Fiction by Jim Rader
I called Morris. He picked up fast: "Hello?"
"Morris, it's Jim." "Hey ace, haven't heard from you in a while. So how'd the jam with Frank go?'
"Fucked-up, is how. After he split, Ian said he played too much like Maureen Tucker. Later I called Frank and he said that Ian played bass exactly like Phil Lesh and that style didn't fit with my songs."
"Well, you're no Jerry Garcia, ace. Did you tape it? It must have been a real train wreck."
"No tape, but really, it didn't sound bad. It was really kind of interesting, but I can't seem to convince them of that."
"You know, Nelson introduced me to that chick Judy in CBGB. I asked her to come over next Sunday and listen to records. She said she wants to hear your stuff."
"You mean that awful cassette I did with Frank? Oh, Judy's an item, alright, but nobody seems to know what she does for money. Is she in the music business at all?"
"Well, in a manner of speaking, ace. She went on a date with Lou Reed the other night."
"A 'date?' I don't think so, Morris, Lou Reed doesn't strike me as a 'date' kind-of-guy."
"Ace, it wasn't exactly a date. He had Richard Robinson with him and that weird kid who thinks he looks like a girl."
"Yeah, yeah, so how'd this 'date', or whatever the fuck it was, go?"
"Awful," he guffawed. "Boy, you should've heard her, how shocked she sounded. She said, 'He's gay and he uses methamphetamine!' That really burst her bubble."
"Oh, Morris, she was putting you on."
"No, no put on, man. She was really let down."
I laughed. "Sounds to me like some of Lou's lyrics went right by her."
"Ace, she's only twenty-one."
"'Metamphetamine'--that sounds like her, alright. If she'd used a monosyllabic term like speed, or meth, we might not be talking about her now, would we?"
"Now look, Jim, don't fuck this up, Judy gets around. Who knows, maybe she could tip you to another drummer. She's bringing along up-and-coming punk star Belinda Bunch, who just blew in from Milwaukee."
"Oh, please, Morris, 'Belinda Bunch?' Did Ms. Bunch come all the way from fucking Milwaukee for her Warhol screen test, only to find out he'd stopped doing that ten years ago? Anyhow, I sure as hell hope this idea of yours isn't supposed to be a hip double date or something."
"Ha ha ha, don't worry ace, it's strictly social. By the way, my offer still holds about playing bass for you. I'll gladly try learning bass, I'm not getting anywhere with guitar."
"Okay, we'll try it, so long as you don't waste more money on another 'professional' teacher. I'd rather show you bass, at no charge, than see you get ripped off again by some jerk who shows you how to play the latest Stevie Wonder hit."
Several weeks before the above New York conversation, Ian had split the Park Slope apartment we'd shared for a year. I still hadn't found a replacement for him and had to abandon the apartment as I could pay only half the rent.
The morning after the New York conversation, I found a DISPOSSESSED notice taped to the door. Again, I called Morris.
"Morris, it's me again. Listen, I got a dispossessed notice today. I was wondering if I could stay at your place for a month or two. I still have that stupid job, so I'll be able to pay half the rent."
"Well, I dunno, ace, you know how small this place is, and---oh, fuck all, yeah, you can stay here for a bit."
"Whew, thanks, man."
"No problem, I'll get you keys. But who's gonna help you move, ace?"
"Ian, that's who, at no charge, 'cause he's sorta to blame for the mess."
"Cool. Listen, I'm trekking out to Queens tomorrow night to check out a bass and bass amp. I'd appreciate you're going with me, you know, as a technical consultant."
"Who's selling the gear?"
"John Celesi, who played bass for Tough Luck. He's getting married soon and has decided to hang up his rock n roll shoes, ha ha ha."
"Huh. I talked with him once, he seemed cool. Yeah sure, I'll go with you."
As Morris lived on the Upper East Side, we had to take three trains to Queens. John had a nice place. We gossiped about the CBGB scene, or what was left of it, then Morris had me try out John's Fender bass and Ampeg amp. "Sounds fine," I said, and Morris gave John a check.
Two days before the Sunday afternoon thing, I moved into Morris' place. On Saturday, we bought some new singles imported from the UK: "Anarchy In The UK" by Sex Pistols, "New Rose" by The Damned, "So It Goes" by Nick Lowe and "London Lady" by The Stranglers. I showed Morris how to play "Anarchy" and he got some of it. Later, Morris bought refreshments for Sunday: a fifth of Sandman Port and a big bag of Wise potato chips.
"Sandman, hey, Morris? Classy booze. What inspired your choice, that painting by Guy Peellaert?"
"Ha ha ha, ace, the thought never entered my mind."
Judy showed on time, looking quite retro with her tousled hennaed bouffant, sleeveless black cocktail dress and lopsided fake eyelashes. She'd come in from Ann Arbor about a year ago. The dress had that worn thrift shop look, but the hairdo looked pricey.
"I'm so glad that you made it!" exulted Morris.
"It's starting to rain," she said, primping her hair.
"So where's Belinda?"
They came into the combo living room/bedroom. Judy sat opposite me at the dropleaf table. Morris stood away from us, by the record player, saving the last seat for Belinda Bunch, the varnished stool beneath the loft bed.
"Belinda is habitually late," said Judy. "Hi Jim, haven't you around in months."
"So, what's new at CBGB's?"
"Not much, really," she sighed. "It's gotten so boring since everyone got signed." By "everyone," Judy meant the bands that had put the joint on the map: Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads, The Ramones and Blondie.
"The Damned will be playing there soon," beamed Morris.
Judy affected a yawn. "Oh, I haven't heard them yet, but that name doesn't sound very promising."
"Ah, but what is in a name, ha ha ha," Morris grinned. "You know, we've got The Damned's single here. Sex Pistols, too."
"Oh, yeah," she said approvingly. "I heard Sex Pistols last week at Max's, before those boring Cramps took the stage."
"That's where we heard it," I said. "I liked it, but I thought it was by some '60s Mod band till the DJ. set me straight."
"Ugh, Wayne County," she said the DJ's name. "What a bore, but I'd rather see him in that little DJ booth than on stage. How did you find The Cramps?" She looked at Morris then me.
"Ha ha ha, watch out, Judy," said Morris. "Jim knows their singer Lux."
The phone on the table rang. "Let me get this," said Judy. "It's got to be Belinda." Judy picked up: "Hi, is this who I think it is?... Okay, we'll see you in a few minutes." Judy hung up, smiling at the phone.
"So what was that about?" I asked.
"Oh, she ran into Lux on First Avenue. She was there too and went wild over his act."
We batted Lux around for a bit then the doorbell rang. Morris buzzed in Belinda Bunch. "Fuck fuck fuck!" she said, stamping her feet. "It's starting to rain!" Her fingers gently touched her brown soupbowl 'do, her full hair glistening with scattered raindrops. "Fuck, at least my hair seems okay."
Now we all stood in the living room. "Belinda, this is Morris, and this is Jim," said Judy.
"Hi," she said brightly. "Judy, is my hair okay? Really, how is it? Lux was quite the chatterbox."
"Ha ha ha," said Morris. "Don't worry about it. Anyone care for a drink?"
"Not me," Belinda said soberly. "I'm straight edge." She spotted the stool. "Guess I'm supposed to sit here, right?"
"I'll have one drink," said Judy.
"You got it," said Morris. He sped into the kitchen. Judy and I resumed our seats.
"What exactly is 'straight edge'?" I asked Belinda.
She stared at me intensely. "It means I don't take any drugs or drink." Her face looked like Judy's face, but her build was stockier. She wore a snug brown turtleneck, tight tan pants, pointy black ankle boots.
"C'mon, Belinda," I said. "You gotta be putting me on."
"No, man, I'm serious. A good friend of mine o.d.'ed last year, and that shit turned me around."
Morris returned with the Sandman Port, three yellow plastic cups and a bag of Wise potato chips.
"Sandman?" giggled Judy. "Well then, 'Mick Jagger,' where's your velvet smoking jacket?" She alluded to the same painting. Looking a bit chaffed, Morris replied, "It's at the cleaners, okay?"
He put the plastic cups before us, served Judy first. "Okay, say when, Judy."
"When, when!" she said, her cup only about two ounces full.
"You, I don't have to ask," Morris said to me, pouring out a stiffer drink. He took a joint from his pocket, lit up, passed it to me, Judy shaking her head. "No thank you."
"Oh, c'mon, Judy!" coaxed Morris.
"I said, 'no thank you,'" she snapped, as if pushing his hands off her breasts.
"Morris," I said. "How 'bout playing a record for our guests?"
"Ah, yes,'" he brightened, returning to the record player.
"Play those four new singles you told me about," said Judy.
"Okay, I'll play Jim's two first." First, he played The Stranglers "London Lady," Judy's and Belinda's first hearing of the band.
"I like the music," said Judy. "But the lyrics are kind of stupid."
"The Doors!" said Belinda. "They're just ripping off The Doors!"
"Not really." I listed the differences between the two then asked Morris to play the Pistols' B-side.
"Yeah, cool," said Belinda, bouncing in her seat. "I like this tune better."
Then came Morris' singles. Our guests made him take off Nick Lowe's "So It Goes" about halfway through. Judy like The Damned but Belinda Bunch pulled a face: "The vocal ruins it, the singer is affecting a North American accent."
"My, aren't you the critic," said Morris.
I drank the rest of the port and got pretty fucked-up. Morris put on The Stooges' first album. That went okay till eleven-minute drone song "We Will Fall" started. "Take that off, please, take that fucking song off!" Belinda adamantly ordered.
"What do you mean, that's the best song on the album," I said with a straight face, Belinda either not getting or ignoring my irony.
"That was my friend's favorite Stooges song," she said somberly. "The one who OD'ed."
Following a moment of silence, she brightened: "Hey, I wanna hear some stuff by you guys."
"Well, I'm still learning bass," said Morris. "But I can play you a tape Jim did with a drummer."
The guests listened quietly to two tunes cooked up with Frank in his parents' house in Orange CT. He still lived there. Belinda pointed at me. "I like your guitar playing. I have a drummer. You could play in your band as well as mine. Lotsa people do that. My band is called Dirt." "Nah, I can't do that, Belinda, I don't just play guitar."
"I'm not so sure about your vocal, Jim," Judy chimed in. "You sound a little too much like Jonathan Richman."
"No, I don't hear that," said Belinda.
Judy got up, looked through the window. "Hey, the rain stopped. Morris, before we leave, may I read a bit of that piece I told you about?"
Judy stood up and read from a spiral bound notebook: "'Every night at Bowery bar CBGB's, our rock and roll heroes are demythologized as soon as they get off the stage."
That's all I can remember.
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