwdrivers. "You play pretty good guitar, though."

      "Well, I'm glad I'm good for something."

      Share sat down next. "Cheers," she said, downing her first drink in a flash. "Are you gay, Jim? You seem gay. I'm bi."

      "I'm straight, but Violet has been distancing me so much lately, I wish I was gay."

      "I hear you, dude. My lover Toni has been distancing me for weeks. How's this Violet distancing you, dude?"

      "Oh, she just wants to hang out now because she's screwing some jerk who works for The Post. Is your Toni a man or a woman?"

      "Oh, she's a woman, all right. She came in from SF with me. We had a place in the Village, but I had to move out 'cause Toni kept picking up women at Bonnie and Clyde's."

      Share drank more than me but didn't get as drunk. We compared notes, her fixation on Toni as bad as mine on Violet. Share showed me a bunch of photos, all of Toni: "Here she is in Elvis drag... Here's Toni onstage with her band..." All I had to show of Violet was a photo booth strip of us kissing.

      "Uh oh," said Share. "Violet's a Gemini, isn't she?"

      "Yeah, she is, but I don't believe in that garbage."

      "You seem like a Capricorn, dude. Did you know Capricorn and Gemini are incompatible signs?"

      Though mystified, I shrugged. "Share, it's still early. You wanna jam?"

      "Yeah, cool. But I sing, you play, okay?"

      I knew Janis' signature song, "Piece of My Heart," and her version of "Down on Me," Share's emulation of her idol eerier close up. We also played the Animals oldie "I'm Crying" and an impromptu original, "Drunk Again." Around eleven a neighbor slammed open his window: "Cut the fuckin' music, or I'll call the fuckin' cops!"

      Next night we played again, this time soberly, Share taping our four songs on a cassette recorder, "Down on Me" and "I'm Crying" standing out.

      "Dude, I can get us a spot in a college radio show," she said. "It's a lesbian thing, but I'll tell the organizer you're cool. Toni's band, Ginger's Island, dropped out."

      Share cracked open a fifth of sweet sticky Southern Comfort, which she mixed with soda and served in plastic tumblers. As we drank, she told me her story. Now twenty-four, Share had dropped out of high school in '66, hitchhiking to SF, where she soon met rising stars Janis, her lead guitarist Sam Andrew, and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh in the Avalon Ballroom. "It was my first acid trip, dude. After the show, I got in on a big party in the Haight. I cornered Janis and talked with her for like a whole half-hour. I asked her, 'Janis, how'd you learn to sing the blues like that?' and she said, 'Honey, you don't learn the blues, you live 'em!'"

      Right now, Share played Big Brother's first album, lead guitarist/harmonist Sam Andrew the only other stand-out in the band.

      "Janis and Sam must've had an intense relationship," I said.

      Share shook her head. "No, dude, not at all. By the time Sam met her he'd gotten the clap so many times he couldn't get it up anymore."

      "How sad," I said, though this tidbit seemed more legend than fact.

      Share got up from the old chair to turn the record over, then lay down next to me on the bed. "Share, I gotta confess, I've never heard this whole album before. It's pretty cool."

      "I bet you'll like 'Caterpillar.' It's goofy as hell, kinda like Jonathan Richman."

      Bassist Peter Albin sang his song, which did sound like a Richman song. "Oh wow, Richman must've heard this," I said.

      "Hard to say, dude. Maybe they're just similar dudes."

      The big drink snuck up on me. The ceiling's mobile of cartoony animals spun around, then the whole room spun around, Janis's soulful background vocal the high point of "Caterpillar," Share's dinky fan humming away, her bed rumbling slightly as in a level one earthquake. "Hey, what's going on, this fucking bed is moving." My bleary eyes chanced upon the empty Southern Comfort bottle on the floor. "Christ, you must've put half the bottle into my drink."

      She laughed. "Yeah, I got you drunk. Role reversal. Dude, let's fuck."

      "Huh? Just like that?"

      "C'mon, the mood's right, and I'm as close to Janis as you'll ever get."

      Share moved to the end of the bed, pulled off my platform shoes, baggy pants, and boxers, then undressed herself and got on top of me.

      Come morning, her vacuum cleaner woke me up, an ear-to-ear grin on her face.

      "Oh God," I moaned. "I know we screwed last night, but the details escape me."

      "Don't worry, dude, it was all right." Her carefree tone suggested I had been a one-night stand.

*

      The radio gig took place uptown, its Wednesday afternoon slot no problem as we were both on unemployment insurance. We arrived on time by the skin of our teeth, the other three performers on leather padded stools, two with notebooks, one with an acoustic guitar. The tallest of the three, dressed like a Navajo, came over to greet us. "Hey, Share, glad you made it."

      "Hey, Annie. This is Jim, my guitarist."

      "Cool, but you'll be going on last."

      Annie went on first. Half Native American, she read from her journal written on a pilgrimage to Navajo Nation. I spaced out on the other two performers. Come our turn, the d.j. brought out a small amp for my guitar. We closed with "Piece of My Heart," Share's best performance.

      Back on the street Share huffed, "Boy, did those sisters give you bad vibes! I felt like giving them a piece of my mind."

      "What? I didn't pick up any bad vibes. They were just nervous."

*

      For weeks I'd moped around Violet like a sullen puppy dog, then changed strategy, laying low for two weeks. On a hunch I visited a mutual friend, and there she was. We went to a quiet tavern.

      "So what's new?" I asked.

      "Well, I had to cut it off with Dan. He really freaked out after seeing a double bill of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. He thinks he's possessed."

      "How weird. That one time I met him, he seemed like an ordinary guy."

      "You never can tell. Anyhow, I want to sleep with you tonight. My place okay?"

      "Yeah, sure."

      "But remember, tonight is just for old time's sake.

      "This went well, but afterward I couldn't sleep as I hadn't been with Violet for such a long time.

      The morning after I told her all about Share.

      "And you couldn't remember anything, right?" said Violet, ending my story. "You know, I made up a secret list of lovers I'd like you to see. But remember, it's strictly confidential."

      She'd slept with seventeen dudes in six years, "Stupid Al" likely a one-night stand. I didn't get out of her place till noon, hungover though I'd had only two drinks. I had a Violet hangover, hobbling down E. 10th Street in my down-at-the heels platform shoes, day four of a heat wave. In the dinky courtyard, I bumped into Share.

      "Boy, did I get drunk last night," I said.

      "You weren't out drinking, Jim. You were with Violet."

      "Yeah, I was. How could you tell?"

      "It's the Gemini Syndrome, dude," she chuckled. "Toni always left me reeling the same way." "'The Gemini Syndrome'-sounds like a sci-fi movie."

      "Dude, let's forget those two for now. I ran into my old friend Ben, who now plays piano for Jackie Curtis, and he gave me two comps for Jackie's campy nightclub act. Wanna go?"

      The show took place uptown, a swanky penthouse lounge off Central Park West. Share dressed like a 1910 banker, a vest and a chained pocket watch, while I wore a clingy red tee that bore the glittery legend ROCK N ROLL FOREVER. The show was a blast, trans superstar Jackie lying atop a white piano warbling Marlene Dietrich's "Falling in Love Again." We took advantage of the open bar. "Another night drunk in New York!" exulted Share. Ben had us meet Jackie after the show, and she shook hands with us. On the subway ride home Share noted, "Jackie's hands are so soft, just like a real woman's."

*

      For much of August we played less, drank more, and gave up too soon on forming a real band.

      Toni had moved back to SF, and Share talked vaguely about following her. Though I hadn't mentioned Violet's list, Share showed me her own list, twenty-four lovers to Violet's seventeen, no "Stupid Al" types, instead two famous male names.

      Toni sent Share a note from SF: "Thinking of coming back, not as many gay women here lately." Share rejoiced, but a few days later got another note from Toni: "Ran into Sheila here, looks like I'm staying."

      "Do you know this Sheila, Share?"

      "Yeah. She's Toni's Toni, dude. Hey, how about showing me your list."

      I laughed. "Two lovers aren't enough for a list."

      All along Share had secretly corresponded with young Joelle Fisk of Portland, Maine. Share showed me Joelle's photo, posted in a pulp teen magazine.

      "Not bad, in a folksy sort of way," I said, "but how old is she?"

      "Eighteen," said Share with a leer. "Joelle sent me that." Share pointed to a pulp pin-up of bubblegum idol David Cassidy, David right beside Janis.

      "You must be out of your mind," I said.

      "Not really, dude. I'm getting Joelle interested in Janis."

      Joelle soon visited New York, and Share brought her out.

*

      On Labor Day, a note taped to my mailbox read, "Off to Maine and true love. Take care, dude. XXOO, Share."


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